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The netscape dorm

Here are some excerpts from my diary during the first few months of the
existence of Netscape Communications
(All Praise the Company), back when we were still called
Mosaic. Back when there were only 20 or
30 of us, instead of however-many thousands
of people there are today. Back before we had any
middle managers.

This is the time period that is traditionally referred to as “the
good old days,” but time always softens the pain and makes things look
like more fun than they really were. But who said everything has to be
fun? Pain builds character. (Sometimes it builds products, too.)

So you want to go work for a
startup?
Perhaps this will serve as a cautionary tale…

Tuesday, 26 July 1994, 4am.

I’ve been working here at Mosaic for a month and a half now, and I
haven’t been sleeping much, or even
going home very often.

Lou and
Rob spent all day today
building remote control
cars.
This was kind of annoying, since I and all the others were working out butts
off, and they were just screwing around all day. I wandered over to
Chouck‘s cube and said,
“so is this car thing annoying you?” He
reached his arms wide, scrunched up his face, and said “Only about
this much.” I nodded, and went back to my desk.

Ten minutes later he came over and asked, “So does it annoy you too, or
were you just wondering whether it annoyed me because I’m so easily
annoyed?” I said that it annoyed me, but probably a tiny bit less than
it did him.

At around 4pm, Lou was packing up and preparing to go home, when he
mentioned to me that
Marc
had called him in to his office and asked if he had enough work to
do. I’d been wondering that myself, so I asked, “Well, do you?” He said
that he had just been feeling really burnt out for the last few days, and
needed to relax. This is completely understandable, but I said that maybe it
would be better if he were to do his relaxing away from the office, instead
of doing it right in everyone’s face while they were working.

Marc wants me to be done with the Unix client in time for SGI to ship it
along with Irix 5.3. That means that it has to be rock solid in, like,
less than two months. I’ve got so little of the code written that I don’t
even have a sense yet of whether that’s even remotely possible; it’s all
over the floor. We’ve got bits and pieces, but I don’t see the big picture.
It’d be really easy to let him bully me into agreeing, but I don’t want to
miss; the stakes are too high this time, too many people are watching us
for us to be able to screw up at all…

Thursday, 28 July 1994, 11pm.

I slept at work again last night; two and a half hours curled up in a
quilt underneath my desk, from 11am to 1:30pm or so. That was when I woke up
with a start, realizing that I was late for a meeting we were scheduled to
have to argue about colormaps and dithering, and how we should deal with all
the nefarious 8-bit color management issues. But it was no big deal, we just
had the meeting later. It’s hard for someone to hold it against you when you
miss a meeting because you’ve been at work so long that you’ve passed out
from exhaustion.

Sunday, 5 August 1994, 5am.

I just got home; the last time I was asleep was, let’s see, 39 hours ago.
And I’m not even tired right now. I guess I’m on my second or third or
eighteenth wind. I only came home because I was worried that if I stayed
there any longer, I’d fall asleep at the wheel again. I didn’t want to stay
down there for another night, because I really need a shower at this
point; it was a hot day today, and Lou and I played some intense games of air
hockey last night that got me all sweaty and disgusting.

Wow, I must be tired — I just turned on the television, and MTV is
actually moving too fast for me to understand it.

I’ve had a sore throat and a cough for about a week now, but I haven’t
done anything about it, because I don’t have time. I think I’m keeping
myself from getting a cold by sheer force of will.

On friday, which is when I most recently woke up, I got to work at around
three, and had a ton of email waiting, all work related. And we had an
all-hands meeting 4pm, and everyone wanted to come talk to me at once before
then, so I was feeling really overwhelmed and behind. I mean, I had only
been away from the office for like seven hours! The meeting was another
mind-blower; apparently we closed some kind of OEM deal (I forget with who)
for like 600,000 seats of the client. Gag. I actually get the feeling that
our sales and marketing people know what they’re doing! I’ve never gotten
that feeling from them at any previous job. This is wild.

Six hundred thousand people is more than any software I’ve ever worked on
has come anywhere near. I’m completely terrified.

The company is finally putting a web server online soon, so one of the
content guys asked us to make home pages for
ourselves. I scribbled down a few of the weirder dreams I’ve had, and put
up my bookmarks. Maybe I’ll
have time to do something more clever later.

My hands have been really been hurting lately; I hope all this typing
hasn’t finally blown out my wrists. If I can’t type, my life is over. My
right hand especially is flaking the last knuckle of the
middle two fingers ache, as if they’re badly bruised. I guess it’s time to
figure out how to use our medical program. As if a doctor is going to tell
me something other than “stop typing so much.” Ha ha ha, that’s a good
one.

