Hi!

My name is Rick DeNatale.

I've been a professional software developer since the mid-1970s, an avid photographer since before that, a musician, a husband, a dog-father, and an avid fan of lots of things including Doctor Who, Star Wars, Tolkien, and Harry Potter


Early Days

I got into music when the Beatles conquered America, and played in various folk, rock, and blues groups in High School.

I was exposed to photography by my maternal grandfather, who always seemed to have various cameras, first various German cameras, like the Zeiss Ikon pictured here (which I now own), and Voigtlander 34mm cameras, and eventually a Canon 7 rangefinder which took Leica screw mount lenses.

 
 

I entered college at the University of Connecticut in 1970, before anyone realized we had either a men's or women's basketball team, with two still unfilled ambitions. I wanted to be a music synthesizer designer, so I enrolled in Electrical Engineering, and after spending much of the summer before recuperating from surgery and watching the Fisher-Spassky match for the world chess championship, I wanted to be a good chess player, so I joined the chess club.

The chess thing didn't pan out at all.  I never won a tournament chess game, even against 12 year olds.  I did love to play speed chess, and in particular double bughouse.

At least the synthesizer idea got me into the right school, where I quickly discovered my love of programming.

All of the freshman engineers had to take a Civil Engineering course which consisted of 1/2 engineering graphics where we learned how to use T-squares and French curves, and 1/2 programming in Fortran II on an old IBM 1620 computer.

I was hooked!  I switched my concentration to computer science and avidly soaked up everything I could, whether it was from a course or self study.  Courses covered PL/I, assembly programming for the DEC PDP-8, and hardware topics.

At the same time, I taught myself Lisp 1.5, Snobol, Algol 60, and a few others I've forgotten. I went on to study  compiler construction with John White who went on to run Xerox Parc for awhile and served as president of the ACM.

Also while at UConn, I pursued photography, with an engineers bent.  I joined and eventually became president of PhotoPool, which was responsible for teaching photography to the members, and providing what we would now call "Life Style" photos for the school yearbook. I think that's where I discovered my passion for teaching technical subjects.

The summer before my Senior year, I had an intern job at IBM where I programmed in both PL/I, and APL, and I got to spend some time at the IBM TJ Watson research center to run a big PL/I simulation on their IBM S/360 Model 95, which at the time was a supercomputer, but now would be outclassed by several of the computers and devices running here in my home.

Work

Some of my professors, particularly professor White, wanted me to stay in graduate school, but I was ready to make money.  So I got a job with IBM at the Advanced Systems Development Division in Mohansic, New York, which is halfway between TJ Watson, and the mainframe center in Poughkeepsie NY. Our overt mission was to work on FS, which was to be the radical successor to the System 360 and 370 family. But we really ended up proving to the company that the proposed architecture would not be successful, it was scaled down to become the System 38, and the 360 architecture continued to be the basis of IBM mainframe design for years to come.

After FS was killed, I had a month or two doing the initial design for an assembler for what would become the IBM 3790.  But before we did any coding on that, Mohansic was closed and I moved to Poughkeepsie to work on software to help IBM customers manage bugs on IBM mainframe systems.

Objects

In 1983 when Apple introduced the Lisa, Pete Staley who was in my management chain, felt that graphical user interfaces would become important, and IBM needed to understand how to make them.  Pete selected me to go down to TJ Watson and do just that.  I had already read the August 1981 issue of Byte magazine, and was intrigued by the Smalltalk programming language and its idea of object-oriented computation.

But we didn't have access to Smalltalk.  Some of my colleagues at Watson, David N. Smith, and Jerry Archibald were in talks with IBM and Xerox lawyers to get it, but that took a while.  In the meantime I had the idea of grafting the Smalltalk message passing paradigm into another language, and picked C, so what we called ClassC was born.  We built a compiler to translate ClassC into C, and used the language to build a very simple windowing system, to demonstrate to IBM management.

ClassC was similar in concept to Objective-C although quite different in syntax.  We only found out about Objective-C later,

About the time that work was finishing, IBM started a new programming lab in Cary NC, which would be charged with writing application software, and would be headed by Pete Staley.  So I moved down south and worked with a team using ClassC to build apps.