Halt and Catch Fire | Notes

I watched Halt and Catch Fire again, for the third time. I occasionally cried during the last season, probably due to the accumulated emotional investment of the binge-watch experience together with the idea of the loss of a central character. It’s one of AMC’s series broadcasted from 2014 to 2017. Some obsessive entrepreneurs contribute and witness the tech history from the early 1980s until the new millenium. We start with writing a BIOS and end up with the early search engines! Meanwhile, there are many significant developments such as personal computers with a ‘handle’ becoming prevalent, the first anti-virus programs, the amazing evolution of (online) gaming, and several phases of the internet and the world wide web parade.

The five (others might say four) main characters are:

  • Cameron Howe: coder, gamer, the young prodigy
  • Gordon Clark: hardware person, builder
  • Donna Clark: hardware person, investor
  • Joe McMillan: salesman and product manager
  • Jon Bosworth*: oldskool manager adapting new era

The challenges and interactions among these people are somewhat inspiring for me, even though I had never been in an innovation landscape that close. I’m just an ordinary programmer, not fascinated or inspired by any of the ‘real’ events in the domain. I’m indifferent to the majority of the breakthroughs in the tech realm. I try to follow and read them, but I’m not overwhelmed with them, i.e., just playing with GPT-3 to build stupid paraphrases of historical speeches. The reason why this series affects me is due to its dramatic aspect, together with its subject focus that is close to my day-to-day job. I enjoy witnessing the passion that I don’t have but also, it kicks me. I feel more aspirational in the last two weeks that I was re-watching the series. At the very least, it gives some -potentially distorted- context and historicity to the infrastructure I’m working on. It also reminds me some of the fundamentals of the domain.

Other than that, the characters’ challenges are interesting. There’s such a nice balance and distribution of the obsessions and longings of each person. Cam tries to do what she thinks is right and meaningful – connecting people with games. Joe always tries to be the explorer of the future. Gordon tries hard to make everything work in small increments and build a decent persona. Donna tries to defend reason and maintainability while being the key creative person in many achievements. Bosworth just sways, adapts, and tries to survive.

I like these kinds of historical software/tech dramatizations in general but Halt and Catch Fire was the epitome for me. I’m not counting, first, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014), or TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard (2013), the second, because they belong to a higher purpose. Recently I enjoyed The Billion Dollar Code (2021) with all the tech/art debates and the Berlin Döner, but it was only an appetizer. The Social Network (2010) was a good take and a witty Sorkin/Fincher/Eisenberg collaboration. StartUp’s (2016-2018) best finding was to replace the criminal enterprise with investors. “Jobs” biopics, I recall that I watched, but I don’t remember a single detail. Devs (2020) was following one of the ultimate ideas in the futuristic realm with terrible storytelling. I didn’t follow Silicon Valley (2014-2019) for more than a season, but maybe in the future.