Adobe Systems corporate headquarters, computer software manufacturer in Silicon Valley, Mountain View, California (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The life of Alan McLachlan, an engineer critical to the PDF

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Today, reporter Lizzy Lawrence shines a light on the life of Alan McLachlan, an engineer who was key to the invention of the PDF at Adobe and died earlier this month. Plus, senior reporter Ben Pimentel speaks with Molly White, the software engineer-turned-crypto skeptic behind the blog “Web3 is going just great.”

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)

‘Always about the people’

Alan W. McLachlan, an engineer who helped create the PDF, died at home in San Francisco on Oct. 6. He was 58.

His husband, Paul McLachlan, who works as senior engineering manager at Rivian, described Alan as incredibly humble, talented, and loving. His co-workers described him as vastly knowledgeable and technically gifted. Throughout his career he focused on firmware, essential software that allows a device’s specific hardware to function. It’s not “the sexy part of tech, because everybody wants to write the app,” Paul said. Yet Alan’s code, Paul said, is likely running on the computer of everyone reading this.

“His legacy is to celebrate the people who want to help, who are working in the background on the stuff that you don’t see, but you use every day,” Paul said.

Alan was born in Auckland, New Zealand. In 1979, he immigrated to the United States, where he enrolled in Orange County’s Westminster High School. Paul said one of Alan’s early experiences with computers took place in high school, when a teacher sat him down in front of a Commodore 64 and made him learn it.

Alan taught himself to code; he never studied computer science or engineering formally. In 1993, he started working at Adobe as a systems programmer. He was a member of the core team that invented the PDF, and built the printer drivers (software that converts data into a printable format) that enabled languages like Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu.

“He was really fortunate to join tech before it was a capital T,” Paul said. “It was a weird industry full of weird people who were not working like other people.”

Alan later worked at Microsoft on the XBox engineering team. The majority of his career, though, was spent at BigFix, which was acquired by IBM in 2013 and subsequently HCL Technologies in 2019. Brian Shorey, his manager at BigFix, said Alan was known as a company encyclopedia. He knew the product inside-out and was adept at handling complicated customer problems.

“Everyone knew they could just ping Alan and he could answer their questions,” Shorey said. “It was quicker than doing a Google search or looking it up internally.”

More than work, Alan cared about people. Paul said he was never the type to discuss accolades or technical achievements.

“I don’t think he had a grand narrative like, ‘Wow, look at all of these accomplishments,’” Paul said. “It was always about the people.”

— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email| twitter)

Meet us at Innovation@Work US

Join me along with senior executives across technology, human resources, operations, and strategy this week at Innovation@Work US 2022. This hybrid event taking place Oct. 24 to 26 in San Jose and virtually is set to discuss topics like the future of hybrid work, how technology can ease the pressure of a talent shortage, what’s next in AI and automation at work, and much more.

Register here.

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)


Low pay is the top reason employees decide to quit, followed by a lack of opportunities for advancement. Learn how an effective compensation plan can help combat these two major reasons.

Learn more

Crypto critic

Molly White was still a teenager when bitcoin launched in 2009, but rather than joining the crypto wave, the software engineer has emerged as one of crypto’s most prominent critics with her blog, “Web3 is going just great.”

The HubSpot engineer-turned-researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society spoke with senior reporter Ben Pimentel about whether crypto is “all a scam,” how she initially became concerned about its rise, and what software engineers in her generation really think about crypto.

Read the full story.

Authenticity on the rise

Employees are more comfortable being themselves at work than they were in 2020, according to a new report on workplace culture from the e-learning and predictive analytics provider Emtrain.

  • 39% of employees say they can be their “authentic selves” at work, up from 32% in 2020, Emtrain found.
  • Three out of four workers said their managers don’t understand that it’s hard for them to say no to an inappropriate request, Emtrain found. That’s an improvement from 2020, when 80% said the same.
  • Not all the findings are so positive. Workers are losing confidence that their managers will take harassment complaints seriously, with 46% saying their managers wouldn’t take these complaints seriously, up from 41% two years ago.

Some personnel news

Anyone else having a bad case of Great Resignation whiplash? It’s hard to keep up with which tech companies are growing, shrinking, floating, or sinking. We’re here to help.

⬆️ Handoff is raising pre-seed funding for its job-sharing platform, which would help employers offer positions that workers can split into part-time gigs, TechCrunch reported.

⬇️ Twitter refuted a report from The Washington Post that Elon Musk planned to lay off almost 75% of the company’s 7,500 workers, Reuters reported.

⬇️ A month before he stepped down, Mailchimp CEO Ben Chestnut sent a nearly 1,400-word email telling a group of employees not to encourage new hires to announce the pronouns they use, Platformer reported.

For more news on hiring, firing, and rewiring, see our tech company tracker.

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

Is it time to start offering PTO during climate disasters? (Axios)

Twitch CEO Emmett Shear said there should be a “third way” to classify content creators, who he said are neither employees nor contractors. (Bloomberg)

Amazon reshaped not only warehousing but also the U.S. workforce. (Insider)


Flexible work and resignations are at historic highs and employees are questioning if their compensation matches their worth. What are business and HR leaders supposed to do about this? BambooHR surveyed full-time, salaried employees and discovered the top 2022 trends surrounding compensation and what employees really want.

Read the takeaways

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