Moving from music to tech was a function of his pit musician’s salary.
David Pogue: I’m from Cleveland, a suburb called Shaker Heights, and don’t think it shaped me particularly much except that I’ve always been a theater nerd.
I was the third child of three and so as is classic for that position, I spent the rest of my life trying to get the attention that I felt I was owed. And so I was a piano player and a banjo player and a showoff and a magician and so I got very involved with, for example, the Cleveland Playhouse Youth Theatre and the Cleveland Institute of Music and things like that. So Cleveland is actually a fairly culturally rich, artsy town so that was probably it. Plus the schools in Shaker Heights were very good.
I spent 10 years working on Broadway as a conductor and an arranger and as a pit piano player. And everybody wants to know how did you get from there to tech. And then answer is music software. There was this amazing, amazing piece of sheet music software where you could just play on your synthesizer and it would write out the notation for you in real time called Finale. But Finale cost a thousand dollars and when you’re on a Broadway pit musician’s salary, you don’t have that kind of dough.
But I was involved with the New York Mac User Group and the newsletter editor said, “You know, if you were willing to review this software for the newsletter, you could keep it,” which has been a lifelong source of inspiration to me. So I did and I kept it and I became very involved and I actually wound up writing the manuals for the next version of that software.
And suddenly I realized that my technical writing skills were much more in demand than my Broadway music skills, so I slowly, slowly over the course of several years made the transition from the Broadway stuff to teaching. I used to make house calls to people setting up their computers and writing eventually for computer magazines and finally the Times.
Question: And are you still involved in music anymore?
David Pogue: I still am involved in music. I don’t conduct anymore, but I play for local Connecticut theater organizations when they need someone to fill in. And I have this habit of writing new lyrics to old melodies that have to do with the tech industry, you know, Bill Gates singing, “I write the code that makes the whole world run. I’m getting royalties from everyone." Things like that.
Steve Jobs going, “Don’t cry for me Cupertino.” So I always perform these at the end of the talks that I give just to keep my toe into showbiz.
Recorded on May 15, 2008