A week or two ago we all sat around and tried to think up a name for the
client; we can’t call it Mosaic, because that’s the name of the company. The
marketroids
had all kinds of silly suggestions like Cyber this and
Power that and blah-blah Ware. Then someone said something
about crushing NCSA Mosaic, and I blurted out “Mozilla!” Everyone seemed
to like that, so I think that might end up being the official name of the
browser.

There’s finally an Indy on my desk instead of a Sun4. This means that I
also have an IndyCam, so I hacked up a script to grab and save a frame of me
sitting there every five minutes. What have I’ve learned from this?

  • I bite my nails too much.
  • When I’m concentrating, I don’t look very happy.
  • After I’ve been here more than a day, time-lapse photography reveals
    my hair and skin getting progressively more shiny… We really need to get
    showers at the office.
Thursday, 11 August 1994, 2am.

I saw Ian today, for the first time in months. His first words were,
“Wow, you look like shit.” He says I seem really strung-out and twitchy.
I thought I had been doing ok! I got a full night’s sleep last night and
everything. I have no life. I never see any of my non-work friends, and I’m
wasting away my one and only youth. I ought to be out doing fun things and
active things, the kind of things I won’t be able to do when my mind and body
finally decay. But instead I’m stuck inside under fluorescent lights,
pushing bits around inside a computer in ways that are only interesting to
other nerds. I glanced at a movie listing and there are movies out that I
haven’t even heard of. How did that happen? That freaks me out.

I bought some wrist braces at a drug store, and I’ve been typing with
them for a couple of days. I don’t think it’s helping much; my middle finger
doesn’t hurt quite as much, but my ring finger is just as bad. This
job is destroying my body. This can’t be worth it.

Friday, 26 August 1994, 1am.

I’ve just read over some of my diary for the last few months, and man,
a lot of it is completely incoherent! It’s full of incomplete
sentences, made up words, random surreal imagery that I can’t even understand
let alone remember typing. Have I been typing in my sleep? I hope I don’t
sound like that in person. I wonder what my code must look like!
Oh well, it seems to work.

I left work at about 9:30, because Eric and Susan called and talked me
into going to see

Natural Born Killers
with them. I’d been at work for 31 hours,
with maybe 4 hours of sleep scattered in here and there while waiting for
compiles to finish, but they had already bought me a ticket for the 10:30
show, how could I say no? I said, “I’m exhausted, but you’re right, I need
see a movie.” Susan said, “are you sure? We could do this some other
time.” “No,” I said, “I’m burning twice as brightly, I have to do this
sort of thing.” It’s a corny Blade Runner reference, but it just popped
right out of my mouth. (I’m not sure I like the implications of it,
actually.)

NBK was a completely amazing movie. I think it was very nearly
perfect. Little plot, very disjoint, and fascinating visuals every step of
the way. Every second in the first hour was beautiful, and most of the
second hour as well. It was pure ultraviolence, even more
over-the-top than

A Clockwork Orange
. I was grinning about it for hours, and Susan was
just she said she felt like she had been beaten about
the head for two hours. When we got back to their place she went rummaging
through their cabinets for alcohol, finally coming up with a bottle of
bourbon; “I need something to numb it down,” she explained.

Sunday, 28 August 1994.

Mozilla is actually starting to smell like a product; maybe we’re not
doomed after all. When I got to work today, the gang was sitting down to
watch
Repo Man
on laserdisc. I heartily approve, and I didn’t even feel
that guilty for blowing off a couple of hours to watch it.

Lou is all stressed out because Kathy kissed him yesterday. I think he’s
nervous about dating the boss’s daughter. He’s all knotted up inside about
her; relationships will do that to you. But someone pointed out that lack of
sleep will do that to you, too. We had a long
talk about relationships today, where we traded war
stories
and compared scars. Here’s a great
snippet of a conversation we had about one of his previous girlfriends:

    him: “…and she was really hung up about whether I found her attractive.”
    me: “Why was that?”
    him: “Well, once before we were going out, I told her that I didn’t
    find her at all attractive.”
    me: “Whaaaat?”
    him: “Yeah, well, I said I wasn’t attracted to her.”
    me: “Well which did you say? There’s a big difference…”
    him: “Well, I guess I actually said that she wasn’t attractive.”
    Pause.
    “But it’s true!”

He’s a real pro, that one. Fabio could take lessons.

Friday, 9 September 1994, 1am.

We sent a copy of Mozilla to SGI today, for a handful of people to beat
on. This the big moment when they decide whether we’re in or out, whether
they ship it with Irix 5.3, or tell us to get lost. Tomorrow they’re going
to do install an internal beta release on two thousand machines. I think
that as of today, maybe five people besides me have ever used the Unix
version.

