Interview: Seetharaman Narayanan
This is the second in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.
By now, you either recognize the name, or you’re wondering who Seetharaman Narayanan is, and the difference probably depends on what you do for a living. If, like me, you have a job where you launch Photoshop on a daily basis, then maybe, like me, you can’t stop staring at this guy’s name on the Splash Screen every time it launches. Seetharaman Narayanan. It’s hard to look away. Sure, other people worked on Photoshop. But nobody else has a name like Seetharaman Narayanan.
If you too have been unable to look away from his name as you open Photoshop, you may be thinking, “I thought I was the only one!” Take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Back in 2004, a simple comment was posted on the ConceptArt.org forum. It said, “Every time I open up photoshop I am mezmorized by this guy’s name. It’s all I can look at. Don’t know why…” Six pages of “Me, too!” responses followed.
So I decided to find out just who this mysterious Seetharaman Narayanan is. What does he do? What does he think of his notoriety? And what’s interesting about him other than his name? Mr. Narayanan, who goes by the much shorter name “Seetha,” was nice enough to answer these questions and more.
When did you become aware of the fascination with your name among Photoshop users?
Jeff Schewe [Photographer] sent me an e-mail sometime in the fall of 2005 about the existence of Seetha’s fanclub thread from ConceptArt.org.
What do you think about it?
I thought it was funny and was amazed at the amount of free time people had at their disposal. I always thought that I was fortunate in getting hired by Adobe at the right time since any Tom, Dick or Harry would have done the same thing I did and perhaps better than what I did. They may not have become famous unless they had some weird last name that is almost un-pronouncable.
How long have you been at Adobe?
I have been with Adobe for 15 years to date. I joined Adobe as a peon on Photoshop 2.5 on September 23, 1991. Peter Merrill (who now works on Acrobat and is still with Adobe) was the lead engineer on the task of making Photoshop run on Windows 3.1 and I was his deputy in the early days. Peter is one of the brightest engineers I have ever worked with in my 20 year career (he may just be the smartest of all!). I still remember the interview I had with Peter before I got hired at Adobe. Peter had this toy application (that later became Photoshop) with ugly Icons and Cursors he showed me and mentioned to me that he had that code ported over from the Mac and he could even open an image (Flower.psd which by the way, shipped as a sample file with Photoshop 2.5) on Windows. I had previously worked at CrystalGraphics and we had just ported over Crystal’s TOPAS over to the Mac platform just weeks prior to my interview with Adobe and I was totally under whelmed by Peter’s demo of Photoshop on Windows. In spite of my lack of enthusiasm, Peter hired me anyway and the rest is history.
What are you responsible for in Photoshop?
Lots of things. I joined Adobe as an engineer responsible for making the Windows port happen. After laying the foundation for the Windows effort, one of the first things I did for the product was to make it multi-threadable. Those days, Mac did not support multi-threading but Windows NT did. In my spare time, I wrote the multi-threading plug-in that took advantage of multiple processor in Photoshop. Peter was of immense help here. When I was re-writing the image processing algorithms in the plug-ins, he pointed to me that there was no need to do any image processing in the plug-in since the plug-in need not know about algorithms and it would be sufficient to just split the tasks and call the functions that knew how to do image processing. It just shows how stupid I was and how much of a genius that Peter was in pointing me to that simplicity. After we shipped 3.0, the Mac and Windows teams got merged and I worked on several things in the core product. Since the team always viewed me as the Windows guy, it would be interesting to note that I was one of the key persons responsible for the Photoshop port to Mac OS/X.
What is your professional background?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Regional Engineering College, Tiruchirapalli, India. I came to the U.S to pursue my Masters in Engineering at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Since that place was so much fun (Playboy’s number one Party School in 1987), I decided to get another Masters from there in Computer Science. I joined CrystalGraphics (I think they are still around) as an engineer on Crystal TOPAS and after a few years at Crystal, I joined Adobe.
Do people express fascination with your name in the real world? Or is this just an on-line phenomenon?
Not really. I had to spell my name a few times before they get it. I got used to it now.
Are there other names on the Splash Screen that you think deserve more credit and get overlooked because people can’t stop staring at your name?
Every one of the engineers and QE deserves as much credit as I do. But I took the cake because of my long name. Too bad Joe Ault, Chris Cox and Scott Byer don’t have the long names as I do.
Are you working on any new projects we can look forward to seeing your name on in the future?
I worked on Bridge 1.0 (I had the opportunity to work on that since I championed the cause for the FileBrowser in Photoshop 7.0 and CS) and am currently working on getting Adobe Lightroom ported to Windows. But Photoshop is always my home.
Everyone knows about your interesting name. What’s one interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
I bike to work every day, rain or shine. My bike route is 20 miles round-trip and I have been riding to work for the past 10 years. I even influenced my mentor Peter Merrill into biking to work. Since Peter is a maniac, he is now doing double-centuries on weekends.
Previously: Interview with illustrator and author Adam Rex