Macintosh turns 30

Jan 22, 2014 by onno in Life

This week it is 30 years ago that Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. First, by means of the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial and then the unveiling itself at Flint Center in Cupertino. While I was unaware of those events when they happened, they did nonetheless greatly influenced me a few years later and are the key events that led to where I am now.

In 1987 I was working as a PC software engineer for KMG in Amsterdam, one of the big accountancy firms in Europe. That year the company merged with Peat Marwick becoming KPMG Peat Marwick. KMG had standardized on MS-DOS, Peat Marwick was a Macintosh environment. As part of the merger a calculation was made of what was more efficient/effective: port the company’s Mac apps to MS-DOS, or porting the MS-DOS apps to Mac. The outcome? Port to Mac. And thus, late that year, I wrote my first app for the Mac Plus.

It was thrilling and new: writing windows, drawing dialog boxes, tracking mouse clicks, implementing copy & paste, menus, buttons. I became interested in the Apple culture. I read John Sculley’s book Odyssey and learned about Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, Steve Capps, and Steve and Steve. In 1989 I attended my first Apple WWDC in San Jose. That was it, I was hooked and I had to become part of Silicon Valley. One way or another this had to happen. I had to find a way.

The next year KPMG started a project to rewrite all its Macintosh auditing software. There were going to be two development centers, one in Amsterdam and the other in Montvale, NJ. Montvale was where KPMG’s headquarters were so it was clear that the gravity center of the project would be over there. And, while not exactly California, that was much closer to Silicon Valley than Amsterdam was. So, with some skillful elbowing, I inserted myself in the project as the lead engineer and KPMG agreed to relocate me to Montvale.

In order to make that come true I needed something called a work visa. Not something I had given any thought and not something I thought would really be a big deal. It’s just a piece of paper. With great enthusiasm I threw myself into the project. Spent a couple of multi-week trips in Montvale to help get the team off the ground, start drafts of the design, look for apartments. In The Netherlands the movers were coming by putting my furniture into storage and I gave one cat to my parents and the other to Marja in eager anticipation of my imminent move. Slowly it started to dawn that this work visa thing was a tad tricky. KPMG knew how to move accountants from country to country but not software engineers. The US Immigration Services asked KPMG to explain why it is not a franchise of national companies (like McDonald’s for example) but rather a single integrated multinational firm. And there was the little detail of me not having a college degree which made qualification for visa that much harder. After nine months, and six of those with my stuff in storage, I gave up, had the movers return my furniture to my apartment in Amsterdam, informed the partner in charge of the project of my change of mind. With pain in my heart I canceled the option I had on a 12th floor apartment in Fort Lee with a view over the Hudson onto Manhattan.

The next two years I picked up life again in Amsterdam and moved on from this failed attempt. We did a crazy project for Cargill involving smart cards, digital signatures and Secure PS/2 workstations that greatly helped in distracting me from how to get to Silicon Valley.

Then, in March 1993 my ex-colleague Jeroen, who was now at Apple, whispered via an email that they were looking for an evangelist on their team in London. A few phone calls later both parties were interested in taking this further. The team organized a developer event in London which gave me the excuse to attend and visit with the team. At the end of the week I accepted the offer. London, much closer to Silicon Valley than Amsterdam, and I’d be working for Apple! At least half of the dream was being realized!

In June of 1993 I relocated across The Channel and moved into my funky apartment in Ealing, West London.

While I missed the Macintosh launch itself, wasn’t really aware of it, I was there for another one. In 1994/5 Apple was switching from the Motorola 68000 chip family to the PowerPC architecture. Leading up to the launch of the new machines and for some time after, a period of about a year and a half, I travelled the UK and much of Europe with the so-called pizza box (what would become the Mac PowerPC 6100) under my arm doing insanely great demos and helping developers port their apps to this new architecture. It was exhausting but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun professionally.

In early 1996 I started to interact with the Copland (one of the code names for Apple’s next operating system) and OpenDoc developer evangelism teams in the US. I learned of an opening on the Copland team and got myself invited to a series of interviews. This was going quite well with the manager of the group and I reaching agreement on my role on the team and the relocation to Cupertino. Then, a week later I got a phone call. He told me that there was a rather large re-org over there and the position disappeared. Darn. So close.

I was now in the education team in Apple UK. In November we organized another series of Apple Days for universities. We brought over Marc, a group manager in the Mac OS product marketing team, to do some of the presentations. Kate, my manager, whispered to Marc of my desires of moving to Cupertino. A month later he offered me an OpenDoc product marketing position in Cupertino. I accepted.

On January 3 1997 I landed at San Francisco airport. January 6th was my first day in the office at Infinite Loop. A few weeks later, very briefly I met Steve Jobs.



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