In a relatively young industry such as personal computers, it is unusual to hear of the death of any of its major figures. So it came as a shock to hear about the passing of Al Shugart, one of the leading pioneers in the field of disk drives. He was 76.

Shugart was born in Los Angeles and started his computer career as many others did at the time, working for industry giant IBM. He quickly rose to the position of Direct Access Storage Product Manager, in charge of IBM's disk drive products—IBM was an innovator in hard drive technology at the time. In 1961, he helped IBM create the world's first hard drive, the Advanced Disk File, which later became known as the IBM 1301.

Shugart founded Seagate Technology in 1979, one of the earliest personal computer disk drive manufacturers and still one of the largest such companies today. His first hard drive stored a total of 5MB. He initially had trouble finding funding for that project, because nobody at the time believed personal computers would ever need that much storage. His company also had success with floppy drives: the famous 5.25" Disk ][ drive that propelled the Apple ][ from obscurity to success was a Shugart drive (later, Apple would decide that they could make more money doing disk drives in-house, but the project, the infamous "Twiggy" drive, was abandoned due to extreme unreliability).

Later in life, Shugart became involved in politics. In 1997, he formed the group Friends of Ernest (FOE), an accredited nonprofit watchdog organization dedicated to promoting public interest in the American political process. To demonstrate the ridiculous nature of elections where incumbents ran unopposed, he once ran his dog, Ernest, for Congress (Michael Moore would later repeat this stunt by running a ficus for Congress on the show TV Nation).

Shugart was well-liked and his company prospered under his leadership. He retired from the company in 1998 to pursue a consulting career, helping young entrepreneurs start technology companies.

"He could be stubborn, but he gave people a lot of rope," said Bill Watkins, who worked for Shugart after Seagate bought Conner Peripherals and eventually became its CEO, in an interview with Reuters. "He allowed you to run your organization."