Today this blog is not about technology or ideas. Its a Memoriam.
Most will consider 9/11 as a remembrance of an atrocity that occurred within our nation. Some cried. Some died. Some cheered. Personally, I think 9/11 as it is commonly known within the vernacular and as “The Event”, was a pathetic display of religion and government gone awry.
That said over the years since September 11, 2005 – I remember it as the day my brother at arms died.
His name was Steven Swenson (a.k.a The Sven).
If you are familiar with OS9, OSX or Windows XP then you are familiar with this man’s works of art. Steven was an incredible software engineer. His design ethos as well as his ability to write solid code and adapt in the moment were world class. This year, in homage, I am going to discuss some little known facts and would be fiction depending on whom you talk to concerning some experiences. This is timely, as of late many people have been asking me about how it was to work at Apple, Microsoft, and The Valley in general. First, I will set the stage with some “Sven-isms” that he used to say or yell depending on the situation:
“Mediocrity Is Not An Option!”
“That is fucking stupid”
( Usually in response to someone’s question if anyone had any comments or feedback – complete with laughter.)
So with the “level set” a couple of vignettes:
We are standing around at “The Evil Empire” and I asked Steven what he had going on with respect to a code base that we had just finished architecting. He said he had to check in some last minute changes and he was finished. Then his manager walked in and said that he has a bug in the code. The following discussion took place:
Sven: “OK, I’ll take a look at it now.” He told me to wait a minute.
Sven: “Oh boy I am a dumbfuck, OK its fixed.” (insert technical reason here)
Sven looking at his manager: “Ok its fixed now, it looks like that was the last bug in triage before RTM.”
Manager: “Your six weeks early with the (insert current code base here). What are you going to do now?”
Sven: “I am going to the gym with TCT.”
Manager: “Then what?”
Sven: “Stay out of here as long as I can.”
Beautiful really. Just beautiful.
We are somewhere in Cupertino, CA hanging out at a certain Loop. We were working on an new operating system circa 1999. There was a discussion over how we were going to implement some real time Application Programmer Interfaces. There appeared to be a disconnect between the two technical lead / managers, the Sven being one of the two at odds. So we were sitting there arguing. He gets up and says:
“I am going to beat the shit out of you.”
I get in between them and he starts at the other lead manager.
I grab him and throw him outside the building.
He says, ” I am going to get a gun and kill that motherfucker.”
I punch him and he keeps yelling.
I hold him down and tell him I am going to knock him out if if he doesnt stop.
He said, “Ok but that guy is leading us down a path that will fail.”
I only can hope to find people who care about Quality as much as he did.
One year for Xmas I gave my team a shirt that said, “100% Microsoft Free – FuckBillGates.com”
I gave these shirts to them before coming back from lunch at the Evil Empire.
I knew exactly what was going to happen. I dropped The Sven off somewhere around say building 31 and he proceeded to put the shirt on. He said he had to give design meetings the rest of the day. I responded that he might not want to do that. He said “Fuck them if they can’t take a joke.” I called later and inquired about the response. He said no one said anything that they were a bunch of pathetic followers.
I suppose if the shoe fits.
Think you have created some cool stuff? Think again. In that same vein this is how much Steven or ( The Sven ) hated computers:
This was one of his favorite songs:
Here are the Lyrics to Sing Along with…
A long time ago I never knew myself. Then the memory
Of shame birthed its gift.
No more. The small one, the weak one, the frightened one.
Running from beatings, deflating. I’m becoming more
Than a man. More than you ever were. Driven and burning
To rise beyond Jesus.
I’m born again with snakes eyes
I found my life was slipping through my hands. Perhaps
Through death my life won’t be so bad.
I can see you, can fuck you, inside of you. Staring through
Your eyes. Belittle your friends to serve me, to suck me,
To realize my saving grasp. I of suicide. I the unlord.
I’m born again with snakes eyes
In retrospect, it might have been prescient. He probably would tell me to shut the fuck up. In addition to being a great computer scientist he was also a great waterman, knew martial arts and was in phenomenal shape. He was much better than most. He was elite and a Nihilist at the same time. He believed Schrödinger’s cat was dead and eviscerated, so to speak. He thought most were stupid and most were mediocre humans. There is also this misconception that people who make technology are dorks. Does this guy sound like a dork? Nowadays I see so many people wanting to be spoon fed. I can assure you that if the Sven were alive today he would feed you a bootjack or provide you with an island, a gun with one bullet and a case of rum. I’ll close with some words from a song by Blood Axis called Comrade:
To every sailor the gods have given a comrade
While one sleeps the other keeps watch on the bridge
When one doubts the other gives him his faith
When one falls the other discovers the oasis of ice for both of them
When my comrade loses faith I laugh confidently
When my comrade sleeps I keep watch for him
When my comrade falls I fight on for the both of us
Because to every sailor the gods have given a comrade
If you loose heart, I’ll laugh joyfully
And if you sleep, I’ll keep watch for you
And if you fall, I’ll fight on for the both of us
Because to every warrior the gods have given a comrade
If you fall I will discover the oasis of ice for both of us
I truly miss my comrade.
As we used to say “One day as a lion instead of a life as a sheep.”
Go Big Or Go Home!
5 comments on “In Memoriam – Steven Swenson March 13, 1967 – September 11, 2005”
Hi. I am a friend of Roma’s. This is very powerful testimony to the difference that another human being makes in our lives and in the web of life as a whole. I didn’t know Steven, but, having read this, I miss him very much. Very well written. Thank you.
Ted: thank you for the Memorium to Steven. We ALL miss him very much! Keep up the good work!
Hi Ms. Cook thank you very much for your kind words.
I had the privilege of working for Steven for several years. The only problem with that is that he raised the bar so high, that working for anyone else becomes a joke. Its worth emphasizing that not only is he one of the sharpest people I’ve ever worked with, he’s also one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. And his integrity was off the map. He was all about doing things right, the FIRST time you do it. No BS, no compromises.
I knew he was exceptional the first time I interacted with him. We were working at separate companies and I needed some debugging help. Steven happened to be driving around LA trying to find his way somewhere using bogus directions. I called him up, no problem. He put on his earpiece and starting telling me what to do. We’re talking about setting break points during the boot process and me reading off machine language and hexadecimal numbers, and he’s telling me what’s going on and what to do, all while he’s trying to navigate. It totally blew my mind. It’s still amazing to think about.
I have several fond memories of the Sven one of which I’ll briefly share. One day while working at that big Corp in the NW we had to come up with a name for a new server. In Windows-land, these server names are reached on the network by prefixing the server name with “\\”, commonly spoken “whack whack”. Sven decided to name our server “inoff” :). So whenever anyone asked where to find out team server we could just say, “just go to whack whackinoff!”