Changes II – 2006

My first child was born in 2005. At the time, my career at Apple was starting to take off. But we lived at least an hour from Apple in San Leandro. The commute was really painful now that we had a baby in daycare and both of us had full-time jobs. If something happened to my spouse, and I had to pick up the baby, I basically had to leave at 2:30 when I normally would leave at 5:30 or 6:00. I was basically gone from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM. It was really hard on my spouse and the baby.

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Actually, taking 880 to 92 to 280 was longer, but rarely had traffic in the morning, so it took less time. And it was a beautiful drive, with views of San Francisco, and hills. The evening commute was always terrible, though.

And the work was ramping up as my responsibilities grew.

And then we got pregnant again.

Funny thing about having children: you look at the world differently. We loved our house in San Leandro, and our little neighborhood subdivision was really nice and pretty. However, it was really close to really bad neighborhoods in San Leandro, Oakland, San Lorenzo, and Hayward. Now that we had children, we saw many more shady characters walking and driving around. The high school up the road was truly scary-looking. We decided that we needed alternatives to San Leandro.

There was the night we were up with the baby, and a couple of men were parked in an old car with the engine running right outside our house, talking for two or three hours.

And there was the time the intersection where we lived had tire-mark donuts in it, from somebody doing “sideshow” driving.

We started looking at houses closer to Apple, which would improve my commute, and put us in much better school districts. My wife’s work required a lot of travel, and our house was close to the Oakland Airport. San Jose International had a different, less convenient set of flights, so that would be a drawback, but not that bad, considering the other benefits.

We started taking a look at real estate in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain View, Los Altos, and Palo Alto. And we were horrified. Our house in San Leandro was a 4000 square feet, 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath Spanish-style house, with a big kitchen and good living spaces. There was no yard or anything, but the house was spectacular.

There were no houses like that on the Peninsula or in South Bay.

We spent many weekends looking at houses. We found 50 year old houses that hadn’t been updated for $800,000. We found some smallish new construction houses for $1.2 million. But the most dismaying was in Palo Alto.

It was a lot on University Avenue (a busy street). The lot had 4 tiny little houses on it, and one of them was for sale. It was 650 square feet, and had a bedroom, and bathroom, and a kitchen. The house hadn’t been updated (ever), and the roof had grass growing out of it. All of this could have been ours for a bargain price of $999,995! What a deal!

We did find a nice 3000 square-foot house in Cupertino was 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths, and a reasonable yard. Relatively new. Still not as nice as the San Leandro house, but we liked it. It was $2.6 million.

A side note: I know that prices are much worse now 12 years later. It was still unbelievable then

We talked to our mortgage broker, and she said that she could get us into that house, but unless we made extra payments to the principal, we would not gain any equity unless interest rates went down, and if the housing market started losing value, or if interest rates went up, we would have a negative equity situation, and a ballooning monthly payment.

I grew up in Texas. I met my wife in Texas, even though she did not grow up there. Her ex-husband’s family was from Texas, and she had spent a lot of time there. My family was in Texas. Hers was in Kentucky, but Texas is a lot closer to Kentucky than California is.

I opened a web browser and started looking at positions. There were a lot of positions open in Dallas and Austin. Neither one of us were interested in Dallas, but Austin seemed intriguing.

After we discussed all of the options, we decided that I would pursue positions in Austin. I will discuss the job hunt and the position I eventually interviewed for and took in the next post, but one little post-script.

After I had an offer from the Austin firm, I was trying to plan my exit from Apple. One day, one of the engineers who had worked on the Intel transition approached me, and said, “I was impressed with your work during the Intel transition while in the Developer Tools Program Office.”

“Thanks.”

“There is a position in the Mac OS X Program Office I think you would be a great fit for. You should apply. It’s kind of like what you are doing now, but will be more strategic for Apple, have more visibility, and more impact.”

Sigh.

I told him, “Well, I am moving my family to Texas and leaving Apple. So I won’t be applying.”

He looked very disappointed. I wonder now if that was a position working with iPhone.

 

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Changes, Part I – 2005

Apple was and is a great place. I had a rough patch (previously detailed here), but I was hitting my stride. I no longer felt I needed to leave in order to advance my career. I was a manager of a small QA team, and in charge of some crucial, but not code-based, content in the Developer Tools space.

