When John Lovitt, MS CS’70, was an undergraduate majoring in aeronautical engineering at Wichita State University, he worked nights as a computer operator for Beech Aircraft, running data encoded on punch cards.
“This was the 1960s, when mainframe computers were performing calculations formerly done on slide rules,” says Lovitt. “I worked evenings running card decks so the engineers had their printouts first thing the next morning. When errors caused the program to run incorrectly, I knew enough Fortran to debug it. Debugging is what hooked me on computing. It also made me really popular with the engineers, who in turn mentored me.”
After graduation, Lovitt joined McDonnell Douglas, where he programed flight simulators while earning a master’s degree in computer science through Missouri S&T’s distance education program in St. Louis. His career accelerated in a new direction when he joined Hewlett Packard as a systems engineer, a technical liaison between the sales team and customers, most of whom were defense contractors and electronics manufacturers.
“The HP job had a huge influence on my career because that’s when I first saw the gap between technology developers and users,” says Lovitt, whose responsibilities shifted over 13 years with the company from customer interface to the internal demands of management.
“I no longer had the in-depth technical engagement with customers that I enjoyed because I was managing more than 100 people,” says Lovitt, who left Hewlett Packard in 1986 to join Silicon Valley startup Rational Software.
“As software became a critical part of any business, there was a great deal of work to be done helping customers use the technology,” says Lovitt, who served as senior vice president for worldwide customer engagement. “We pioneered a collaborative team model focused on customer success.”
When IBM acquired Rational Software in 2003, Lovitt aided the transition, then turned to consulting and startup ventures. He served as CEO of Pattern Insight, a data mining company, and now focuses on accelerating the application of technical innovations for social change and economic development.
“Getting to value — to results that matter — is about more than capturing, encoding and replicating knowledge ... It’s about firsthand experiences and real-time feedback that lead to radical change. It’s about people, processes and purpose coming together. You can’t get to value unless you understand what it is.”
“The thread throughout my career has been the development of new technology and the capability people need to apply it,” says Lovitt. “Getting from raw technology to actual results is a challenging process. Collaboration, communication and team skills are critical.”
Lovitt’s influence is evident in the leaders he has nurtured. More than 40 former employees have become CEOs of technology companies, a legacy he calls his most important contribution. He has mentored next-generation leaders as Entrepreneur in Residence and National Science Foundation I-Corps mentor at Missouri S&T, the Sam Bloomberg Visiting Engineer at Wichita State and a mentor at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
Lovitt and his wife, Diane, established S&T’s John Lovitt Internet Computing Graduate Research Fund and were major contributors to the Daniel St. Clair Chair in Computer Science. They are active in social benefit projects around the world with their children, Jennifer, Angela and Chris.
In a career defined by visionary thinking with a pragmatist’s grasp of limitations, Lovitt, a member of the S&T Board of Trustees and Academy of Computer Science, encourages students today to develop a talent for teamwork and the ability to discern what constitutes value in any project.
“Getting to value — to results that matter — is about more than capturing, encoding and replicating knowledge,” says Lovitt. “It’s about firsthand experiences and real-time feedback that lead to radical change. It’s about people, processes and purpose coming together. You can’t get to value unless you understand what it is.”