John David McAfee is a kaleidoscope.
When you look at him, his life, and achievements, you see what you want to see. You remember, only the things you like.
There is a part in the movie “Gladiator” where Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) says to Maximus (Russell Crowe):
“When a man sees his end, he wants to know there was some purpose to his life. How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant? Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self?”
The twelve books of “Meditations” made Marcus Aurelius immortal, not twenty years of war campaigns and expansions of the Great Roman Empire.
The problem with all the stories about John McAfee is that they have been told backwards, starting at the end, so you never get to the beginning, which matters the most.
He worked at NASA on the Apollo program. To be a part of one of the greatest achievements in human history, setting foot on the Moon, even for a second and at the smallest level, should be more than enough for anyone’s bucket list.
Nowadays, not only do we take antivirus software for granted, but we get annoyed by it. Millennials and all generations named by the last letters of the alphabet keep forgetting how important it was for computers to become personal computers. We laugh at people who were petrified of the first trains and the introduction of electricity. We used to be more than skeptical about the idea of a computer in every home, when the first computer virus attacked the IBM PC in 1986.
McAfee didn’t ask for it. He just happened to be the right man, in the right place, and at the right time to make and witness history, again:
“When I first read about the Pakistani Brain virus, I'd never heard of a virus before, neither had anyone in technology. It fascinated me.” (from McAfee’s interview to the BBC in 2013)
McAfee used to travel all over the USA and fix personal computers - personally. The moment he decided to automate the whole process of virus detection and removal was the day when the first commercial antivirus software got introduced to the world. This was also the day when the modern cybersecurity and antivirus software industry was born.
We idolize entrepreneurs and innovators who became the symbols of megalomania and insatiable egos. McAfee couldn’t care less when Intel not only acquired, but also tried to change the name of his company. "I am now everlastingly grateful to Intel for freeing me from this terrible association with the worst software on the planet." The power of his brand prevailed. The original company name was restored.
Countless generations grew up with the small icon of the McAfee antivirus program on their first computers. We live and put all of our faith in our digital future, but we fail to honor the first cyber pioneers the right way.
Books will be written and movies will be made about John McAfee. And people will judge because that’s the easiest thing to do. It’s not easy to create something unique, revolutionary, and give birth to a whole new industry.
I will leave you here and let you take a look in the kaleidoscope of McAfee’s life. I won’t ask you what you see and what you will remember, because...
De mortuis nil nisi bene; de vivis nil nisi verum.