Oh, I just found out that my picture was in this month’s Wired, which has
a gushing
article
about us. I look like a complete dork. I can just hear
mom’s reaction: “What have you done to your hair? You look like a complete
dork.”

Saturday, 17 September 1994, 2pm.

If I hear someone imitate Beavis and Butthead one more time…

Wednesday, 21 September 1994, 7pm.

Today we were having some argument in email about something or other, and
a while later
Aleks
and I were chatting in person, and he said that he thought I’d been
picking on Lou a lot lately. I didn’t think I had been, so I sent this
message:

    To: eng

    So, Aleks just said that he thinks I've been picking on Lou a lot lately.
    Well I just want to make it clear that I think you're all idiots, and I hate
    each and every one of you. I don't mean to single anyone out.

One of my friends asked me if any of my coworkers had had anything to say
about that, or if they were all just non-confrontational nerds who would
go home and whine at their friends about how difficult I am. I was
happy to report that my coworkers are far from non-confrontational, and
that we scream at each other all the time. It’s one of the few things that
makes this place bearable, that we’re able to vent. However, this wasn’t a
great example of that, since the only responses I got were a halfhearted
“fuck you too” sort of reply, and one that said, “you forgot to cross-post
that to alt.fan.jwz.”

I ate like a pound of goldfish crackers today. What was I thinking.

Saturday, 24 September 1994, 5pm.

We had one of those “we’re going to win big” meetings today, where
Jim and
Marc
wave their arms a lot and say “these are not the droids you’re looking
for,” and we all sit there and nod enthusiastically and grin and say “these
are not the droids we’re looking for.” I like those meetings, because
they’re so convincing. They make me feel like maybe I haven’t been wasting
my time. You need someone like Marc around to overcome the soul-sucking
blackness that sets in when you’ve agreed to impossible goals.

I’ve been working, trying to beat this accursed

Unix
client into shape,
and everyone else has been dipping into the corporate beer supply.
You know, I spend basically every waking hour with these guys, and I think
we get along remarkably well, considering, but it’s really starting to wear
thin. Add alcohol, and they all get Extra Special Annoying.

11pm.

Well the kids went out to get drunk, or rather, more drunk.
I think they might have actually gone out to a strip club again.
How classy is that?

3am.

Oh good, the kids are back, and they are well hammered. None of them can
walk properly, and they keep bumping into the cubicle walls and making
everything on my desk shake. Since I’m not drunk, the impedance mismatch
makes it impossible for me to carry on a conversation with them, so I’m just
trying to block them out. But now they’re all playing networked
DOOM at top
volume, so in order to concentrate, I have to wear headphones with music on at
top volume, and even that doesn’t quite work. Since, as I mentioned, they
keep making the mistake of trying to walk, and they’re making all the shit on
my desk bounce around.

It’s a saturday night, and I’m in my cubicle surrounded by a bunch of
drunken farmboys from Illinois who haven’t
been more than two miles from our office in scenic
downtown Mountain View in four months.

My ears are going to be ringing after this. Fuck it, I’m going
home.
(Check my ears are ringing.)

Wednesday, Tuesday, who the fuck knows.
Some time in September, really really late at night.

We’re doomed.

We’ve finally announced a public beta to the net, and there are loads of
bugs, and they’re hard bugs, sucky, hardware-dependent ones.
Some of our private beta testers crash at startup on some SunOS 4.1.3
systems, and I’ve got what seems like an identical system here and it doesn’t
crash. And scrolling text doesn’t work with the OpenWindows X server, though
it works fine elsewhere. And the cache is still fucked. We’re doomed.

And while agonizing about this on the way home at 1am on an empty
freeway, I forgot to keep an eye out for cops, and got a speeding ticket.
I was going 80, and he actually wrote me up for 80, the bastard.
Since that’s more than 20 over the limit, I think the fine print says
that that means I have to go to court. I
don’t have time for this shit!

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

Doomed doomed doomed doomed doomed.

I’m tempted to just stay home tomorrow. I’m so fucking burnt.
Existence is suffering.

We had another fashion shoot today, with about ten of us. We did it
outside at the civic center, and I think the photographer was pretty
annoyed at us. Nobody was very into it at all, especially
Middlefinger.

We’re doomed.

I’d work on my resumĂ©, but I don’t even have anything new
to put on it yet, because we haven’t actually shipped anything.

I’m going to go home and cry myself to sleep now.

Friday, 7 October 1994, 6am.

We go live on the net in four days.

I no longer think we’re doomed. I think we’re going to rock all over.
It’s still pretty scary, though.

I went to the Halloween store that sprouted up around the corner, and
got a cool giant troll mask that I mounted on a cardboard tube next to my
cubicle door. It goes well with all the duct tape and grainy photocopied
blow-ups.

