An Academic Journey Through Idea-Land with Professor John J. Donovan

An idea Professor Donovan had to help athletes avoid injuries – “This was a historic moment,” said Kathy Delaney-Smith, Harvard Women’s Basketball Team Head Coach. “I’ve been waiting throughout my 40 years of coaching to see this capability that will help young female athletes. Further, “girls are being plagued by sports injuries. This type of instruction and education could stop this epidemic.” (2010)[1]

Professor Donovan’s creativity and constant idea generation has led him on an extraordinary journey through academia. He has repeatedly re-invented himself. He has published research and taught thousands of students in a series of disciplines—medicine, electrical engineering, computer science, business and technology, economics, and making moments better for others.

At Yale, he had so many ideas his Ph.D. thesis[2] contributed to three disciplines: Medicine (a new blood testing process for clinics[3]), Mathematics (a new mathematical formulation for languages[4],[5]), and Engineering (a new digital simulation language[6]). The thesis proposed putting all three together in one practical application that would streamline testing procedures for laboratories throughout the medical community[7].

Upon graduation from Yale with a MS, MEng, and a PhD. in 1967,[8] then 24 years old, he became an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at MIT.[9] In 1975, he became Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Tufts Medical School.[10] Observing birth defects occurring in babies of women who worked in hospital recovery rooms, he had an idea — let us apply advanced computing to discover the causes of birth defects.[11] He developed the GENIUS (Genetic/Birth Defects Information retrieval and Update System)[12] and worked with Tip O’Neal[13] and Ted Kennedy to pass the Birth Defects Prevention Act.[14] Professor Donovan went on to found and serve as Director of the Tufts New England Center for Birth Defects[15]. He was awarded a Congressional Proclamation to recognize his contribution to “provide the world with greater information about birth defects, thereby contributing to the betterment of all people.”[16]

At MIT, Professor Donovan had an idea — a new approach to teaching Computer Science: teach the mathematical theory, lambda calculus, of computer science through its practical application in the development of operating systems and related programs. His first textbook, published in 1972 by McGraw-Hill, Systems Programming,[17] became the standard throughout computer science departments worldwide, it has been published in eight languages[18] and is still in use today. McGraw-Hill published his second book “Operating Systems.“[19] Regarded as the definitive text, it is still in print nearly 40 years later. This new approach to teaching Computer Science earned him the first annual MIT Schulz Award for Excellence in Teaching Electrical Engineering.[20] In 1977, he was awarded tenure at MIT. Professor Hazel L. Sive, Associate Dean of Science, sums up MIT’s tenure criteria in two words: “excellence and visibility.” Part of excellence, she says, “Is that you are either the top investigator in your field, or one of the very tiny handful of top investigators in your field, in the world.” Professor Patrick H. Winston (MIT ’65), who has helped administer tenure reviews in this department, says it’s crucial “that a person will improve the reputation of the institution.”[21]

Seeing the value of information technology applied to business, Professor Donovan had another idea —develop graduate and executive programs to help managers use Information Technology strategically. In 1973, he became head of the MIT Sloan School of Management Information Systems Department to implement this idea in the classroom.[22]

To complement the classroom application with research in this area, Professor Donovan was also named Director of the MIS Division of the MIT Energy Laboratory,[23] appointed the First Scientist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research,[24],[25] became a principal investigator,[26] and was also appointed to the Steering committee.[27]

Observing that the isolation of many disparate computer systems hampered business applications, Professor Donovan had another idea—put multiple virtual machines, each running a different operating system, on one physical machine, which allowed him to write the first communication program for operating systems.[28] Professor Donovan’s next idea led to his development of the seminal methodology for making these virtual machines secure.[29] This research publication was one of the first written by a non-IBM employee to be published in the IBM Systems Journal.[30]

In 1974, Governor Stanton of Vermont approached Professor Donovan for help during the energy crisis. Professor Donovan had another idea — with support from all six New England Governors and President Ford, he developed the New England Energy Management Information System (NEEMIS), a decision support system implemented in the New England states to prevent power outages.[31]

