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The Original Macintosh:    1 of 3 
Leave Of Absence
Author: Andy Hertzfeld
Date: March 1984
Characters: Andy Hertzfeld, Bob Belleville, Brian Howard, Bud Tribble, Alan Kay, Steve Jobs, Jerome Coonen, Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith
Topics: Quitting, Management, Lisa Rivalry, Personality Clashes
Summary: I didn't know how to deal with my bad review

I didn't know how to deal with the bad performance review that I received from Bob Belleville in February 1983 (see Too Big For My Britches). Up to that point, I had loved my job at Apple, and was devoting myself to working on the Macintosh, which I passionately believed would change the world significantly for the better. But it was clear that Bob was out to get me, for reasons that I only partially understood.



Jerome Coonen had recently started as the new software manager, so at least I didn't have to interact with Bob directly very often. In fact, Bob seemed to want to avoid me even more than I wanted to avoid him. My initial instinct was to quit, but I believed in the Macintosh too much to leave until it shipped, which was at least six months away, so I resolved to keep working hard while I thought about what I should do.

It seemed like the main problem was that Bob and I had very different views concerning the organization. I worshiped at the altar of the Apple II, and romanticized my work, seeing it more as a calling than a job. I was much more enthusiastic about the computer that we were creating than the engineering organization that was creating it, and I was difficult to manage because I was self-righteous and immature (although I didn't see it that way at the time) and thoroughly disrespected organizational authority.

On the other hand, Bob Belleville saw his job as rescuing the Mac team from the chaotic development process that I thrived in, instilling a modicum of order and predictability, which was necessary to scale the organization. He saw my lack of respect for lines of authority as undermining the organization, which was unacceptable to him. I think that the negative review was intended as a wake-up call, to compel me to change my style to fit his vision of the organization, but he was surprised that I took it as hard as I did.

There didn't seem to be any way to reconcile with Bob, since I never received a written review and he disavowed saying the worst things he told me during our conversation. Besides, I didn't think I wanted to work in the type of organization that he was trying to establish anyway. I decided that I still wanted to work for Apple, but I didn't want to work for Bob, even indirectly. Perhaps the Macintosh team had to eventually mature into a cumbersome organization, but I thought that Apple would still need small teams and people like me to get the ball rolling on something new.

When Bud Tribble left the Mac team to return to medical school at the end of 1981 (see Gobble, Gobble, Gobble), I considered leaving, too, but Steve Jobs persuaded me to stay, partially by promising to protect me from authoritarian managers. But when I tried to discuss the situation with him over the next few months, he was usually dismissive, belittling the problem and telling me that I didn't have to love Bob to work for him. Sometimes, he would cryptically hint that he had some solution in mind, but nothing ever materialized.

As 1983 drew to a close, I was swept up in the monumental effort to finish the software (see Real Artists Ship), and then the blissful joyride of the product introduction (see The Times They Are A-Changin') in January. But by the middle of February, things had calmed down and I knew it was time for me to make a decision about my future at Apple.

My relationship with Bob Belleville had worsened, if that was possible, after he went on a tirade in his staff meeting in December 1983 when he found out that I had assisted Burrell Smith and Brian Howard by writing some diagnostics when they asked for help with the LaserWriter prototype they were working on. Everyone on the software team was exhausted from the high pressure marathon effort to finally complete the software, and tension with Bob made it hard to be enthusiastic about the future.

In February, Apple decided to merge the Macintosh and Lisa groups together, after laying off a quarter of the Lisa people, putting the Mac people in all of the top positions. Steve had always promised us that the group would never exceed 100 people. But now, when combined with more than 200 Lisa folk, it would be over 300 employees strong.

I watched as Steve stood up in front of the assembled Lisa team and announced the merger and layoffs, telling them that they had screwed up and were B or C players. "So, today we are releasing some of your fellow employees to give them the opportunity to work at our sister companies here in the valley," he declared in classic Steve Jobs style.

Someone suggested the alternative of going on a "leave of absence", instead of quitting entirely, which sounded better to me, since I would retain my badge and the prerogatives of an employee when I visited Apple and could more easily return if things seemed better after they settled down. I decided to take a six month leave of absence, starting on March 1st, 1984.

