Unknown Android. Chapter 7: Steve Kondik

A college drop-out, Kondik`s Facebook profile states that his alma mater is the “School of Hard Knocks, University of Life”.

Kondik’s peculiar interests isolated him from the majority of the pupils at his back-of-beyond school, but he knew how to hold his own among his scrappy peers, and, in his own words, he never had to walk down the school corridor with “Nerd” or “Geek” written on his forehead. After all, Steve was a tough kid: he could swim five miles with 4.5 kilograms of weight on his arms.

Steve got his first computer at the age of eight, so he can hardly imagine himself doing something else. But if he had to choose a profession in the pre-computer era, he would have become a chemist, as he was always fascinated with sciences. His passion for chemistry came in handy when picking a nickname for the XDA-Developers forum, as the name “Shade” was somewhat lame and had already been picked anyway, so Steve called himself Cyanogen after the poisonous gas.

Steve posted a firmware build for the T-Mobile G1 phone on the Android platform for other developers to check out. Before Android, Steve wasn’t interested in any of the platforms and only Rubin’s creation had impressed him with its openness, even if its implementation at the time was far from perfect.

But Kondik was simply having fun experimenting with the firmware and thought that his creation was nothing to write home about. He was rather dismissive of his abilities and later said that he created this firmware on the basis of someone else’s build. In Kondik’s own words, the differences he introduced weren’t as striking as one could have thought – it had root access (meaning the user could fiddle with the phone’s system settings), the launch interface was somewhat altered, apps could be installed on an SD card, all this coupled with a few performance-enhancing gimmicks and lower energy consumption.

A couple of hours after he posted his firmware, Kondik was swamped with replies. Numerous independent developers from the forum commented on his firmware and updated it, and if something wouldn’t work, Kondik would fix it at the spot and got feedback in five minutes. More and more people started to get involved.

The moment of truth came when Steve and his wife Stacy’s neighbor, who worked as a waitress, told them that a bunch of people were discussing his firmware at the café – real people from the real offline world. Steve thought that calling his firmware CyanogenMod after his nickname might have been slightly arrogant and considered changing the name, but was talked out of renaming an already established product.

The talks of a custom Android version reached the Android expert forums. According to the October 2011 figures, Kondik’s firmware was installed by more than a million users, and eight months later this number grew to five million. These huge figures were the offspring of more than 90 regular project members living in Seattle and nine thousand freelancers from all around the globe. Samsung offered Kondik a software engineer job, and Steve told all about it on his Facebook page in August 2011. The Korean company laid no claims to Kondik’s firmware and let him develop it in his free time as he saw fit.

Like Rubin, Kondik was a craftsman and not a businessman, but, much to his fortune, a certain Kirt McMaster messaged him in LinkedIn. Back at the dawn of the dot-com craze, McMaster found his place in the Silicon Valley and worked in several digital marketing agencies. He became a fan of Kondik’s firmware, having given up for a while on the recent Samsung Galaxy III because it wouldn’t support the latest Android version, Jelly Bean; that was when Steve’s CyanogenMod firmware came to the rescue.

McMaster had ideas he wanted to share with Kondik. First, they met in a Seattle bar and the next time they came together was for the talks with the Silicon Valley investors. Five months were spent convincing the backers that the firmware had potential, but finally the negotiations ended and, on December 13, 2012, Cyanogen was founded and McMaster was appointed its CEO. A day before, Steve’s daughter was born, and he attended to his first business conference by phone from the maternity hospital. In March 2013, Kondik left his post at Samsung.

At the present moment the list of the devices supported by the CyanogenMod developers includes hardware manufactured by Samsung, HTC, Yu, Oppo, ZUK, Wileyfox, Nvidia, Microsoft and about 20 other vendors. The latest and hottest piece of news from the Cyanogen team has been about the CyanogenMOD platform presentation. The platform will grant developers access to the parts of the OS that were off-limits before, significantly enhancing the range of features supported by the apps. The main CyanogedMOD-promoting partner of Cyanogen, Microsoft, has already developed mods for products like Skype, OneNote and Cortana. Each of these apps now gives the user a wider selection of features: for instance, the usual phone call system supports VoIP calls and notes can be attached to phone calls and recordings. Everything up to the voice-activated selfie feature will be available to owners of the devices running the updated 13th version of Cyanogen OS.

Steve Kondik