GETTING WITH THE PROGRAMS RICHARD ARCHER ’83 It was 1979 — the Pirates and Steelers were champions, the music was disco, and Richard Archer '83 was a kid from the Beaver Valley who showed up at Robert Morris in search of a business degree. Steelmaking was hitting a downturn and America’s "malaise" was just dawning, but business, says Archer, "was something that would always be around." He had a hunch about computers, and majored in information systems. Entering the computer age at the end of the rotary phone era evokes some quaint memories of just how new — and rare — that technology was at the close of the 20th century. "One of the big challenges was getting to the computer lab and waiting in line to use the terminals," he recalls. Students learned COBOL, a business-oriented software program developed by the Defense Department 20 years earlier. There were three major lines on campus in those days: the cafeteria, the pay phone at the end of the dorm hallway, and the big Prime computer tucked away in the library.
Along with the computer, there was another rarity on campus: a young woman who was just breaking into the geeky world of programming. Richard’s high-school sweetheart, Lynn Tucker Archer '83 was destined for her own degree in business and information technology, and a romance framed in kilobytes. The pair left Robert Morris for good-paying jobs in the world of Pittsburgh business and a life together as a married couple. Lynn started working with IT companies, and after their first child arrived, she went on to take an advanced degree in education and moved her career into the world of academia. Richard went on to work with Mellon Bank and today is an executive at KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms. And he doesn’t have to wait for a computer terminal. He has one at his desk. Each of their four kids has a laptop too, and several tablet computers are to be found around their Franklin Park house, as are six smartphones with as much memory as the old Prime computer now long gone from the Robert Morris library. "We have a programmable thermostat," he laughs. He also has a deep loyalty to RMU. Together, Richard and Lynn are members of the President’s Council of annual donors. Richard serves on the Board of Visitors of both the School of Communications and Information Systems and the School of Business. "I want the university to stay viable," he says. "I want to see it help others as it helped me. You don’t do it all by yourself." Companies such as KPMG depend on a steady flow of young employees trained in business skills and, most importantly, taught how to think critically when confronted with a challenge. "The people that will make KPMG successful, the people that will make our country successful … they happen because of the Robert Morrises of the world."
Now, 31 years after graduating to a business world where complex information is a few taps away on a keyboard, Richard Archer is moving forward and giving back, and it all started with computer programming software that dates to the Cold War. But even though its origins are in computing’s Paleozoic Era, COBOL isn’t quite the fossil you might guess. "Believe it or not, there’s still a demand for it," says Richard.