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Career Moves: From IBM to Internet Benefactor

Yoga helped this Internet pioneer realize that there is more to life than just building and selling products.

By Susan R. Cohen

Allan Weis was one of the first people in the world to have an e-mail address. Although he humbly rejects the title "father of the Internet," Weis was one of the pioneers of the information superhighway. His expertise in technology coupled with his business acumen led him to numerous exciting and successful jobs.

His first position was with IBM. There, he eventually became vice president of scientific and engineering computing worldwide and was responsible for the strategy, development, and marketing of high-end computers. He managed several hundred individuals and his job was extremely stressful. "On a good day, I worked between 12 and 14 hours," he says. "The bad days started by flying to Japan for a Monday meeting, then going to Germany for a Wednesday meeting, and holding 20 other meetings somewhere in between."

Although his job was rewarding, Weis felt that he had no time for himself. So in 1990, after 30 years at IBM, Weis retired. The very next day, he started his own firm, Advanced Network & Services (ANS), a not-for-profit company that aimed to build the largest and fastest network in the world. At that time, the Internet was slow and only a few universities, research laboratories, and companies used it. Within five years, ANS increased the speed of the Internet 700 times. Weis had 135 employees and customers around the world.

Although running his own company was rewarding, it was a little bit like being back at IBM: His clients were the same, the hours were the same, and the job was equally if not more demanding.

During this period, Weis's wife became a yoga teacher. After witnessing her positive growth, he decided to take some classes at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. He enjoyed the experience so much that he started a daily yoga regimen.

"Yoga gave me a chance to relax, to go within, and really look inside. I began to ask 'when is enough enough?' I realized that I didn't want to build and sell products for the rest of my life. I wanted to do something that would help others and have an impact on the world."

Weis saw both the positives and negatives of the Internet. He knew it would completely transform business. At the same time, he recognized it had the potential to further widen the gap between those who could afford the technology and those who could not. He wanted to do something that would help bridge this digital divide. He also loved kids and wanted to bring the educational power of the Internet to them.

In 1995, he sold the for-profit subsidiary of his company to America Online and launched his dream project, ThinkQuest, which encourages students to team up with others from different countries and socioeconomic backgrounds to build their own educational Web sites. Each Web site has a goal, such as how to read music, prevent teenage pregnancy, or cope with school violence. The sites are for kids 12 to 19 years of age.

Each year, the company holds a contest and gives away $2 million in scholarships and cash rewards to young Web site designers. Some students receive as much as $25,000. In 2000, winners included a boy from India, a girl from New Hampshire, and a boy from the Netherlands, all working together to create a multilingual Web site that teaches other children about electricity.

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