Seeing that MIT’s executive programs were able to accommodate a limited number of executives per year, Professor Donovan had another idea — begin an executive education company to provide courses and help to thousands of executives each year. Hence, in 1988, Cambridge Technology Group was born.[32]

In 1992, to facilitate the integration of information on multiple physical systems controlled by different organizations as acquisitions and consolidations proliferated in business, Professor Donovan had an idea — Surround them.[33] He developed an architecture allowing one governing program to call information from multiple systems.[34]

In 1998, seeing the opportunity for business applications on the internet Professor Donovan had an idea — a Three Tiered Architecture. He separated computer applications into three components: a presentation layer, a functionality layer, and a database layer.[35] This architecture inspired Donovan to develop business applications on the web.[36]

From 1990 to present, Professor Donovan had so many ideas he published six books. Thus sharing various aspects of technology applications for business.[37] These methodologies were used by over 200 of the Fortune 1000 companies and shared with 25,000 executives in 42 countries from 1990 to 2015.[38] This became the basis for 26 companies.[39] For these economic methodologies, in 1996, he received the first honorary Doctorate in Economics given since the breakup of the Soviet Union by Prague University School of Economics.[40]

In 2004, President Bush and General Myers, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, commissioned him to use technology to help detect and stop terrorism. He had another idea – the Joint Protection Enterprise Network (JPEN) system.[41] He also served as a technology advisor to Presidents Carter, Regan, and Bush.[42]

In 2010, he teamed up with Dr. James Andrews M.D with the Andrew’s Institute, to fulfill his goal of preventing sports injuries in young athletes—especially women. Professor Donovan had another idea, develop a web based informational program using Andrew’s existing assets of documents, videos, and experience to educate young women and their coaches in how to avoid injuries[43]

In 2000, Professor Donovan he began a long fruitful relationship with his son in the business. John Jr. (a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School) and Professor Donovan co-developed a model for business strategies and the place that technology can play. That model integrates all academic business theories into one model.[44] On a very sad note, John Jr. left us in 2015, leaving a wonderful legacy of intellectual achievement, he with his father cofounded ten companies and many other tremendous accomplishments.[45] Before John Jr. left us he spoke to his dad: looking at a picture of his four-year-old son, he said, “I love him so, my biggest regret is he will never know me, I will not be at his birthdays, or Christmas.”

In 2015, Professor Donovan had another idea – a way that would allow his son and others to be remembered at special events when they cannot be there. Use the technologies of social networking and ecommerce to allow anyone to compose a message, add a gift, and send it later. He started a company “SendItLater[46]. Most recently he has written a patent to prevent the sender from using social networks, including SendItLater, for terrorism or bullying.[47]

An academic at heart, Professor Donovan has returned to MIT as an affiliate in Economics, and is a Visiting Scholar at Harvard.[48] Presently he is working on his 17th book, specifically for entrepreneurs. The academic journey continues…[49]

[1]Groundbreaking Harvard & Cloud Industries Health Workshop Proves “Game-Changer“ Andrews Institute and Baptist Health Care”. Business Wire, 2010.

[2] Donovan, John J., “Investigations in Simulation and Simulation Languages“, Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 1966.

[3] Donovan, John J., McKay, D. K., Seligson, D., Wogrin, C. A., “An Analysis of a Clinical Laboratory Using Simulation”, Yale Medical Bulletin, Department of clinical Pathology, Yale Medical School, 1965.

[4]AFIPS Conference Proceedings“, AFIPS Press, 1967, John J Donovan Canonic Systems.

[5] Donovan, John J., “A Formal System for the Specification of the Syntax and Translation of Computer Languages“ Proceedings of the Fall Joint Computer Conference, (November 1967).

[6] Donovan, John J., “GPSS Under Yale DCS-IBSYS”, Memorandum No. 70, Yale Computation Center, September 1965.

[7] Marion Ball J. “Selecting a Computer System for the Clinical Laboratory“, Medical Laboratories (1971)

[8] Yale University’s Registrar Office.,, 2015.

[9] Donovan, John J., “Wikipedia“ N.p., 13 May 2015.

[10]Three Careers and Counting“. New York Times, Sunday August 21, 1994

[11] Donovan, John J., “Computer Diagnosis of Birth Defects“ Natural Science and Biomedicine Science News, Vol. 111, January 8, 1977).

