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Alcorn in 2007
January 1, 1948|
San Francisco, California
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley (B.S., EECS, 1971)|
|Known for||Creating one of the first video games: Pong|
Atari and Pong
He worked for the pioneering video company Ampex, where he met Ted Dabney and several other people that would end up being constants through the Atari, Inc., Apple, Cyan Engineering and Pizza Time Theater (now known as Chuck E. Cheese's) companies.
In addition to direct involvement with all the breakout Atari products, such as the Atari 2600, Alcorn was involved at some of the historic meetings of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs (at that time an Atari employee) presenting their Apple I prototype. Alcorn was the person who hired Steve Jobs when he applied for a job at Atari in 1974. Jobs had seen a help-wanted ad in the San Jose Mercury for Atari that said “Have fun, make money.” He showed up in the lobby of the video game manufacturer wearing sandals and disheveled hair, and told the personnel director that he wouldn’t leave until he was given a job. Al Alcorn, then chief engineer at Atari, was called and told, “We’ve got a hippie kid in the lobby. He says he’s not going to leave until we hire him. Should we call the cops or let him in?” Alcorn said to send him in. Despite Jobs’ startling appearance, Alcorn hired him. As Alcorn described it, “He just walked in the door and here was an eighteen year old kind-of a hippy kid, and he wanted a job, and I said ‘Oh, where did you go to school?’ and he says ‘Reed,’ ‘Reed, is that an engineering school?’ ‘No, it’s a literary school,’ and he’d dropped out. But then he started in with this enthusiasm for technology, and he had a spark. He was eighteen years old so he had to be cheap. And so I hired him!” Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell noted that Jobs was “brilliant, curious, and aggressive,” but soon it was apparent that Jobs could also be very difficult to work with, openly mocking other employees and making several enemies in the process. To make matters worse, he had significant body odor. Jobs adhered to a fruitarian diet, and believed (incorrectly) that it prevented body odor, so he did not shower regularly or use deodorant. Unfazed by the complaints, Alcorn resolved the problem by having Jobs work only at night.
After Alcorn left Atari in 1981, he consulted to many fledgling companies in Silicon Valley, especially involved in the startups of Catalyst Technologies, one of the first technology company incubators, created by Nolan Bushnell and other ex-Atari leaders.
Alcorn was involved in several of the startups directly, including Cumma, a re-programmable video game cartridge/kiosk system (and precursor to the similar Neo Geo system), and an advisor to Etak, one of the first practical, in-car navigation systems.
Alcorn later became an Apple Fellow, and led and consulted to a variety of startups during the tech boom.
In 1998, Alcorn co-founded Zowie Intertainment, a spinoff from Interval Research. There he developed a child's playset with a location system that allowed a PC to respond to the child's play. In 2000, Zowie Entertainment was acquired by Lego.
- "Al Alcorn Interview - IGN". IGN. Retrieved 2015-11-09.
- Isaacson, W. 2011. Steve Jobs. New York, Simon & Schuster, pg. 118.
- Schilling, MA. 2018. Quirky: The remarkable story of the traits, foibles, and genius of breakthrough innovators who changed the world. New York, Public Affairs. ISBN 9781478989608
- Hack the Future, the hackathon for kids cofounded by Alcorn