Nowadays it’s impossible to find a professional website and even physical prints that is not digitally processed by Photoshop. In fact, almost every product or design today, including Hongkiat.com, has gotten help from Photoshop. More than 20 years on, it is still defining the universe of digital imaging, with no signs of slowing down.
Yet we know so few about who is behind it – key developers, whose names sit in front of the Photoshop splash screen we stare at every single time we launch the software.
And now, driven by curiosity and gratefulness, it is my obligation to unfold the stories of 10 unsung heroes who forged and polished the Photoshop we rely on to make a good living. It’s time we celebrate them.
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1. Thomas Knoll
Photoshop, a mega software that shaped the world of digital imaging today, started from one person, Thomas Knoll.
Knoll started Photoshop as a hobby to create code that displays grayscale image, and the initial success led him to create more image editing codes, which eventually became primal features of the now legendary Photoshop.
His humility is legendary too. When he was inducted by NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals), he responded with ‘Why would you want to induct me? I didn’t do anything special. Writing Photoshop was just something we did for fun back then.’ It is this attitude that culminates the selfless spirit of the Photoshop team, thus shaping a product built on awesome teamwork.
Thomas is still active in the Photoshop team until now, which is a rare path for most co-founders. He led the team until CS4, and his most recent work (at the time of this writing) is the Adobe Camera Raw plugin that processes raw image formats from digital cameras.
His passion for Photoshop and digital imaging is unmatchable to this day.
2. John Knoll
Although the name doesn’t appear in most versions of Photoshop’s splash screen except 1.0.7 and 2.0.1, John Knoll is another co-founder of the Photoshop.
, In fact, he was the one who persuaded Thomas Knoll to turn his personal program into a commercial image editing software.
At the time, John Knoll was surprised at how similar Thomas’s program was to image processing software that charges $300/hour for basic photo retouching. He saw a future in affordable image editing software and started to push Thomas to develop more features in spite of him still trying to finish his Ph.D. study.
While working with Industrial Light and Magic, the company which develops visual effects for George Lucas’ motion picture company, John also created some image-processing routines, which later evolved into filters (lens flare!).
3. Russell Preston Brown
No complex product can soar without the escort of the passionate evangelist, and for Photoshop, it’s Russell Preston Brown. Same with the Knoll brothers, Russell is one of the pioneers of Photoshop.
On the Photoshop 1.0.7 splash screen only 4 names were listed at the time: Thomas Knoll, John Knoll, Steve Guttman, Russell Brown.
As Adobe’s Senior Creative Director, Russell Brown is the most devoted user of Photoshop, and he even evangelized the software with his mastery of design and Photoshop skills. He has been restlessly showcasing Photoshop’s potential in grand events like the Mac Summit, and offering his own tips and tutorials in his website.
If you have ever seen his showcase, you could probably sense his passion (and a bit of insanity!) for Photoshop.
4. Seetharaman Narayanan
Although he could probably retire and enjoy his life on a certain tropical island, Seetharaman Narayanan chose to continue his work in Adobe.
His name appears after the No.1 Thomas Knoll in the splash screen, so I’m sure you stared at his name a lot, particularly when your Photoshop is launching slowly.
And he truly deserves the honor, as Seetharaman Narayanan is the man that dedicated his best to make the Windows version of Photoshop possible, then made it multi-threadable.
Now the Lead Adobe Photoshop Engineer, he also ported Adobe Lightroom to Windows. He doesn’t claim all the spotlight though but the benefit of having long names is that it is simply too unique to be ignored.
5. Russell Williams
Russell Williams joined the Photoshop team right after its 4.0, and he was surprised with how small the team behind Photoshop was. But he soon realized that they were brilliant and exceptionally good at their work. They had a clear direction, making Russell believe that the product will eventually ship which is after all the thing every developer wants.
In Russell’s regular days, he sits with other principal scientists such as Seetharaman Narayanan and does the most important thing in his career: decide what’s next for Photoshop. That said, for now, Russell Williams is looking forward to image forensics, where the traits of intentional image modification by criminals could be detected more clearly through images.
6. Jeff Chien
If you have used the Healing Brush to remove the wrinkles and blemishes of your photo, you need to thank Jeff Chien. He’s the principal scientist in Adobe that help achieved the Healing Brush effect, which could fool your perceptive eyes with its blending nature.
The effect is in fact rather complex when it comes to implementation. Nonetheless, he didn’t even know what RGB was back then!
Jeff Chien’s background is motivating for young computer scientists in developing countries. He was raised in a country without GameBoys and other fancy home entertainment equipment. But he did have access to a mainframe computer which everyone shared for very limited periods of time. Even in this limiting environment, he spent a lot of time learning, developing a solid background in math, which in the end helped score him a job in both Apple and Adobe.
7. Maria Yap
Maria Yap trained as a professional and started her photography and design study before the birth of Photoshop, thus she truly appreciates the amount of hectic work that is saved through the aid of Photoshop. After several years of cruel industrial training (aka freelancing), Maria finally joined the Adobe team offering her expertise.
She now leads a team of product managers and evangelists to develop innovative applications for design, such as Adobe Revel. Maria volunteers herself as a judge for the Adobe Youth Voices Aspire Awards, and part of the reason could be the immense inspiration that radiates from the event. It is apparent that her life is all about Photoshop, design, and family.
8. Sarah Kong
Ever heard of the name, ImageReady? Well, you must be as old as me then. Back then we designed our graphics in Photoshop, then optimize it for the Web in ImageReady!
And the switch button within the software is the work of Sarah Kong, an engineering manager who also worked on some helpful automation plugins like picture package and Web photo gallery.
Sarah thinks of Photoshop as an awesome product, made possible with exceptional teamwork. She also foresees a strong future of Photoshop in this social media driven world, with community features such as lens profile sharing for lens correction features.
9. Bryan O’Neil Hughes
One requires courage and determination (and a bit of luck!) to succeed in life, and Bryan O’Neil Hughes lived up the quote by joining the Photoshop team in 1999.
Making his debut as a Quality Engineer, Bryan contributed by doing his best to destroy Photoshop internally with intensive testing. Besides, if you have tasted the juiciness of Liquify feature before, that also came from Bryan.
Bryan cares about users. During Photoshop’s 20th anniversary he did a survey with both Photoshop users and NAPP members to discover specific new features, or current user interface issues that were bugging them. Based on the data, they improved Photoshop CS5 and make it dominate the world of digital imaging again.
10. John Nack
John Nack a.k.a Tiny Elvis is the true composer of Photoshop. His role, Adobe Photoshop Senior Product Manager, ensured that he oversees the development of many distinctive features such as Adobe Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw, Vanishing Point, and Smart Object which I use every day on my graphics and shapes.
He is inducted by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals in 2008, which is one of the highest honors you could ever receive in the industry. Nonetheless, his humility still shines on top of his achievements, with his friendly and informative Adobe’s blog as solid proof of his down-to-earth nature. Clearly, humility is the core culture for Photoshop team members.
In my search for information, the most common word I caught in the interviews was ‘teamwork’. And what’s even more amusing is, most of the time the interviewee pushes the credit to someone else in the team! I believe it’s that humble nature and cooperative spirit that keeps both Photoshop and its innovation going for more than 20 years and probably a lot more in the future.
Also if you’re reading this article, there’s a great chance that you’re a Photoshop addict like me! What would you like to say to these Photoshop pioneers and engineers? For me, a simple thank you is probably not enough! Let us know your words then, and tell us how Photoshop transformed your life!