Software developers love to talk about their work. This blog is proof of that: blah, blah, blah. But for a variety of reasons we must often guard our speech to avoid spilling the beans about details meant to remain private. Salaried engineers are usually expected to keep mum about a project’s details or even existence until a shipping product is delivered. So when I ask my Apple friends what they’re working on, they may reply with something vague like “on a consumer oriented application.” Oh, whoopdie-doo. Apple’s making something for consumers? Only when the application or product becomes public do they get to beam proudly, confessing their involvement as the world flocks to enjoy the fruits of their labor. If the project instead gets axed or indefinitely postponed, they turn gloomy and unresponsive. All that time, wasted on something nobody will ever see or use. Even when the product does go public, admission of involvement is usually on a friends-only, hush-hush basis. Apple and other big companies increasingly keep hidden the names of their products’ makers.
As a consultant, it’s usually understood that credit (or blame) for a product will go to the company itself. Even if the company is the type that still puts their employees’ names in the about box, it will be their name and not yours that goes in the shipping product. Sometimes this is a blessing. For instance, if the client is determined to make the Mac port of their Windows application look and feel just like its crappy Windows counterpart, it’s comforting to cash the check at the end of the project and wash ones hands clean of the dirty work that was done. We don’t like to talk about those projects. But when a project goes well and is received with public praise, it can be difficult to maintain one’s legal or ethical obligation to anonymity. Pride of ownership is one of the best fuels for software innovation. Just ask Linus Torvalds. No wonder the open source community has exploded over the past decade. As companies give programmers fewer and fewer opportunities to gloat, the open source community offers nothing but recognition as compensation for a job well done.
It was a pleasure of mine recently to work with a company that has a great perspective on this. SoundSpectrum is the company behind the “G-Force Visualization Engine,” which is what makes the pretty colors and patterns Apple’s default iTunes visualization plugin. They sell a suite of products that make the already-amazing iTunes visualizer look like child’s play. When they asked me to help them expand their Mac offerings, it was clear that they weren’t looking for a “crappy Windows port.” Their Windows products are quite good, but they made it clear that they wanted the Mac products to be different. Even a great PC application should not be blindly ported to the Mac. Mac software is different. Our agreement on this point made me eager to sign up for the job.
A consulting job where the task at hand is to “take the Windows product and make it kick ass on the Mac.” I can work with that. What Mac programmers really want is to leave a beautiful mark on the landscape of available Mac software. We want pride of ownership! SoundSpectrum took the concept to an unusual level by offering to put my own true and legal name in the about box of their products. This is brilliant. Not only do I get pride of ownership, but they get accountability. It’s my professional responsibility to always do my best work, even when it’s anonymous. But let’s face it, putting a consultant’s name in the about box can only improve the odds of getting their best work.
Two products carrying my name were released last week. The Mac editions of the G-Force Toolbar and G-Force V-Bar are dramatically different from their PC counterparts, and they kick ass. I was responsible for designing and implementing these applications from the ground up, and I’m proud of that. I’m also thrilled to have been assisted by a rich cross-platform code base, thoughtful technical brainstorming, and the excellent graphics design contributed by another consultant. It was a team effort, but in many ways the buck stops with me. Hate something about the products? I own it.
If you’ve never tried SoundSpectrum’s advanced visualization products, you should give them a spin. One of the pitfalls to this job was the tendency I had to find myself lost in staring at the mind-blowing hypnotic imagery that these products are capable of producing. You can try out the advanced visualization engine by downloading the free trial. My contributions are included in the Gold and Platinum editions, which are very affordable. In particular the Toolbar gives you fine-grained control over just about every aspect of the visualization engine. The V-Bar offers a unique kind of animated “wallpaper”: a band of transparent visualization along the side of your screen. These features have benefited PC users for several months, and now the Mac is caught up. Damn it feels good to leave a beautiful mark.