Fitzsimmons, whose legacy at Amherst is great but whose notoriety is muted, is largely responsible for the online playground that is NOTE, the Daily Jolt and Planworld. While many faculty, staff, alumni and parents of the Amherst community may be unfamiliar with the online contributions of Fitzsimmons, not a day goes by without students logging on to some of Fitzsimmons’ creations. Alongside Matt Gordon ’03 and Andrew Goldberg ’03, Fitzsimmons helped implement such mainstays in modern student life as the online directory, affectionately known across campus as “stalkernet,” and the live room draw ticker.
The idea for the Daily Jolt was born during Fitzsimmons’ freshman year in the unlikeliest of places: The Student. Working at the newspaper, he met Amit Gupta ’04E (then ’01) and Noah T. Winer ’01, who shared his interest in computers and his vision of a site that could provide pertinent information to college students. The three decided to expand on Amherst Central, a site created by Gupta and Winer the previous summer. The group, with the help of Brown University student Mike Goelzer and a catchy name courtesy of Fitzsimmons, launched the Daily Jolt that summer.
While Gupta and Goelzer decided to take time off from school to manage their brainchild, Fitzsimmons went back to Amherst to concentrate on his studies. But the online inactivity wouldn’t last for long. “This big void formed,” said Fitzsimmons. “I wanted to have something to do.” So he decided to organize a project in a way his competitors didn’t: “There were a lot of people with competing efforts, a lot of people who knew their stuff, but not a lot of communication or collaboration,” said Fitzsimmons. “Doing it as a student organization would help us and give us a lot of flexibility.” Collaborating with Baker Franke ’02, Fitzsimmons met with Director of Public Affairs Stacey Schmeidel that spring out of Fitzsimmons’ desire “to bring the geek community together.” And NOTE was born. By the next fall, the online directory was up and running-Planworld, a relic of the old VAX system that still occupied a special place in the hearts of many Amherst students, was the next major project. Alex Hochron ’02 started work on Planworld in the fall of 2000, and with Fitzsimmons’ help in the spring, a web-based Planworld became operational in March 2001.
Fitzsimmons seems to derive real pleasure from watching people use what he has created. “These are things that benefit people and things that people use without thinking about what’s behind them,” he said. “It’s exciting to see people use them.” But Fitzsimmons is reluctant to take credit for the internet subculture he has helped spawn. The online community, in Fitzsimmons’ eyes, is greater than any one individual. “Planworld is ubiquitous,” he said, “but it has no public face. That helps it as a community. There’s no leading member; I just try to facilitate it.”
A helping hand
Helping others has been the recurring theme of this Massachusetts native’s four years at Amherst. Born and raised in Pittsfield, Mass., Fitzsimmons spent almost two years during second and third grades living with his family in Belgium. They returned to Pittsfield before relocating to Shoreham, Vt., years later, while Fitzsimmons was in high school. A trip to Amherst and a night in South College during fall of his senior year helped Fitzsimmons realize that “Amherst wouldn’t be a bad place to be.” He had so much fun during orientation that he went on to lead a freshmen outing trip each of his next three years.
But Fitzsimmons’ community involvement didn’t end there. He was a Residence Counselor (RC) of the all-male floor in North College his sophomore year. “My residents were awesome,” he said. “I’m still good friends with almost all of them. In fact, next year 10 of them are living together.” This year he has returned to the RC ranks as the RC of Marsh House.
The ski team was also a big part of Fitzsimmons’ collegiate life. One of the weaker skiers on his high school skiing team, a perennial Vermont powerhouse, he didn’t plan to ski for Amherst. But Fitzsimmons joined the team his sophomore year,and has been the number one skier ever since.
Fitzsimmons’ plans for the future are, predictably, relaxed. This summer he will work as a white water rafting guide in North Carolina. He hasn’t picked a career yet, but he doesn’t feel pressured. “Ideally, I’d like to live out west and ski and get a job to support it,” he said. “I want a job I enjoy; I want a job that effects people in a positive way.” This shouldn’t be too difficult for Fitzsimmons, a man with a knack for achievement and a penchant for humility.