News Column

Son of farmer, man bitten by computer bug at early age

June 29, 2014

By Linda S. Morris, The Macon Telegraph

June 29--Many farmers want their kids to follow in their footsteps, but not Isaac Culver's dad.

He grew up in rural Glenwood, near Vidalia, where his father and uncle owned Culver Brothers Farm, growing tobacco and raising hogs and beef cattle.

"They didn't really want me to learn a lot about farming," Culver said. "(My father) had ideas for his sons to do different things than farming. He thought I was going to become a doctor."

Instead, Culver got bit by a computer bug and never looked back.

"I was about 10 when I had my first personal computer," said Culver, 44, president/CEO of Macon-based Progressive Consulting Technologies Inc., which he co-owns with Dave Carty. The company provides computer program management support services for businesses and the government.

The company started off with a mostly commercial work load, growing into more federal and state government jobs. That's now about 90 percent of its work. But with sequestration -- automatic federal budget cuts which went into effect last year -- some government contracts are not being continued, he said.

Now the company is turning its focus back toward commercial work.

"We do business process management, which is basically how an entity is doing their business, and we tend to automate those processes and then we integrate it into their core business," Culver said. "Hopefully that leads to acceleration across the whole enterprise. So that's our mantra: automate, integrate, accelerate."

Dan Slagle, director of technical operations for Cox Business Services in Florida and Georgia, met Culver about 10 years ago when Progressive Consulting needed a fiber connection at its office.

"While (Culver) is very dedicated and focused on his business, he is also a dedicated father and husband," Slagle said. "He's incredibly bright. He understands technology better than anyone I've met. ... He doesn't get stuck on the small stuff, and he's a great joy to be around."

Culver knew when he was 10 he wanted a career working with computers.

"There was no question in my mind," he said.

As luck would have it, Culver was in the right place at the right time -- and fortunate to be friends with the right person.

He and Ed Roberts Jr., who both went to Wheeler County High School, would get together after school and build video games on a mainframe computer. His friend's father told them if that's what they wanted to do, "you are going to learn how to do it correctly."

His friend's father was Dr. Edward Roberts, who had a medical degree and a doctorate in engineering. Roberts owned Datablocks Inc. and is credited with developing Altair 8800A, the first personal computer, according to a 1986 article in Computerworld magazine. Bill Gates -- who went on to claim his own computer fame -- used to work for him. Roberts had moved from New Mexico to south Georgia where his wife grew up.

"My parents signed a waiver when I was 15, and I went to work at Datablocks," Culver said. "(Roberts) brought in programmers to teach his son and me how to program professionally. ... I got out of school at 1:30 (p.m.) to go play" with computers until about 8 p.m. before heading home to do his homework. The teens also worked most Saturdays and all day during the summer.

"It wasn't work. It was so enjoyable because it's what I loved to do," he said. "I was taking a lot of college prep courses at the local community college at the same time, too."

The teens developed applications that Roberts sold around the country with a later version of the Altair computer.

"It was a fantastic experience," Culver said. "Some of the guys who designed the first operating systems for mainframes for Coca-Cola and Frito Lay ... were our trainers. We got to have personal relationships that lasted through the years, decades."

Roberts sold Datablocks in 1977, got a medical degree from Mercer University in 1986 and worked as a Cochran physician until he died in 2010, according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

Culver graduated from Wheeler County High when he was 17 and enrolled in Mercer, where he met his business partner.

Culver continued to work for Datablocks during his first year of college. Then he worked part time for Georgia Power designing software while attending college full time. The software he designed controlled robotic arms.

He chose Georgia Power because "I thought I wanted to be an electrical engineer," the same as Roberts, he said. "I was always amazed by how he actually created the electronics portion of (computers)."

But as Culver got more into the engineering program, he realized he wouldn't be able to create a computer without a doctorate degree.

"I could create software then, so I stuck with it and got an electrical engineering degree, "but I never really used it," he said. "I've always done programming."

After two years at Georgia Power, Culver and Carty created Online Software LLC as a division of the former Online Computers Inc., which was on Vineville Avenue.

Both entities started at the same time in 1989, he said. Online Computers handled the hardware side of the business, and Online Software created the software.

Online Software morphed into Progressive Consulting in 1990. The company's first contract was with the Bibb County Board of Education.

The company moved into the second floor of the former Mid Georgia Ambulance building on Vineville Avenue. Culver had earlier written software for company.

"I've always just been so incredibly impressed with Isaac and his integrity and work ethic and his skill level," said Ben Hinson, a previous owner of Mid Georgia Ambulance.

The men became close friends.

"Like every small business, he's had some bumps to overcome, but he never complains," Hinson said. "He just keeps fighting to overcome them. It's a great lesson for other people who want to start a business to understand. ... He's just a great guy. The fabric of what he's made of shows through every time you are around him."

When Progressive Consulting first started, Culver said he and his partner were doing a lot of different things.

"Probably by the fifth or sixth year of business, we decided to focus on application development," he said. "Prior to that, we were a jack of all trades and master of none."

The two-man business acquired more customers, which meant hiring more employees. They got recommendations from Mercer professors.

"All our new hires came through that path, and I think all of them are with us today," Culver said. "It was relatively slow growth. We added two or three people a year for the first five years. ... Then we got some larger government contracts, and they required us to staff up. About '96 was our first significant contract with (Robins Air Force Base)."

The company created software that the U.S. Air Force used at its three logistic centers.

At Georgia Power, Culver focused on automated systems in manufacturing, now one of his company's specialties.

"One of our customers is the Defense Logistics Agency, the support arm of the military," he said. "We automate their processes."

The company now has 30 employees and about 10 contractors across the country. It has workers in the District of Columbia, Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee in addition to Robins Air Force Base.

"We have very little turnover," Culver said. "We do everything we can to retain them."

One of his biggest challenges is "finding new people who have a passion and love for technology versus a passion and love for the money," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm a capitalist, but you have to have the passion for the work."

Slagle said Culver's passion for his work is evident.

"He has a great work ethic," he said. "He's doing what God intended for him to do."


To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.


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Source: Macon Telegraph (GA)

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