Nintendo – 1989

My phone at work rang. (Remember when people had phones at their desk?)

“Claris, this is ___.”

“Hello. My name is John Smith. I represent a video game company here in town. We are looking for software developers for our next generation gaming console.”

Blink. “Um, OK.”

“I understand you have experience with the Western Digital 65C816 processor?”

“Yes, I do.”

“That’s great! We are looking for experienced developers on this processor to work on our exciting new game console and games for it!

“Do you play video games?” he asked, hopefully.

“Well, I don’t play video games that much, and when I do, it’s on the Apple II or the Mac.”

He said some non-committal things, and then asked the golden question:

“Would you be interested in interviewing for a position on our Santa Clara-based development team?”

“I would have to write 65816 assembly?”, I asked.

“Yes, that’s why I am talking with you.”

I paused and planned out what I was going to say.

“I have been promised a position at my current company working on the Mac once we wrap up our current project. Once that happens, I hope to never 1. work in assembly again, and 2. work on the 65816.

“So, I am afraid I’ll have to pass.”

He sighed. “OK, do you know anybody else who might be interested.”

I wouldn’t subject that to any of the other StyleWare people, or any of the Apple II people I had met at Apple since I moved to California.

“Afraid not.”

He game me his number, and said goodbye.

Ten minutes later, a phone near me rang, and one of my teammates answered. It was the same guy. Turns out, the guy was going down the list of names in the About Box, calling the Claris switchboard, and asking for each of them in turn.

Found out later that the machine in question was the Super Nintendo, and he must have been working for Nintendo, since when he called, the machine hadn’t shipped yet.

 

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Word Perfect – 1988

WPpd

I had been permanent at StyleWare for a few months, and we went to AppleFest, a trade show in Boston dedicated to the Apple II. We had found out a few days before we left that we had been acquired by Claris Corporation, but we were not allowed to talk about it.

The show ran Thursday through Sunday. Sunday afternoon about 3:00, I was running the booth. The show closed at 5:00, and was already winding down. The booth next to us had been playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” over and over and over again (evidently, they were a sound editing company, and were hyping the S in GS, which stood for Graphics and Sound).

So I was bored and annoyed and tired. A man in a suit nicer than mine came up to me. He was middle-aged, and cheerful. He had me show my demo.

He then said, “What’s your name?”

I told him. Then he continued,

“I’m Tim Johnson, and I work for WordPerfect.”

An aside: GSWorks, in the About… menu, displayed a dialog box with all of the developers’ names in it. Our president had managed to score a copy of WordPerfect IIGS. There were no developer names in their About Box. He did find the names, however. Programs on the IIGS were divided into segments for reasons that are too arcane for this blog. Our segments had names like “WP” (Word Processor) or “SS” (Spreadsheet), other utilitarian names like “DRIVER”. The developers for WordPerfect had hidden their names with segment names “DAVE”, “JOHN”, and “RAHUL”. Nice company, that.

I looked at him in the eye. “Oh, OK. Aren’t y’all doing a WYSIWYG version of that for the GS?”

“Yes, we are. Would you like to join us and work on it?”

Blink. Wait a minute…

“You are recruiting me for a job? Here on the show floor?”

“Well, frankly, yes!”

I paused. “Where are you located?”

“Provo, Utah”

It was hard to have a poker face. That is not a place I had ever considered living. I still am not interested in living there 30 years later.

“How many on your team?” I asked, while I tried to figure out how to say “No.”

“We have 3 now, but we just lost two, and are hoping to replace them soon. Which is why I am talking to you,” he said, smiling, while putting his hands in his pockets.

“And what is your position?”

“I am Director of Graphical Products,” he said, proudly.

I paused, trying to look thoughtful.

I said, “Well, I am hoping that after the IIGS runs its course, I can work on the Mac. I don’t really enjoy programming for the Apple II. I don’t think I want to move to Provo to work on the Apple IIGS.”

He whipped a card out of his pocket.

“Well, if you change your mind, call me and let me know.”

“OK, and thank you.”

Gotta admit; that took some guts. He must have been scouting for a while, waiting until I was alone in the booth.

Oh, and by 5:00, everybody had returned to the booth. The show closed (they announced it on the PA), and the guy with the stereo turned it up louder! The four of us programmers went over and asked the guy to turn it off. He said no! It’s a party! One of my buddies actually threatened physical violence. The guy thought it was a joke, but we all took as threatening stances as four sun-starved, shaggy, nerdy programmers could possibly take, and he finally backed down and turned the music off. Everybody around us cheered.

I still can’t listen to that song.

