How the Mac shaped my career and life
The celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Mac really pointed out to me how much the brainchild of Steve Jobs has affected my life so far. The Mac literally changed my life.
In 1983, I was an engineer for a small natural gas pipeline company in Denver and wasn't really sure that I wanted to continue that career. Fortunately, I was working in a special projects group, and our vice president asked me to work up a five-year plan to start bringing "personal computers" into our company. He wasn't sure why we'd really want them, but he was getting budget requests for them and wanted us to have a coherent direction.
After doing a lot of interviews -- what we'd now call requirements gathering -- and checking what was available, I decided on a path of buying IBM PCs, and that's what we started to do. When the Mac came out on January 24, 1984, my boss and I went to see it at a local store, and I was immediately smitten. It wasn't until the more powerful 512K model appeared later in the year that I bought one, and then things got interesting.
Compared to the PCs in our office, the Mac seemed like the future. I began carrying it to work every day (it weighed 16.5 pounds), and I was quickly able to get it to do things that were amazing at the time. For example, MacProject was an Apple application that allowed us to begin implementing a project-management system for our pipeline. In 1985, when Aldus PageMaker arrived on the scene, I was totally amazed at what it could do and bragged to our office manager that I could lay out the company's annual report on the Mac for much less than what they were spending to have a design firm manually lay it out. It was tough with version 1.0 of PageMaker, but I was able to do it and have the output sent to film for printing.
That resulted in the entire office department requesting Macs, and at this point we pretty much tossed the "five-year plan" in the recycle bin. The Mac was the first device that Microsoft Excel ran on, and it was able to handle spreadsheets that were huge compared to what Lotus 123 could do on the PC. Before I knew it, a lot of managers in various departments were asking for Macs.
Next, we realized that we could network the Macs. Our first networks in 1985 used AppleTalk cables strung between cubicles and offices, but it worked. Once we had the network, used mainly for printer sharing, we started looking for other things we could share. We bought some of the early networked fax modems (remember fax machines?), and in 1988, we set up our in-house email system using Microsoft Mail. A few years later, we set up a store-and-forward dialup email system that brought email to our remote offices throughout the state of Colorado.
I began to attend Macworld Expo in the late '80s, and this was about the time that I found I was no longer doing much engineering work. By 1990, we had enough Macs in our office to justify starting an in-house IT group that I became the manager of. Our parent company wasn't thrilled with Macs, so I found myself spending most of my time arguing with their IT procurement staff.
Our pipeline subsidiary continued to be at the leading edge of IT. I gave talks at some industry seminars in the late '80s and early '90s about our use of HyperCard for training and other purposes in the company.
In my personal life, the Mac was also quite important. Early on, I recognized that if I became a Mac developer, I could get significant discounts from Apple on hardware, which they don't do anymore. I started by writing and selling a flat-file database program, the name of which I don't even remember. Later, after HyperCard came out, I sold a number of "stacks" through Heizer Software's stack exchange. When the Newton was introduced -- another amazing Apple innovation -- I wrote several programs for it. I also used my Mac to create newsletters for a few groups that I was a member of, taking advantage of the wonderful world of "desktop publishing" Apple had invented.
In 1986, I started up a bulletin board system for Mac and Apple IIGS users called MAGIC (Mac and GS Information Center), which ran until 1994. That site grew to two Macs and four modems (and phone lines), and eventually tied into Fidonet and the rest of the world. I used a number of different BBS programs over the eight years of MAGIC, including FirstClass and TeleFinder.
I had my first view of the World Wide Web in 1994 at WWDC, and through the amazing book by Adam Engst of TidBITS fame, I was setting up my first website later that year. I called the site "PDANTIC.COM" -- it was all about Personal Digital Assistants like the Newton -- and you can still find traces of it out on the Wayback Machine. It's almost scary to know that I've been "blogging" for close to 20 years.
Career-wise, our subsidiary was swallowed back into our parent company in 1994, which meant that I was helping out a lot of Mac users -- about 1,200 or so company-wide. Unfortunately, our parent company also decided that anyone who worked in IT would be outsourced to IBM (actually a spinoff called ISSC that later became IBM Global Services).
I won't detail the next nine years, only to say that despite having to work on a project to move most of the Mac users over to Windows 95, I stuck it out for that long. It was when I bought a 12-inch aluminum PowerBook in 2003 that my dissatisfaction with my career began to boil over. Coupled with anxiety attacks I was having at work, I finally decided to quit and go out on my own. There's a story in there that involves MacJournal and how it helped me out the door of IBM, but that's something for another time.
After that point, I relied on the Mac and other Apple products for my livelihood. That's involved having books about the Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and more published, being a Mac consultant (ACN) for a while and all the while working on other personal websites about mobile technology. The last of those was iPhoneRanch, which didn't last too long before I somehow became a freelance writer for TUAW. This year will mark six years of blogging here and working with some of the greatest bloggers on the internet.
So for the past 30 years, my life has been intimately intertwined with the Mac and Apple. There have been some days (the late 1990s) when I didn't think the company would survive, and I cringe to think of what our tech world would be like if Jobs hadn't turned the company around. I owe everyone at Apple a big thank you for making this a very interesting life for me.
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