Founder & CEO of Hacker Noon
What a character. This interview began with Zoom breaking and we when we started a new Zoom call, McAfee pretended to talk without making sounds just to fuck with me. Then we hit record:
John McAfee: Very boring toward the end.
David Smooke: Yeah, the best is the beginning. This is the Hacker Noon Podcast. I'm David Smooke. And today we have an internet legend with us, presidential candidate, software innovator, all that jazz, John McAfee. Thanks for joining us.
McAfee: Well, thanks, David. I'm no longer a presidential candidate. Two weeks ago, I lost the libertarian primaries which I fully expected, so ---
Smooke: Well once you have done it, you always are it... So, what's your current job then?
McAfee: God, I wish I knew Dave. I really do. I mean, you'll have to ask Janice, who is my boss. I have no fucking clue what my job is. I do basically what I'm told.
Smooke: So, you just wake up every day and Janice tells you what's up?
McAfee: Janice tells me what's the fuck up. Yes. Listen, Dave, if Linh does not tell you the same, you simply have not been married long enough. What can I tell you?
Smooke: Oh no, she runs this house, for sure. I just show up. Here I am. You know?
McAfee: Me too. I just show up. I'm here, literally. Janice is my scheduler. What? What?
McAfee: She's about to hit me or something.
Janice: You had tissue stuck to your finger.
Janice: You had tissue on your finger. It's okay, [crosstalk 00:01:33]
McAfee: She said I had tissue on my finger. That's how detailed this woman controls my fucking life. She's going ...
Janice: Shut up.
McAfee: I had tissue on my finger. [crosstalk 00:01:48].
Janice: Sorry, Dave.
McAfee: My apologies, those of you who saw tissue on my fingers. All right.
Smooke: Hey, so you grew up in Virginia in the 50's, is that right?
McAfee: Yes, I did actually. Virginia Norton, the Appalachia. The poorest part of America.
Smooke: If you were look back... If you were to describe the Black Lives movement today to yourself as a teenager, how do you think you'd react?
McAfee: Well, that's a very heavy question, Dave. There wasn't a Black Lives movement, of course, in the 1950s. And, I regret that I grew up in an age where... were Blacks.. And my wife by the way is as... Well, as she looks extraordinarily Black and she claims to be Black. But, I grew up in an age where Blacks had no rights. I'm sorry to say that, but it is absolutely true. I'm sorry, the 1950s... And white people did not have any concept that they were either privileged or superior or whatever whites may have thought in the 1950s. So I'm really the wrong person to ask. Other than that I have lived with multiple black women and have married one and have been married for almost what? Nine years. By the way, all of you gentlemen, out there, you think you want to get married?
Janice: Watch it.
McAfee: If you marry a Black woman-
Janice: Watch it.
Janice: Watch it.
McAfee: Hang on, I'm telling the truth baby. If you want to marry a Black woman, you had better fucking have balls the size of goddamn watermelons because otherwise you will end up being the true slave. I'm just saying.
Smooke: Where we come from shapes the way we see the world, so I wanted to just touch a little bit on that, but...
McAfee: Does it really? Dave, does it really? Does where we come from shape the way we see the world, or does our totality of experiences?
McAfee: Up to this present moment...
Smooke: But the setting is always part of the experience, so the setting in any story and anything like that. The setting, it doesn't make you who you are, but it will force a reaction. You can't write a story without a setting. Then, you don't have a story.
McAfee: Janice, this motherfucker was too goddamn smart for me to be talking, you hear? Do not schedule me this mofo again. I'm sorry. Yes, you're absolutely correct. The setting does in fact... It does not control or predict the outcome of the experience but fuck me, yes it does in fact influence it. But there's more than setting. I mean [inaudible 00:05:31] you about goddamn setting for the past year. Janice and I... First of all we escaped the United States on the 17th of January last year, because I found out on the 22nd of January the IRS was going to convene a grand jury to charge both of us with tax fraud. Now, I have... Whoa, are you drinking beer?
Smooke: No, it's actually a kombucha.
McAfee: It's what?
