Tuesday, October 16, 2018

RIP Paul Allen.

"So, what did I just buy?"

That was my first impression of Paul Allen. I was a 20-year-old who had just gone from intern to tech lead when Paul bought the startup I was working at. The other programmers had departed, the founder cashed out to become an artist, and I was left to run the project--the first software video editor on Windows (before Premiere).

He had called me into his office for a demo. I fumbled through, avoiding the parts that I knew tended to crash. He asked a lot of deep, technical questions, most of which I didn't have a great answer for (intern here!), but he did it with a knowing kindness, a kind of "older brother who knows a lot".

Working for Asymetrix, I got to do a lot of things that were above my pay grade (and honestly above my ability). "I'm investing in this company--go and see if their tech is real." (Ok.) "Go to this CD pressing plant--see if they're actually capable of shipping ToolBook." (Umm. wha?)

Given that he was running half a dozen companies and a basketball team at the time, my face time with him was limited. It was usually "Paul wants to look into... can you do that?" But when I ran into him casually at work, he always had real questions about the projects that revealed how closely he tracked things behind the scenes.

When I told my boss I was resigning to move back to Pennsylvania (my fiancée didn't like Seattle), I received an interesting "counter": Paul had a stake in Cardinal, a modem manufacturer in Lancaster. I could work for them (on paper) while still working on the video editor for Asymetrix. I took them up on it immediately. (I only ever set foot in the place to sign the paperwork--we jokingly called it "employee laundering.") I don't know how much direct influence he had on that arrangement, but it seems like the kind of thing he'd have done.

I never saw him after that, but I think we could do with more people like Paul in tech. I'll miss him.