SM: After you identified the need for an improved interface, what were your next intentions?
JH: I did a project at the research institute for the interface that eventually became Interface Builder. At that time it was called the SOS Interface. I did it, and it was simple and beautiful. I was getting a lot of attention at conferences with that interface, but I was not sure what the next step was. I went to see the president of the research institute, and he told me they were just starting to put programs into place to help people do startups but that the programs were in France and were limited in their resources. They had determined to put all of their emphasis on one startup, and he told me I could join them or wait for an opportunity later. I decided to leave and try it on my own. The institute was willing to pay me until I started making money on my own, but I did not take their money. I was able to leave with the concept that I developed.
SM: So you retained full intellectual property rights?
JH: INRIA really were not concerned with that. They would have liked to see the company done in France, but they were really trying to push innovation forward. When I left, I came to the United States and there was a company in Santa Barbara that was willing to sell the first version of Interface Builder. I came there to help them with a Macworld conference.
At Macworld, the people from NeXTSTEP saw us and realized there was something there. They invited us to go visit them, so I went and gave them a demonstration. Steve saw the demonstration and he was quite aggressive.
SM: Did he like what you were doing?
JH: I think he really liked it, but he wanted to understand more about who I was. I had been a researcher for quite some time, and I had that style about me. I was not all that impressed to be with Steve Jobs or anyone else, and I think he sensed that. In the end he made some positive comments, and he left. When I got to my car, a representative was there waiting and asked me to go back in the building. I came back in and Steve was waiting for me. He was very pleasant and not very aggressive.
We went for a walk, and he said that he thought there was a good opportunity for us to work together. I told him I thought there probably was some good work to be done and I would think about it, but that I had been working very hard for some time and that it was time for me to take a vacation. He told me no problem and that he would give me a call in a week when I got back from vacation. I had to explain to him that I was going to a take a European vacation for two months. We went to Thailand and Laos.
I received a phone call from Steve fifty minutes after I got home asking when I was going to be coming in. I came in the next day, and we had more discussions. I told him that it was not very convenient because my wife had just accepted a job in France, so I would come to the San Francisco for six months, do the project, and then would return to France. I came over and ended up staying for ten years. I did a lot of commuting to France. I would return to Paris on the weekends.
SM: When you joined NeXT, what was your position?
JH: At that time there was an engineering team and we were all engineers. We may have had a VP of engineering. Most people were engineers, and it was a very small company. We were there to have fun, and it was a lot of fun. Step by step it became more structured. At some point I was co-VP of engineering.