Remembering Irwin Moiseff
Written by Ken Brophy
December 10, 2020
Irwin and I met while working at General Dynamics in Pittsfield, MA. I was working on a research project focused on integrating software systems for a surface U.S. Navy ship. Irwin came into the lab and everyone there had experience with him on other projects...except for me. Even though I had been at GD for about 8 years, Irwin and I had never crossed paths. He came over to me and asked what he should start working on. So I gave him a project and he got to work.
What was a bit unusual was that Irwin was a very experienced developer having led many big projects at the company previously. Yet, here he was thrown into a new project and he just wanted to get to work to get things done. Looking back on it, he never questioned why he wasn’t the lead and why I wasn’t working for him. He just got to work and trusted me. It kind of shocked me at the time and is a quality of his that I still admire and try to emulate...give others respect and trust no matter what their experience or title.
The project I gave Irwin was to get our software up and running on a new platform; a Solaris machine. We already had it running on Windows and Linux. So, Irwin went to work at his station. A few hours later, I wanted to check in on him because I thought it would be a short task. He said that he was having trouble getting it compiled as he had never used our build system before. So, what’s ironic about this is that the software was written in Java and didn’t need to be recompiled to run on Solaris. Irwin, while having decades of experience with different languages, had never used Java and didn’t know much about it. So, I explained to him that the nature of Java doesn’t require recompiling...he just needed to install a virtual machine and give it the software. He looked at me and started chuckling while making a deprecating comment about himself. We had a really good laugh and I knew that we were going to get along.
A few weeks later, I noticed that Irwin had a dirt bike as his computer’s wallpaper. So I asked him about it and he said that he’s an avid rider and has been for decades. I told him that I also ride and that we should go for a ride sometime. He agreed and told me that there was a race coming up and challenged me, saying that he would “whoop my butt.” This was around 2003 or so when I was 34...Irwin was 60! I was taken aback by his exuberance and confidence. He was certain that he was going to beat me because we had similar motorcycles but he weighed about 80 pounds less than me at the time. He kept telling me that physics was on his side. I gave as good as I got with the taunting.
The day of the race came and Irwin and I got to the starting line. Irwin got the holeshot and was feeling more confident than ever (I later found out). But just after the second turn, I got around him and never saw him again. We got back to the pits and I went to see Irwin. He was mystified at how this tragedy could have possibly taken place. Shaking his head and asking me how it was possible that I finished ahead of him. Of course, he was laughing the whole time and picking on me along the way. It was great fun. I heard about that race for years and years and his continual surprise at the outcome.
A couple of years later, Irwin was getting ready to retire. But before he did, he and I had a business trip to California to work with one of our partners on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS, this is the project that we had done research on but now we were working on it as a vendor to the government, since we were one of 2 contractors selected to build these ships). While we were there, we decided to give a presentation to our vendor, Real-Time Innovations (RTI). We had chosen RTI’s software to help us integrate software from many companies who supply equipment to the LCS (things like radar, navigation, and weapons systems).
Our research project had resulted in a number of tools and techniques that could be used with their software to help speed up our integration work. RTI was interested in our work so we delivered a 2 hour presentation to the company leadership. They were impressed with the work we had done and wanted to take us out to dinner and further discuss our plans. At the dinner Irwin mentioned his upcoming retirement and RTI asked if he wanted to do some work for them. Irwin wasn’t convinced...at first. He was looking forward to skiing, snowmobiling, motorcycling, shooting, and generally just enjoying himself in retirement. RTI told him that he could work part time and work as much or as little as he wanted. He and I talked about it and I encouraged him to try it...what did he have to lose? He could always just tell RTI he was done if he didn’t enjoy it. So he agreed to give it a shot.
His time at RTI would be some of his most enjoyable years as a developer. He was able to engage his passion for helping others by being a fierce advocate for customers. He did this through both his in-person training sessions at customer sites as well as his time with our customer support team.
