July 5, 1958 has to be the most important day in my life, because prior to that day, I didn’t exist. It’s now July 5, 2018, and it’s the day I turn 60.
I am happy to announce that I am still breathing, vertical and able to type today.
This will surprise my 25 year old me, who was fully convinced that 35 was really old and depressed at the thought it was only ten years away.
(memo to my 25 year old me: you’re not going to hit your stride and really figure out happy until you’re 45. And once you do, it’s going to be pretty damn good.)
It’s been a long and fascinating road. Born and raised in Southern California. Dad owned and ran a newspaper. Mom was a nurse, ran the OB/GYN floor of the county hospital for 20 years. Graduated high school in 1976. Worked at Disneyland (driving a forklift) for four years. Started college a theater major, of all things, and on the debate team. Discovered computers, fell into them fast and hard and never looked back. Was the first English/C.S. double major at my college, and both sides kept telling me to stop wasting time with the other discipline. One of my first big hacks: writing a BBS system for the college timesharing system. In Fortran.
Left Disneyland for a programming job (interviewed with Imagination to do fortran ride control coding for what would become Tokyo Disney) and didn’t get the job, went to work for a Private Investigator who specialized in Car and Credit Card repossession. The movie Repo Man? It’s a documentary. Got married. Wife and I decided we wanted to move north, there was this new thing called Silicon Valley where we heard computer stuff was taking off. I told my boss my wife got transferred, she told her boss I got transferred, both sides were completely cooperative about us looking around and organizing the move. We landed in the Bay Area around 1981, I landed in a startup you never heard of, because it died. Welcome to Silicon Valley.
My second startup also failed, but long after I was no longer there. It was founded by Paul Baran, who you may have heard of, and the notable thing that came out of it was from a lab that Paul lent to a couple of people who were inventing this weird thing that became the Telebit modem. As to the thing we were trying to build? By the time they were almost ready to go to market, the market moved and their money ended. Oh well. It was the only time in my career (so far) I left a job semi-involuntarily. I got into a fight with my boss, which escalated to his boss (aka Paul), who sided with me. And my boss a few days later hauled me into a conference room and made it clear my disloyalty meant I could either quit, or he’d make my life miserable until he found a reason to fire me. I perp-walked my box of stuff out an hour later. I put up with the jerk for a year; they lost three people in that role over the next 18 months before finally firing his butt. By the time they did, it was basically over for the company. Oh well.
Along the way I’ve touched a lot of Silicon Valley as it get up and became what it is today. It’s been one hell of a ride: National Semiconductor; Sun Microsystems; Apple (all 17 years!), Palm’s WebOS reboot; Cisco. A couple of startups along the way, one successful, one not-so. And now my current gig, which I’m loving (and not going anywhere).
While I normally don’t think all that much about birthdays — although I long got over actively hating them like when I was younger — this one, with a round number, has had me thinking, both of the past, and of the future. I think this is the year I start the transition from “solidly middle aged” to “that old fart who complains about kids and lawns”.
There are going to be changes in what I do online, and how much time I spend there. I’m really soured right now on social networks and how poorly they’re handling the problems they cause (mostly because they tried for so long to pretend it wasn’t their responsibility, because dealing with it is hard). I’ve come to some decisions on where blogs stand in the grand scheme of things, and it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement — but it’s not the “blogs are dead” screed, either. And that’s the basis of some changes to happen here, which I’ll explain soon.
I think they’re good changes, but if you think the world begins and ends with an RSS feed, I’m sorry, you’re going to be unhappy, because it’s not true any more, and soon won’t be here, either.
One big change: I’ve been around through most of the history of Silicon Valley. Played a small part in some of it. Seen the good, bad, and ugly, and have thoughts and opinions. And I think it’s probably time to start writing about some of those.
And so I’m curious: what do you want me to write about? Let me know, and I’ll consider it. But it seems there are stories to tell while I still am interested and able to tell stories, and there’s no better time than the present to get started. This is my birthday present to me: permission to talk about things I’ve generally kept quiet about over the years. After all, what NDAs are still remotely valid now?
But for now? It’s my birthday, it’s a work day, and I have deadlines. But tonight we’re going out with good friends for good food and good wine, and I am happy to be able to say I’m happy, relatively healthy, vertical and breathing.
I’ll take that.
(p.s.: there will be some aspects of my time at Apple that I won’t talk about, time expiring NDAs or no. But there’s a lot I’ve chosen to not talk about that I’ve basically decided “why the hell not?”, and we’ll see what happens)
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