Sneaking into Apple Matt 29 Aug 2005

15 comments Latest by Joe

A year of my work evaporated, my contract ended, and I was unemployed. I was frustrated by all the wasted effort, so I decided to uncancel my small part of the project. I had been paid to do a job, and I wanted to finish it. My electronic badge still opened Apple’s doors, so I just kept showing up.

So begins Ron Avitzur’s tale of how Graphing Calculator 1.0, which Apple bundled with the original PowerPC computers, was secretly developed and installed.

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.”

“Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” is an episode of This American Life that also tells the story. Worming Into Apple is Wired’s take on it.

15 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Brad 29 Aug 05

How does

“Making software that is simultaneously easy to learn, easy to use, friendly, useful, and powerful takes people with an incredible combination of skills, talent, and artistry working together with intensity and patience”

fit into the 3 person version 1 theory? He seemed to involved many many people in order to accomplish his version 1. (“The secret to programming is having smart friends”)

Rabbit 29 Aug 05

Again, no silver bullet. For ANYTHING. 37S believes 3 is enough for their projects, and they stated that publicly.

I believe that in the comments of that post, they said that 3 may not always be ideal.

Besides… I think everyone can agree that this guy’s situation is a little bit different than most people’s. :)

JF 29 Aug 05

Right, Rabbit. We’re not claiming a silver bullet or that all projects will work with three people for version 1. We don’t believe in absolutes.

Bob Aman 29 Aug 05

I think I read this story first about a year or so ago. Great story then, great story now. Among my all-time-favorites from the world of computing.

Dave Simon 29 Aug 05

What a great story. I’m shocked that I haven’t heard it before, considering how many Apple books I have.

The best part about it is that I know that the Graphing Calculator motivated more than one person to buy a PowerPC Mac. I used to demo my 7100/66 to people, and the 3D graphs were one of the highlights of the demo. People in my dorm bought them because of that.

Imagine the PowerPC Macs without that, would they have sold as well?

dudley 29 Aug 05

I agree with Dave. I too watched several people marvel at that app and it was the tipping factor to their Power Macintosh buy.

ML 29 Aug 05

Brad, re: the 3 person version 1 theory…
One thing to keep in mind is the difference between web apps (what we usually discuss here) and software that ships (like the graphing calculator). A web app can constantly be revised, tweaked, and improved post-launch which gives you more freedom upfront.

sloan 29 Aug 05

There are many stories like this for Apple and Microsoft… engineers having to go covert to get technology done in spite of corporate decisions… it always makes me shake my head sadly.

Benjy 29 Aug 05

Continuing to work even after being let go… reminds me of Milton from Office Space!

Wesley Walser 29 Aug 05

Thats scary, funny, a amazingly great; awesome story.

Anonymous Coward 29 Aug 05

Brad, re: the 3 person version 1 theory´┐Ż

Keep in mind that the many people involved were not being paid by the solo developer, nor were they full time.

Brad 29 Aug 05

What I get out of it (3 person theory) is that a collaborative environment is the best environment for creativity and success. The fewer people there are (read also: the less organizational structure there is), the higher the likelihood for a true collaboration and cohesion of ideas and technology. The more people (and the more organizational structure), the less likely there will be a cohesive collaborative approach and effort. Especially for a first version. I think the Apple calculator example (and maybe Linux and others) demonstrate the power of true collaboration which is what a project involving small groups (i.e.: three people) seems also to be very good at.

Dan Hartung 30 Aug 05

He told his manager that he would start reporting to me… 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.

Two people for Version 1? Seems like it.

Seriously, they had to interface with other people at Apple, like QA, but that was because Apple was their customer. I ton’t think this is the counterexample people are trying to say it is!

I still think it’s one of the most bizarre software stories I’ve ever heard (and I’ve been reading the classics since the 80s, and garnered a few myself in the 90s). Makes that Lesiuretown episode seem tame.

napisy 31 Aug 05

Yes, Thats scary, funny, a amazingly great; awesome story