You’re a fan of Apple and Apple’s products. Tell us about how that started.
In 1984, my parents were somehow convinced (by my uncle and grandfather, not me) to buy the original Macintosh. I was 9 years old at the time, and this was the first computer our family had owned. Prior to the Mac, we’d rented a VIC-20, which I had adored. I recall taking classes to learn how to use the VIC-20, though I’m not sure what I ever actually got it to do. Needless to say, compared to the VIC-20, the Macintosh was a miracle. It seemed like an impossible object, indistinguishable from magic. I was instantly hooked. The “family” computer quickly became “my” computer—in my mind, anyway. I’ve been using Macs ever since.
How did you become a part of the Apple fan community online?
I was lucky enough to be entering college in the early 1990s, just as the Internet really started to take off. I went from a 2400 bps modem at home to a 100 Mbps Ethernet connection to the Internet in Boston University’s computer lab. (Alas, the modem was still required in my dorm room. We had just one phone line for a suite with five people, kids! Wi-Fi had not yet been invented! Uphill, both ways!)
The web was still so new that I spent most of my early years online talking about my interests on Usenet and mailing lists. That’s where I can first recall feeling a sense of community around Apple products online. Everyone who had been reading Macworld and Mac User magazines for years (and kids like me who had found a way to scam a free subscription to MacWEEK) could finally talk directly to each other about the computers we loved.
It was actually a pretty smooth slide from writing thousands of words about Apple in newsgroups and on mailing lists to writing thousands of words about Apple for Ars Technica. At Ars, my words found a much larger audience, and the Apple fan community that I knew from the pre-web days firmly established itself on the web and (eventually) in the tech sector at large.
What is your favorite Apple product of all time and why?
In 1989, the Macintosh SE/30 had just been introduced. We had a Mac Plus at home, and my older sister was about to leave for college. Through a heroic campaign filled with appeals to both emotion and (surely specious) reason, I was able to persuade my parents to buy an SE/30 with the educational discount at my sister’s college computer store, bring that computer back to me (sorry, “the family”) at home, and give the Mac Plus to my sister to use at school.
When I left for college four years later, I took the SE/30 with me. I used it until it was replaced with a Blue & White Power Macintosh G3 in 1999. Though my current Mac, a 2008 Mac Pro, is also approaching a decade of use, the SE/30 still stands out to me as both the greatest and my favorite Mac ever made. It had the power of the larger, more expensive Macintosh IIx condensed into the classic all-in-one Mac form factor. It was fast, expandable, (relatively) portable, and it looked great. I added a 24-bit color monitor early on, and amazed PC-using friends with its tiny pixels and smooth gradients. For my finale, I would drag a window so it was half on the color screen and half on the internal monochrome screen. That little computer was a champ.
What are your favorite and/or most used apps?
These days, we commonly understand “apps” to mean “phone or tablet apps,” but I still spend most of my day in front of a Mac. My favorite and most-used Mac app is BBEdit. I’ve used to write all my articles online and all the code at at every job I’ve ever had. I’m using it right now! Like my SE/30 and my 2008 Mac Pro, BBEdit has never let me down.
On my phone, I spend a lot of time in my favorite Twitter app, Twitterrific. It’s the only client that fits my mental model of Twitter, presenting a single, unified, chronological timeline. Though I’ve purchased and tried more Twitter clients than I care to count since I joined the service a decade ago, Twitterrific has remained my favorite. There’s also a newly resurrected Mac version.
At App Camp, we emphasize that it’s important to have interests outside of tech and to take breaks from looking at screens. What are some of your interests outside of tech? What do you do when you need to take a break from work?
I had my first major RSI flare-up about six months into my first job as a programmer, and I’ve been battling/managing it ever since. A big part of that is spending less time in front of a computer—or less time typing on one, anyway. It’s hard to truly escape technology these days, but hobbies like photography, reading, or even just going to the movies are great breaks from technology “work.” Even if many of my hobbies eventually put me in front of a computer again—sorting and editing photos on my Mac, recording a podcast about a movie or book series—they’re still a welcome escape. And for getting you outdoors regularly, you can’t go wrong with adopting a puppy.
Why do you support what App Camp does?
Growing up, I had pictures of the original Macintosh team taped to my bedroom walls. I’d clipped these from magazines that featured extensive interviews with the engineers and programmers that created this amazing machine. Though the Mac team was more diverse than some, the most famous names and faces were all men: Steve Jobs, Andy Hertzfeld, Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith, Bruce Horn, and so on. And the most famous woman, Susan Kare, was “the artist.” I say this not to diminish anyone on the team—these people are my heroes—but to emphasize the fact that 9-year-old me had absolutely no trouble seeing himself growing up to be a computer engineer. Everywhere I looked, I could see people like me doing the thing I wanted to do when I grew up.
What do young girls think when they look at a technology industry that’s (still) dominated by men? Does it seems as possible to them as it did to me to be part of a team that creates something like the original Macintosh? The tech sector is the most powerful driver for the advancement of human civilization. It should not exclude half the population of the planet! I want girls to believe they belong in tech. I want them to have role models and to grow into the role models for future generations. I want them to take their rightful place at the big table and help write a future as yet unimagined by men.
What do you recommend to those who want to support more diversity in tech?
The most important thing I’ve learned about diversity is that the closer you are to the embodiment of the status quo, the less you understand about the real challenges our industry faces. That’s why it’s so important to listen to marginalized people. One person’s notions and hypothetical ideas are not equal to another person’s actual experiences. Those of us whose presence in the tech industry has never been questioned owe it to ourselves—and to the world—to listen to, learn from, and then use our positions of power to lift up those who are not so lucky.
How can technology be a force for good?
Technology has already been such a tremendous force for good when we consider domains like agriculture and medicine. Computers and networks are accelerating all these fields and creating new ones. Internet-enabled goods and services have the power to vastly multiply the efforts of individuals. One small decision by one person can ripple through the lives of literally billions of people in the years that follow. The potential for good is obvious. The bad tends to sneak up on us—especially those of us deeply involved in the modern tech sector. We need to be more aware of the potential downsides of our inventions. An important part of that is a more diverse set of voices setting the direction for the industry. A homogenous fraction of humanity can never build a future that truly serves all people.
Help more girls learn software development. Contribute to the App Camp For Girls Indiegogo fundraiser, get a cool perk, and enjoy the feeling of having helped the next generation of software developers.