Claris Corporation – 1988

StyleWare was your classic startup slog. Way too much work. Very young brilliant programmers. Many soap operas of people in the sphere of StyleWare. Not much sleep; lot’s of junk food. A disastrous beach weekend. Some friendships lost. Some friendships made. This is not a blog about all of that.

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What we produced was an integrated package for the Apple IIGS that had a word processor, database, spreadsheet, graphics program, page layout program, and a modem terminal, all integrated together. It used the brand new graphical OS, called GS OS. It was actually a pretty monumental achievement, especially since it was written in assembly language. The team at large had started on this project in July or August 1987. I joined in December. By March, there was (barely) enough functionality to start being able to demo pieces of it. Our boss kept saying, “We’ll be done in 2-3 weeks”, but that went on for months. We did not have vacation time, although two of the fellows took a few days each to get married.

claris

On June 14, we were called into a company meeting, where it was announced that StyleWare, Inc., had been acquired by Claris Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Computer. It was undetermined at that point what else was going to happen, but the next day, the president and the other two founders had nice new cars.

We were going to AppleFest in Boston, a consumer trade show highlighting the Apple II. We weren’t allowed to tell anybody there about the acquisition, and were cautioned that talking about it on the plane or in restaurants could be a problem, as you never knew who was listening.

I was doing new builds for the show floor every night. I was fixing my own bugs, and having programmers dictate changes over the phone to me at night. Then I would build, test, and make new floppies to copy the software the next morning. Internet sure would have made that easier.

At some point, we found out that the president of StyleWare had received an invite to a party hosted by Apple. We knew he wasn’t going to go. So four of us showed up. The lady at the  door did not want to less us in. But we persisted.

“Hey, we are from StyleWare. You know who that is?”

“Yes”

“So you know we are one big happy family now?”

She sighed look at her feet, and said, “Fine. Here. Go. And don’t tell anybody I let you in.”

First time I ever crashed a party.


About a week after AppleFest was over, I got my job offer from Claris. It was a dramatic raise, but it required moving to Silicon Valley, as Claris was in Mountain View. That was OK with me. Of course, some things don’t change; I took home less from my paycheck after bills and taxes than I did in Houston… Oh, well. I took the job, because, well,  what was my alternative? I could have called the oil company guy for the position in Boulder, but it had been six months. Digital did not return my calls. There was nothing else in Houston. I did not know enough to know that all I had to do was get to San Jose, and I would find a job, but Claris got me there anyway, and that was good.

GSWorks was renamed AppleWorks GS, and we eventually shipped 3 versions, but the Apple II was near the end of its life, so it was not as successful as anybody hoped. Plus, the first version was very buggy and slow, and it never recovered from the ill-will that generated.

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Creating a new file in AppleWorks GS.

I will leave the rest of the story of AppleWorks GS and Claris Works to this article, written by a coworker, classmate, and friend.

I ended up working on FileMaker Pro. It was a great job for many years, and I was lucky to get it.

FileMaker Pro 2.0 for Windows (1992)
I learned programming in Windows to ship this in 1992.

 

And finally, StyleWare – Winter 1987

On Monday, December 14, 1987, I got up and got dressed. Had some cereal. Gathered up my two open-book, open-note, take-home final exams that I had completed over the weekend, and set out.

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It was a cloudy-but-not-cold winter morning in Houston. As I drove to the campus of Rice University, where I spent four and a half years in college (and four summers in summer school growing up), I became a little wistful. I was still going to participate in the Spring semester in Rice Concert Band and Rice Jazz Ensemble, and I was going to be there for graduation in May (Rice did not do winter graduation), it was not going to be the same (although one day when I did need to go to campus, I saw the statue that had been turned).

I dropped off my exams at the correct offices on campus, drove around the loop once, and drove out to Southwest Houston, just outside of Bellaire, to the office complex that housed StyleWare, Inc.

I went into the office. My boss had me sign a W2, and gave me an insurance packet, and told me to get to work.

I was now a full-time exempt software professional.

 

Gulf Coast Oilfield Equipment – Winter 1987

“Hello?”

“Hello, Mr. ____?”

The voice on the other end of the phone sounded familiar.

“This is Jim from Gulf Coast Oilfield Equipment. You interviewed with us a few weeks ago. How are you doing today?”

That’s right. I interviewed for them in Sugar Land. Actually, I was surprised it took me a while to recognize him since I only had one office interview that semester. Puzzled, I answered, “Fine.”

He said, “Listen, we have an opening in our office in Boulder, Colorado, and wondered if you would be interested in interviewing for it. Good location, good benefits, paid relocation…”

I thought about it for a minute.

“I just accepted a job here in Houston, and I think I had better honor that commitment. I have been working part-time with them for a while, and am in the middle of a project.”

