Michael Geary has been a programmer living in Silicon Valley since before the world called it Silicon Valley. And he’s got some incredible stories to tell.
For instance, he’s pretty convinced he was the first person ever fired by Steve Jobs.
He was living in Palo Alto in 1976 and shopping in a health food store.
“I was a scraggly looking hippie and I ran into this guy at produce. He was a scraggly looking smelly hippie. I just introduced myself and it turned out we both into computers,” Geary told Business Insider.
Jobs told him he just started a company called Apple Computer, and the name comes from “byte” as in “take a byte out of the apple, ha, ha,” Geary recalled. (A byte is computer storage term.)
“He and Woz were literally working on the Apple 1, literally just the two of them,” and he mentioned he needed someone to do some programming for him. “He needed a disassembler for the 6502 chip,” Geary said.
A disassembler is a computer program that translates the chip’s language into assembly language. A 6502 were for a new kind of computer, very small ones, not huge mainframes. Geary was working at company doing programming on mainframes.
Back in those days, it was really expensive to buy computer chips to write programs for them. But it was possible to fake having a real chip by using a software program called an emulator, which pretended to be the chip. Geary had access to a mainframe and an emulator at work, so he told Jobs, “I can do that.”
Geary went home and started to write the disassembler code.
“Steve called me back a few days later and said ‘this dissembler, this is a for a microprocessor. Your work is all with mainframes. They are nothing alike. All you know is mainframes, forget this whole thing,’ ” Geary recalls.
“When we hung up, I was pretty disappointed. Then I thought, ‘Who is this guy telling me I can’t program? I’ll show him. I’ll write a partial proof of concept and I’ll visit him and show him the code,'” Geary said.
So he dug up the address to Apple Computer and showed up, with no appointment. It turned out to be the address of an answering service. Jobs and Woz were still working in the garage. In those days, a garage startup wasn’t considered a very reputable office.
“I said to myself, these guys are flakes! They are never going to make it. And I turned around and walked back out the door,” Geary said.
He stayed fired.
And he was obviously wrong.
Years later, Geary got asked to do a short contract job at Apple (working on an email client called Diplomat) but the signing of the contract was stalled. And at another health food store, this one in Los Gatos, California, he once again ran into Steve Jobs.
Geary approached Jobs again, and they had a laugh about the first time they met. Geary didn’t tell him that he wrote the program. Instead, he nudged him to sign the contract. On the following Monday it was signed, though Geary didn’t interact with Jobs after that.
In fact, Geary didn’t see him again for many years. By that time, Jobs was ill.
They were at a restaurant in Menlo Park, California, and Geary was at the next table.
“He looked like he vaguely recognised me. I didn’t want to interrupt. I should have said hello. I should have told him I did write that program. I didn’t have quite the guts to talk to him at that point,” he said.
Jobs passed away a short time later.
“In the back of my mind, I’ll always regret not talking to him that night,” Geary said.
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