McAfee: Yeah. So you say a line of beer or vodka in kombucha bottles, really. I'll accept that anyway. So we found out about it, and we left on our yacht on the 17th of January for The Bahamas. Now I knew the United States would come after us receive fucking dead in March. And no in April, we escaped from The Bahamas, just a few hours before the IRS and the guys of the CIA were to collect us. We went to Cuba, we were there for two months and the Cuban government called both Janice...And, Janice is right here with me now... pulled us both in and said, "Listen, the United States has demanded that we return you to America." It was a Cuban general. We were at an army base. The Cuban general said, "However we were disinclined to do so. So, we're giving you 72 hours to leave the country and never return" because we're fucking embarrassed with that on a problem.
So we did, we left and they came in twice a day, said, "Mr. McAfee, will you be gone in six hours?" If I have to fucking swim to Haiti, trust me, I will be gone. So we left with 16 hours to spare racks. They would have big ass, God damn boat, a staff of eight, four fucking big dogs and Janice and I and a captain. No small task. We spent four and a half days at sea and it pulled into the Dominican Republic and we were arrested before we leave the boat. And what did they say? "I'm sorry, Mr. McAfee, But you must return to the United States."
I've been arrested 21 times in 11 different countries. So, this is nothing new for me. I managed to acquire two Dominican Republic lawyers, who manage after four days of Janice and I being in jail to get us freedom to leave to England, which we did.
Smooke: Did you get to stay in the same cell?
McAfee: Fuck, no. Please, God, sorry. But husbands and wives.. Listen, I've been arrested 21 times. I've never experienced a situation where husband and wife... get No, we did not get the same, same cell. In fact, Janice was, well, put out to [save 00:09:07] police, in any case. After four days, we the win the right to go to England. Which is what I asked for, [inaudible 00:09:15] fucking me and I don't want to go to England. I've got a British passport. I'm a British citizen. Send me home. Anyway, so that's what we did. On the way I talked to Janice. "[inaudible 00:09:27], baby, we cannot fucking run forever. We have to go underground," which we did. So we got to London. We've been underground since July 19th of 2019. Almost a full fucking year.
McAfee: I don't know why... Did you ask a question about that? Probably not. I'm an old... I'm 74. Okay. Listen, old men have the right, if not the obligation, to ramble.
Smooke: Are you still doing math and writing code?
McAfee: Oh fuck. I haven't written code in 50 fucking years, dude. No, of course not. Although, listen, I am still the best coder on this fucking planet. I'm just saying.
Smooke: So, at a really early age. Were you really good at math?
McAfee: That's the only thing I was good at. Listen. When I went to college at the age of 18, at Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia, I wanted to major in physics. And then, after one semester I figured out, you know what? I have to learn more math to get a fucking physics degree than I have to learn to get a math degree. So I go "Fuck that shit." So I switched to math. Of course graduated with honors, I don't know why [crosstalk 00:10:53]...
Smooke: Even before college, when did you realize you were really good at math?
McAfee: Third grade? I never had to study math. It's one of those... I'm a lazy motherfucker. I am. And math always came easy to me. And therefore, that's what I did. There's people do not understand digital science, digitally computers and software. It's fucking mathematics. That's all it is, people. It just happens to be a mathematics based on a binary system than a decimal system. It's all the same fucking thing. Binary systems are fucking fantastic because you have mathematics you can't do on a digital system like Boolean algebra, or exclusive, or fuck me, the most powerful processes in all the world of mathematics. So, digital computing, I was like, "Ah, fuck me." It's easy. But, programming is nothing more than mathematics, people, only in a binary system rather than a decimal system.
Smooke: So after college, you got a job at NASA. How did that come about?
McAfee: Well, my first job was not at NASA. My first job after college... My first job was at General Electric. That's where I first learned programming on the General Electric GPAC 40 20, which was the world's first process automation computer. And then, what's process automation? Well, it's the most complex application of computer science ever fucking invented. I was assigned to the automation of Australia, iron and steel rolling mill in Port Campbell, New South Wales, Australia. What's a rolling mill? Well, it's one of the things that, prior to computers, was a fucking art because... What's a rolling mill? So, steel comes in there. The whole bunch of [inaudible 00:13:15] says the repeat roller, where it goes one way, then another way, then another... There's a system of 15 rollers. So what happens? You got white, hot steel going right out and it's coming in slabs that are maybe, I don't know, 12 inches thick.
