Dom Montain Interview by Mark Gold (Continued)
(Note: In an answer to a previous question, Dom said he left Caltech to join a software startup)
Q: What was the name of the startup and where was it located?
A: Do you know you often ask two questions at once?
A: The startup was named “Games of Woe and Dread”. It was located in a commune on Malibu Beach. We called it GOWAD.
Q: What did GOWAD do?
A: We wrote games of woe and dread.
Q: What does that mean?
A: We wrote game software for commercial video parlors. Twitch games for people who can think.
Q: Okay, what’s a “twitch” game and aren’t games played on PCs?
A: There you go again with the double questions. Is that an interrogation technique?
A: Right... Twitch games are games that require fast finger movement in order to fire weapons or enter hyperspace or take other important action. We wrote for video parlors and not PCs for two reasons. One, back in those days, computers weren’t fast enough for the kind of graphics and sound we wanted to do and; two, computer-to-computer communication wasn’t usually fast enough for people to play really good twitch games against each other. Now, of course...
Q: Don’t people often play video games by themselves?
A: Yeah, losers. How can you win if you don’t beat somebody?
Q: What was your position at GOWAD?
A: Same as my position here at hackoff; I was CTO. But there I did almost all the cool programming.
Q: So you started at GOWAD in 1988. How long did you work there and why did you leave?
A: You could try three questions at once. I would remember them. I left GOWAD at the beginning of 1991 because it went out of business.
Q: Why did GOWAD go out of business?
A: Because the idiot who ran it was as stupid as he was when he complained to the honor committee about the way I beat him and his robot.
Q: You left Caltech to go to work for the guy who turned you into the honor committee? Why?
A: Yes. Because he knew I was a great programmer. They were writing cool stuff and I thought it would be a good opportunity.
Q: Where did you go to work next, what was your starting position, how long were you there, and why did you leave?
A: You catch on fast. You into role-playing games?
Q: A little.
A: Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City. I started as a lead programmer for GUI. I left in 1993. I left because I didn’t get recognition for what I did there and it was really boring and stupid.
Q: What’s Gooey; why did you choose Chase Manhattan in the first place; and is that where you first met the deceased?
A: GUI stands for graphical user interface. All computers have them now but then only the Mac and a brain-dead version of Windows did. I went to Chase Manhattan because Larry Lazard recruited me — so that answers your third question, too.
Q: Where did you first meet the deceased?
A: Only one question this time, you must be getting serious now that “the deceased” is in the game. I first met Larry at MacHack in 1990.
Q: What’s MacHack?
A: It’s a semi-official gathering of the best Mac programmers, those who’d rather hack than eat. Apple sort of sponsors it and sort of doesn’t. It’s sort of about cool Mac stuff and it’s sort of about cool hacks. There’s a lot of code swapping that goes on and passing the word about pirate boards.
Q: Why did Larry recruit you to Chase and why did you accept?
A: Larry knew my rep from MacHack. He knew I knew GUI inside and out and could make a computer do tricks whether it wanted to or not. We game writers wrote the book on cool graphics. He said that, once GUI was established, online banking would happen because even bozos’d be able to use it and he wanted Chase to have the best user interface first. Said he knew that if I were the lead programmer in the group we’d get there before anyone else.
I took the job because Larry recognized me for what I could do and because the bank had more computers than I’d ever seen in one place.
Q: You said you left Chase because you didn’t get recognition.
A: Is that a question?
A: Didn’t sound like one. Okay. So the real question is: Why did I leave Chase? Answer is: Things change. “Gotcha” happened. Larry confessed to it; he went to jail. Then the place was really boring and there was no one left who knew or cared what I could do. Just a bunch of sort-of programmers who maybe wished they were bankers.
Q: Then where did you go; why; in what capacity; for how long; and why did you leave?
A: Very good; five questions. Next I went to Microsoft in Redmond, Washington.
