This is a name you’re not likely to know, but I can’t let his passing go without comment. Joe was an intensely private person who had a sizable impact on the field of technology in learning, and I was privileged to know him.
I met Joe when my colleague Jim “Sky” Schuyler, who had hired for my first job out of college, subsequently dragged me back from overseas to work for him at a new company: Knowledge Universe Interactive Studios (KUIS). I’d stayed in touch with Sky over the years, and I was looking to come back at the same time he had been hired to lead KUIS’s work to be an ISP for the KU companies, but also to create a common platform. I was brought on board to lead the latter initiative.
To make a long story short, initially I reported to Sky, but ultimately he moved on and I began to report to the CEO, Joe, directly. Sky had said that he liked working for people smarter than himself, and if indeed Joe was such this was quite the proposition, as Sky was not only a Northwestern PhD but a wise colleague in many ways. He’d been a mentor and friend as well as a colleague, and if Sky (reticent as he is) thought highly of Joe, this was high praise indeed.
I got to know Joe slowly. He was quite reserved not only personally but professionally, but he did share his thinking. It quickly became clear that not only did he have the engineering chops of a true techy, he also had the strategic insight of an visionary executive. What I learned more slowly was that he was not just a natural leader, but a man with impeccable integrity and values.
I found out that he’d been involved with Plato via his first job at Battelle, and was suitably inspired to start a company supporting Plato. He moved to the Bay Area to join Atari, and subsequently was involved with Koala Technologies, which created early PC (e.g. Apple) peripherals. His trajectory subsequently covered gaming as well as core technology, eventually ending up at Sega before he convinced the KU folks to let him head up KUIS. He seemed to know everyone.
More importantly, he had the vision to understand system and infrastructure, and barriers to same. He was excited about Plato as a new capability for learning. He supported systems at Koala for new interface devices. He worked to get Sega to recognize the new landscape. In so many ways he worked behind the scenes to enable new experiences, but he was never at the forefront of the public explanation, preferring to make things happen at the back end (despite the fact that he was an engaging speaker: tall, resonant voice, and compelling charisma).
In my short time to get to know him, he shared his vision on a learning system that respected who learners were, and let me shape a team that could (and did) deliver on that vision. He fought to give us the space and the resources, and asked the tough questions to make sure we were focused. We got a working version up and running before the 2001 crash.
He continued to have an impact, leading some of the major initiatives of Linden Labs as they went open source and met some challenging technical issues while negotiating cultural change to take down barriers. He ended up at SportVision, where he was beginning to help them understand they were not about information, but insight. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much view into what was happening there, as it was proprietary and Joe was, as I said, private.
Joe served as a mentor for me. I found him to have deep values, and under his austere exterior he exemplified values of humanity and compassion. I was truly grateful when I could continue to meet him regularly and learn from him as he expressed true interest as well as sharing his insights.
He was taken from us too early, and too quickly. He fought a tough battle at the end, but at least was surrounded by the love of his life and their children as they passed. Rest in Peace.
Update: there’s a memorial site for Joe, http://www.josephbmilleriii.com where you can leave thoughts, view pictures, and more. RIP.