As Irwin transitioned to “retirement” / RTI, I became more interested in making a change in my professional career. I hadn’t updated my resume in a decade but I did so and only sent it to RTI. After seeing how they treated Irwin and having used their software, I thought they would be a really good fit for me. However, I would have to be a remote employee as I couldn’t move my family to Boston or California where RTI had their offices at the time. Irwin gave me a great recommendation and RTI offered me a position.
So Irwin and I were back working together...and that would continue for almost 15 more years. We would often meet for lunch; talk about RTI, features, customers or bugs. But we’d also talk about our families, riding motorcycles, shooting, politics and life. We became very close friends over the years. I would often ask him for advice and he was always there for me to give it...or to just talk it over.
When I think of Irwin, I think about his passions. He was passionate about everything he did. Whether it was his family, his toys (motorcycles and snowmobiles), his work, or his friends. He was all in. There was no gray area with Irwin. If you were his friend, there was no doubt that he would back you up and be there for you. I’ve never had a more loyal friend. And, honestly, I’m not sure I ever will. Irwin was a one-of-a-kind.
To say that I’ll miss him doesn’t even begin to cover it for me. He was my best friend. He was a mentor. He was a father figure to me. I admired him in so many ways and on so many levels that it’s hard to express the void I now feel.
Irwin, good buddy, rest in peace.
If you have thoughts you wish to share about Irwin, we welcome your comments. Please use the submission form to the right of this post to send your comment which we will add to this post in a timely manner.
Please join RTI for a virtual memorial in honor of Irwin Moiseff on Wednesday, December 16th from 8:00am to 9:00am PDT. The details are below:
Meeting ID: 937 3223 6476
Thoughts from Irwin's Friends and Teammates
I met Irwin when I started at RTI in 2008. After I checkmated Irwin in 3 moves in 2009, his mind was blown. For years, he kept reminding me about it every time I talked to him. After I started having kids in 2014, he kept telling me how smart they must be because of their dad. I loved working with Irwin. I admire how Irwin stayed as active and sharp as possible even after he was semi-retired. I never met his family, but I’m sure they must be extremely smart because of him.
-Yusheng Yang, Senior Software Engineer, RTI
It was super fun to work with Irwin, he would hold you accountable. He had a way to be simultaneously blunt and funny. Super smart person, but also really caring and passionate, it really seemed to me he enjoyed working at RTI. He wanted to keep with the times, and he saw a lot of Raspberry Pi (the name of a computer that was becoming popular then) in the news, so he got himself one, phoned me once to ask a question about setting it up, and when that was done, he said "I'm the ‘Pi man!". That was Irwin, as always, keeping up with the times.
-Memo Salas, Senior Software Engineer, RTI
From the first time I met Irwin, I knew he had a special place in the team at RTI. Irwin had technical knowledge that no one on the team (besides Irwin) remembered, and he had an ability to see the solution to a technical problem that no one else could see. Irwin had an excitement and natural sense of curiosity about the world, which I think made him an excellent engineer. It also made him an excellent friend.
When I first joined RTI, I learned one of Irwin’s favorite ways to ask for a quick phone call about work and life. He’d often send just a single-word text message: “Talk”. That was Irwin’s way of telling me to call him about something. Irwin was incredibly generous with his time and taught me many things over my years of knowing him. From the first time I met him in our sync up meetings, Irwin became an unofficial mentor to me. He was there to guide me in the right direction, give me life advice, and share entertaining stories from his years at RTI. Irwin was always available to help, no matter the time difference between Pittsfield and Sunnyvale.
I remember one day in late March this year — the day that the shelter-in-place order came down in Santa Clara County — I was feeling a bit like the sky was falling. Irwin happened to call and shared stories from his years at RTI, and by listening and hanging out with Irwin, the stress and uncertainty of this new pandemic situation subsided. That day Irwin relayed stories of flying to the UK, and spending 2 weeks in Israel, and sleeping on the floor of Terminal F in the Philadelphia airport when a surprise snowstorm hit (he joked “Do you know how hard that floor is??”). Through it all, Irwin had praise for the company he called home for so many years, and I happened to write down a quote from our call. He said: “That’s one thing I like about RTI, ya know. Everyone is willing to step in and give you a hand, and I try to do that myself. If someone asks me for help, the answer is always “yes,” because I ask too.” That quote stuck with me — it was a perfect encapsulation of the love Irwin had for his job and his coworkers at RTI. We will miss him greatly!
