Aug 25, 2006 - Top Companies

A Visit to Adobe

A visit with the Photoshop engineers at 345 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA. June 16 & 17, 2005.

When you visit Adobe Systems, Inc. visitors are allowed to park in the underground parking lots. The image on the left is the main door from the garage to the lobby. If you get off on the first floor, you’ll be on the ground floor with the main entry doors. As is fitting for a company built largely upon type, type is a reoccuring theme in the decor.

I had a few minutes to kill before my appointment so I decided to grab a few shots outside. The shot above is looking North at the 345 Park Avenue address. On the left is the West Tower and on the right is the East Tower. Just barely visible between the two towers is the newest 3rd tower called the Almaden Tower–where the “suits” (executives) work.

On the sixth floor, there is an open air courtyard between the three buildings that has a boccie ball court as well as a basketball court. On both the 14th and 15th floors are walkways that connect the three towers.

First time visitors might be surprised to learn that the Adobe Towers are in a direct line with the runways of San Jose airport. On most days, planes fly directly overhead–and I mean DIRECTLY OVERHEAD– on their way to land.

More about “da plane, da plane” later, but I must say that once inside, you never ever hear the planes. Yes, from 10 West, the Photoshop floor, you can sure see them really well, but the soundproofing inside the towers is very good.

Back inside and up the staircase (or elevator) you’ll find the main second floor reception.

Here’s the main entry to the reception area and security. Visitors must sign in and be “escorted” into the upper floors. Even though my badge always says Escort Required, once past security, I usually have full roaming rights. However, it’s not a good idea to get into it with Adobe security–they don’t care who you are or who you know. In fact, I was snapping some shots of the lobby and the security guard said “no photography”. Ok, so I just lowered the camera, didn’t look through the lens and kept shooting, covertly. Jeeeze, I hope I didn’t get those guys into any trouble. :~)

I was early and unfortunately, all the engineers seemed to be in the same meeting–I called about a half dozen of them but I had to wait a few minutes to get my escort. The reception lobby is pretty hightech with a lot of glass and stone and leather. There’s an interesting display of backlit screens with product designs and several with video against the wall.

Finally, somebody answered their phone and Chris Cox came down to escort me to the 10th floor. My first visit was supposed to be with John Nack, but he had been in the same meeting with everybody else. Here’s John in his office (right).

John, who was recently promoted to Senior Product Manager for Photoshop likes flags-such as the “Don’t Tread On Me” first used by the Continental Navy in 1775. A variation of the Gansden flag this variation was used as the U.S. Navy Jack. Not sure why a kid from Galena, Illinois (John’s hometown) is into the Navy Jack, but he seems to like flags.

Here’s John posing with the Big Box, a promotional over-sized Photoshop CS2 package. It’s only incidental that I posed him as though he’s “carrying Photoshop”. But with little prompting on my part, he struck his famous “kiss the bicep” pose. More about that later.

Just down the hall is Julieanne Kost’s office. I snuck up on her and snapped a shot before she realized who I was. Fortunately, Julieanne was happy to see me.

Next was a snap of Joe Ault. Joe chased me with his CD Sword, actually, it’s a prop left over from a party.

In the far Southwest corner of the 10th floor is the official Photoshop Lounge. They used to have big bean bag chairs but it seems some decorator has gotten loose and made things a bit more “formal”. The chairs are comfy though. I suspect the chaise lounge has been “sleep tested” by at least one engineer during the Photoshop CS2 GM rush.

Just down from the lounge on the left is the office of Chris Cox. You’ll note Chris’ taste in decoration-a kernal convolution chart, a gamut map and pictures of birds. Chris is actually an avid and rather talented photographer, among a variety of other hobbies.

Chris knew I was there–he didn’t even turn around when I snapped the first shot. He just said “Hi Jeff”. So, I did a close up of his door knob toy. I also asked Chris to double check to make sure there wasn’t any top secret hardware laying around that I shouldn’t photograph (there often is) but after a quick check he said the coast was clear.

My next shooting victim was Russell Williams. The first shutter release made him turn around and the second release caught a really good “deer caught in the headlights” look.