[12] Donovan, John J. and Louis Gutentag, “GENIUS: Genetic/Birth Defects Information Retrieval and Update System,” Tufts Medical Report E53-317, (January 1974) – MIT Reference.

[13] O’Neill Tip Jr., “Wikipedia“ N.p., 13 July 2015

[14] On The Issues “Ted Kennedy on Health Care“, Kennedy co-sponsored the Birth Defects Prevention Act, 97-S419 on March 11, 1997

[15] Birth Defect Center in the news, “Computer system may help with birth defects“, Bangor Daily News, Feb 2, 1979.

[16] Donovan, John J., “Wikipedia“ wiki, 13 May 2015.


[17] Donovan, John J., “Systems Programming,” McGraw-Hill, 1972, 16 printings.

[18] “” System’s Programming. N.p., 2015.

[19] Madnick, S.E., and John J. Donovan, “Operating Systems,” McGraw-Hill, 1974.

[20] Shultz Award– “John J. Donovan.” World eBook Library. World Public Library, 2015.

[21] Jessica Lynn, “Unraveling Tenure at MIT“, June 11 2010

[22] Donovan, John J. and Madnick, S.E. “Institutional and Ad Hoc DSS and their effective use“, Database V. 8, No. 3, Winter, 1977.

[23] Donovan, John J. “Energy Laboratory Information Center“ MIT Energy Laboratory, 1976.

[24]AFIPS Conference Proceedings“, AFIPS Press, 1967, John J Donovan Canonic systems

[25] Donovan, John J., “A Formal System for the Specification of the Syntax and Translation of Computer Languages“ Proceedings of the Fall Joint Computer Conference, (November 1967).

[26]Statement of purpose, structure and research goals of Information systems“, Center for Information Systems Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, 1974

[27]The role of Information systems research centers“, Center for Information Systems Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Alfred P. Sloan School of Management. October 1980

[28] Donovan, John J, “Virtual Machine Communication for the Implementation of Decision Support Systems“ Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1977

[29] Donovan, John J. “Use of Virtual Machines in Information Systems“ Published 1975

[30] Donovan, John J. and S.E. Madnick, “Virtual Machines: Advantages in Security, Integrity and in Decision Support Systems,” IBM Systems Journal, Vol. 15, No. 3, (August 1976)

[31] Donovan, John J.”An application of a generalized management information system to energy policy and decision making“ -The user’s view by JOHN J. DONOVAN, LOUIS M. GUTENTAG, STUART E. MADNICK and GRANT N. SMITH

[32] USP to issues Trademark: “Cambridge Technology Group“, us fed news service, including us state news september 18, 2010

[33] Surround – Issued to Cambridge Technology Group (1,607,715)


[35]Multitier Architecture“, Wikipedia, wiki., 2015.

[36] Glen Rifkin. “SAP America President to Run New Company“ New York Times, Feb 1, 1996.

[37] Donovan, John, J., “Business Reengineering with Technology: An Implementation Guide,” (184p) Cambridge Technology Group, 1993.

[38] Donovan John, J. Hamilton Thorne Ltd, Executive Profile, 2015.

[39]Companies Created”,, 2015.

[40] Donovan, John J., “Wikipedia” N.p., 13 May 2015.

[41] Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher. “JPEN Shares Antiterrorism Information Across Nation”, March 3 2004

[42]Groundbreaking Harvard & Cloud Industries Health Workshop Proves “Game-Changer“ Andrews Institute and Baptist Health Care”. Business Wire, 2010.

[43] Andrews James Dr., Donovan, John J., “Doctor Andrews speaking about the sports education system developed“ YouTube, 2014.

[44] Ambidextrous manager Reference- “We Do The Impossible.” Cambridge Technology Group. N.p., 2015.

[45] “John Donovan III Obituary.” N.P., 2015.

[46] “SendItLater”., 2015

[47] “Coming Soon”

[48] MIT Scholar – “John J. Donovan.” N.P., 2015.

[49] John’s Career– “Professor John Donovan’s Career.” N.P., 19 Mar. 2014.



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