I’m convinced it is impossible for a Mac engineer to be happy at a large company. It simply can’t work; it is fundamentally flawed.

For the past 5 years I’ve worked for Macromedia as “the Mac guy” on various projects. I started out on Fireworks for a few cycles before moving on to Dreamweaver. My job as “the Mac guy” was to maintain the Mac porting layer, write any significant Mac specific code, fix Mac specific bugs, help the other engineers get stuff working on the Mac, and in general handle anything relating to the Mac. For most part, I was the only Mac guy on the team.

When I first started at Macromedia, working for a well known company on a pretty well known product was an attractive proposition. People would know what I did, and lots of people would see and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I could influence an important product to be more Mac friendly. To me my greatest asset to the team was helping ship a great Mac product. Unfortunately I personally feel that I’ve never shipped a great Mac product. Fireworks was pretty good and Dreamweaver can only be described as “adequate.” Neither lived up to my expectations.

I began examining myself and the development process to figure out what went wrong to cause the Mac product to not live up to my expectations. It wasn’t a lack of observation; I knew what was holding us up. It wasn’t a lack of knowledge; I knew how to fix all the various problems. It was a matter of resources. I wasn’t given enough time to fix all the problems or add all the enhancements we needed. Furthermore I became increasingly aware that I was doing the job of two people, and we really needed at least two Mac engineers.

But the real problem wasn’t resources; it was economics. Both Fireworks and Dreamweaver are cross platform products. They run both on Windows and Mac. I’m not sure what the exact platform splits are, but the Windows product definitely sells more than the Mac product. Therefore it makes sense that the company invests more in that platform since it yields better results. It only makes sense to invest in the Mac platform so that the investment is lower than the returns. In this case, that apparently means only having one Mac engineer per team.

Its hard for me to fault Macromedia. Their decision makes perfect business sense. But it doesn’t make sense for me personally. My goal isn’t to make as much money as possible; I just want to write some software that I can be proud of, for the platform that I enjoy. Oh, and make enough money that I can eat.

My point is Mac engineers can’t be happy working for a large company that builds cross platform products. The goals of the engineer and the company contradict each other. The company wants to invest as little as possible into the Mac platform, while the engineer will want to invest as much as possible [1]. The engineer will end up stressed out, with no free time, a substandard Mac product, and a lot of frustration .

At the beginning I thought I could influence Macromedia to spend more money and time on the Mac product. After a while I realized that wasn’t in their best interest. My second idea was to try to do as much as I could personally. That had a small effect when I worked on Fireworks because the project was small enough and well designed enough. But when I arrived on Dreamweaver I realized that the project was too huge for me to make a difference alone. Unless the company decided to devote more resources I was only go to burn myself out. As I stated before, it wasn’t in Macromedia’s best interest to add more resources.

This is the reason I’m leaving Macromedia. It is a losing fight that I can’t win. Continuing there would only serve to burn me out even more. Of course, this begs the question: if not work for Macromedia, who? Given most large companies that have Mac products would be in the same boat as Macromedia, that didn’t leave many options. I am convinced the only way to ensure that my and the company’s goals align is to either own the company or work for a company that only makes Mac products. To that end, I am joining Order N Development.

I realize this post might sound like a whiney “I can’t win so I’m taking my ball and going home” rant. But its not. I’m saying I can win. I just have to play for a different team.

[1] The only contrary example to this is the Microsoft Mac Business Unit. Although Microsoft takes a lot of abuse from the Mac community, as far as I’m concerned they’re the only large company that has gotten it right. The Mac products are split out into their own business unit and can focus on making on a great Mac product.