I told Steve Jobs about my leave of absence plans, which he said he regretted, but he didn't offer me any alternative that was acceptable to me. I proposed that we spin off another small team that could work directly for him, now that the division had over 300 people, but he wasn't interested. With the Macintosh finally shipping and the divisions combined, Steve felt he needed managers like Bob Belleville to manage the huge battalion of employees, much more than creative types like myself. Also, he told me that he was sure that I'd be so bored in a month or two that I'd come back from my leave early.

A couple of days before my leave commenced, Steve came into the software area escorting a surprise guest. They came over to my cubicle and Steve introduced me to Apple's newest employee, Alan Kay (see Creative Think), who had recently departed from Atari and had just signed on as an Apple Fellow. Alan Kay was one of my heros, and it made me even more depressed than I already was to know that leaving would mean that I wouldn't get to work with him.

At the end of my last day of work, the software team held a farewell dinner for me, at a small, fancy continental restaurant called Maddalena's on Emerson street, which was around five blocks from my house in Palo Alto. Now that my last day had actually arrived, I was really sad about leaving all my friends at Apple. I walked over to the restaurant with Burrell Smith, who lived in the house next door to me, wondering if I would be able to survive the dinner without bursting into tears.

Most of the software team came to the dinner, as well as Steve Jobs. I was in a sort of daze as the elaborate dinner was served, followed by some toasts, where people said how much they liked working with me, while I only had sporadic success at holding back tears. Bill Atkinson said that he had no idea of what I would work on next, but he knew that he would be amazed by it. Steve Jobs said that he would miss me, and that he hoped that I would hurry back from my leave. But then he said something strange, apparently commenting on my emotional state: "The thing I like best about Andy is that it's so easy to make him cry".

Finally, the dinner was over and I walked back home with Burrell, still feeling numb, as if I didn't want to think about my conflicted feelings just yet. When I awoke at my usual time the next morning, I had to fight the urge to drive down to Apple as usual. It took a week or two before it stopped feeling strange to not go into work.

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3 Comments     
Oh my gosh! Don't leave us hanging! What happened after this? Is there a postscript (no pun)?
Bob's management style is a thing of the past. The Apple entrepreneurial spirit is the same spirit that continues to thrive in the Valley. And all companies and managers must recognize that or else become quickly obsolete, as happens so often to everything in the Valley. In the 19th century and the majority of the 20th, steel and machines and the bricks of the factory were 90% of the cost of running a business, and were the greatest cost to the barrier of entry for competitors. The people who worked the factory lines were replaceable cogs, and were treated as such by managers. And probably rightfully so, for the health of the company. 100 years of history of management was on the side of Bob's style of management, so you can't really fault him for that. But in the late 20th century, as the computer industry dawned, human capital became the greatest asset of any company. To Steve Jobs' credit, he was one of the first to recognize this, and to set up a company which encouraged creative spirits to flourish. It wasn't that other companies didn't see the value in a whizkid engineer such as Woz, it was that it was commonplace for companies to have them, but the realities of business prevented any practical way to capitalize on their talents. The institution at PARC is another example of how large companies regard their human capital. Bob was obviously herding cats, and traditional management in 1984 demanded something more orderly, in line with the last 100 years of successful businesses. In Bob's view, Apple was in its infancy, and the chaos of the engineers was something that needed to be shuffled into some semblance of order before Apple could mature into a large, responsible public company. Although there is some truth to that, it's doesn't have to be the case. Today, in 2005, I work for a very large, publicly traded video game company in the Valley. I can only describe the daily affairs as "managed chaos". But the company recognizes a certain amount of chaos, and accepts it because it needs the creativity and positive spirit of its employees in order to maintain its competitive edge. I believe that managers are more adept as "herding cats" today than in Bob's day. And it's ironic I'm talking about this as if it's ancient history. It's only 20 years later! But things move fast in the valley, and the successful models survive. I would be surprised if Bob's style was effective in any of today's big companies in the Valley--- Google, Yahoo, or Ebay. But I wouldn't be surprised if there were a manager here or there who still tried it.
boo hoo!!!! get over it every one gets a bad review some times!!!! it was just your day that day.