Marc McDonald - Microsoft's First Employee

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Marc McDonald is Microsoft's first employee. Hired back in 1976. We recently caught up with him and talk about the old days at Microsoft as well as what he's doing on the Windows Vista team (he's working on defect prevention).

Funny story. He left Microsoft in 1984 because Microsoft had gotten "too big." Microsoft's size at that point? A few hundred employees. (He came back after Microsoft bought the company he worked for).

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    The Discussion

    • User profile image
      charlieM
      Fantatic stuff. I wonder how many MS employees there are now?
    • User profile image
      scobleizer
      About 60,000.
    • User profile image
      BigDataDev

      Great interview!

      That one deserves an Emmy.

      Cool to see that he designed the FAT file data structures back in the days of 8" floppies.

      Does he know the famous "Mark Z" from the EXE file format?

      fyi: The first 2 bytes of a DOS/Windows EXE file are ascii MZ.
      MZ are the initals of the Microsoft programmer (Mark Z-something) that developed the EXE binary format.

    • User profile image
      jkipk
      Great stuff, Scoble.  What's best about this is that the most interesting bits of the interview are not "what was Bill like back then", but Marc's excitement about what he's doing now, and how much better he wants software to be.  An honest healthy open assessment of not so much how far MS has come, but how big the potential is for it to go so much further.  His views on the customer, and on stepping away from code in order to get to developing great software are classic.  Again, great interview.

    • User profile image
      McDonald
      Sure I know Z. He came on after we were back up in Seattle for a couple of years. He's a comparitive newbie except he stayed at MS while I left.
    • User profile image
      sriram_2001

      The Z stands for Zbikowski Smiley

    • User profile image
      McDonald
      Consider the MZ in the EXE format one of Microsoft's firts Easter eggs.
    • User profile image
      Larry​Osterman
      McDonald wrote:
      Sure I know Z. He came on after we were back up in Seattle for a couple of years. He's a comparitive newbie except he stayed at MS while I left.


      And Gee, I started in '84 Smiley

      Btw, ran into Jim Lane in the airport a couple of weeks ago, he's doing well (although I think he's even taller than he was when I last saw him).  He's working at another startup doing something with embedded stuff.
    • User profile image
      BenZila
      Great interview.

      I love the interviews like this, where you just get a person who has a lot to say and just let him 'go on' you get alot of intresting stuff out of it.

      I would have to say i'm in Marc's style of thinking, make something around the user and don't worry about features unless it adds something really valuable to the experience. And also his thinking about other peoples ideas that are good.

      And made me think about the iPod shuffle aswell, and a great bit about giving credit due where credit is due, I think alot of people inside and outside of Microsoft forget that.
    • User profile image
      dentaku
      Because Vista is nearing completion you can see that people can talk forever about old stuff but really can't talk much about anything new because it hasn't shipped yet. Of course Marc isn't working on "features" at the moment.

      Still waiting to find out about Larry's new audio feature though Big Smile
    • User profile image
      McDonald
      LarryOsterman wrote: Btw, ran into Jim Lane in the airport a couple of weeks ago, he's doing well (although I think he's even taller than he was when I last saw him).  He's working at another startup doing something with embedded stuff.

      84? You arrived when I left. I haven't seen Jim since I left Microsoft.

    • User profile image
      BenZila
      LarryOsterman wrote:
      McDonald wrote:Sure I know Z. He came on after we were back up in Seattle for a couple of years. He's a comparitive newbie except he stayed at MS while I left.


      And Gee, I started in '84

      Btw, ran into Jim Lane in the airport a couple of weeks ago, he's doing well (although I think he's even taller than he was when I last saw him).  He's working at another startup doing something with embedded stuff.


      Got 2 golden oldies on the site [A]
    • User profile image
      scobleizer
      BenZila wrote:
      Great interview. I love the interviews like this, where you just get a person who has a lot to say and just let him 'go on' you get alot of intresting stuff out of it. I would have to say i'm in Marc's style of thinking, make something around the user and don't worry about features unless it adds something really valuable to the experience. And also his thinking about other peoples ideas that are good. And made me think about the iPod shuffle aswell, and a great bit about giving credit due where credit is due, I think alot of people inside and outside of Microsoft forget that.


      I love them too. It'd be fun to get Marc and Larry in a room and just roll tape.
    • User profile image
      BigDataDev
      Did Mark Zbikowski take any flack for his easter egg?

      Did Bill G know about it?

    • User profile image
      dentaku
      You do have some "golden oldies" over there.
      I remember an interview on C9 with a guy who I believe invented the laser printer?
      He was quite interesting.

      Also: I could listen to Bill Hill forever (I don't know how old he is but he's not "young")
    • User profile image
      scobleizer
      Yeah, that was Gary Starkweather. He recently retired.

      I'm gonna try to get Gordon Bell to give me a tour around the Computer History Museum he started. That'd be awesome.
    • User profile image
      DanPeay
      What blows me away is that this guy (and a few others) changed the world, but he doesn't have an ounce of arogance in him.  Equally impressive is that he doesn't aspire for the spotlight, but is passionate about continuing to make a difference with what he's doing now.

