On January 2, 2001, the Dow Jones Industrial Index closed at 10790.92, and the NASDAQ (where much of the tech sector listed stocks) was at 2474.16. Bay Area traffic was completely choked; commute times were horrible. Most restaurants had at least an hour wait at dinner time, and were turning people away at lunch.
At Red Hat, my team had basically mutinied, and told me that they were going to work in the Red Hat San Francisco office (instead of Sunnyvale), which was the office of a company that was acquired a few months earlier. San Francisco itself was a party. The Red Hat office was south of Market (called “SOMA”) was full of startups. And, every night, there were parties at some of these companies. At these parties, where the price of admission was your resume, supposedly you could get anything you want, including possibly illegal activities like drugs and prostitutes. I do know you could get free drinks and food. These companies were taking venture capital money, and throwing these parties, because they needed engineers. But it had the effect of lighting $1000 bills on fire.
And then the world changed.
When I went to work the week of February 15, there was no traffic. It was gone. Many, many companies had gone bankrupt in the six weeks previous. The restaurants had tables. Rents started going down. You could tell that the dot com bubble had burst. It was palpable, and there was panic, as unemployment went through the roof.
By March 31st, the Dow Jones was at 9799.47, and the Nasdaq was at 1830.42. And it would get worse.
The product I had been managing was a commercial failure, so my role was changed to manage GDB engineers, and the engineers formerly on my team were basically assigned to miscellaneous integration tasks. Red Hat was starting to lay people off to reduce headcount as it absorbed us.
At one point, my team was assigned against its will to bolster a huge project that was in trouble. The project itself was being run out of our Atlanta office, and we had to fly out there to learn how to develop this product.
Eventually, Red Hat and the former Cygnus engineering management team pulled the plug, and laid everybody in Atlanta off. There was one engineer working remotely from a farm house in New England, and they forgot to lay him off! He eventually was laid off a few months later after he did not adapt to working on GDB very well. One result of that project was that two of my better people left, both going to Apple.
So, Red Hat was in turmoil, and during all of this, I got another call from a different recruiter at Apple. It was for a Quality Assurance Manager position.
I was not a QA person, but I had managed some, and had come from a background of strong QA, both manual, and automated. So I agreed to come in.
I walked into the conference room at Apple, and there was the same hiring manager I had talked to a few months earlier. “Oh, hey, good to see you. Haven’t heard from you in a while.”
I said, as evenly as I could, “Well, you were going to call me with next steps, and you never did. So I figured that you weren’t interested.”
He looked genuinely puzzled. “I never called you? Huh. Thought I did. Sorry about that! We were looking a for a pure project manager, and decided that you did not match the roll.”
He continued. “We are looking for a QA manager for the Developer Tools group for Mac OS X here. Have you installed Mac OS X yet?”
The first commercial version of Mac OS X (Cheetah) had shipped a few weeks earlier.
“Well, I have a Power Mac 8600/300, which does not support it. I have not purchased a machine on the off-chance I would get a job that needs it…”
He laughed. We went ahead with the interview. I don’t remember much about it (other than an interview question I still can’t answer 17 years later. I don’t think that there is a solution, but the fellow was obviously expecting the answer to be easy). One session, though I got a surprise.
A few weeks earlier, one of my friends decided to throw a music parlour party. She asked many of her friends to bring some prepared music, and we would all play/sing for each other, and have dinner and wine. She sang, and her accompanist on piano was a good player. At some point, he started playing “All Blues” (jazz), and I started playing soprano sax along with him. We jammed out.
He was one of my interviewers; he was the compiler manager. So that was cool. And evidently, one of the guys who worked for me at Cygnus/Red Hat, and who had worked with me at Sun Labs, had recommended me. He met me at the door, and took my temp badge on the way out.
The interview seemed to go well; it was on a Monday. On Wednesday, my grandboss at Red Hat told me that he was moving me into a more senior management roll, managing GCC engineers. It was a step up in prestige and responsibility for me. I wonder if he knew I was getting ready to leave…
And I got the offer! Finally, the company I had most wanted to work for for 12 years was hiring me.
And I took it. My Red Hat grandboss tried to keep me, but my heart was already at Apple.
When they showed us the “Think Different” ad during orientation, I cried. I was home.