Programmers at Work Revisited

Wow. Things have been hopping on this site. I guess folks are excited about all the changes in leadership at Microsoft and Bill Gates going back to work!

The world of programming has changed a great deal over the past 40 years since Programmers at Work was first published back in 1985. With Bill Gates announcing that he intends to go back to work to read the technology tea leaves  and  help steer the technical ship of Microsoft, a lot of people must be asking what was the magic he had back in his glory days. Well, you can definitely get some insights from the interview featured in Programmers at Work and on this site.

One of the things I know is that no matter how much the world advances and no matter what vehicle is used for expression, the creative process remains much the same over time. It’s about playing in a sandbox, seeing old practices in new ways (Dan Bricklin and the first spreadsheet, Lotus 1-2-3) or using technology for transformational powers (John Warnock and Adobe Postscript) to rearrange our reality, being unafraid of being wrong, seeing the promise and possibility, believing, constructing, tinkering and keeping after it! Programmers just like artists have many aha moments in the shower.

When companies, creators, artists run into trouble is when they become too burdened or wedded to the first creation and forget how to play in the sandbox. We’ll see if Bill can still has that spark, that ability to question and demand the best, and the energy to inspire others to play in the sandbox and create something that the world doesn’t even know it wants or needs.

 I guess all the news about Satya Nadella and Bill Gates teaming up has stirred up excitement. After all these years, people tell me Programmers at Work still provides a window into the minds of the technologists who got to the PC sandbox first and gave birth to products that would shape and propel the technical world for decades. THey had a clean slate to work with…we are far from that today. It was a true  technology renaissance because it opened up PC technology  to programmers in garages everywhere and to the neophyte masses to use for the first time.

So the  question now with Bill Gates resuming a formal role at Microsoft is whether his deep history as a leader of programmers and his understanding of the industry will give him the freedom and ability to inspire Microsoft’s creative team to play, or will it burden them with the weight and “forms” of the past. He’s a cool cat with at least nine lives, so it will be fun to see where Microsoft goes from here.

My book is ultimately about creativity and the creative process. That hasn’t changed. The creative minds behind the PC industry were some of the best on our planet and their words and thoughts shared from the 1980s still speak to readers.  While the book is out of print, I still have a few boxes in my basement. I sell it on Amazon. If you are interested in buying it, get it while you can and I’m happy to sign it for you. I also have some first edition copies that I may put up for sale soon.

Enjoy the interviews here on this site too.


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It All Started At Lunch

It has been ten years since I sold Headbone Interactive, my last online game and edutainment venture. We had an awesome creative team, made great games and had a leading online website and I learned lots of lessons and came out the wiser.  I hung up my hat in 2000 soon after giving birth to my third child and went home to spend more time with my family. I was jumping off the wild high-tech ride for good. I think I slept for about a year after.

Those intervening ten years I spent in a more normal way like a real mom, not an entrepreneur mom…engaging together with my kids and the world–hiking, swimming, baking, making music, reading together, driving, coaching soccer and tennis teams, playing tennis, going out to hear music or to the movies, and writing a blog, and then short stories, and then starting to write a novel. It was all relaxed and hunky dory. A lot about it felt right except for this nagging odd quiet, the walking in circles at home as the kids increasingly made their own way into the world…a certain longing for the hustle and bustle and excitement of riding the hightech wave; my heart was opening up to new possibility!

Like a lot of moms, I felt a need for engagement in something beyond the home that held meaning for me.   I would go on walks with mom friends, all of us well educated, experienced who had foregone our careers to take care of our families and we all felt a sense of longing to some extent. I felt a certain void in the area I once loved at Headbone, Corbis, and Microsoft collaborating with a team of amazing people to create something fun, zany, and wonderful. Writig was great and it had been a dream but it was a lonely pursuit. On the other hand, I didn’t miss the demands of having to go into the office every day and come back late. Freedom was intoxicating. But there was that voidish thing, “what had I actually done today?”

Then I got an iphone and I started seeing all the possibilities  in the app world for what we had pursued ten years ago. I got hooked on words with friends and played it constantly.  I saw the opportunity to brew something up truly fun and whimsical and engaging for kids and families. I could take what I learned from before and do it better. And now it could be done for a fraction of the cost and in a far simpler way. Still I mostly mused about this app world over my kitchen table.

One day Chuck Gamble called. He was one of the best Creative Leads and animators we had at Headbone. He was in town, in a pickle, his contract work had lightened up, he wanted to have lunch and tell me all about his experience launching his iphone app slide-a-ma-jig and talk about possibilities.  When I hung up the phone I was both excited and also fearful that I might get sucked in. I cautioned myself to remember how hard it was. How painful it is when it ends badly. So much for that sermon.

Our lunch at Cafe Presse on Capital Hill lasted four hours and at it we hatched an idea that we both became mesmerized by. I went home and thought, what the heck, as long as I don’t do anything stupid like mortgage my house in order to develop a 99 cent iphone app, this project could be just the thing I need to get my engines running and my mind and spirit engaged. I was thrilled by the possibility.

Like I usually do when I have an idea, I kinda get high on them and I start talking about it with everyone I know and I  try to interest friends in getting involved or helping shape it.  I showed our concept to a couple of friends who had worked for Amazon and they loved it.  And before you knew it, there was not only Chuck and I, but also H. and G.  two more pops joined the team. They were terrific and just as eager and enthused about learning and doing as we were.

I have a million ideas, and 999,990 of them go nowhere, This idea seemed to have a lot of momentum on its own, it was rolling along on pure enthusiasm and sweat equity. It felt great. Almost anything seemed possible. That was the beginning two months ago.

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More stats from ATT re: users from Casual Connect Conference

AT&T numbers… 64% mobile game customers are women. 70% (all users)
between ages of 25 & 54. Parents buy for kids. Women like puzzles. Men
like action. Both like arcade. 45% of buyers find apps by browsing app
store categories. 38% from friends family. 21% from websites. Buys
influenced by (in order) price, demos, recommendations, websites, other.
Good website important. 4.5 billion mobile device users in 2010. 11.4
projected in 4 years.

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Casual Connect in Seattle–the scoop

Pop # 1 is at Casual Connect, scoping the scene in our first effort to assess the landscape. What an adventure as we try to squeeze in our app adventure between job hunting, kids, errands and the like. For some reason though it all seems possible.

Pop # 1 reports:

Kids apps are being partially grouped into the “soccer mom” category
here… I think that is a big target for the casual game market.  I spoke
with Samsung and they said they have big demand for kid/ family games but limited supply.  Good for us!

That’s all for now.

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