Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 4 / APRIL 1983 / PAGE 130

Profile of a snooper trooper. (Tom Snyder)

Profile of a Snooper Trooper

This year was 1978. The month was January. The meeting was set for the following Tuesday at the home offices of one of the largest game makers in the world. Tom Snyder, now the president of Tom Snyder Productions (formerly Computer Learning Connection) in Cambridge had an appointment with a key executive at Parker Bros.--the head of game acquisitions.

Tom recalls, "I had looked forward to the meeting for months, constantly redesigning my game called Personk, a wood-wire-string contraption that was a simplified model of a computer. I had put an enormous amount of my own time and money into the project.'

When the fateful Tuesday finally arrived, Tom discovered that all along the meeting had been set for the previous Monday. "It only took me a few moments to realize that I had subconsciously decided to miss the meeting. I wasn't ready to leave the known, comfortable word of teaching known, comfortable world of teaching world of business.'

That startling moment of insight, however, ended up being a turning point in Tom Snyder's life. "I went back to the drawing board filled with a compulsive burst of creative energy. By the end of the week I had purchased a microcomputer and taught myself to program. Next, I transformed the three-dimensional game of Personk into a piece of microcomputer software for kids.'

Snyder followed Personk with a series of educational simulations for his students at Shady Hill School covering such subjects as archeology, community, energy, geography, and geology. He and his venture capitalist partner, Jere Dykema, soon sold these programs, called "The Search Series,' to McGraw-Hill. By then the fledgling entrepreneur was ready for the business world "and that time I did not miss the meeting.'

Today, Tom Snyder is 32 years old, recently remarried, and the owner of an endearing old mutt name Roqueforte. He continues to teach at the same private school in Cambridge "out of a sense of loyalty to the school and a love of kids.'

He scored a notable success in late 1982 when his Snooper Troops I and II became the first educational gameware for home and school computers to make the industry's bestseller list. These games, as well as the upcoming The Most Amazing Thing . . ., were published, marketed, and distributed by Spinnaker Software Corporation of Cambridge, MA.

While Tom variously describes himself as a design addict, programmer, songwriter, advocate for children and technology, teacher, author, and entrepreneur, he also possesses a well-deserved reputation as an avant-garde thinker in the home and educational software field. He is wary of the drill-and-practice approach to educational software. The material Tom designs reflects his belief that a classroom should be a "learning environment,' a place where group dynamics and proficiency in basic reading and writing skills are more important than using a computer.

He states, "The computer is there as a servant or a tool. My goal as a teacher isn't to have the kids become CRT nerds. I prefer to have students take an active role with the computer by making them responsible for keeping track of information and having them work together in small groups. To teach a set of skills, the software must encourage kids to manipulate numbers and facts and make decisions.'

Recently, Tom and several colleagues authored a book entitled Computers in the Classroom. His contribution was a series of vignettes "all of which have a dour sound to them because I am still very skeptical about the use of computers in classrooms.'

Tom Snyder, however, has no skepticism about his own company and its products. "We want people to know that we are trying always to write the highest quality, most entertaining software possible. We're fascinated with the technology, always looking for excuses to design, and the thing that keeps us honest is our attachment to kids.'