Who Is Randy?

The great John Moltz over at Crazy Apple Rumors Site had a really funny thing to say when Phil Schiller handed the Keynote over to a man named Randy Ubillos.
Ha-ha! Right! C’mon, Apple! “Actual engineers” aren’t stylishly dressed, handsome and deep-voiced to the point of being a voiceover actor! I bet “Randy” isn’t even really his name. I bet he’s not even an Apple employee. I’LL BET HE’S NOT EVEN UP THERE RIGHT NOW!
Well, Randy *is* real and has done some "insanely great" stuff over the years. Now he is getting some well deserved attention. If desktop video editing is a hard-working pillar of the community, Randy is the guy who raised it to eat its vegetables, play nice, and study hard. We can largely thank him for, among other things, Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and the new iMovie. Oh and for Aperture too, by the way. With the way software development works, it's a shame we can't get to know every career that brings us great software. (The entire iMovie team is a talented bunch of people.) But as we all get ready to put iMovie '09 through its paces, it is worth taking a moment to learn about a great career that got us all here.

(For more on Randy's career, I strongly recommend this fascinating article by Michael Horton, which you can get by signing up to download the PDF.)

3/4" Tape Decks and an Apple ][
Randy's senior year in high school was marked by two seemingly unrelated events. First, Randy got his start in video editing when he ran the school's TV studio. Back then, all of his editing was done on 3/4" tape decks. He also learned all about the electronics side of television.

During that same year, Randy got an Apple ][ and taught himself to program. The following summer he earned money repairing and selling Apple ][s. I don't know if he made the connection between computers and video editing back then, but the seeds were certainly planted.

Programming took a more central role for Randy following high school, when Randy put three years into a computer engineering degree at the University of Miami. From the beginning of college, though, he was looking to what came next. During his freshman year he started a software company with a business partner and began cranking out code. He wrote everything from disk copy software ("Nibbles Away") to games, with emulators ("][ In a Mac"), spreadsheets, spell checkers, and print to disk software ("Open It") in between. The software company eventually pulled Randy away from his degree and he took up the business full-time.

"Premiering" in California
Perhaps one of the most important steps Randy took back then was the step that took him away from his company. Feeling isolated as the sole programmer and frustrated with his partner's management, Randy decided to head west to California, taking a job with Activision. Only four months after his arrival, the company decided to close down the division where Randy was hired and move him to a new project.

In spite of Activision's interest in keeping him, Randy left in 1990 and went to a small company called SuperMac. There he was asked to create video editing software to go with a video recording/playback card called "Digital Film". The software he wrote was called "Reeltime", but you know it today as Adobe Premiere. (Adobe bought the platform shortly before the final version shipped.)

Randy stayed with Adobe for four years, writing and leading development of Premiere up through version 4. During his time there, he had built up a reputation for his creativity and dedication to a good idea. It was this reputation that prompted a phone call from a board member at Macromedia. The call led to dinner with Bud Colligan and John Doerr, Macromedia's founders. They wanted him to join them in creating a new video editor from the ground up. It was an offer Randy couldn't turn down.

Internally, the project was called KeyGrip, and it was remarkably ambitious. Of all the lofty intentions, perhaps most importantly it was going to take pro level features and make them available on normal desktop computers. While the software was still in Alpha stages, Randy demoed it to Steve Jobs, who had recently rejoined Apple. By then the software was renamed to Final Cut, and Apple decided to buy it.

Better Ways of Doing Things
Randy's tenure at Apple has been remarkable. Shortly after joining the company, he was named a Distinguished Engineer, a designation freeing him to focus on the technology he wanted to develop. After years of leading development on Final Cut Pro, Randy decided that pro photographers needed a professional tool for organizing their digital photographs. (After all, the rest of us had iPhoto!) So Aperture was born.

Following Aperture, Randy turned his attention to iMovie. Home editors, he decided, were leaving too many memories untouched because editing them took too long. (Steve Jobs described it this way when he first announced iMovie '08.) He took a basic version of the software he had written and used it to run through several hours of footage for some friends. Using the new skimming ability, he turned a rough cut around in about 30 minutes. Their stunned response told him he was on the right track. iMovie '09 has come a long way from that early concept, thanks not just to Randy but to an entirely talented and hard-working iMovie team.

All of Randy's ideas seem to stem from his passion for finding a better way of doing things. His passion for photography and videography, fueled by his love for travel, has made him keenly aware of the struggles we all face in capturing the moment. The tools make the difference, and the craftsman in Randy gets that.

So the next time you get a smile from Grandma and Grandpa as they enjoy Junior's first steps, tip your hat Cupertino's way. Inside the Infinite Loop, Randy and all the other talented people at Apple are are feverishly working on the next amazing thing.


Anonymous said...

Great article.. thanks so much!

Jon said...

I was in graduate school at the University of Miami when Randy worked at the Byte Shop. I remember when he wrote Nibbles Away.

Anonymous said...

I love learning about the faces behind Silicon Valley and the paths their careers have taken. Some people get their kicks from Hollywood gossip or sports news. Those topics are mundane to me and I'd rather read about how Pixar was formed, the early wars between Jobs and Gates, or just kick back with an issue of Wired. I guess that makes me a nerd. But I think being a nerd these days means you are in touch with what's relevant to human progress.

Anonymous said...

Marc Canter founded Macromedia. Bud Colligan came along much later. And John Doerr was the tech guy for a leading Sand Hill Road venture capitalist group that pumped money into Macromedia, Adobe (and ultimately prompted their merger.)