-Grayson Honan, Software Engineer II, RTI
If there is one word that comes to mind when talking about Irwin, it is smiling and having a positive attitude towards life. Always. I have learned so much from Irwin. I will always keep deep in my heart our conversations about history (his eloquent and fascinating stories about the Spanish El Cid, about the roots of the Sephardi Jews, the stories about Christopher Columbus, and many others), his experiences in Spain while in the Navy...And especially our private conversations, where I would ask for his opinion on life events happening to me, about politics, and all sorts of things. He was always happy to talk to you, and listen to you.
One example, of many, I will always remember, is one of his advices on a personal level about relationships: “Victor, never let yourself go to sleep angry. Sort it out beforehand”. Today I still apply it in my life.
I am glad I was able to share those moments with him. He was a mentor to me during my first years at RTI and he then became my friend. When Irwin was around, you always knew you were going to have fun. A beautiful soul. And even now, when I think about him, I smile. That’s who he was and who he will always be for me.
-Victor Gomez Magana, Senior Software Engineer, RTI
I didn’t work directly with Irwin, but I do have a fond memory I’d like to share. The infamous RTI whale watching boat trip on a very windy January day. It was one of those ideas that sounds good, but turns out to be a bad idea. While most people were sick, Irwin was just all smiles and having a great time. I got to learn about his Navy days that day. So when I think back on that day, I just see a happy smiling Irwin, it makes me smile and glad we took that trip.
-Cat Mekler, Vice President of Operations, RTI
As a relative newcomer to RTI, I talked to Irwin only a couple of times, but even those brief encounters left a huge impression on me. He once wrote this (to me, it seemed) highly technical article that I was editing for him. I had some questions about it. He suggested (rightly, because he was wise!) that we should chat over the phone about it. I was planning on looking like a big dummy asking him my questions. Instead, he started the conversation right off the bat telling me how important my input was. He was really good at explaining the technical content, too, I learned a few new things I hadn't expected to learn. And of course, he explained it all colorfully, with equally colorful tangents about life. It was the beginning of shelter in place, and honestly my conversation with him that quiet Friday was the highlight of my day, it really pepped me up. I knew right then that Irwin was a very special person and still is, for many.
-Rachel Hass, Senior Technical Writer, RTI
When I joined the Support Team two years ago, Irwin took me under his wing and helped me in so many ways.
I remember one Saturday night I just felt like talking to him when I pinged him on Slack, he responded with "I'll run down to the BatCave and I will call you".
He was all ready to help me with any problem I was working on. He was happy when I told him I was just testing him since he used to say "call me...any time". We just BS'ed for an hour+ about nothing in particular.
When I thanked him at the end of each call for helping me, he always responded with "I am always here...1RTI."
He loved RTI and he loved helping people.
-Gary Belanger, Senior Support Engineer, RTI
My name is Jan Van Bruaene. I manage the R&D team at RTI. I like to start off with a few words. Irwin joined RTI around the same time as I did. He was at RTI a bit earlier. As I was in the Services and Support team at the time, and Irwin was teaching Quickstarts to our customers, our paths crossed often. After a few years, travel was becoming a burden to him. So I asked him, why don’t you join us on Support. You’ll keep working with the customers directly and you don’t have to travel. And the rest is history.
Throughout the years, he would bring it up regularly: “Jan, I “blame” you for bringing me to Support.” But I don’t regret it. Every day you could tell he loved Support.