I went there because I was tired of being with dummies and wanted to be back with smart guys. Some guys from GOWAD, some guys from Caltech — especially physicists — some guys I knew from MacHack were already there and they’d been recruiting me for a while and telling me what a great place it was and how you could get rich on options in six months. They already had Ferraris, some of them. Smart guys are recognized there.
I came in as a senior developer to work on fixing the fucked-up Windows GUI.
I stayed at Microsoft until 1996 when Larry recruited me for the security consulting business he had before hackoff.
Q: Why did you leave Microsoft to join Larry? Weren’t you getting rich on options? Weren’t you writing cool stuff? Weren’t you getting recognized for it?
A: I left because Larry recruited me and he knew what I could do to keep hackers away from websites; he knew that I understood hackers.
I did well on options; not as well as the early guys, of course; and I cashed some in too soon.
I did write lots of cool stuff while I was in the Windows Desktop Group at Microsoft, but there was a big political dustup over how to deal with the Internet and whether Windows or something code-named Cairo that never happened was going to be the code base for the future and the cool stuff ended up moving into other groups, so I wasn’t doing the coolest stuff anymore and I don’t like that. You were smart to ask.
And I didn’t get enough recognition. Billg understood what I did and what I could do. He knew all the top developers and he was always emailing us about what he thought was cool and what he didn’t think was cool and why didn’t we do this or that or were we brain dead. But by ‘96 Bill wasn’t as involved and there wasn’t as much to get recognition for because the cool stuff had moved away.
Q: Your first job with the deceased’s consulting company was what?
A: CTO. Same job I’ve got now but I was the only technical person so no management bullshit then.
Q: Wasn’t the deceased technical?
A: Larry? Yeah, I guess. But he didn’t work for me and his job in the company was consulting and selling and, after a while, raising money and taking us public.
Q: Let’s get to yesterday. When’s the last time you saw the deceased?
A: At 3:00 PM yesterday.
Q: Where did you see him and why? Was anyone else present?
A: Three questions. This sounds like “Clue”. I saw him in the boardroom because we were having an executive staff meeting. It ended at three so that’s the last I saw him.
Since it was an executive staff meeting, the other executives were there: Donna Langhorne, our CFO; Aaron Smyth, chief counsel; Frank Folger, sales guy; and Eve Gross, marketing slime.
Q: What’s “Marketing slime”?
A: “Marketing slime” doesn’t mean anything bad; it’s what we called marketing women — they’re usually women — at Microsoft. Folger’s actually supposed to be in charge of marketing but he doesn’t do it so Eve sort of reports around him — reported around him, I guess — to Larry and came to exec staff meetings usually.
Q: Was there anything unusual about Larry at that time? Was there anything unusual about the staff meeting?
A: Nothing unusual about Larry. He was the asshole he’s been since the stock tanked. Not much unusual about the staff meeting either except that I quit.
Q: Why did you quit? And, if you quit, how come you came into work this morning?
A: I get it: you ask multiple questions so you can keep multiple threads going at once. That way you don’t take a chance going down a blind alley with one line of questions and forgetting what you need to do to get back. Good gaming technique.
I quit because I’m not going to take any more of Larry’s bullshit. He used to recognize what I did; I think he forgot. Now he’s just an asshole, yelling and putting people down — putting me down. He forgets ... he forgot what he owes me.
When I said I quit, Larry said he expected an “orderly transition”, that he respected my position, and that I’d be able to keep my options if I cooperated in a transition for the next couple of days and was available after that to answer questions.
Q: What was special about this meeting that made you quit? You said it was normal for the deceased to be abusive. Did he try to convince you to stay?
A: This time Larry said that everything that happened to the company was my fault. He said that if my people could get stuff done on time, the company would be profitable and the stock price wouldn’t suck like it does. He said if I could manage development, then we wouldn’t have any of these problems. He said that I’m a has-been technically, too, that I lost my edge and may never have been as good as people thought I was.
Other than for transition, he didn’t try to convince me to stay.
Q: Did that surprise you? Did that disappoint you?