So it comes between these rows, which has a pressure that you can't possibly fucking imagine. I mean, that would take a dime or half dollar and convert it into something smaller than a sheet of paper in terms of powerful fucking pressure. So, it comes in... This rollers comes in at maybe three miles per hour, goes to the first roll. It's compressed. Comes out slightly thinner, comes out slightly faster. I mean, come on, let's face it, people. You put the same volume in, at a certain volume at a certain speed. And if the volume is less, it's got to come out faster. So at the very end of this 15 roller process, the steel which comes in at two miles an hour is coming out at 80 miles per hour now. So, they have this change called flying sheers because otherwise you'd have utter fucking chaos. By the time it comes out of last roller, it's no longer red hot. It's no longer white hot. It's red hot, but it's so fucking hot.
So, it's just coming out at 80 miles an hour and these shears are flying at what speed? 80 fucking miles per hour. They cut these things in sheets that are 12 feet long. Now up until automation, human fucking beings... If you can imagine this, Jesus fucking God... If you want to know what the human is capable of... And by the way, it was those high-end, the most highly paid worker, low level job in the world. And these people...
Smooke: Because of the amount of injury and risk they were taking on?
Smooke: Because the amount of danger and risk they're taking on?
McAfee: No, no, no. [inaudible 00:15:38] The risk was cutting the shears at the wrong place, or... Because these people had to manage the pressure of the rolls constantly to get the right speeds, right? Everything, no... The, the risk was you would destroy or break a set of rolls, which was a half a million dollars, which cost you your job. No, there's no personal risk. Fuck me. We're up in four stories above the rolling mill wire goes to the mill itself. When the temperature is 200 degrees Fahrenheit, nobody survives through that. No. So, three stories above this note, no personal risks. The risk is your job. You break a roll, they fire your sorry ass. So, no.
Smooke: At this point, did you always know you wanted to, you know, do your own thing and it wasn't... Were you thinking like...
McAfee: Of course! I'd always done my own thing, ever since I was 12 years old, dude. When I was 12, I borrowed my father's lawnmower and used to mow every fucking yard in the neighborhood. Why? It was a fucking [inaudible 00:16:51]. Know why? Nobody. I tried to knock on doors. "Mr. Jones, would you like your yard mowed for a 1.75..." Fuck it. Everybody said yes. Well, it cost me 25 cents in gas. So I made a fucking fortune. Nope. This was in 1958. I'm 13 years old. No, nine 57, 12 years old.
Smooke: That first time, you know, making money did you get this thrill and the satisfaction of like...
McAfee: Fuck yes!
Smooke: This is it.
McAfee: It's [inaudible 00:17:27] than having money in your God damn pocket and all of your friends are working on 50 cents a week allowance. Now, trust me. Instant power. In the winter time, what did I do? I take a snow shovel. Knock on everybody's door. Would you like your sidewalk shoveled? Who the fuck wants to shovel the sidewalk after a large snowfall? Nobody. Seems to... I was the richest dude in the entire fucking town by the time I was 13. When I was 14, I owned four paper routes, paper routes. Nobody has that. I don't think they have paper boys anymore. But, back then it was an entrepreneurial job. You bought the newspapers from the newspaper company. [crosstalk 00:18:16].
Smooke: If you were 14 today, you know, looking around and seeing what the internet is and seeing how that works. Would you think you had already, you know, have an online business?
McAfee: Yeah. I'd be promoting Vanguard prostitutes if I was 14 today. Seriously, I'm serious. I mean, no, I would make so much fucking money, but that's beside the point. So anyway, I had paper routes by the time I was 14. So by the time I was 16, I had more money in the bank than my goddamn parents. By the time I was 18, after having a bunch of other entrepreneurial jobs, I had close to a hundred thousand dollars, which is 1960, people. 1963, actually. That hundred thousand dollars is three million dollars in today's money. I was the God of Southwest Virginia. I'm 18. And I've done that ever since. Why? I don't want to work for anybody. I know. Fuck. No, I would definitely work for NASA. Why? God damn it, I'll learn some shit. I'll work for Lockheed, which I did. I'll learn some shit. Before...
