Les Pinter Interview – The Man Behind the Word
By Claire Barnett
In September of 1980, Les Pinter received a call from a 23 year old man from Seattle inquiring about purchasing a program he created called The Magic Wand. “He said how much and I gave him a price,” Pinter explains of his interaction with young Bill Gates. The next day, Les drove to Intercontinental Airport in Houston and picked up 23 year old Gates, “drove him to [his] house, made him a grilled cheese sandwich, and sold him the program that’s called Microsoft Word today for $35,000.”
In 1979, Les was teaching finance at the University of Houston, while working on a PhD when one day a small group of pals from his old folk band, called up Pinter, asking if he’d represent them, due to his background in business, on a word processing software they invented called “The Magic Wand.” The Magic Wand was the fourth piece of word processing software ever written, and it was hailed by Byte Magazine as the “most powerful, most flexible, most reliable, and most usable word processing software available” at the time. Gates used the software as a blueprint for what’s now known as Microsoft Word, with revenues now estimated to be between $100 billion and $400 billion.
So, who is the man behind the program? Since selling The Magic Wand, Les Pinter has had a varied career. He has written over 260 technical articles for various computer journals, 400 editorials for computer magazines and newspapers, and 8 books. He has been a consultant to Exxon, Shell Oil, Mitchell Energy, Halliburton and many others. He wrote Anthology, a program for managing independent bookstores, which eventually was used by 20% of the bookstores in the United States. He has been a simultaneous interpreter of both Spanish and Portuguese, and also has taught programming courses in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian and German.
“What we see with the internet today is the tip of the iceberg,” Les divulges, “I think the internet is going to pervade every aspect of life,” he says, adding that in the future he predicts it will become normal for everyone to be wearing a wristwatch that has the ability to do most of the things we now have to physically go somewhere to do. Pinter believes this is a growing problem; the age of technology is on the “tip of the iceberg,” and we are in the middle of a paradigm shift in which soon we will not need workers. This will create tremendously high percentages of unemployment and cause an uprising for people in need of jobs in order to live. Les says that “internet-based stuff is where to keep your eyes.” In the age of technology, staying in the know about tech products and the ever-evolving internet will likely ensure you won’t end up victim to robotics taking away your job.
One of the things that happens when you’re programming is that occasionally you run into a problem that you can’t figure out how to solve. “If you don’t put in the time, you don’t get the results,” Les says. While it can be very frustrating, Pinter advises that you get up, go for a walk, then come back and hit it again. It is so essential to be constantly learning. Indulge yourself in everything to learn about, acquiring information about all that is possible. Read everything you can, write about how you feel and what you observe, google random things, ask questions, go down a rabbit hole, travel and learn about other cultures, teach yourself an instrument or pick up a new language. Be constantly exploring and curious.
Music plays a key role in Les Pinter’s life. After his grandmother bought him a $10 guitar at age 13, Les began practicing until his fingers bled. In 1962, he became interested in the folk music that was becoming an important part of the anti-war movement. He played in coffee houses, and was on the Texas Folk Circuit in ‘63 and ‘64. He often plays outside on the patio that he built, or listens to his 900 Legacy headphones as he plays with his baby goat GiGi (Girl Goat) or watches YouTube videos. Les’s property is right by the highway, and he appreciates headphones that can actively cancel out the noise of the trucks and cars rushing by.
Springville resident Les speaks 6 languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Russian. He reads 2 books per week, typically about philosophy, psychology, economics, or finance. He wakes up and feeds the goats on his property’s goat farm, goes to his office and writes software all day, or writes the Tuesday editorial for the Porterville Recorder.
As for future programmers and coders, or those hoping to lead a life similar to Les Pinter’s, buy an arduino kit, Les advises, noting that it will open your eyes to what endless possibilities there are in the age of technology. Plug it in, run a few sample programs, and it will get you thinking. “The combination of the internet and specific devices designed for a specific purpose are a huge opportunity for young people in the future,” he says. While many things can go wrong in life, Les’s advice is not to look back. Question everything, be constantly searching for the truth, and never give up in your efforts to learn all that you can.
Les’ most recent book, “HTTPV: How A Grocery Shopping Website Can Save America”, is available on Amazon. He can be reached at Les@LPinter.com.