A: Didn’t surprise me. He’s an asshole — WAS an asshole — and he’d forgotten what I’ve done.
I suppose it disappointed me.
Q: Did you kill Larry Lazard?
A: Isn’t that a little blunt?. I’ve been honest about the way I feel and could have had motive, I guess. But I didn’t shoot him; he shot himself.
Q: How do you know he shot himself?
A: Everybody knows that. Donna told me. It was his gun; the one he always plays with. There were powder burns on his right hand. And the security log shows that he was alone in his office from the last time people heard him alive until Donna found him dead in the morning.
Q: How do you know what was in the security logs? Did you look at them?
A: Donna told me; I didn’t look at them. I was sure that would have been done by now.
Q: When did you leave the office last night?
A: About six.
Q: Did you see Larry or communicate with him in any way after the staff meeting?
A: I already told you that the last time I saw him was at the end of staff meeting. The only other communication was that I sent him an email telling him that he’s an asshole.
Q: When was that? Did he respond? Do you have a copy of that email?
A: About 3:30? He didn’t respond. Yes, I do have a copy of the sent mail. I assumed you would have had all email dumped from the servers by now.
Q: We sent an image of the email server to the lab. They haven’t gotten back to us yet. It would save time if you got me a copy of that email after this interview. You’re sure you didn’t see Larry again after staff meeting?
A: I’m sure.
Q: Didn’t you see him when you went into his office at 4:14?
A: I... Who says I went into his office?
Q: The security log, of course. I assumed you would have assumed I’d seen that by now and I have. It says that you went into his office at 4:14. Why wouldn’t you have thought I’d seen that in the security log?
A: Well, you’re smart but sort of slow. I just didn’t think you’d have gotten to the security log yet, just like you haven’t gotten to the email yet. So I jumped to the assumption that someone told you I’d gone into Larry’s office and that seemed strange because I don’t remember anyone being around when I went in. No big deal.
Q: So why did you tell me you didn’t see the deceased again after staff meeting?
A: He wasn’t deceased then but I didn’t see him either. I told you the truth; I didn’t see him. I went into his office, but he wasn’t there.
Q: Why did you go into his office if he wasn’t there?
A: I went into his office to see him, but he wasn’t there so I didn’t see him.
Q: Why did you want to see him?
A: I was mad. When Larry didn’t respond to my email and didn’t try to get me to stay, I went into his office to tell him face-to-face what an unappreciative scumbag he is. But he wasn’t there.
Q: Why did you stay in his office six minutes if he wasn’t there?
A: I was waiting for him to come back.
Q: Did he?
A: Not then. I told you, I didn’t see him again.
Q: Why did you stop waiting for him?
A: I was upset. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to see him anyway. I didn’t like sitting around waiting for him to come back. It put him in control. So I left.
Q: And you never saw or heard from the deceased again?
Q: Were there other people in the office besides you and the deceased when you left at 5:50?
A: Sure; there were a shit-load of people. We don’t work bankers’ hours at hackoff.
Q: Can you name some of the people who were here when you left?
Q: May I please have some names?
A: Donna Langhorne...
Q: Are you sure?
A: Yes, why?
Q: Would you be surprised if I told you she told me you were here when she left?
A: Yeah. Did she say that?
Q: I ask the questions, sorry. Who else was here when you left?
A: Kevin Wong was here. I was talking to him just before I left.
Q: What were you talking about?
A: Word got around that I quit. Kevin and the developers were upset, naturally. They know that I’m ... I was all that was between them and Larry the Asshole. They were afraid that a new CTO’d be brought in and they’d all lose their jobs. That matters to programmers these days. Didn’t used to.
Q: What did you tell Kevin?
A: I told him I appreciated their concern but they should chill out. I told them shit happens but hackoff is still a great opportunity and things can get better; they should give it a chance and not do anything rash. I told Kevin he ought to get some pizza for the troops; make things seem more normal.
Q: If you were so angry at the deceased, why were you trying to smooth things over with the technical staff?
