Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Paul Allen and I

I was recently given a copy of Paul Allen’s autobiography, Idea Man. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve skimmed the parts where I had a role. And my first reaction is:

Really Paul, you don’t know how to spell my name?

Other than that, everything that mentioned me seemed totally accurate.

Paul was my direct supervisor in my first stint at Microsoft (I think at that time everyone reported to either Paul or Bill). He conducted my face-to-face performance review in 1981. That review turned out to have an interesting moment.

When I was hired at Microsoft, I signed a modified employment agreement. The usual agreement would have given Microsoft the rights to anything I thought up while I worked there; the modification limited the scope to work that I was assigned to do.  The purpose of the change was to allow me to consult for my previous employer, Seattle Computer Products.

So while employed by Microsoft, I was a consultant to SCP, with Microsoft’s blessing. As an SCP consultant I designed an add-in card for the IBM PC that SCP sold as the RAM+. This was a memory card that also included a serial port. SCP priced it slightly less than IBM’s price for the memory card alone, and it was a huge success. The IBM PC only had five add-in slots, one of which was always taken up by a video card, so a multi-function card was particularly appealing.

During my December 1981 performance review, I learned from Paul that Microsoft was planning to come out with an IBM PC add-in memory card. It surprised me that Microsoft was getting into the hardware business. I had to tell Paul that I had designed what would be a competitive card for SCP. He was an easy-going guy, and just said something like “don’t do it again.” I was relieved to not be in any trouble. (I’m not sure if I had reported to Bill that I would have gotten off so easily.)