Russell is now the Co-Photoshop Architect having earned the title when Mark Hamburg left the Photoshop team (Russell shares the title with Scott Byer). Russell is also a talented and avid photographer who traces back to the old “film days”. Now shooting digital.

Next, I snuck up on Seetha–caught him pretty good as well.

But Seetha surprised me by jumping up and yelling hello. Seetha, whose full name is Seetharanan Narayanan (hence Seetha) was the number 3 engineer to work on Photoshop after Thomas Knoll and Mark Hamburg. So Seetha has been there a long time-and still loves working on Photoshop (although with his stock options, he could probably retire to a tropical island somewhere).

Just down the hall is Scott Byer’s office (Co-Photoshop Architect). With all the commotion that Seetha caused, I didn’t sneak up on Scott. Scott’s office is the closest to the Photoshop Lounge-I wonder if that means something? You’ll note that Scott is partial to LCD screens, a lot of them!

I caught Seetha just outside of Joe’s office talking about a “new feature” that he wanted to work on. He immediately started drawing it out on Joe’s whiteboard (all the engineers seem to have them). With both Joe’s encouragement as well as mine, he went to pitch the new idea to Russell Williams. What’s the new feature idea? Can’t tell you. . .top secret (I even had to pixelate the whiteboard so nobody could see anything) but it’s pretty way cool and something Photoshop users have wanted forever! We’ll see if it gets into the “next version”.

Just down the hall is Jeff Chien. Jeff was “caught”! Jeff, along with Todor Georgiev, has been responsible for some of the real math heavy techie things like Smart Sharpen and Reduce Noise. They also worked together on the Healing Brush.

Sarah Kong didn’t want me to take a sneaky shot of her so I did a nice pose. She’s one of the few “Women of Photoshop” in the engineering department and also has the cleanest office (much cleaner than most of the guys–except Marc Pawliger).

Within the labyrinth of the Adobe floor design is a popular place-the kitchen. Free soft drinks and coffee–the caffeine helps!

Here’s a collage of just a few of the magnetic letter phrases the Photoshop team has spelled out.

Speaking of lunch, it was time to go out the front door, head up Park Ave and go to lunch.

John Nack had set up lunch with the “Bridge Builders”, the engineering team working on Adobe Bridge. They always like taking me out to lunch because it’s a perfect excuse to expense the lunch–a customer meeting, don’t ya know. :~)

We had settled on Gordon Biersch a brewery restaurant a short walk from Adobe. Around the table from left to right is; John Nack (at the head), Christoph Moskalonek, Arno Gourdol, the Bridge Engineering Manager, Marc Pawliger, Jason Graham, Cris Rys and on the far right, Gunar Penikis, the Bridge Product Manager.

I got Arno Gourdol, Bridge Engineering Manager, to put on his shades and look too cool! Cool!

Back at Adobe, I wandered over to the East Tower and hunted down Russell Preston Brown. I didn’t sneak up on Russell. In fact, at times, he just hangs out looking through his office door as though he’s a cat waiting for a mouse to walk by.

After enticing me into his office, he pounced with his Godzilla attack toy!
Notice that snarl? It’s all bluff, he’s really just a tame little pussy cat.

Back over in the West Tower, I stalked Marc Pawliger, the Engineering Director on Photoshop. Marc, it seems, likes to have a ball, a real ball–to SIT ON! He claims it’s very comfortable and eases the strain on his back.

Marc has one of the big offices (he’s a director, ya know) and loves his toys but keeps a pretty clean office.

Some of Marc’s toys from his extensive collection.

Adorning the 10th floor are a variety of things hanging on the wall. In fact, I even have a framed print hanging. But this was an amusing poster I saw that pulled quotes from various statements made during the Photoshop CS2 Press Tour. Notice that little tacked on note?

I did and shot a close up. But, when I told John I was going to put that note and a picture of the bicep kiss in my story, he got real nervous and confessed: seems that John penned that little “quote” himself and added it to the other quotes as a joke. He figured that everybody would know it was a joke, but apparently many people thought it was real! So I had to promise to retouch out the editor’s name and publication but told him he would have to live with what he’s done. Now, as to the bicep kissing, I still don’t get it. I know John’s nickname is Tiny Elvis (but I don’t know where that comes from either) so I’ll just have to do some investigative reporting and track down the origins of both of John’s little secrets. Stay tuned for the full story.