A: I promised to cooperate in a transition, remember? Also, I’m still a big shareholder in hackoff and it’s not in my interest to have the whole technical staff leave.
Q: Who else?
A: Who else what? Oh, yeah; I know: who else was here when I left. Matt Ralston, Irv Arkin, Irma Sukander, Sanjay Raj...
Q: Okay. That’s enough for now. Where did you go after you left the office?
A: West 10th Squared.
Q: So you like jazz. How long were you there? Who saw you there? Did you have any communication with anyone at hackoff while you were there?
A: I was there until 3:00 AM. I listened to jazz and I played some jazz. I smoked a joint — are you going to arrest me for that?
Q: Remember that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. It would be one of my colleagues who’d arrest you for the joint, but probably for possession with intent to sell; then you can bargain that down to simple possession of a controlled substance. You didn’t answer all of my questions. Should I repeat them?
A: A bunch of people saw me there. Not sure any of them want you to have their names. Do I have to give them to you?
Q: It makes things easier if we can verify your alibi sooner rather than later, but you don’t have to make things easier.
A: Look, the bartender, Kelly O’Kelly, knows me and saw me. She’s supposed to be there so its no problem giving her name. Also the owner or manager or something Francis X ... Francis X. O’Shea. Is that enough?
Q: It’s enough for now. I may ask you for more names later. Can they verify you were there until three?
A: I think so. They closed around three and I left then, so they may remember.
Q: You still didn’t answer all of my questions. Do you need me to repeat them?
A: No. The only person I communicated with from hackoff was Donna. She called me on my cell phone when I was at West 10th Squared.
Q: What time did Donna call? Why did she call?
A: She called just before midnight. I was playing and didn’t answer but I called her back. She called to be sure that I planned to come back to the office and complete the transition. She was concerned that I might go off the deep end and decide “fuck the transition”.
Q: Is it unusual for Donna to call you so late? Wouldn’t she be concerned about waking you up?
A: Donna calls anyone she wants whenever she wants. It is unusual for her to call so late but she knows I’m always up late. She might have apologized if she’d called me early in the morning but she would’ve called if she wanted to.
Q: Did she say anything else?
A: She said Larry IS an incurable asshole.
Q: Where did you call her back?
A: I used call-back on my cell phone. Just a second and I’ll tell you. She was at her home number.
Q: Can you think of any reason why the deceased would have taken his own life?
A: I take it the time of death was before 3:00 AM. I don’t think Larry would’ve shot himself just because he’s an asshole. He basically likes himself the way he is — that’s my take on him. He did sometimes say that the gun was his exit strategy but I always took that as a joke. I wouldn’t pick him as someone who would rid the world of himself. I’m surprised he did.
Q: Can you think of any reason anyone would want to kill the deceased?
A: Yeah; mainly for being an asshole. As you pointed out, I had motive, but I didn’t do it. There are lots of other people that Larry dissed badly. There’s an Arab whose girlfriend he screwed; there’s his wife who found out about it; there’s probably other people he screwed one way or the other. There’s Wrobly from antihack; Larry made him look like an idiot which, of course, he is.
Q: Who besides yourself and the people you just mentioned did the deceased insult? Did he insult Donna?
A: Man, if this isn’t suicide, you have a long list of suspects, Mark. I heard him insult Aaron Smyth, our attorney. He’s been very rough on Eve, the marketing slime. Larry’s always all over Folger for crappy sales, but Folger’s a sales guy so I think it just rolls off his back. He yelled at Donna when she argued with him, but he didn’t really diss her.
Q: Anyone else?
A: Give me time; I’m sure I’ll think of some. Don’t you have enough suspects? Isn’t this pretty pointless for a suicide?
Q: I’d like you to get back to me as you think of more suspects; there aren’t enough until the perp is caught. Larry is just another suspect, himself, at this point. If you think of anything else that might be relevant to this investigation, please call me. Thank you for your cooperation.
A: You’re welcome. It’s been good talking to you.
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