Unknown Android. Chapter 7: Steve Kondik

Among hackers there are not any bachelors and masters, and parents do not prepare for this profession. The proof is the author of the firmware CyanogenMod

Unknown Android. Chapter 7: Steve Kondik

Unknown Android. Chapter 7: Steve Kondik

Unknown Android. Chapter 7: Steve Kondik, photo 1

A hard nut to crack

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.

The birth of Cyanogen

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.

Public recognition

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.

Business partner

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.

Reload: LineageOS

At the end of 2016, Cyanogen moved from Seattle to Palo Alto. At the present moment, the company works without Kondik because of personal reasons. Kondik himself was vocal about his disagreements with the co-founder Kirt McMaster:

«My co-founder [McMaster] apparently became unhappy with running the business and not owning the vision. This is when the „bullet to the head“ and other misguided media nonsense started, and the bad business deals were signed. Being second in command, all I could do was try and stop it, do damage control, and hope every day that something new didn’t happen».

Kondik planned to take the CyanogenMod firmware project for himself, but, as the brand belonged to Cyanogen Inc, the project would have to be forked, rebranded and financed through crowdfunding. As a result, Cyanogen shut down CyanogenMod, handing the source codes, unfinished builds and other data to the developer community, while the aforementioned fork was named LineageOS. At the moment, it can boast about 480 000 installs, and the firmware is especially popular with OnePlus smartphone owners.

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