The career-shaping Apple II

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Some of my favorite Juiced.GS articles are the anthologies. Roughly annually, the staff and I choose an Apple II-related topic and solicit community members to contribute brief essays that I assemble into a single collage. I love the variety of perspectives and voices, and the collaborative nature of being able to work with such a diverse yet ephemeral team.

In my time as editor of the magazine, I’ve overseen four such articles: where were you when the Apple IIGS was released; favorite memories of KansasFest; how did the Apple II influence your career; and favorite memories of Joe Kohn. (Naturally, that last one was the least enjoyable; I would’ve preferred not to have needed to publish it at all.) My favorite of those was how the Apple II impacted our jobs:

Wherever you live, no matter your age, today’s economy is a difficult one in which to either find or keep a job. Fortunately, the Apple II has long served as a strong foundation, teaching its users programming languages and critical thinking skills that have shaped their professional careers. We asked Juiced.GS subscribers, “How did the Apple II bring you to the career you have today?”

The answers were nothing short of inspiring. When else could Juiced.GS readers find Australian mainframes, digital libraries, and chicken coops, all in one article?

More mundanely, the Apple II also led me to my current job at Computerworld. In return, I try to bring my hobby to my workplace, not only by setting up the actual machine in my cubicle, but by covering the retrocomputing scene for Computerworld’s readers. Although I’m careful to not be pigeonholed as “the Apple II guy”, my editors are have been pleasantly surprised by my stories proving major traffic drivers for the site each of the last two Augusts.

Recently, another professional who is where he is today because of the Apple II had a run-in with Computerworld, though this time, it was one of our dozens of international counterparts. Computerworld Australia this week published an interview with Mr. Simon Hackett, founder of both telecommunications carrier Agile Communications and Internet service provider (ISP) Internode. Staff writer James Hutchinson’s very first question to Mr. Hackett, “What caused you to get into telecommunications in the first place?”, produced an answer that would’ve been right at home in Juiced.GS:

While I was at high school, around 1981, an Apple II turned up on loan from the Angle Park Computing Centre (an SA Government initiative which was a catalyst for a number of future IT Entrepreneurs in South Australia). Other students started playing with it to see what games it seemed to come with. But I picked up the book that arrived with the machine, containing the ROM Monitor manual and 6502 assembly language guide, and started writing little programs in machine code for fun. It seemed easy, because nobody had told me that it was supposed to be hard.

Some years later, I took on a job at Adelaide University right when AARNet (the university precursor to the commercial internet in Australia) was being created by the university sector. It was the first (and last) job interview I’ve ever had with anyone! As part of that team of people, I picked up the way the internet and TCP/IP worked just as I had picked up Apple II machine code — by rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty and just… doing it.

It became clear to me that my professional future was going to be intertwined with the use of networks to get computers to do useful things for people in the real world.

Practically on the other side of the planet from where Steve Wozniak cobbled together his brainchild, a career was shaped and made manifest. How many others learned from the Apple II the foundational skills and knowledge that they transferred and applied to their dreams? How many other careers, from enterprise IT entrepreneur to iPhone programmer to helpdesk technician to tech writer, have been influenced by this 8-bit machine?

How have you?