By Heath R.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s, Wes Cherry found computers early. A self-described “math kid,” Cherry happened to come of age at exactly the moment when it first became practical to have your own computer in your home. He first learned about personal computers from an ad on the back of Boy’s Life
magazine. In 1978, after a few years of begging his parents, Wes got his hands on an Exidy Sorcerer
, an early combination home computer/video-game console. Before the computer arrived, young Wes was so excited to get started with programming that he typed out programs on note cards which he then compiled and processed by hand—no electronics required!
With the Exidy Sorceror, Wes quickly picked up BASIC programming. In high school he taught himself Pascal and started dabbling in C. “Programming is what I did for fun,” says Wes, and by his junior year at Harvey Mudd College, his skills had progressed to the point that he was offered an internship at Microsoft.
In the summer of ‘87, Wes started his internship as a programmer’s assistant at Microsoft working on the Excel team. He quickly took to Microsoft’s “work hard, play hard” culture, often logging 14-hour days and 6- or 7-day weeks. Despite the workload, he still had time for fun and games.
Inspired by a Mac version of Klondike Solitaire he had been playing to put off studying for his finals, Wes decided that the Windows platform was sorely lacking games, so he decided to create one. In just a few weeks he had cobbled together a working version of Solitaire.
At the time, Microsoft developers had created a fake company within Microsoft called “Bogus Software” for all the goofy projects that the developers did to amuse themselves or their colleagues. Wes put his Solitaire game on the Bogus server and promptly forgot about it. Somehow, the game came to the attention of the product managers for the upcoming release of Windows, version 3.0, and they wanted to include it! When Wes returned to Harvey Mudd in the fall, Microsoft sent him back with an IBM PC XT
that he could use to fix bugs in the game, which he did throughout his senior year.
Upon graduating the next spring, there was only one place Wes wanted to work, and they were happy to have him back, this time as a full-fledged member of the Excel team. He worked at Microsoft on Excel for the next decade, then left the company in 2000 to pursue other interests. “I had really devoted my twenties to Microsoft,” says Wes, “and I wanted to do things that were physical, so it was definitely time to go.” So he took up metal working and fabrication, contributing to many large-scale art and construction projects in his community as well as becoming a fixture at the Burning Man festival, which he continues to frequent.
In 2010 Wes and his wife moved to Vashon Island to start Dragon’s Head Cider
. He fondly remembers his time with Microsoft and relishes the fact that his code is in two of the most widely-used computer programs ever—Solitaire and Excel. But he has no regrets about leaving the tech industry behind for his bucolic orchard life--”That’s the thing about computer programming today, it looks like you all just glue things together!”
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