Irwin was a smart engineer, with lots of debugging experience. He was the customer’s best advocate. He was humble, honest, direct, and very often funny. He said it the way he saw it. Especially if he didn’t like something in our products, he would call the developers and let them know in colorful explanation why..."It didn't make any sense." Or there was that time at one of our company kick offs, where we normally discuss big picture things, strategy or roadmaps. "Are there any questions?" the presenter asked at the end of one of those presentations...and Irwin's hand went up. He didn't want to waste the opportunity to share his opinion about a very specific Quality of Service field "I got this one thing I got to tell ya, when customers use that QoS..." He was always caring about the product and the customers.
Irwin was also very caring for his team. He admired all in the support team and spoke highly of them. Later in our professional relationship, when I wasn’t his direct manager anymore, I would call from time to time. He would always answer with "To what do I owe this honor?" He appreciated the call. During those calls, he would always make sure I knew how great each and every individual support engineer was. “You hired a great new engineer for the support team” or “I am proud to work for your new support manager” or “That young kid straight out of school is smart as a whip. Make sure you keep them.” No matter your age, your experience, your background, or your title, he respected you.
I admired Irwin’s spirit, how he was forever young at heart. Those who worked with Irwin knew he still rode dirt bikes, his Harley Davidson. He seemed happiest when it started to snow and he could go ski or snowmobile. One of my favorite visuals of Irwin was after one of those ski trips. He was working part-time already at that time. He had just returned from a morning on the slopes. He must have been thinking about a support case on the slopes. Maybe he had figured it out, or something was bothering him and he wanted to check in on it. He didn't waste a moment. He skyped me right away, and not even fully changed out of his ski gear he wanted to run something by me. His hair was a mess. He still had his ski-pants on and full of energy..."I think I figured it out...let me tell ya"...and off we went into the technical details. That’s the Irwin I will always remember: thinking about customers, caring about his team, and full of energy. I will miss Irwin!
-Jan Van Bruaene, Vice President of Engineering, RTI
The funniest anecdote I can think of is when he first tried our LabVIEW toolkit. He called me 2 minutes after opening LabVIEW for the first time and asked how to zoom in, which wasn’t available in that tool. He complained that a senior citizen like him should be allowed to zoom in when needed. So we worked around it using the OS magnifier, but he wasn’t happy. The next day, he called me from the eye doctor saying that he had gone to get a new prescription and now he was sure he could tackle LabVIEW and learn our new product to be ready for our customers. He was passionate and ready to tackle new challenges.
That’s just an example, but I always felt that Irwin was the goal of any Engineer getting older: sharp to the last day, always willing to learn new things, and patient to explain anything to newcomers.
-Sara Granados, Principal Field Application Engineer, RTI, EMEA
Every time we prepared for a new release, I knew I would get a call from Irwin sooner or later, as he had always been one of the first to try out the new features, and really wanted to provide feedback to make it easier to use for our customers. He never stopped learning -- all the way from our Ada API to the greatest and latest Android and Raspberry Pi platforms, and he would chase me through all his questions until he fully understood everything. I wish I could be like him as I get older: never stop learning, and always full of energy. I will miss him.
-Elaine Sin, Director of Software Engineering, RTI
I will always thank Irwin for sharing with us his positive view of life, his experience, and his vitality all these years. Since day one I joined RTI, he was there for helping and giving advice. He always had this unique, brilliant way of understanding our customers. Discussing with him our most complex cases was always really useful to unblock an investigation or find new ideas to work on. He also used to share with us all his outside activities, from riding his motorbike to swimming in the mountain lakes. He loved to see my kids and always reminded me how fortunate we are to have them. When we had meetings late in my day and I was at home already, he always asked me to let them in on the call and started saying to them “Hola” and making them smile. We were so lucky to have him in our lives. There are no words to say how much we will miss him.
-Sandra Rodriguez, Senior Software Engineer, RTI
While I never worked directly with Irwin, I enjoyed meeting him for our company kick-offs in Sunnyvale. I will never forget our bull riding fun event. I bailed out, not being brave enough, feeling too old and afraid of a harsh landing. Irwin proved that it is not a matter of age, just a matter of confidence. The RTI family will miss him a lot.
