Design, Develop, Create

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Eagle Project and its context

The broader commercial setting was the looming backdrop against which West constructed a mythology for the project; Castro's personality, DEC's VAX, the FHP (Fountainhead Project). Limited resources were made available, a core team of less than 30 engineers, competition for scarce resources within Data General. West carefully established emotional distance between himself and the team, with Rosemarie, Alsing and Rasala working as go-betweens.

The project, like all projects, was subject to various constraints, and it employed and succeeded based on a number of key enabling factors. The Eagle project had to satisfy some key requirements

  1. Support old 16 bit software.
  2. Be a 32 bit machine.
  3. Do 1 & 2 at the same time (no mode bit).
  4. Use a limited number of boards

The eventual design also had to be innovative (not a kludge or a bag on an Eclipse) in order that West could entice other engineers to work on it. The architect, Wallach eventually found some elegance in its design, an innovative Ring System for the CPU architecture, even though he had to allow space for EGO's instruction set within his "wonderful - 'super' - instruction set." p82

West's management method, if it was one - that Alsing and Rasala went along with - was wryly referred to as the "Mushroom Method".
The project teams were organised roughly in two, reflecting two differing professional foci and skills: the Hardy Boys and the Micro Kids.
The basement area at Westborough became a kind of territory, the boundaries of which defined who could be an insider and who were outsiders. Even within its own boundaries the Eagle project evinced marked divisions, delineating hierarchy and focus, between the Hardy Boys and the Micro Kids, between new hires and old hands, between people who had worked on other projects in DG and those to whom the Eagle project was their only experience. The basement space itself was divided into open spaces and closed spaces; for example West and Alsing had their own offices, with doors that could shut! The others were spread among sprawling cubicles. The hierarchies and non-hierarchies, some formal, many informal, coexisted somehow. Experience defined membership. Signing-on was a crucial transition between being a DG employee and being a member of the Eagle team. The whole team and the separate sub-teams had their own rites of passage. Membership and status were evident over time as each person underwent tests of strength like playing Adventure through to the end, responding to the "Tube Wars", hacking into Alsing's encrypted file. 

Notes: Have a look at the article on Wired "O, Engineers" (8.12 link).