Can’t Take That Away

I was surprised how much I enjoyed all the pro-Mac celebration today, marking the 30th anniversary of its debut.

Apple’s home page is dedicated to the Mac, and links to an extremely extensive special feature outlining, year-by-year, some significant uses of the Mac, by significant people, as well as the major shifts in design and functionality that the computer has seen.

As a long-time Mac user and developer — I started working for Apple at 18, went indie at 26, and am 38 now, still working on Macs — I was touched by the amount of pride Apple exudes today in celebrating the triumph of the Mac. Especially over the the past several years, as many people have shifted their attention to mobile devices based on iOS and Android, it’s easy to forget that the Mac is still an amazing device and that the hardware and software both continue to improve every year.

Topping off a great day, news came out of Cupertino that Apple has posted giant posters on campus, upon which are printed the names of “every employee who has ever worked for Apple.” Holy cow, my pride overflows. What a grand, yet humble gesture. My old friend Dan Curtis Johnson confirmed that I had made the cut:

In close proximity, both Dan Jalkut and Ellen Hancock. Such a faraway time, the long-long ago.

It was long-enough ago, that some people still called me Dan.

I learned so much at Apple, and had many profound experiences that shaped the way I see the world both technically and otherwise. I was hired a year or two before Steve Jobs came back, and one of my first joys at Apple was adding my own name to the “About Box” for the Memory Control, which I had taken charge of. And because I could, I also added the names of some friends. I was a little immature. When Steve came back, one of his company-wide edicts was that the names of individuals must be removed from about boxes. I had to commit the source code that wiped my own identity off the faces of the products I had worked on.

Steve’s explanation was something along the lines that it was unfair to put the names of a few in about boxes because it was a disservice to all the other employees who were not listed. He insisted that each of them was as important to the success of the company as the people who were listed. Of course he was right, but it didn’t feel great at the time.

It’s hard not to think of Steve when I read about this perfect gesture of gratitude to all the employees who helped, directly or indirectly, in making the Mac a success. The Mac is his baby, and it’s grown to be not only strong and robust, but in some respects unassailable, thanks to the hard work of the tens of thousands of people whose names are on those posters.

I started at Apple while I was still in college, barely having glimpsed the professional world outside of the company. I learned a lot in school, but I learned much, much more at Apple. My time there completely shaped not only the way I develop software but the reasons I develop software. Fundamentally: to serve and delight the people who use it.

I often think back wistfully, wondering what would have happened if I stayed at the company. I might have gone on to do important, admirable work, or I might have become one of those (rare) old slackers at Apple who doesn’t earn his or her keep. Either way, my name would have been on one of those posters today. And either way, it would have been well-earned. People often say the great thing about education is that nobody can take it away from you. The same is true of working for Apple, and the company’s gestures today strongly underscore that fact.