-Reiner Duwe, EMEA Sales Manager, RTI
I had the opportunity to work with Irwin while I was in the support team in my first 6 months at RTI. I still distinctly remember when Irwin saw me in the meeting for the first time, he later called me to have a proper introduction and get to know me as a person. He was one of those people who immediately gave off that friendly and caring vibe. Irwin was a great mentor to all the new join-ees in the support team (most of us being straight out of college). He was sort of my professor in my time at support. He had an almost instantaneous aha moment to most of the support issues due to his extensive experience and passion working with customers. I remember his working style being talking directly to customers rather than sending an email and waiting for a reply. I started doing that myself as I became more comfortable with RTI products, and I have to say that was one of the best ways of building relationships with customers.
Irwin wasn’t just all work and no play. He often used to reply on chat saying “Going out” and later call you describing his adventures on the snowmobile, his Harley or dirt bikes. For a person his age, he was very active and energetic. I also had the good fortune of meeting him in person at CKO 2019. Irwin will always be an inspiration for me and an example for how to live life positively post the retirement age. He was an amazing person, colleague, mentor and a human being. His presence added so much value to RTI, and he shall be missed dearly!
-Pralhad Sapre, Software Engineer II, RTI
I can only say good things about Irwin. I will never forget when I started working in RTI and he told me: “Keep in mind that if you are here it is because you are excellent. Right?” I have learned a lot from him and I have always been amazed by the incredible relationship he established with the customers. He was always smiling and willing to lend a hand without expecting anything in return. We will miss him a lot.
-Samuel Cardenete, Software Engineer I, RTI
I actually interfaced with Irwin only a few times since I joined RTI but they certainly left an impression. Over the recent summer I got a Saturday AM call to discuss an open support case with a customer and Irwin’s intensity and desire to make things right by the customer really struck me. I actually had a hard time getting Irwin off the phone that morning and as I multi-tasked in the backyard through the conversation we eventually turned to discussing his health struggles but at the time he sounded positive about his outlook. That was the last time we spoke so was very saddened to hear of his passing. My condolences to his close friends and family.
-Bob Galbreath, Field Application Engineer, RTI
I met Irwin over 8 years ago when I first joined RTI and I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with him ever since. Over the years our relationship has evolved from him being a great mentor to me on under-the-hood Connext to me being his manager. But more importantly, from us being colleagues to becoming friends and beyond: Irwin is to me like that distant uncle you don’t see all the time, but every time you meet, your time together is enjoyable and lifts your spirit.
The first time I heard about Irwin I was told he was an ‘older guy who came out of retirement and works on the support team.’ When I first met him, the first thing that struck me was that he was the youngest 70-year-old person I had ever met. In fact, he was younger than many 30-year-olds, too. I have never met anybody so full of passion and energy as Irwin: his Harley, his snowmobile, skiing, his boat, he always had something fun in mind. I remember to make it a habit to check on the weather forecast during ski season to see how much of Irwin we would be seeing in the team.
As an engineer, he was sharp and talented. He would remember all those little details that usually became key when resolving a support case. If somebody in the team was stuck in a case, I would recommend them to call Irwin - and allocate extra time to hear some of his stories as well :-). He was always trying to keep up with technology. I remember when he bought his first Raspberry Pi, set it up and got Connext running on it. He called me to proudly announce he was then the official Pi Tester in our team.
As a support engineer, he always put the customer first. He was the most passionate customer’s advocate I’ve ever seen. He would challenge the technical leads if he thought something wasn’t right with the way the product behaved. He would ping me with “Houston, we have a problem,” if something looked bad. Once, he even debugged a customer issue while sitting in the ER after a ski accident.
In the last few years, he would tell me “1RTI comes first, I love working at RTI and I love RTI, the last thing I’d want is to hurt the company. And I know forever is not an option. If you ever think I don’t add value anymore, let me know and I will step down.” I always told him he would always have a place in my team for as long as he wanted it. I meant it. And in the end, forever was an option.
As a colleague, he was the best cheerleader one could ask for his team. When I first joined, he would call me just to say how great I was and that I would “take over the team” one day. When I became support manager, he would constantly tell me he was honored to serve in my team and that he loved the team we were building. He gave me way more credit than I deserve. He would also call me to tell me how smart and great our engineers were. He always felt humbly proud of the support team. I think he never realized how important his role and influence were.