      This was the best hour I have spent!  Marc talks about the importance of focusing on customer needs.  No wonder Microsoft is what it is today, built on these kinds of values.

      Incredible stuff.
    • User profile image
      Nata1
      McDonald - I GOTTA meat you! I'm working on a high level assembly compiler right now, I'll be in Redmond next week, and hopefully for good in about a month - I need to figure out how to get assembly into hex - into machine code - and I'm stuck.

      I have about a million things I want to talk to you about, so when I'm in redmond, I hope I get the chance Smiley well, I imagine your on main campus so it can't be that far if we hooked up!

      will my questions ever get answered?  How do I find this stuff out!  I'm reading the Art of Assembly, hoping some get answered there - but I want to hear about those assemblers  - that was insane - I had to watch the video about 5 times just to get a fraction of what was going on.
    • User profile image
      jsrfc58

      Robert/Marc:

      Best.  Video. Ever.

      Well, for me at least.

      6502...NOP's...P-Code...

      Rapture!

      Finally, somebody else who understands the "NOP" opcode (that's "EA" in hex) and remembers the 6502. LOL.  On the 8 inch floppies...hopefully you didn't store any of your early ideas on Elephant disks.  Their slogan was something like "never forgets"...yet they were one of the worst disks at retaining data.

      Translations and lost information: I agree.  I see this all the time because I deal with a legal department, management, running reports, building web sites and building databases.  Things get lost between people, between layers of software, and on and on.  You'd be amazed at what gets lost on the telephone, between departments, and on some people's desks.  Then, comes the software loss.  I've spent so much time trying to explain all this to people at work it is not even funny.

      So many times it isn't the software's fault.  It was the way they phrased their request for information.  Or, one of their staff entered something wrong into the database.  It's like they can't believe people still makes typos or something.

      By the way, jumps and JSR commands cost three bytes on the Apple II.  That's:

      JMP $C600 (reboots your computer): $4C 00 C6
      JSR $FC58 (clears out the text screen): $20 58 FC

      I thought the use of space discussion was great...I remember this very clearly and not a lot of developers/end users get this nowadays.  I remember writing tiny utilities in the space between $300 and $3D0.  That's 208 bytes.  It forces you to be incredibly resourceful.  There is so much untapped potential on the PC nowadays and I guess I'm still one of those people who wants to return those roots.

    • User profile image
      scobleizer
      Glad you liked it. I'd love to get Marc and Bill together in a room for an hour and just film what happens.
    • User profile image
      Pimp Daddy
      This is a great video. I always like to hear the early stories about companies that started out very small and end up huge. It's also nice to see that he has a balanced view and still wants to code, despite the fact that he doesn't really need to work anymore.

      I remember 6502 Assembly - I did some of it in the first semester of my first year at uni (I'm just about to start my third year - tomorrow). As it was so different to the higher level stuff that I'm used to, I did find it difficult to work with at times, but I began to understand it more as I went along. I guess the most annoying thing I found with it was that you only had two registers. I guess some of you who have more experience with it would have no problem though.

      I want to learn 8086 sometime - I printed off a tutorial ages ago because I definitely see things like speed and efficiency advantages. Does anyone recommend any tools and/or books that I might want to look at?
    • User profile image
      jorgen_veis​dal
      -------------
    • User profile image
      Andy Patterson
      Nata1

      You posted on the Marc McDonald thread that you are writting a high level assembler.  I developed cross assemblers and compilers. Put up a bit of information on my web site.  It might be of interest to you.

      <http://www.greenhills.net/~apatter/slic.html>

      The initial concepts came from work done at SDC in the 60's.  CWIC Compiler for Writting and Implementing Compilers.  I implemented the syntax and generator language of CWIC with some changes and added the the back end PSEUDO and MACHOP languages to target diferant platforms.  CWIC is designed and ran on a IBM 360.  With SLIC's MACHOP language machin code is defined in a bit addressable memor space. I don't have all of the PSEUDO and MACHOP documentation online. But you can contact me if needed.



    • User profile image
      greasywog87

      It's people like Marc that actually make me feel less cynical about the underlying intentions of Microsoft as a giant global conglomerate. I was fascinated that his entire work model was based solely on the customer, which is really important because we are likely to see much higher quality software from Microsoft in coming years. I think the user-centric idea is one that is universally applicable because at the end of the day its the users/customers that keep companies in business.

      Fantastic interview, Robert.

    • User profile image
      cmm
      Very insightful answers.  Marc, if you read this reply would you be able to send me a list of some of those books on your bookshelf in your office?
      // Chris
      cmahlke@post.harvard.edu
    • User profile image
      CCoder32

      Awesome!
      It's cool to see the guy is still with microsoft and was not out-dated.  I spent many an hour looking over a lot of his implementations in the early 80's  kudos!Big Smile

    • User profile image
      Bushido​Software

      Great listening to Marc talk about the old days.  He's clearly very gifted.

    • User profile image
      McDonald

      First time back to the forum in a few years, only the first page of comments are left. Someone asked way back in 2005 whether I blogged. Well, I decided to give it a shot and see where it goes. The blog is http://onsoftwhere.com

       

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