Remembering Jim Dean

A linchpin from the federal IT community's early days passed away on Nov. 28.

Jim Dean, in 1989, is pictured standing behind RADM Grace Hopper during a discussion with Fred Friendly. Photograph courtesy of Jim Dean.

Jim Dean, in 1989, is pictured standing behind RADM Grace Hopper during a conversation with former CBS President Fred Friendly. (Photo courtesy of Jim Dean)

This remembrance was written for FCW by former NASA CIO Linda Cureton, who is now CEO of Muse Technologies.

We recently lost a valuable member of the federal IT community. James "Jim" Dean died peacefully on Nov. 28 in Cambridge, Md.

A well-known icon in the pre-Clinger-Cohen data center managers community, Jim was also the conference program director for the Interagency Information Processing Conference (IPIC). An Air Force veteran, he joined the civil service in the mid-1960s and served for three decades at the Social Security Administration.

Up through the 1990s, the federal government managed a significant amount of the nation’s computing power. So when these “old school” data center managers got together, they wielded a significant influence on IT companies. In the late 1970s, I was fortunate to work as a young NASA mathematician on the IBM 360/95 – one of the fastest machines of its day. Today, I wear the equivalent processing power on my wrist. With today’s consumer electronics and many digital innovations, it is hard to imagine that someone like Jim could impact technology solutions and delivery. However, we certainly are where we are today due in part to Jim and people like him.

IPIC, meanwhile, was known for bringing government and industry together to address common problems and set the direction for future solutions. Jim stepped down from that role in 2008, and in 2010, the Government Information Technology Executive Council replaced IPIC with the GITEC Summit.

Jim will be remembered for his devotion to bringing federal data center managers together for patriotic purposes. While colleagues sometimes saw the rough edges of a personality shaped by his perfectionism, he was a very kind, charitable and generous human being. He had a strong understanding of early industry technology leaders and the challenges they faced, and used that knowledge to create opportunities and find solutions.

You won’t find a lot of information out there on Jim Dean -- he wasn’t a Google kind of guy, preferring instead to work in the background. But I think he would want us to remember him for creating valuable communities of practice (and for loving good wine and Bailey’s Irish Cream).

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