I found another picture tacked up on the wall. A shot by Russell Williams taken at the Photoshop CS2 shipping party. Seems the party was on the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz via the Roaring Camp railroad. They took the train from Felton to Santa Cruz. The dress-up was part of the “hang out and amuse the corporate picnickers” stuff they have at the railroad station / park. It was a “dress up for an old-time photo” thing. The photographer wasn’t working, but they opened the costume shack for them and all of the marketing and engineering managers on Photoshop got all gussied up in costume. From left to right are; Dave Story, Sau Tam, David Howe, Kevin Connor, Maria Yap, Julie Kmoch, Jackie Lincoln-Owyang, Andrew Coven & Marc Pawliger. David Howe is the one with the parasol and dress. Yes, there’s a story there about Dave. . .

Just down the hall is the Photoshop War Room–Top Secret! I’ve been in there, but no photos allowed–seriously! This is the room where the future of Photoshop is decided.

Here’s Todor and Jeff hanging out in the hall (left) and Gwyn Weisberg, one of the product managers (right). To talk to Todor and Jeff is an exercise in, well, extreme mathematics. They are brilliant guys, but they both have pretty thick accents, Todor sounds Russian and Jeff sounds Chinese. But when the two of them talk to each other, it seems magic happens–it’s just that most of the rest of the world couldn’t understand what they are saying (even without the accents).

Choosing to keep his office on 10 West (instead of the Almaden Tower) the “big guy” on the 10th floor is Bryan Lamkin, Senior Vice President, Digital Imaging and Digital Video Business Unit at Adobe. He’s a big guy in person too–he’s one of the few people at Adobe a lot taller than I am. Must be 6′4″ or 5″. Bryan started at Adobe as the first product manager of the Windows version of Photoshop, version 2.5.

Since I was there on a Friday, of course I had to go down to Cafe Adobe for the Friday Beer Bash.

The Friday Beer Bash is hosted by different groups within Adobe each week. It’s free beer and snacks for anybody around late Friday afternoon.

Lynn Shade (left) and Chris Cox are “hangin’ out”. Chris may look like he’s drinking beer-he is, root beer.

Ok, it isn’t chic, it’s geek food. But the beer is pretty good, and it’s free.

Which can “facilitate” some pretty, uh, energetic discussions and debates.

Here’s Seetha making a point, with Marc reacting with sceptism, but it’s all in good fun.

Spent bottle cap still life #1.

Left, Scott is getting small, center, Cris Rys is getting tall and Lynn looking happy.

Best T-Shirt seen? Cris Rys’ “Adobe Merging” T-Shirt commemorating Adobe’s pending merger with Macromedia. UPDATE: I’ve received a correction, Lynn Shade emailed me to say “the “Merging” t-shirts were made 3 years ago when our Pro UI Team “took over” the Consumer UI team — the Consumer UI guys made that shirt. Which was pretty funny.” Thanks for the correction Lynn. Ironic that I assumed it was related to Macromedia and it wasn’t!

Here’s the backside.

Da plane boss, da plane! Ok, it isn’t exactly fantasy island, but there sure are a lot of planes flying overhead, and rather close as well.

They’re pretty hard to ignore when you’re outside on the patio.

At one point, I was going to do a bit of “Photoshopping” to make the planes appear even larger. But I really didn’t need to.

Even with a 10-22mm wide angle lens, I was able to capture some rather close shots of the planes.

As the beer bash wound down, Seetha went in to put on his bike riding gear-including his iPod. Seetha was boogying down and singing out loud, loudly!

Which I’m sure to Seetha sounded groovy, but Chris had a slighly different reaction.


So, that ends a typical Friday with the Photoshop engineers. They are a solid family (mostly) of like-minded and dedicated individuals hellbent on making Photoshop the best it can be. But, they also like to have a good time while working. It’s been my privilege to go visit them often over the years, and it’s always a treat to hang out with them (and bend their ears to try to get stuff into Photoshop). It should be noted that there are far more people working on Photoshop than pictured here. To those people, sorry you weren’t around. In the near future I’ll try to visit Adobe in Seattle and Minneapolis and do some additional head hunting.

Thanks guys!

Posted by Harry <zt>