One of my favorite pieces of software of all time is Graphing Calculator, a calculator application which can plot graphs of 2D and 3D functions. It shipped free with Apple computers in the ’90s, and I spent an enormous amount of time playing with the thing, even though I didn’t have a major understanding of how it worked the majority of the time.
Bear in mind I was (and still am) a tremendous nerd.
In 2004, Ron Avitzur, the lead designer/programmer/etc. for Graphing Calculator, wrote up a long piece about development of the program.
I used to be a contractor for Apple, working on a secret project. Unfortunately, the computer we were building never saw the light of day. The project was so plagued by politics and ego that when the engineers requested technical oversight, our manager hired a psychologist instead. In August 1993, the project was canceled. A year of my work evaporated, my contract ended, and I was unemployed.
I was frustrated by all the wasted effort, so I decided to uncancel my small part of the project. 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.
Oh yes, Graphing Calculator was largely developed without pay by someone trespassing on Apple’s campus.
Wait, did I say “person”? Because I meant “people.”
I asked my friend Greg Robbins to help me. His contract in another division at Apple had just ended, so he told his manager that he would start reporting to me. She didn’t ask who I was and let him keep his office and badge. In turn, I told people that I was reporting to him.
In September, Apple Facilities tried to move people into our officially empty offices. They noticed us. The Facilities woman assumed that I had merely changed projects and had not yet moved to my new group, something that happened all the time. She asked what group I worked in, since it would be that group’s responsibility to find me space. When I told her the truth, she was not amused. She called Security, had them cancel our badges, and told us in no uncertain terms to leave the premises.
We were saved by the layoffs that began that month. Twenty percent of Apple’s fifteen thousand workers lost their jobs, but Greg and I were safe because we weren’t on the books in the first place and didn’t officially exist. Afterwards, there were plenty of empty offices. We found two and started sneaking into the building every day, waiting out in front for real employees to arrive and casually tailgating them through the door. Lots of people knew us and no one asked questions, since we wore our old badges as decoys.
It is an amazing, amazing story.