In the late eighties, Thomas Knoll co-invented Photoshop and changed our visual world forever. If you take a look around, there isn’t much that hasn’t been touched in some way by the software – your Starbucks coffee cup, the movie you watched this weekend or the magazine you flipped through on your iPad.
It’s amazing to think that a subroutine simulating grayscale effect that Thomas wrote on his Mac Plus in 1987 would be something he and his brother John would pitch to Adobe in 1988 and become Photoshop! The collaboration between Thomas and his brother John was the beginning of the unique relationship between artist and engineer – a vital dialogue that still exists between our own engineers and you – the creative customers we develop for.
After writing code for six versions – as the first engineer on the Photoshop team – Thomas went on to develop the Adobe Color Engine for more consistent color management in Photoshop and built the Adobe Camera Raw technology. He is also the creator of the Digital Negative file format (DNG) that solves the critical problem of disparate proprietary raw formats from camera manufacturers. This single file format provides immediate workflow value and will help ensure file format accessibility into the future. Thomas has certainly made tremendous contributions to the Digital Imaging industry as a consultant at Adobe over the last 24 years and he recently accepted a more “official” role on the team as an Adobe Fellow.
Here’s a bit of my recent conversation with Thomas, as we discussed his role on the team.
What will you do in your new role as Adobe Fellow?
Thomas: Although this makes things more “official,” I have always felt a part of this team. I’m proud to be at a company that has taken Photoshop innovation so far and am confident about where we’re headed into the future. In my role as an Adobe Fellow, I’m looking forward to helping strategically define Adobe’s product roadmap for Digital Imaging – exploring alternative workflows and new interactions with Cloud services and devices.
What do you enjoy most about what you do on the team?
Thomas: No matter how long I’ve been working with this team, I’m still amazed by some of the stuff they come up with! I enjoy using my creativity to solve challenges our customers might be facing. I take great pride in designing useful products and features that our customers want and will put to good use.
For those who aren’t familiar with product development teams, can you share what it’s like to work with the group?
Thomas: It’s a tight knit team and we’re all good friends. We also share similar personal passions – everyone is an avid amateur photographer, so we all understand what customers want…as we’re customers ourselves!
We generally know what specific issues we’re trying to fix and what we’re trying to add – we spend time discussing if there’s a good algorithm to fix it and set priorities with the product team. We usually have far more ideas than we have time!
Feature ideas come from within as we’re users ourselves and of course, from interactions with customers in the community. This gives us a pretty good sense of what we should do.
Where do you dream up your ideas and do your best work?
Thomas: I just need to make sure I’m in a place with minimal distractions! You’ll often find me huddled in a quiet spot with my laptop.
What do you do when you’re not busy coding or inventing?
Thomas: When I’m not coding, you might find me in the air. I’ve been flying glider planes since I was in college and switched to power planes in 1992. As an avid pilot, I often fly to the Adobe San Jose office from my home in the Pacific Palisades. I also enjoy traveling and participating in photography excursions. A favorite spot to shoot is definitely Antarctica. Landscape and wildlife photography is what I mainly like to shoot.
We want you to get to know key innovators on our team and this is one of many posts we’ll share – casual conversations with some of the brilliant minds behind your favorite features and the coolest products in our family line.
It’s never a dull moment around here when you’re surrounded by scientists and engineers who thrive on pushing the boundaries of our software. And it’s even more unique that the co-creator of Photoshop is still walking the halls and tackling new challenges for our customers. Stay tuned for more from my team!
VP of Products, Creative Media Solutions