What is your current professional role and how did you get here?
I’m a independent developer, making apps for all of Apple’s different platforms. I was always interested in computers, and messed around with code on my Commodore 64 as a kid, but I only really got into programming properly when I went to university. After graduating, I went on to work for Apple in the late nineties on the Mac OS X Finder and Dock. I left, following a Steve Jobs-related incident, and my wife Saskia and I started our own company, TLA Systems. We’re best known for PCalc, the only scientific calculator with high score leaderboards.
What was the first app you worked on and what did it do?
Well, this is embarrassing. It was PCalc, 25 years ago. That makes it sound like I’ve done nothing else in the meantime, but I just keep coming back to it. It was the app I wrote to learn how to program the Mac in 1992, and I’ve rewritten parts of it many times to learn new things. Some of the original code remains however, that has run on both the Mac Classic and the iPhone X.
What went well? What could have gone better?
The longevity definitely impresses and terrifies me. But the fact that it’s giving me an income all these years later must be the high point. But there are still design decisions I made in 1992 that haunt me to this day, and I’m gradually fixing things as time goes on.
What is your favorite among the apps you’ve worked on?
I think, technically, I’ve only worked on about five or six apps in total, ever. PCalc, and my old Mac application dock DragThing, are the most notable. The Finder, obviously. But I think it might be the “101 Dalmatians Print Studio” I worked on for Disney, while I was at Apple. I learned a great deal, and it was a fun project with no great stress, and we had a good team of people, including Saskia.
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 think a lot of my relaxation involves looking at screens, just bigger ones. I play video games, but I also enjoy going to the cinema. Playing board games does involve interacting with other human beings and has no screens, so I will go with that. I think I should also note the vast amount of lego surrounding me, I find it very calming to build things.
Why do you support what App Camp does?
It’s clear that many problems in tech and society these days stem from people – like me – making decisions without weighing the full consequences for others. Generally, not for malicious reasons, but mainly because we don’t have the same breadth of experience that others do. Having those voices at the table when products are being designed and built would help to avoid those problems. And having a more diverse workforce and leadership can only help bring people closer together, which I think is sorely needed right now.
What do you recommend to those who want to support more diversity in tech?
If you’re in a position to help others, do so. Boost those diverse voices, and give them room to talk. Help financially if you can. Hire people that don’t necessarily look like you, or have the same opinions as you. The worst thing you can do is to do nothing, and think it’s not your problem. Because one of these days, it will be.
How can technology be a force for good?
Well, this is the great question of the day. It’s tempting to think that technology has made the world the mess it is in right now. But it’s also brought lots of communities together – again for good and for bad, but I think mostly for good. It helps us keep talking to each other, and see how other people live, which I think brings empathy. We’re not all the same, and we don’t need to be. Diversity is a feature, not a bug.
You can find James on Twitter.
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