One day, my boss pulled me into a room, and told me that I was being asked to join a secret project. They could not tell me anything about it; I had to sign the non-disclosure form to continue. The upside was working on something potentially important and strategic; the downside was I had to get permission to buy and sell Apple stock (and I might be turned down depending on what was going on). Also, I couldn’t tell anybody what the secret was.

I can tell it now because it became public. Apple was moving from Power PC G4 (produced by Motorola) to the Power PC G5 (produced by IBM) for desktops, potentially moving laptops as well. This actually did not affect my day-to-day work terribly much; the compiler, debugger, and Xcode teams were directly affected. But, in my role coordinating everything, I had to know.

Apple announced this at a World Wide Developer’s Conference, the annual pilgrimage of all of the developers to hear what Apple (and Steve Jobs) had to say about the state of the world.

Alas, it did leak; Apple accidentally published a premature version of the online store catalog (here is one article on geek.com talking about it). And one publication, and I can’t find the article, talked about the whole deal the Friday before.

My favorite is Steve Jobs at the announcement:

“I am here to tell you right now, that is was a mistake, and it’s true.”

It was big and powerful and fast, and one of my favorite Macs for the time it was released that I have ever owned.

A little while after the G5 was released (1-2 years later?), I was once again summoned to conference room by my boss, and asked to sign a piece of paper.

This was when I was brought into the big Intel secret.

My speculation is that the reason the Apple board agreed to buy NeXT was that Jobs promised he could deliver an Intel-based OS that could power Macs. After all, NeXTStep ran on a variety of hardware platforms by that point. I have no evidence of this, but it just makes sense.

When I got there, there was a team who was known to be working on Intel stuff, but they were in a badge-only set of offices, and we could not see the work they were doing. We were building Mac OS X for both Power PC, and Intel Xcode x86 architectures, although none of us could run the Intel versions of anything.

Sometime after I joined Apple in 2002, this article about the secret Intel project was published. This was a big deal. This leak caused more internally visible scrambling that anything else I saw when I was there. A few days after this article was published, Apple announced to its employees that Project Marklar was being shut down, and the engineers were being reassigned to work elsewhere. So, that was that, then.

We were still building Intel binaries in the build train, however. Every once in a while I asked about that, and was told to shut up and just accept it, despite the fact it really slowed down our builds, and caused problems for some of our compiler and build system features.

A while later, the former core Marklar team was made available to the Developer Tools team to help with the hard work of moving Mac OS X to code built on a new compiler. This is work I had done for Jaguar and Panther. Somebody else was doing the work for Tiger, but that person could certainly use the help of a handful of senior engineers.

After I signed the paper, I was informed that Marklar had not actually been shut down; the team now helping with compiler porting had been working on it the entire time, and they were helping with the compiler because it was the first compiler capable of building everything for an Intel release.

It was really cloak-and-dagger stuff. If I needed to talk to somebody about my work, I had to ask my boss, who had to ask her boss. If the person was already disclosed, it took a few minutes, and I would be in touch. If, however, the person was not disclosed, I had to make a case as to why they needed to be. If management agreed, I would get a phone call some time later from a very shocked person, and I would have to bring them up to speed.

One afternoon, my boss came by my cube, and asked if I could stay late. I asked how late, and she said that I would be out of here by 9:00. Meet her in the lobby of Infinite Loop 1 at 8:00 PM. And bring the cart from the lab.

At 8:00, outside of Building 1, there were about 20-25 people all nervously chatting and talking. Some of them had carts as well.

A rental moving truck drove up, and one of the program managers got out of the driver’s seat. She was laughing and happy. She had us line up behind the truck. When she opened the back, there were several dozen old G5 computer boxes. She started passing them out. Developer Tools got 10. She told us that these were the Intel developer prototype machines. They looked just like G5 towers, so they could be visible. But they had to be behind locked doors. As I was loading our machines onto the cart, my boss informed me that I was moving to an office with a door. The program manager also told us that she went to pick them up at a warehouse that Apple had not used for a while. Apparently, Steve Jobs, some of his staff, and some of the most senior managers had built these machines, with sixties music blaring on a stereo, and food and beer. She said these people were acting 20 years younger as they put these things together. There were even soldering irons in use! These things were very expensive computers, that’s for sure.

