The Sneaky Programmer Who Would Not Let Apple Cancel His Project

Samuel Reason | April 7th, 2018

In 1993, Ron Avitzur realized that his project was up to be thrown in the trash can. It was decided that the graphing calculator program he was working on for mobile devices was to be canceled – and his team was pretty relieved.

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His fellow programmers were reassigned to Apple’s various departments and projects, they even offered Avitzur a job too. Which he refused, he was just 27 at the time and budding with energy to work on the projects that really interested him. Freelancing for tech companies was what he loved to do and if he didn’t believe in the project then he did not want to do it.

He wanted to finish his graphing calculator, more than that: he wanted it installed on the PowerPC computer that Apple was shipping in early 1994. This was because everyone he told and showed his calculator too, reacted in the same way “I wish I had that at school!” Avitzur knew this was a way to revolutionize math class.

When his boss told him to submit his final invoice on his last day, he was hit by an idea. If he never submitted his invoice then, his badge and name would stay in the system. He just came in the next day and continued to work, not worried about payment as he lived very frugally anyways and had savings. He even found someone to join him on his cause, Greg Robbin whose contract with Apple was also up!

For the next few months, they sneaked around offices and talked to sympathetic colleagues so they could test the new machines. Their secret project spread and soon they even had quality assurance specialists and a 3-D graphics expert all working on the calculator during their spare time. But they got careless! A facilities manager found out about Avitzur and Robbins, the very next day she canceled their security badges.

Luckily by that time, they had a whole list of friendly employees to their cause and would be let in by side doors. A continued game of cat and mouse, finding empty offices to work in! Finally, they called in some managers and provided the perfect demo.

They loved it, and the graphing calculator program has been loaded on more than 20 million machines in the past decade.

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