Group Dynamics

The year was 1979. The Sex Pistols were anarchists. The Ramones wanted to be sedated. The Clash were fighting the law (which won.) And Michael J. Mahoney was lead singer for The Groupoids, a raw but powerful Santa Barbara, California, band. "We were a very short-lived band. We did mostly covers," recollects Mahoney, who has since had greater success in another career: Music's loss turned out to be the NeXT community's gain.

Thirteen years later, NeXT users in Southern California know Mahoney as the founder and president of SCAN the Southern California NeXT Users Group. But Mahoney's list of NeXT-related accomplishments goes beyond that. He is also a college professor who uses NeXT technology in his classes on computer graphics and interface design, a writer who is coauthoring a book on NeXTSTEP programming, and a contract programmer for defense-industry firms.

Mahoney, chairman of the Computer Engineering and Science Department of the California State University at Long Beach, has been a user and fan of NeXT machines since the first Cubes came out. Like many, though, Mahoney came to computers indirectly. After initially receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics his dissertation was on matrix theory Mahoney took a job as a math professor at Cal State Long Beach. At the time, the school's computer science department was part of the math department.

Mahoney's interest in computers was piqued in 1982. "I just found computers more interesting than mathematics and also easier," he says. So when computer science formally broke out of the math department, Mahoney didn't waste time. "I always thought I'd be a math professor," says Mahoney, sounding a bit surprised himself at the turn in his academic career. "Now, I do only enough math to support the courses."

In the computer science department, Mahoney continued to teach himself how to program, concentrating on graphics and interface design. When the first NeXTcubes came out in 1989, he got one of the university's first ten. As soon as he started using the Cube, he was floored.

"It turned my life upside down," he says. "It was the object-oriented environment that really did it." Mahoney was particularly taken with Interface Builder, which he incorporated into his courses in graphics and interface design. Since then, several of his graduate students have written theses about NeXT programming.

Early on, Mahoney began convening informal user-group meetings between graduate students using NeXT machines and others looking for a dialogue about NeXT programming. Word about the meetings got out. "Back in September of 1990, we decided to open meetings to off-campus people," Mahoney says. "It just so happened our first meeting was a few days after the slabs were announced and we were lucky enough to get a demo."

Since the day SCAN opened to the public, it has grown to 250 members. Meanwhile, Mahoney has somehow found time between his teaching (he was recently named a full professor at Cal State), his stewardship of SCAN, and his industry consulting to collaborate with Simson Garfinkel on NeXTSTEP Programming STEP ONE: Object-Oriented Applications, which is scheduled to be released this fall from Springer-Verlag.

"The book is kind of swamping me right now," he says. Of his job heading SCAN, Mahoney says: "It's great, although if you know someone who wants to take it over . . ." Just for a moment, Mahoney sounds like he may be missing the easy, halcyon days of being a rock star.

by Paul Karon