Right before WWDC 2005, my first child was born. I took a few hours out of my parental leave, and attended the keynote at Moscone West. Well, I was shuffled into the Apple employee viewing room, anyway; you had to be pretty special to be in the hall mostly reserved for paying developers.

And we watched the announcement. It was probably the proudest moment of my career as people who I worked with every day realized I had been working on this transition in plain sight.

Flock – 2005

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By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16480620. Because this attribution is leagally required.

Late in 2005, a recruiter called me. He was representing Flock, a social browser. They were past just starting out. They had a few engineers, a president, and not much else, and were looking for a VP of Engineering. They were at the point where they needed adult supervision. Would I be interested?

Well, I thought to myself, a startup could be quite lucrative, which would be great for my expanding family. It would take all spare time, which would not. However, with a title like VP, maybe the stock options would be generous?

From the recruiter:

The Culture

The Company’s goal is to attract motivated people who seek career opportunities with the industry leader, a growing company, whose products are superior to the competition and is dedicated to excellence.  The Company takes great pride in its people, and realizes they are its greatest resource; the desire is to make the environment one of opportunity for personal and career growth.  Like most start-ups, our work environment is fast-paced, collaborative, demanding, and highly productive. We all readily take on responsibilities outside our job descriptions and are all focused on getting a lot done. We value intelligence, flexibility, energy, perseverance, resourcefulness, commitment, willingness to learn, and ability to work at any level of detail and scope. Excellent oral and written communication skills are required, as well as good inter-personal skills. Accurate estimates of identified tasks, and the capacity to work under pressure are all a must.

Intangible Qualities they are looking for

They need an executive that is excellent with customers, respectful, cares about people, strong integrity & ethics, Someone that has a record of over-achievement success, & strong performer.  They are looking for an executive that prides themselves on long term career opportunities and personal growth ability.

This company is very much a “people” person company and that is the key driver with everyone they hire.  What they are looking for is a team builder, strategic thinker, bold, energetic, dynamic, change agent, someone that can partner with other executives, expand international markets, “eye of the tiger”, very sharp, articulate, brilliant, smart, &, charismatic, sense of humor, and self starter.

So, I decide to check it out. They sent me a white paper-like doc, and it starts with the following:

Flock is a new browser, built on top of firefox (sic). It is a functional browser with excellent features (including firefox features like tabbed browsing, etc.). What really makes is stand out are two additional features they’ve added to build social networking directly into the browsing experience: social bookmarking and a wysiwyg (sic) blog writing tool.

It then proceeds to describe the various features, referencing del.icio.us-type features. And it talks about its builtin blog editor. All somewhat interesting. So I agreed to stop by.

They were located in downtown Palo Alto in an old Victorian-era house, apparently owned by the venture capital firm backing them. The place as a house was sorely lacking; there was dry-rot, and it needed cleaning and painting. I walked in the front door, and was immediately assaulted by what I can only describe as Startup Funk. Took me back to StyleWare. It had elements of mildew, unclean bathrooms, unbathed young men, and stale Chinese food. The main room had 2 or 3 banquet tables covered with computers. The president’s office was a room off of the main room, and it was pretty nice.

We talked for half an hour about software management, scheduling, QA, demos, hiring, etc.; all of the stuff you would expect to talk about in a management interview. Then it was my turn to ask questions. So I asked the one that had been on my mind ever since the recruiter contacted me.

“How are you going to make money?”

“Well, we are working on our second round of funding.”

“No, what’s your revenue model?”

“The browser is free”

I paused, trying to be nice. I continued, “At some point, somebody who is not buying a stake in the company is going to have to pay you for something. It could be a cost to download, a cost for a subscription, or by selling ads somewhere. What’s your plan?”

“Oh, we aren’t worried about that right now. Our goal is to grow as fast as possible. At that point, it should be apparent how we generate revenue. Or we will be acquired.”

A couple of days later, I told them I wasn’t interested. This tech wasn’t interesting enough to work on without a business plan.

A few months later, I was in downtown Mountain View by the train station, and saw an office with their name on it, and movers moving stuff into it. At the time, I guessed that they had secured another round of funding.

However, they did not ever figure it out. They were acquired by Zynga in 2011, and the brower is no longer supported.

I never got to ask them how they were going to handle Firefox updates…