Friday Flashback #207


‘Theocracy of Hackers’ Rules Autodesk Inc., A Strangely Run Firm
Can the Latest CEO Survive A Cabal of Programmers Who Send ‘Flame Mail’?

May 28, 1992
Just as Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software supplier, is an extension of the personality of William Gates III, Autodesk is largely a creature of Mr. Walker. Like Mr. Gates, Mr. Walker is superb at identifying computer trends and spreading his vision to the troops. But unlike Mr. Gates, Mr. Walker, 42, never really wanted to run his company. “I’m an engineer, I’m a programmer, I’m a technologist,” he says. “I have no interest in running a large U.S. public company, and I never have. It was a means to an end to accomplish the technological work I wished to achieve.”

He relinquished the top spot in 1986 to Alvar Green, formerly Autodesk’s chief financial officer, to return to programming. But the real power still rested with Mr. Walker, Autodesk’s biggest shareholder, and an elite group of programmers called “Core,” who had either helped Mr. Walker found the company in 1982 or led its most important projects.

Core members are contentious, eccentric free-thinkers who have had a way of devouring professional managers. They have often attacked each other and company executives, usually by sending “flame mail” — biting electronic letters. The outbursts sometimes have led to changes, and sometimes brought work to a halt. “The whole company is a theocracy of hackers,” says Charles M. Foundyller, president of Daratech Inc., a market research firm in Cambridge, Mass.

— from a 1992 article in the Wall Street Journal

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