I’m Old, Part LXVII: Ruining Prospects

The Friday of the week that I started at Adobe, Adobe held a developer’s conference for PostScript. The keynote that day was given by Steve Jobs and his talk included dual slide projectors. Presentation software was just a dream at that point.

After the talk was done and the crowd wound down, I made my way up to him and introduced myself. It was an easy introduction because my oldest brother, Mike, was one of the early coders at NeXT and worked on the digital library tools, if I recall correctly.

It was mostly gratuitous pleasantries, still it was nice to meet him. I moved on and met up with my boss, John Gaffney, and in turn met with the people from DEC who were responsible for the PostScript printer I was going to be working on for them. I remember the introduction because about 1 minute after the introduction, Tom Powers, who was the product manager, pulled out a list of new bugs found in the product and wanted to know what the cause was and how/when I was going to fix them. I didn’t know anything about the product yet. I hadn’t even learned PostScript yet. And he wanted me to comment on bugs? I made up a neutral bullshit answer on the spot because I was 23 and didn’t know what the hell else to do.

John and I went back to Adobe and worked on a couple of the bugs together. Pair programming was the right thing to do, especially considering that I was a complete noob and John could explain what was going on.

I took the PostScript reference manuals home that night and spent the weekend reading them and picked up the language. It helped that a year earlier I had implemented a version of FORTH for the Macintosh, so an RPN language like PostScript wasn’t totally foreign. In between working on bugs, I wrote PostScript programs to try out various language and rendering features. Not far from my cube there was a printer named ‘Quorum’ that I used for trying out code since there wasn’t (yet) an all software printer.

One of the first programs I wrote produced a sheet with “Steve Jobs touched me!” in huge letters. In a font with a teeny-weeny point size, I captioned it with “and I feel healed”. At that point, the Steve Jobs reality distortion field was known and the sign made me giggle so I posted it in my cube. It fit in with my early cube decorations including the article from the San Jose Mercury News announcing that Steve Hawley was starting at NASA Ames.

Well.

As it turns out, Steve Jobs routinely visited Adobe (probably because the NeXT machines were running Display PostScript). The lobbies of each building was staffed by a receptionist who answered the phones and signed in visitors. There was no real security beyond that. One day when I was out of my cube, Steve came by and the receptionist took him by my cube to show him the sign. Crap. Well. There goes that connection.

Still, maybe it wasn’t all that bad. I routinely saw him at the Palo Alto farmer’s market and said ‘hi’ and in 1999, I was having lunch with some friends at Apple and Steve was at the next table and I gave him a wave and he sat down and joined us for a few minutes. I wonder if that sign destroyed opportunities for me, but I can’t complain. Luck and skill has brought me plenty of opportunities in my career and I’m very grateful for that.

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