“Well, that’s great for you, and a shame for us! Sure I couldn’t change your mind?”

I remember what my boss at StyleWare said about royalties. I remembed that most of my best friends were working at StyleWare. I remember the promise of eventually working on the Mac when we did our product for it later in 1988.

I also thought about having to deal with snow with my asthma and eczema.

“No, sir. I am happy with my decision. I really thank you for thinking of me, and calling though, and wish you luck on your search.”

He sighed. “OK. Do you have my number?”

I took it down when he gave it to me. He continued. “If you change your mind, please give me a call.”

“OK. Thanks so much. Bye, and have a Happy Holidays.”

Dejectedly, he said, “You, too!”, and hung up.

I should have at least gone up to Boulder and interviewed. I did make it to Boulder many years later; I would have loved an evening or two there, even if the job didn’t work out, and even if there was snow.

StyleWare, Inc. – November 1987

The president of StyleWare made a formal offer for permanent employment after I spent a summer full-time, and most of the Fall semester part-time.

“The pay’s not much salary, but we will give you a 10% raise after two years. The developers will share royalties for the software sold. You will have a health plan.

“Right now, we have no vacation or holidays. We expect that once you start, you will work until we are done with the first version. We expect that to be finished in June.

“You will be working on the infrastructure of the product, taking that task over from me, as I am finishing the word processor. The others are working on their modules.

“When do you finish school?”

I gave him a date.

“Could you start the following Monday?”

I said, “Sure.”

I think that despite the fact that this was a startup, and it being obvious that long hours were expected, I did pretty well for somebody who almost failed out of college, in the Oil-Glut economy of mid-80’s Houston, and who took forever to graduate.

Besides, there was still time for something else to come along…

Gulf Coast Oilfield Equipment – Fall 1987

Spring of 1987 was my most successful semester at Rice; I did well in all of my courses, including Algorithms and my retake of Introduction to Computer Architecture. That summer, I worked at StyleWare, writing a little Calendar desk accessory (kind of like an modern app), which was training for programming on the Apple IIGS and its operating system, GS/OS. I had one semester left to finish school, and that semester eventually went very well. I even got a “B” in Guido Contini’s Numerical Analysis course!

I was working part-time at StyleWare during that semester while I finished up, but was still open to other opportunities, so I went to the Rice Placement Office again, and prepared for that grueling routine. Except that the management of the Placement Office had changed. Ms. Overbearing was gone, replaced by Ms. Corporate. No longer did students line up and sign up for interview on a first-come, first-serve basis. No, instead, the student submitted their resume to the department’s pile. The resume was then put in binders. A prospective employer would then browse the binder, and pick out interesting resumes. The Placement Office would then contact those students, and setup the interview.

I did have a 3.0+ semester under my belt now, and I had real programming experience in my summer and present job, so the resume looked much better than the previous year. It wasn’t enough. I got no interviews through the Placement Office in Fall of 1987.

Was resigned to StyleWare. It had its good points, but I hated working in assembly language, particularly 65C816 assembly language. It was clear, also, that StyleWare was a startup and expected the engineers to work all hours and take no vacations until the next big product shipped, projected to happen in the Spring of 1988. So I was still open to possibilities.

I was a member of a board and table-top role playing group at Rice (War And Role-Playing club, or WARP), and I became very good at a game called Star Fleet Battles. We had a hard-core group of SFB players in Houston, and we were official playtesters.

One Friday night, I was playing SFB with one of my friends when I mentioned the fact that I wasn’t getting any nibbles from the Placement Office. He told me he knew somebody who was looking for a software engineer, and asked for my phone number.

Monday moring, a nice lady from Gulf Coast Oilfield Equipment (not the real name; I don’t remember what their name was) called me, and asked me to fax her my resume. I did so. On Wednesday, a man from Gulf Coast called me. We talked about what he was looking for, and asked me some rudimentary C datatype questions, and asked if I was interested in coming out to Sugar Land for an interview. I said “Yes,” of course.

A few days later, I drove out there. I talked to three people. The hiring manager himself was maybe four years older than me. He talked to me for about 2 hours, and we talked about general things (no whiteboard interviews, no code reviews, none of that. Different times…) The position was writing embedded software for computer-controlled oil equipment for pipelines, refineries, tankers, and floating rigs (I was remined about my discussion I had had about embedded software when I interviewed for National Instruments). The manager really liked my assembly language work at StyleWare. I thought the interview went well.

A few days later, the original guy, the manager’s boss, called me back, and told me that they had hired somebody else, but asked if they could keep my resume on file. I said “Yes,” of course.

Looking more like StyleWare was going to be permanent come January. Still did not have formal offer, though…