Breaking & Entering Code: How a Programmer Snuck Into the Apple HQ for Months to Finish a Project

By Veronique Greenwood | July 2, 2012 2:12 pm

graphing calculator
The ultimate nerdy crime scene

In the modern workplace, you’ve got to be prepared for disappointment. Make no mistake: Whether you’re a journalist or an entrepreneur or a scientist, your pet projects will sometimes be killed. But what if you were working on an awesome project that got canceled, and you had the time, money, and daring to sneak into the office to finish it anyway?

That’s the story of Ron Avitzur, an Apple programmer who was working on a graphing calculator that was to be loaded on a new generation of computers. Mental Floss has an engaging short feature explaining what happened when the project was canceled:

The young programmer knew the project had merit. 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.

In 1993, Avitzur had nothing but time. His girlfriend lived in another city, and he’d already spent the previous 18 months working late five or six days a week, sometimes until after midnight. His Apple gig had paid well, and Avitzur lived simply. He could work for almost a year without a paycheck. Plus, Apple had lots of extra offices and computers—who would it hurt if he just kept coming in? It would be the perfect crime.

Along with several co-conspirators inside, Avitzur managed to complete the project over a period of several months. The result was Graphing Calculator 1.0, which has been loaded on more than 20 million computers since.

Avitzur’s story has been out there for a number of years—you can hear him telling the tale on this episode of This American Life—but it’s inspiring all the same. You can get the full blow-by-blow at Mental Floss.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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