December 22, 2004

Cult of the Mac

Amazing Story: The Graphing Calculator

Excerpts from the story:

I asked my friend Greg Robbins to help me. His contract in another division at Apple had just ended, so he told his manager that he would start reporting to me. She didn't ask who I was and let him keep his office and badge. In turn, I told people that I was reporting to him. Since that left no managers in the loop, we had no meetings and could be extremely productive. We worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Greg had unlimited energy and a perfectionist's attention to detail. He usually stayed behind closed doors programming all day, while I spent much of my time talking with other engineers. Since I had asked him to help as a personal favor, I had to keep pace with him. Thanks to an uncurtained east-facing window in my bedroom, I woke with the dawn and usually arrived ten minutes before Greg did. He would think I had been working for hours and feel obliged to work late to stay on par. I in turn felt obliged to stay as late as he did. This feedback loop created an ever-increasing spiral of productivity.

Apple at that time had a strong tradition of skunkworks projects, in which engineers continued to work on canceled projects in hopes of producing demos that would inspire management to revive them. On occasion, they succeeded. One project, appropriately code-named Spectre, was canceled and restarted no fewer than five times. Engineers worked after hours on their skunkworks, in addition to working full time on their assigned projects. Greg and I, as nonemployees who had no daytime responsibilities, were merely extending this tradition to the next level.

In October, when we thought we were almost finished, engineers who had been helping us had me demonstrate our software to their managers. A dozen people packed into my office. I didn't expect their support, but I felt obliged to make a good-faith effort to go through their official channels. I gave a twenty-minute demonstration, eliciting "oohs" and "ahhs." Afterward, they asked, "Who do you report to? What group are you in? Why haven't we seen this earlier?" I explained that I had been sneaking into the building and that the project didn't exist. They laughed, until they realized I was serious. Then they told me, "Don't repeat this story."

We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security.


At 12:24 AM, Blogger Abisurd said...

I read the article because a colleague thought I would be interested in reading that article. I have always been interested in the history of softare industry and these kind of stories intesrest me.

This is a great article and it shoes that if you have the will to do something, you can do it against all odds.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Watziznem said...

Happy New Year Dhar!

How did ur placements go?

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Dhar said...

Hey Chand,

Happy New Year to you too...

Placements start from the 8th of Jan. Am targetting mainly IT companies... Have applied to a few, but no shortlists out yet. So waiting for the shortlists. Will mail you the details later.

How is it going for the guys at IIM-A?



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