by Marc Silverman (circa 1995)
(This piece was originally written and published in 1995 for the Mac Street Journal, the New York Macintosh User Group’s printed newsletter. The Internet was barely known at that time, and the term “cell phone” was yet to become part of the language.)
Mack McTask, a private computer consultant was recently interviewed at his office by a Mac Street Journal reporter. Here are excerpts from the discussion.
MSJ: Mr. McTask, we’ve been receiving quite a number of glowing reports about your consulting abilities, in fact, frankly, some of them are a bit hard to believe. I refer…
McTask: I’d prefer to be spoken of as a “troubleshooter.”
MSJ: All right, I can understand that. It sometimes seems that everybody these days is calling themselves a consultant. Let me ask you to put into perspective just what it is that makes your work different from what we’ve come to expect from a computer “consultant.”
McTask: I fix things. If you’ve called me in, you can expect no more trouble. Period.
At this point we were interrupted by a soft ringing, surprisingly almost soothing in tone. I realized it was the telephone, but none was to be seen. In fact, there was no outward sign that Mr. McTask was in any way involved on a high level within the computer industry. His richly appointed, walnut-hued office bespoke a calmness and elegance unexpected of one with such a reputation of total commitment to his field. He excused himself, and strode over to a stand-up desk about six feet to one side of the desk at which we sat. I noticed that what I had mistaken for a hearing aid was a telephone earpiece which he wore constantly. The mouthpiece, I discovered, was a microphone pickup inlaid in the stand-up desk. McTask stood at this podium, gesturing with his hands as he addressed both his unseen client and the larger part of the office.
McTask: (at the podium) Okay, you’re in your Clean Room right now? Good … Have the team begin by removing the large back panels. Once inside, there’s going to be a number of points to be redone … Mainly the first thirty or so that I suggested yesterday … Don’t let anybody get too close to the cooling lines, their skin will adhere if they brush up against them … Yes, you should be, but you can probably do it without the suits, but tell ’em to watch where they put their arms and fingers … Call me back after you’re inside.
MSJ: Sounds big. That doesn’t sound like a run-of-the-mill problem.
MsTask: It’s the same thing over and over again with those Cray’s. You’d think that dropping two or three hundred fifty million on a unit would save you the hassle of after-purchase support, but they’re just like the rest of the box makers. They don’t even have an 800 number. That client’s got a tough problem, but I’ll be able to handle it. I don’t think I’ll even have to do a drop in, unless they’re sloppy.
MSJ: I’d presume you charge top-dollar rates considering the importance of the service you provide?
McTask: I don’t take fees. My work is done strictly for percentages or stock. That way, they can be sure I’m doing the job right. When you start accepting cash you forget what you’re there for – you’ll keep coming up with reasons why you’ll have to go back again, and again – just so the fees keep coming in. If I take stock options, my goal is to have the business value increase, and I get richer without having to go back. Let’s face it, I lose money if I actually have to go to the client. Biggest time waster there is.
MSJ: An interesting philosophy, I’m sure.
At this point, the soft ringing of the telephone began again. I waited for McTask to move to the podium to answer it, but he sat silently, awaiting further questions.
MSJ: Aren’t you going to answer that?
McTask: Nope. It’s not important. Let’s go on.
MSJ: Well, I can’t help wondering how you can be so nonchalant about your incoming calls. You apparently have no secretary, the telephone seems to be your primary link to your clients, and you answer it yourself. I’d think that would be important.
McTask: The ones I answer … they’re important.
McTask waited for me to pose another question to him, but my perplexed look must have surprised him. He continued:
McTask: And by the same token, the ones I don’t answer, they’re not important. Seems simple enough, but for some reason, reporters always blanch at the idea. Take this interview. If I didn’t answer when you called, it wouldn’t have been important to me.
MSJ: This leads me to ask about your availability on the online services. I wasn’t able to find you listed on CompuServe, America Online, InterNet, Genie, Prodigy, or any of the rest. You must keep your e-mail address private in order to keep down the number of companies trying to engage your services?
McTask: I keep no addresses on any of those. It’s just another gimmick. If you can’t say something right to someone’s face, why waste the time. I can call somebody a pea-brain in less than 10 seconds by phone. It would take ten times that long to try to do it by computer. I only choose to work about 20 hours per week, and I spend the rest of my time in my own way, not being bothered by the inanities of my occupation. What’s Prodigy?
MSJ: I think my readers will find it somewhat …
McTask: Excuse me, this call’s an important one … Yes, okay, got it … You’re going to have to power down the western side of the complex before you can get into the heart of this one … Right, the second set of instructions from yesterday’s discussion … Now, you’re probably going to have some trouble when you reboot, and you’ll have some trouble when you go to launch something. Take it slow until you’re sure all the bugs are out … Call me when the power’s back up.
MSJ: Our readers probably have had their share of trouble with applications failing and major crashes. What application are they launching?
McTask: The Space Shuttle.
MSJ: Oh … Maybe I’ll close by asking you to reflect upon the state of the industry as we enter the mid-nineties. Where do you think it’s all heading?
McTask: Now there’s the first question you’ve asked that I can really sink my teeth into. As for the state of the industry: I’m no soothsayer. Things break – I fix ’em. But I fix them quick, and right, and people think it’s magic. That’s why I don’t need to be surrounded with computers. Mostly, they’re built slapdash anyway, they just manage to do what you need ’em to do for a short time and then suddenly they’re obsolete. Geez, the life span of most computers nowadays is something like seven months, IF you upgrade them regularly! And the things people expect from them! Productivity – there’s an oxymoron – some people spend more time striving for productivity than they’d EVER spend actually being productive! And they also want limitless computing power. And the answers to their needs. And entertainment. And perfection. They want a perfect computer. But computers are made by imperfect people. And most discoveries are just glorified accidents anyway.
MSJ: I think I’ve hit a nerve. It seems that deep down you abhor computers.
McTask: I didn’t mean to give you that impression. I prefer to think of it as respecting my own intelligence, and understanding that those boxes that everybody has are just a means to an end. The computer didn’t create a better life for me. I did. And the computer won’t create a better world for us. We will. But not if we keep spending all of our time trying to be productive.
MSJ: Thank you, Mr. McTask, for meeting with me this afternoon.
McTask: Call me Mack, and don’t mention it. The interview went so quickly I hadn’t even noticed how late it was, Could you tell me the time? I don’t have a watch …