Apple: 5 timeless lessons from the Graphing Calculator story


Philip Elmer-DeWitt is a senior editor at Fortune.

A project developed during the company's dark ages has much to teach us today

"I had been paid to do a job, and I wanted to finish it. My electronic badge still opened Apple's doors, so I just kept showing up."

So begins the bizarre story Ron Avitzur tells about how he managed to create a lovely piece of software called Graphing Calculator in the Apple (aapl) of 1993-1994 -- the dark ages before Steve Jobs' return.

His account was originally published in 2004, but it is enjoying a second life this week on Reddit, where it has been re-posted and pored over for juicy quotes and little bits of programmer wisdom. Among them:

  • "Since that left no managers in the loop, we had no meetings and could be extremely productive."
  • "They laughed, until they realized I was serious. Then they told me, 'Don't repeat this story.'"
  • "It is a cliche in our business that the first 90 percent of the work is easy, the second 90 percent wears you down, and the last 90 percent -- the attention to detail -- makes a good product."
  • "The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends."
  • "We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security."

We won't spoil the ending by telling you what Apple did with Avitzur's program. If you haven't read his version -- or haven't read it lately -- you can get it here.

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