From a great Apple story:
Once again, my sanity was saved by the kindness of a stranger. At 2:00 one morning, a visitor appeared in my office: the engineer responsible for making the PowerPC system disk master. He explained things this way: “Apple is a hardware company. There are factories far away building Apple computers. One of the final steps of their assembly line is to copy all of the system software from the ‘Golden Master’ hard disk onto each computer’s hard disk. I create the Golden Master and FedEx it to the manufacturing plant. In a very real and pragmatic sense, I decide what software does and does not ship.” He told me that if I gave him our software the day before the production run began, it could appear on the Golden Master disk.
I’d bet money the mysterious engineer that saved the day was a release engineer.
This is a minor historical footnote in Apple’s history, but it’s a fascinating look at the policies, environment, camaraderie, and engineering spirit of the company in its previous life; definitely worth a few minutes.
I must admit: one of the things I do miss the most is creating the golden masters. I’m young enough to have not had to worry about it for years, but old enough to have had to do it for a few products that I shipped.
I think we might have a different mentality about software release process and quality if we still went through that ritual today, and it actually involved cardboard boxes, pieces of plastic to hold the bits, and shipping trucks.