December 27, 2004

The Ultimate Skunk Works

Worming Into Apple is a story about a programmer who not only kept working on a project after it was canceled, but even after he was laid off.

Avitzur sneaked into Apple's California HQ for six months to write a software program that, through luck and hard work, is still included on every Mac sold today.

Unemployed and living on savings, Avitzur worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, to create Graphing Calculator in the unlikely hope that Apple would bundle it with new computers.

Not only did he toil for free, Avitzur persuaded another unemployed programmer, Greg Robbins, to sneak into Apple with him. He also paid subcontractors out of his own pocket, and eventually convinced entire teams of testers and researchers to refine his software.

Meanwhile, Avitzur and Robbins worked in vacant offices, avoided Apple security and gained access to the campus by tailgating employees as they showed up for work
I love this line
The best part is the kids who have been using it," said Avitzur "We were building toys for young nerds."

But he added, "Even now, I look back and wonder if I was horribly taken advantage of, or whether I was in control. I can't honestly tell."
And here's the classic paradigm that Big Big Companies (HP, IBM, GE) never ever will allow.
Skunkworks projects are a long-standing tradition in Silicon Valley. Many engineers work on personal projects in the hope they will be turned into products, even if they've been previously canceled. Companies like Google recognize the tradition, allowing staffers to spend 20 percent of their time on private projects.