The Original Macintosh:    28 of 127 
Joining the Mac Group
Author: Bruce Horn
Date: September 1981
Characters: Alan Kay, Steve Jobs, Andy Hertzfeld, John Warnock, Larry Tesler, Jerry Manock, Rod Holt
Topics: Reality Distortion, Apple Spirit, Recruiting
Summary: The Reality Distortion Field changes Bruce's mind about working at Apple

In the spring of 1981, I was 21, and just about to graduate from Stanford. I had been working at least part-time (and often fulltime during the summers) at Xerox PARC in the Learning Research Group for the last eight years. The people at PARC were legendary, and I felt extraordinarily lucky to be able to work with many of them. It was a tremendous learning experience, and I had had the chance to work on a variety of exciting projects through the years.

My most recent project had been the NoteTaker, a portable Smalltalk machine with a bitmap touchscreen display, mouse and keyboard, stereo sound, and dual 8086 processors: one I/O processor which also ran BitBLT (Bitwise BLock Transfer) to draw the graphics, and one emulator processor dedicated to running the Smalltalk bytecode interpreter. My job was to help out on the bytecode interpreter, to write the I/O processor routines, and to basically keep enough of the NoteTaker prototypes running so that they could be used for demos to management. The NoteTaker hardware had been created by Doug Fairbairn, a gifted hardware and chip designer who had recently left to start a new company, VLSI Technology, Inc., or VTI.

On that project I had been working closely with Larry Tesler. Larry was an amazing guy--he had invented the modeless text editing engine for Smalltalk (modeled on his Gypsy editor), and would wear a t-shirt with the slogan "Don't Mode Me In" around the lab. He also was famous for writing a piece of software that would coordinate flash cards at Stanford football games to provide spectators across the stadium with animated bitmap graphics. One evening Larry and I went out for dinner to a local pizza parlor on El Camino in Palo Alto. While we were waiting for the pizza, Larry said, "Bruce, I'm thinking of leaving PARC."

"Really? How can you leave PARC?" I was incredulous. PARC was the Mecca of computer science; we often said (only half-jokingly) that 80 of the 100 best computer scientists in the world were in residence at PARC. I could walk down the hall and wander into the offices of people like Alan Kay (the leader of the Learning Research Group, where many of today's user interface innovations were first created); Chuck Geschke and John Warnock (who later founded Adobe); and Ed McCreight, the inventor of B-Trees. And they all made time to answer my questions, even if they were from a geeky and gangly teenager. LRG and the rest of PARC were full of the brightest and most creative people on the planet. Why would anyone want to leave?

Larry said that he was ready for a new challenge--ready to try to get some of the PARC ideas out into the world. I said, "Well, what about Apple?" We had been talking with Apple recently and had given a demo of Smalltalk to Steve Jobs. Although Larry didn't say anything right away, it turns out he had already been interviewing at Apple, and was soon to join the Lisa team.

When I finally did graduate in mid-1981, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Working at PARC was a dream come true, and I had lived that dream for more than a third of my life. But maybe I should get out into the "real world." PARC was so ahead of the rest of the world--we had Alto and Dorado workstations with mice, large portrait bitmapped displays, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editors, graphics editors, interactive object-oriented programming environments with comprehensive class libraries, local area networks, laser printers, email--that taking a "normal" job in industry was guaranteed to be a letdown. But in talks with Adele Goldberg, one of the senior members of LRG, and my good friend Rachel Rutherford, I realized that I really did need to try something new--that I'd regret it if I didn't leave the comfortable and familiar environment of PARC.

I began interviewing at a variety of companies in the valley; most were forgettable. Then I remembered about Larry Tesler at Apple, and about Doug Fairbairn at VTI, so I contacted them both.

Apple was interesting; Larry was working on the Lisa, which was starting to look like a real computer, but for some reason it didn't appeal to me. At one point, though, Larry realized that I'd be a better fit in the Mac group, and introduced me to Andy Hertzfeld. Andy (the "soul" of the Mac software group) showed me some demos that were so amazing that I somehow thought that they didn't really need me--that the software was almost done! But I was impressed and intrigued, and mulled it over...

Meanwhile, I went to interview at VTI. The people there were wonderful. I'd be working with folks I knew and respected, and Doug even offered me a $15K signing bonus, a huge amount of money for a recent college graduate. I'd be working on advanced chip design tools, a new area for me, and it would be an interesting challenge. So I accepted the job. That was Thursday.

On Friday evening, I got a phone call. "Bruce, it's Steve. What do you think about Apple?" It was Steve Jobs. "Well, Steve, Apple's cool, but I accepted a job at VTI."

"You did what? Forget that, you get down here tomorrow morning, we have a lot more things to show you. Be at Apple at 9am." Steve was adamant. I thought I'd go down, go through the motions, and then tell him that I'd made up my mind and was going to VTI.

Steve switched on the Reality Distortion Field full-force. I met with seemingly everyone on the Mac team, from Andy to Rod Holt to Jerry Manock to the other software engineers, and back to Steve. Two full days of demos, drawings of the various designs, marketing presentations--I was overwhelmed.

On Monday I called Doug Fairbairn at VTI and told him I had changed my mind.

I was going to join Apple, where we would change the world with a little computer called the Macintosh.

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I was working on Robots at CMU, and found out that Bruce Horn (a new grad student at CMU) was giving an informal talk about the Mac development effort. The best part of the talk: Learning about when to leave a company (Bruce said "When you joined, it was like pirates; I left when it got to be too much like the Navy") The best part, if you asked a question, you got a Mac team T-shirt thrown at you by Bruce.
By "tomorrow", I presume you really meant the next Monday, not Saturday?