Chuck Piercey, the executive director of the HP user group Interex during its greatest era of the 1990s, died last week at age 85. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Charlene, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. During our viral times, his family and friends held a celebration service last weekend using Zoom. That kind of essential innovation was in step with his vision for Interex.
Piercey held his Interex post longer than any director in the 31-year group’s history. For more than a decade, he helmed the organization. It gathered thousands of HP community experts under one roof after another, in city after city. Each annual North American conference and expo represented the biggest exchange of HP technology and commerce.
Piercey came to his post from executive work in Silicon Valley at Ultek, a semiconductor firm owned by Perkin-Elmer. Piercey grew Interex into a multimillion-dollar user organization. It launched new conferences and established a digital footprint upon the Web. During an era when paper was still the dominant means of information exchange, Interex started new publications. But thick volumes of tech papers made their way onto CDs, too. Panels of HP’s top executives sat for tough questions from what would become legacy customers. It was a time of uncertain futures.
Moving into the Web
By the close of Piercey’s era, Interex was exploring the promise of shared development over the Web. HP created an MPE/iX Shared Source project, which Interex hosted for the 3000 division. Members of HP’s labs collaborated with users to check source code modules out and check them back in after revisions. Shared Source was akin to the Github repository, mapped onto MPE’s essentials.
That kind of growth occurred while HP was sacrificing its 3000 visions to the promises of Unix. HP strategy was driving a stake into the hearts of Interex volunteer members. Those actions made Piercey’s work complicated in a way that reflected the industry’s era of change. Terminals were the predominant access to 3000s when he arrived at Interex. By the time he left the group in 2000, the dot-com era was reshaping the way 3000 users shared expertise. Interex’s work played onto the Web to an HP customer base relying less on vendor-specific environments like MPE.
Piercey took the wheel at an association facing as much of a transition as HP itself during the 1990s. The group’s roots and its volunteer strength lay in the 3000 community. But HP was focusing on the world of Unix. The Interex user show and news publication were rebranded as HP World to tighten the HP relationship. The conference was ranked as one of the best in a Computerworld survey.
Vision for user groups
His retirement from Interex at 66 was supposed to bring him into full-time grandfatherhood. However, an educational startup devoted to molecular biology lured him into his final career post. When Piercey announced his Interex resignation, board member Linda Roatch said, “He is largely responsible for bringing Interex forward to what it is today — the most successful vendor-centric independent user group in existence.”
Before he left his work at the user group, Piercey reflected on the future of single-vendor organizations like Interex. He had enough vision to see that a multivendor IT world could render well-established user groups obsolete. Inside board meetings, and in public, Piercey would ask, “What is the role of a vendor-specific group in a multivendor world?” Asking hard questions was one of Piercey’s talents that kept Interex on its feet during a trying time for user groups.
Piercey’s final full year with Interex was 2000, the last year HP envisioned 3000 growth. He summed up changes challenging the group. “Customers don’t have the luxury of focusing on the HP 3000 like they did 10 years ago,” he said. “We have less mindshare. We have to be more effective with the mindshare we do have. It squeezes the value proposition. You have to deliver more value cheaper and faster. What they really want is wise filtering of information.”
The transfer of that MPE/iX and 3000 information grew as a result of his work. A transcription of last weekend’s celebration of his life, including photos is hosted on the Web as a Google Doc. That means of sharing seems in keeping with his visions.
Image of Piercey in his Ultek days courtesy of the Piercey family