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Software Illusionist

The only time I ever attended MacWorld Expo, I was working behind the booth for a Mac retailer in the Bay Area. It was a long and tiresome time, without the opportunity to explore the other booths. (I believe RAMDoubler might have been the show hit, to give you a Dark Ages reference point.)

Even behind the booth, I got to meet a lot of interesting people. There were plenty of independent developers even then, and many of them had whimsical titles on their business cards; I seem to recall a “Grand Poobah,” but the one title that made the biggest impression on me was “Software Illusionist.”

I remarked on the title and the gentlemen replied to the effect of, “really, that’s all it is I do—present an illusion that people find useful.” That simple statement (probably mutated somewhat through the years in my memory) was revelatory for me.

It may seem trite to say “it’s all ones and zeroes” but at some level that is all we do as developers: Find ways to organize and present data patterns to users in a manner which doesn’t require a Beautiful Mind to interpret, or make it look like a ball bouncing around an artificial rectangular constraint on screen, or make it sound like music, or convert physical stimuli to a data pattern to present later. When the user buys into the illusion and doesn’t have to hear the creaking of the mechanism, the Software Illusionist has succeeded.

To that Software Illusionist, whoever you were (or hopefully still are): Because of you, to this day I am still compelled to make my software feel like magic. Sometimes it feels like a curse, but I still consider it a blessing.

Thank you.

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