Startup Envy

On January 26, 2004, in Computers, by peterb

I’ve been compulsively reading every single article on Andy Hertzfeld’s Folklore page dedicated to the early days of building the Macintosh. I discovered this through a link at Daring Fireball. I can’t stop reading. Part of me is filled with an overwhelming sense of envy; I was only 13 years old when they started building that machine but that was what I wanted to do.

Not only that, but I look at the stuff I’ve done, and while it’s pretty cool — telerama wasn’t exactly chopped liver — it’s not quite as exciting, somehow. Perhaps I simply think the grass is always greener, yet “I’m building a world-class network storage solution” just plain doesn’t sound as earthshaking as “I’m building the computer for the rest of us.”

One thing about this series of articles that I think is pretty cool is the demonstration of how the skills of an engineer grow in their use. Hertzfeld’s main characteristic that makes him a great engineer is that he’s not afraid to dive into things that he doesn’t know much about and figure them out.

I’ll take a smart engineer with no experience in a given field over a super-experienced dope any day. Especially in a startup, where very often hard work is more important than your resume.

The other interesting thing that the site shows is that the engineers on the ground were quite unaware of the effect their little computer might have. Sure, Steve might have been asking people “Do you want to change the world?” But to the engineers — with the possible exception of Bill Atkinson — it was just another neat hack. Diego thinks this was all part of a master plan, but I disagree — making a new product is like making sausage. The end result may be delicious, but what goes into it is more a matter of trial and error and discovering what tastes good. Yes, we eventually had style guidelines for the Mac and Lisa, but those were, practically speaking, given by the users to Apple, not the other way around. The one thing we can (and should) give Apple credit for is being one of the first companies to actually bother listening to their users.

And I wish I had a Monkey to test my code.


4 Responses to “Startup Envy”

  1. Diego says:

    Peter, actually, I mostly agree with you on everything you say here, including the “master plan” thing (which I didn’t think I implied). Jobs certainly saw it as some kind of master plan… but in the end a lot of trial and error was involved. I do think though that sometimes users can’t help a lot in saying “this is what we want”; when something is really new users will usually freak out for a while (ie., not like it) and there is where design sense (and that “vision” thing comes in).

    Oh, and that Folklore link is really great. :)

  2. MacBuddy says:

    I was reading a forum posting Saturday morning (Jan24th!), and a guy had posted more of the ‘Apple Stole From Xerox’ nonsense in his rant.

    I just shook my head, and said to myself that I wished there was a single place where I could direct these people to. A place where the principals would recall ‘the’ story.

    Sunday night I made my weekly visit to Daring Fireball. What a my eyes saw was a gift.

    Thanks Andy

  3. Bryn Davies says:

    I feel this same envy. Sadly, I don’t have anything cool like Telerama to fall back on. Oxygen meter monitoring systems, or thousands of financial prediction reports are not cool.

    Man, if I had known I wasn’t going to do any really cool and lasting hacks when I signed up for CS I would have gone and done History / Arts where all the girls were.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Envy is not a good feeling… and quite painful. Let’s just look ahead searching for new opportunities. I’m sure you can do something else, perhaps even better than you planned.

    Suzanne York