How An Ex-Apple Employee Kept Sneaking Into Cupertino To Finish His Project

How An Ex-Apple Employee Kept Sneaking Into Cupertino To Finish His Project

How a former Apple employee crept into Cupertino and worked without pay to finish his project.

While Steve Jobs famously liked to take credit for others’ ideas, he also gave a lot of credit to the amazing people he employed at Apple who enabled the company to create all of the incredible products it has released over the years. In many interviews, Jobs praised their creativity, passion, and drive, and their determination to build the best product they could build.

Ron Avitzur is a great example of that. While working at Apple in August 1993, the graphic calculator program he and his team were working on was shelved. Avitzur declined the opportunity to transfer to another project, but he continued to turn up to work each day, sneaking into the Apple camp in Cupertino until his project was complete.

Driven by enthusiasm for his graphics calculator program, Avitzur was determined to finish his project, World’s Strangest reports:

Everyone he mentioned it to exclaimed, “I wish I’d had that in school!” If he could just get the program preinstalled on the new computer, teachers across the country could use the tool as an animated blackboard, providing visuals for abstract concepts. The program could simultaneously showcase the speed of the new machine and revolutionize math class. All he needed was access to Apple’s machines and some time.

Although he was freelancing, Avitzur turned down another role inside Apple, but he knew he needed access to the company’s computers to finish his project.

It was when he was called into his manager’s office to say goodbye that Avitzur was told to submit his final invoice, and that’s when he had a brainwave: If Avitzur didn’t submit his final invoice, his contract wouldn’t be terminated in the system, and his ID badge would continue to work, granting him access to the building.

Avitzur wasn’t being paid, but he had a lot of time of his hands and lived a simple life that meant he could go 12 months without receiving a single paycheck. So he continued to turn up to work.

On the first day Avitzur came to work without a job, everything was pretty much the same. He drove his 1987 Toyota Corolla from the room he rented on the edge of a nature reserve in Palo Alto and parked in the lot outside Infinite Loop, Apple’s fancy new headquarters. He swiped in, went to his old office, and resumed working on the calculator.

Avitzur had help from his friend Greg Robbins, who also had an Apple contract that was almost up, and who was also working for free. But it didn’t matter that they weren’t being paid, it was the challenge and the determination to complete the project that gave them the kick they needed.

For around a month, they worked in tandem without having to worry about getting caught:

They worked in tandem for about a month. Robbins, the perfectionist, spent days tweaking the grayscale of a single pixel. Avitzur, the big picture guy, was more social. He chatted with fellow engineers, soliciting advice and mulling solutions. Avitzur’s and Robbins’s presence was an open secret; people admired their passion and believed in the project.

But Avitzur accidentally told his story to a manager.

“You’ll have to leave the building immediately,” said the woman. “I’ll have your badges canceled tomorrow.”

This is where the story gets interesting. Avitzur didn’t just give up and go home; for the next two months he simply found new ways of getting into the Apple building. He kept his badge around his neck so that he didn’t look suspicious to security, but he had to keep it away from sensors that would trigger alarms.

Avitzur would wait for the right moment to enter the building each morning — when he knew there would be big crowds coming through the doors and he could stroll in with the rest of them. He kept the phone numbers of a few friendly programmers in his pocket in case he couldn’t get in, and they would let him in via one of the side doors.

Because Avitzur was a familiar face inside Apple, no one questioned his presence. He and Robbins set up in a couple of empty offices, and friends inside Apple provided the pair with the computers they needed to keep their project going. Other workers began to help with the project, too:

And people began pitching in—quality assurance specialists who’d gotten wind of the project would show up to test the software; a 3-D graphics expert devoted his free weekends to perfecting the program.

When he saw the manager that forced him to leave or workers from the facilities department walking his way, Avitzur would slip into other halls or into the bathroom. By November, Avitzur and Robbins were ready to demonstrate the graphing calculator, and the engineers that helped them test it began spreading the word to their managers.

Avitzur and Robbins were asked to demonstrate the program and although they feared the worst, it went “perfectly.” When Apple released its new PowerPC computer in early 1994, Avitzur’s program was on it, and it has been loaded onto more than 20 million machines since.

“It’s amazing we got away with it,” says Avitzur, who is still designing software, still living in the Bay Area, and still driving his 1987 Corolla. “Even more amazing that we ended up producing something of value.”

What an incredible story. It’s the kind of dedication and loyalty that Avitzur demonstrates — to complete a project he believed in without being paid a single penny — that makes Apple employees and the company as a whole so unique.

  • morphorod

    I heard this story on This American Life. Its a pretty incredible story.

  • JoViKe

    The Graphing Calculator was nice. Shame it wasn’t recompiled for Intel. Grapher is not the same.

  • theobserving

    is this where they got the idea for their retail employees?

  • WebsterDavid2

    what Glenn responded I didnt know that anybody can get paid $6898 in a few weeks on the computer. did you see this web site(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/2oT2F

  • RJENK

    Great article, thank you!

  • JoViKe

    Actually I had another look at Grapher. It has a 3D pane as well, so it can do a lot.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a staff writer based in the U.K. He has an interest in all things tech and also covers Android over at CultofAndroid.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell.

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