Whoops! Turns out that Jamie Zawinski suffered a slight brain glitch during our Coders at Work interview when recounting his time as a high-schooler working in Scott Fahlman’s CMU AI Lab. He said:
But there were some really entertaining characters in that group. Like the guy who was sort of our manager—the one keeping an eye on us—Skef Wholey, was this giant blond-haired, barbarian-looking guy. Very intimidating-looking. And he didn’t talk much. I remember a lot of times I’d be sitting there—it was kind of an open-plan cubicle kind of thing—working, doing something, writing some Lisp program. And he’d come shuffling in with his ceramic mug of beer, bare feet, and he’d just stand behind me. I’d say hi. And he’d grunt or say nothing. He’d just stand there watching me type. At some point I’d do something and he’d go, “Ptthh, wrong!” and he’d walk away. So that was kind of getting thrown in the deep end. It was like the Zen approach—the master hit me with a stick, now I must meditate.
However, as Jamie emailed to tell me yesterday, and Skef Wholey emailed me about today, Skef Wholey was not the giant, blond-haired bare-footed hacker who supervised a young Zawinski. Skef, it turns out, is 5’8” and has dark brown hair. Jamie’s giant supervisor was another guy named Rob MacLachlan.
Skef also tells me that Rob did carry a ceramic beer mug but as far as Skef recalls it held coffee, not beer. Skef also described Rob as “substantially more articulate, particularly in matters of coding and in Computer Science in general” than someone who’d just say “Ptthh, wrong!” and walk away. To be fair, Jamie did say, elsewhere in the interview, about Skef/Rob, “Well, he wasn’t completely a cave man. He would actually tell me things, too.”
My apologies to Skef for the case of mistaken identity.