Oct 18, 2021
Cindy Twiss

Congratulations to Dick Hile: Soon-to-Be Retiree

Dick Hile didn’t set out to be a computer programmer. He entered the University of Michigan as a math major but after a couple of years, he found himself “mathed out” and wanted a change. Computer classes were cross-listed in the math department so he gave one a try, signing up for a beginning programming class. After that class, he switched majors to computer science and the rest is history.

Dick’s first real programming experience was on a work-study job in the U of M adult education department when his supervisor asked him to computerize the mailing system. He did, and after that, was hooked on programming.

After college, Dick’s first job was at Burroughs where he worked for a year and a half. He then went to Manufacturing Data Systems Inc. where, although he interviewed to be a developer, he spent three years in QA. In April of 1983, Dick was recruited by a friend at T & B Computing. Because he started on a holiday, his first day was a day off and Dick likes to say that he’s “been slacking ever since.” (photo above shows Dick at T & B in 1983--he's on the far right)

“Dick always claims he prefers starting things to finishing them,” says Howard Brooks, Director of Product Development. “He certainly has started quite a few big projects over the years, most of them integral to Advantage’s success. But the truth is, he’s had a pretty big hand in finishing all of those projects too. I’m going to miss Dick starting – and finishing – things, his commitment to doing it right, his deep technical insights and his steady leadership.”

Dick joined a team tasked with building a set of development tools for the engineers to use and he worked on that for almost 20 years. Although he has done quite a bit of application development as well over the years, Dick’s preference is to write software for developers. Working with structured languages has always been something he enjoys. Dick studied Spanish and Russian in college and then later taught himself Greek. 

“Dick and I started about a month apart in 1983,” says Ray Zick, Manager of Cloud Services. “He is a pleasure to work with and has been a great boss and friend. He is dedicated and hardworking and has bailed me out of more than a few tight spots when the computers weren't cooperating.

I have learned a lot from watching him and from bouncing ideas off of him.  He is the type of boss who is on your side and treats you as a peer. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had while working closely with Dick.  

In addition to computing, Dick taught me the best time to go to the dentist (tooth-hurty) and to never look directly at your salad (because it might be dressing). He did not, however, succeed in his many attempts to get me to eat sushi.”

Through the years, Dick moved up to Senior Software Engineer, Chief Software Engineer, Director of Product Development, Vice President (with the systems team reporting to him) and then finally, Vice President of Product Engineering, over the entire engineering division. As a VP, however, he still spent 80% of his time on development. He was responsible for reorganizing the engineering division teams when, as he says, “the lines between the various teams were getting a little blurry.” He organized them around deadlines; the product development team worked toward the next release date, the implementation team worked toward the client go-live date and the technical support team worked on a daily deadline.

Matt Varblow, now Vice President of Engineering Services, began working with Dick as an intern. “I learned more from Dick on that [first] project than I did from any of my computer science professors. Dick is an excellent teacher – articulate, patient, great with a whiteboard, incredibly knowledgeable on so many technical (and non-technical) subjects. I’ve learned so much from him over the years. He’s been a great manager, mentor, co-developer, and friend. 

In addition to his love for software design and naming things, Dick also enjoys helping others to broaden their culinary horizons. Starting with our first business trip together, about 20 years ago, he began introducing me to food beyond the American chain restaurants. He eventually convinced me to try sushi. Doesn’t seem so exotic now, but it sure did then! I can’t say his mentorship in this area was as important professionally as what I learned from his approach to designing complex software systems or instilling a software engineering culture, but it was tastier.

Happy retirement, Dick! We at ACS will surely miss your technical leadership, compassionate 'people management,' quick wit and restaurant suggections."

Although he has always emphatically stated that he is not a salesman, Dick went on quite a number of sales calls to prospective clients over the years and successfully wowed them with all things technical. 

Dan Heffernan, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, says that Dick’s knowledge, calm demeanor and endless wit were persuasive during sales meetings and visits. Prospects felt secure choosing Advantage knowing that Dick was at the helm of the product engineering ship. 

Dick says he enjoyed traveling and meeting clients at user group meetings and prospective clients on sales calls, although he was glad that it was an occasional, rather than constant, occurrence. Favorite places he visited included San Antonio, Oxford and Lisbon. 

Although he will definitely miss his coworkers, Dick hopes NOT to miss “the structure that gets me up in the morning.” If he finds he really misses programming, he might volunteer for some open-source programming, just to keep his hand in.

Dick grew up in Monroe, Michigan, but has lived in Ann Arbor ever since college. He met his wife, Wendy, in college but they didn’t start dating until after graduation. They were married less than a year later and have been married for 40 ½ years. They live in Ann Arbor and their three sons, Jim, John and Matt, now live in Minneapolis, Howell, Michigan and Indianapolis, respectively. John and his wife, Kelly, have three children and Matt and his wife, Amy, have one. 

Spending more time with the kid and grandkids is certainly on Dick’s post-retirement list, and he would really like to take each grandchild individually on a “culturally informative” trip, such as to Paris. He and Wendy also plan to visit other family and friends and would like to travel, including going back to Oxford and the UK, taking a cruise and perhaps spending a month or so abroad. Home projects, “church stuff” and grandkids’ soccer games are also on the agenda. 

All of us in your AdvantageCS family wish you and Wendy all the best in retirement, Dick!


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