9.06.2009

Macintosh developer nostalgia

Several months ago as I watched Welcome to Macintosh, I started thinking that I should write an essay on my early computer career, which involved using Macs at CITGO Petroleum Corporation. I was really lucky to get hired at just the right time (I actually got the job a semester before I graduated, mainly because the interviewer was fascinated that I had classical music and Shakespeare courses on my transcript!), because CITGO was starting to look at alternatives to their giant mainframe in the new world of Client/Server Computing (yes, there was a time when that was a cutting edge concept!). They told me I was going to use Macs and a scriptable spreadsheet called WingZ, so I spent some time reading a few books about it before moving to Tulsa.

CITGO is a big corporation accustomed to spending big bucks, so I had a top-of-the-line Mac with two huge monitors (I couldn’t believe it!), and I was given time to play around with WingZ, building graphical user interfaces to crunch numbers with charts like no one in the company had ever seen on their green screen terminals. Later I learned HyperCard (how nostalgic!) and used it as a front-end to a mainframe application. I thought this was really cool since it did some terminal screen-scraping in the background with a cool UI on the front-end. We had Apple reps in all the time who loved to make sales to big businesses like CITGO, and they always brought me cool goodies like coffee mugs and mousepads! Once they invited me and my boss to the Infomart in Dallas (where Apple had a huge business center at the time) to present the things we were working on to Apple staff, and they treated us like royalty!

Soon the CITGO big wigs saw that we should do more stuff with Macs, and they hired more people into my group – all of us became great friends and had fun together for the next several years. It was a total blast to go on business trips to the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (I got to go three years in a row and gasp at the first public demonstration of QuickTime!) and even MacWorld, not spending a dime of my own money (and of course, sometimes we would go a day early to hit Disneyland or rent a convertible!). During one of these trips I got to see part of the Apple campus in Cupertino, and even went out for sushi (my first time ever) with some Apple employees. It was all pretty amazing!

Our Mac group eventually started working with 4th Dimension (a development environment that’s still around today) with an Oracle database back-end (the SQL knowledge I gained learning Oracle is something I still use every day in my current job). We hired a 4D expert from Tulsa, who became a great friend and later hired me away from CITGO to do consulting with him in Austin! We built a giant application called FAMOS (a silly acronym) to track oil tanker schedules, which ended up gaining some notoriety (and saving CITGO lots of money). First, Apple and Oracle were working together to promote their products in big business, so they brought in a film crew to make a video about our successful application. It was a crazy day at work (cameras and lights everywhere), and I got to click around in the app and say a few things on camera! (I recently imported this video from VHS, which was a blast to see, even though I was extra overweight at the time!) Next, my boss and I were asked to be guest speakers at 4D Summit (the 4th Dimension developer conference) in San Francisco, and I got to demonstrate the application and show some of my techniques to about 1,000 people (with a Steve Jobs-style giant screen for the demo!). I can hardly believe those events happened even today.

The next step in my Apple development was to "go deeper" and learn how to build applications using C++ and MacApp (Apple's old object-oriented code framework which was used to build the original versions of classics like Photoshop). Of course, this meant more fun out-of-town training at Apple's Developer University, where I went to some pretty intense MacApp classes that not only solidified the object-oriented concepts I had learned in college, but also familiarized me with lots of Mac internals that are still similar in iPhone development today. Not only did I get to take these courses, but CITGO even flew out an Apple employee to tutor me in Tulsa! I remember he was a nice guy who helped me quite a bit with memory management and other areas, and we often had lunch so he could talk about his cool California lifestyle and his red Miata. The only thing I actually wrote with MacApp was a desktop faxing application, but it was still pretty cutting edge to be able to drag and drop any document without getting up and walking to the fax machine!

There were a few other fun aspects to my Apple enthusiasm, such as running a CITGO Mac user group at the office (with presentations and even a newsletter), and getting to be involved in various beta testing programs (I was part of a committee helping to refine an attempt to bring PowerBuilder to the Mac), but eventually CITGO's efforts were all directed towards SAP, which was the perfect catalyst to convince me to move to Austin. I'll always be nostalgic about my early career, and I'm thankful that I got to experience so many things during such an explosive change in the industry!

Watch video: Apple Success Story Video
Be prepared - I was pretty overweight in 1992!

2 comments:

  1. Very cool man! FAMOS!

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  2. I remember we let the users vote on the name of the project, and they loved acronyms. :) My team used the code-name "Deep Water"!

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