Today there was a reporter here from the LA Times; she interviewed all of
us, and wandered around with Rosanne in tow, to do spin control. Rosanne was
really concerned about here finding any confidential info, so the whole thing
was kind of weird. From the questions she asked, we were guessing that it
was going to be another fluff piece about personalities. She seemed to be
digging for dirt, and the technical aspects have pretty much been beaten to
death; could anyone really be interested in writing about them again?

They took pictures. She said it would be out in a few weeks, either on
the front page of the business section, or the main front page. Yow.

CNN is coming in on monday to film a demo. CNN! Man.

Chouck
was in an incredibly pissy mood today, worse than usual. I made
some joke about the fact that he doesn’t like having his picture taken and he
went ballistic.

Monday, 10 October 1994, 5pm.

Well today has been more than a little bit frustrating. The details
don’t really matter (what does!), but I’ve spent most of the day so stressed
out that my skull is rattling from the pressure of my
teeth grinding together. I feel like I have
finally exceeded my stress limits and am about
blow a gasket. But I can’t go home, because if I do, the world will end,
right? I’m trying to work, but every few minutes I have to stop typing and
make fists so tightly that my whole body shakes.

    Deep breathing. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

    BLAM BLAM BLAM!!!!! Aaaaaauuuuugggghhhhhh!!!!
    Cut the phone! Kill the dog!

Cubicles have no doors to slam. I’ve been alternately chugging
Coca Cola and Pepto Bismol. It’s not helping.

Some email from
Laura
says, “You are rapidly approaching meltdown. Get out now.” She told me
that I need to go Coot Chasing. Apparently there’s an open space preserve
north of Shoreline and SGI, and at the end
of a twisty road is a lake. Around this lake are hordes of little black
birds called coots. They run around on the mud flat on little
half-webbed feet, and when you chase them, their feet make a phup phup
phup
noise. And if you get them really agitated, they oink, like
little black feathered piggies.

“It is,” she promises, “the funniest fucking thing.”

Coots know how to live. I wish I were a coot.

Mr. Wizard, I think I’d rather be a coot than a hacker. Yeah, sure,
every now and then a giant pink-haired ape would come
running after me and chase me into the lake, but really, could it be that
much worse? I’d have a tiny little brain and
wouldn’t be expected to worry about anything.

They bought us Indian food for dinner today. I hate Indian food.
I think I’m getting an ulcer.

Wednesday, 12 October 1994, 11am.

It is two days later and I am still at the office. I did not go
and chase coots. There is too much work
to do. I want to die.

We’re releasing Mozilla 0.9 today. I just finished doing the builds on
six different Unix
platforms, and of course, we discovered
show-stoppingly disastrous bugs at 9am. We have fixed the bugs, and
stared at the changes long and hard, and I’m in the process of rebuilding all
of the binaries now. They should be done in about a half an hour, and they
will be on the FTP server less than an hour after that.

This is, of course, insane.

Laura says that if we’ve only got an hour between building and shipping,
then I must have been right all along: we are in fact well and truly doomed.
She says that if I leave now, I can probably get a good head start before
they realize that I’m gone.

I forwarded her “well and truly doomed” paragraph to my manager, and
he came in and yelled at me.

6pm.

I’m still here. We got a slight reprieve, as everyone agreed to delay the
release to midnight. People started testing my new builds at 1:50pm, which
is when I went to sleep.

    At 2pm, I was awakened.

    By screams.

    As the building’s power went out.

    I am not making this up.

midnight.

The power came back on, and we put the damnable program on the
FTP
server, and two million people all started attempting to download it at once,
before we had even posted the
announcement message
, and we’re done done done and I suppose now
we can all live happily ever after.

We sat in the conference room and hooked up the big TV to one of the
Indys, so that we could sit around in the dark and watch the FTP download
logs scroll by. jg hacked up an
impromptu script that played the sound of a cannon shot each time a download
successfully completed. We sat in the dark and cheered, listening to the
explosions.

Four hours later, the Wall Street Journal was delivered, and it already
contained an article describing what we had just done. “Clients aren’t
where the money is anyway,” ran the quote from Marc.

I’d go home now if I thought I could drive there without
dying, so instead I’m going to curl up
under my desk again and sleep here.

Maybe we’re not doomed; people on the net are talking about Mozilla
with all caps and lots of exclamation points. They’re actually excited
about it…

I’ve just noticed that there’s still purple ink on the inside of my
right wrist spelling the word VOID: the hand-stamp
from a concert that I went to last week.
I left work, went to the show, and came back to work immediately afterwards.
I’ve been here since.


 

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