The Graphing Calculator Story

In the early 1990s, a contractor for Apple had his project cancelled. He then decided to “uncancel” it, and began sneaking into corporate headquarters to finish the job:

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. Since that left no managers in the loop, we had no meetings and could be extremely productive. We worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Greg had unlimited energy and a perfectionist’s attention to detail. He usually stayed behind closed doors programming all day, while I spent much of my time talking with other engineers. Since I had asked him to help as a personal favor, I had to keep pace with him. Thanks to an uncurtained east-facing window in my bedroom, I woke with the dawn and usually arrived ten minutes before Greg did. He would think I had been working for hours and feel obliged to work late to stay on par. I in turn felt obliged to stay as late as he did. This feedback loop created an ever-increasing spiral of productivity.

People around the Apple campus saw us all the time and assumed we belonged. Few asked who we were or what we were doing.When someone did ask me, I never lied, but relied on the power of corporate apathy. The conversations usually went like this:

Q: Do you work here?

A: No.

Q: You mean you’re a contractor?

A: Actually, no.

Q: But then who’s paying you?

A: No one.

Q: How do you live?

A: I live simply.

Q: (Incredulously) What are you doing here?!

“The Graphing Calculator Story.” — Ron Avitzur, Pacific Tech