As a friend, he would ping me just to ask for my kids and to give me friendly advice on many subjects. He would complain that he could only take as many slopes today and that he needed a younger body. I often told him “I also need a younger body, can I borrow yours?” It was refreshing to talk to him and feel his passion for life.
I have many memories of Irwin but one that shines above all is from a CKO that we had in the middle of great snow storms all over the US. Many people were delayed in their trips and arrived in the middle of the week. Irwin was the last one to arrive, and he did so during one of Stan's presentations. The moment he stepped in the room, with his cap, his carry-on and his eternal smile, the entire audience turned around, stood up and gave him a great round of applause. That's how loved Irwin was by his RTI family.
I will never forget our conversations about technology and history and life. I will never forget his stories. You could walk through the history of computer science by listening to him talk about his career. I will never forget our whale watching boat ride in rough seas (he must have been the only one that was thrilled that day, whereas almost everybody else was seasick). I will never forget his wild ride on a mechanical bull. I will never forget his image in his “bat cave,” or how he called his computer set up at home
I will never forget our last conversation. He had just got a very dire prognosis from his doctor, but he told me “Belén, I’m 78. I’ve had a good life. I have a wonderful family. I had a great first career. And I’ve had an even better second career with RTI. I’m humbled by the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Every day I’m impressed by how smart and talented people at RTI are. RTI has been my home. Don’t be sad, I’m happy”.
I will never forget Irwin.
-Belén Cara, Director of Support, RTI
Thank you all for making me feel connected to a person I never met, as I just joined the family recently. An extraordinary session of an extraordinary company for an extraordinary person! Thanks!
-Klaus Elter, Senior Account Manager, EMEA, RTI
I only met Irwin once and he was quick to call and straighten me out. I have a brother-in-law who works at GD and after I connected with him his first question was "hey - do you know Irwin at RTI?"
-Paul Schmitt, Field Application Engineer, New England, RTI
I just found the pre-Quickstart checklist for the QuickStart at GD where I met Ken and Irwin for the first time. Irwin was my GD contact person. It was a wild training class.
-Bob Kindel, Vice President of Finance, RTI
While Irwin was on the Support Team, Tom O'Connor and I would meet up with him anytime we were in the Albany area meeting with GE Research. One day Tom and I took Irwin out to lunch there in Albany at a restaurant called “The Dinosaur.” This place is a great barbeque restaurant and was a favorite place that he said he liked to go. We had a very good lunch and were able to catch up with Irwin on the various support cases he was working on. He commented many times during that lunch about how we need to expect excellence from our product so that our customers could be successful. After lunch we were standing in the entry way of the restaurant and on the wall was a painting. It was a painting of a big T-Rex dinosaur with a helmet on riding a motorcycle. As we were looking at the picture, Irwin looked back at us and said “You know what? That is me. I am an old dinosaur who loves to have fun. Look at the smile on the dinosaur’s face. That's exactly the way I look when I am on my motorbike and/or snowmobile.” It is so true. I will never forget that day with him, and all the times with him.
-Bert Farabaugh, Director of Field Application Engineering, RTI
I really loved Irwin. When I was on the support team he was as helpful, friendly, and to-the-point as everyone else has already mentioned. Once I was off of the Support team I always loved getting messages from Irwin asking for a call about a support case. I knew we'd talk about the case for a few minutes and then spend the rest of a good part of an hour or two talking about how hard it is to be a retiree -- too many activities to choose from.
I thought I'd just share that after the memorial today I mentioned to my brother-in-law that we had just had a memorial for my semi-retired co-worker who was on our Support Team. He said "Oh, the guy you're always talking about?" I guess I did always talk about Irwin and tell stories, because thinking about Irwin and talking to Irwin always put a smile on my face and anyone else who was around, even if they didn't know him.
-Erin McManus, Principal Software Engineer, RTI