Smooke: I read that you wrote the first version of the antivirus software in a day and a half. Is that true?
McAfee: I did, yes.
Smooke: And what did it... What was the initial function? What did it do?
McAfee: Okay, so no, here's what happened. By the way, if you think that people get success from writing a business plan, having an idea, no. People wake the fuck up. Why do people go to Harvard business school or Stanford business school? I used to teach once a month at Stanford business school. Why? Cause I wasn't a successful [inaudible 00:20:06] there. I know what the fuck that is. No, you go to Stanford business school, you pay a God damn fortune so that you get a job with IBM or Microsoft or Samsung or somebody for a shit load of money. But you ain't no goddamn entrepreneur. What's an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur is someone with no goddamn plan. He's sitting there just minding his own fucking business. And, the opportunity comes by his nose, which happens 10 times a day for every human on this planet.
If you have the balls to say, "Okay, if I grab this opportunity, I will risk losing my job. My wife, my house, neighbors, my friends, everything which I did. And everybody does. Are you willing to do that? If not, you're not an entrepreneur and stop making plans because you will never get a God damn time. No money comes to you without risk. And, what is the risk? Everything. Everything you've ever known, everything you've loved. Everything you've ever wanted and everything that you currently fucking have. Your house, your car, your kids, your wife. I lost everything. Everything starting McAfee. Why? Because I thought that was the thing to do. So now how'd that happen? McAfee happened like every fucking sexual business, including Microsoft. I know Bill Gates. I met Bill Gates shortly after Microsoft became a thing. Nobody has a fucking plan, people. Nobody has an idea. Ideas are worth jack fucking shit. We all have ideas. 10, 20, 30, a day. Everybody on this planet, nothing. What's worth something? Opportunity.
So while it was mine, well, I'm sitting on a Sunday morning and watching television. I don't remember what I was watching. My worthless fucking brother-in-law, Rich... My wife's brother who never had a goddamn job and had been living with us for a fucking year. As a parasite, by hard work, working at Lockheed on a Black program... I was making more money than God. You understand that on this Black program. What's a black program? It's a program that does not exist. I was working at Lockheed as a Defense Contractors. Black programs are those super, super, super fucking secret things don't exist. In order to get out, why do you got to have a top secret clearance? So my boss came to me after working at Lockheed and said, "You've been tapped for a black program. It's catching you for your clearance next week." Now, what does that mean? You spent the entire fucking day and the NSA asks you things like that. It's [inaudible 00:23:18] things like, "Have you ever fucked a goat?"
Not that I can remember. [inaudible 00:23:26], now. Not that I remember. Have you ever cheated on your wife? Yes. How many times? Well, fuck me. As often as I could. Have you ever taken drugs. Yes. Which drugs? Every drug I'm aware of. Have you ever sold drugs? Yes. Which drugs? Every drug I'm aware of. Why did you do that? There's a shit load of money in it, asshole. That's it anyway. So the entire day, plus, they put electrodes on you and they ask you... I mean, whatever. So, no. So, I go back at the end of the day, and I tell my boss, I say, "Listen, my security clearance is not coming." One week later, I get a top secret security clearance. Why? Fuck me, I don't know. I guess it's because the people go, you know what? The Russians are not going to be able to say, "We know this about you." Because, the motherfucker doesn't care. I don't know. For whatever reason, I got it.
So anyway, I was making more money than God doing what? Every Monday morning they flew me to another state for working for the Air Force. Fuck me. No, I can say that. I hope... Working the Air Force on a program I can't possibly tell you about. And then, every Friday afternoon, sending me back to San Jose, which is where I lived in Santa Clara in Silicon Valley. I can't tell you how much I was making. More money than God! I had cars, I had motorcycles, cars, every fucking thing. And, on a Sunday morning, my brother-in-law Rich... That motherfuckers never had a job, was reading the San Jose Mercury News. And he says, "Whoa, look at this! There's this thing called a computer virus. They just discovered it." I go, "What? Give me the fucking paper."
So I read the paper. It was about the same call, the Pakistani Rain computer virus. Why was it called that? Because, that was what was written inside the code. It was taking control of computers throughout Europe. I go, "Fuck me." So, I read the article. Monday morning at 7:00 AM, I called a friend of mine at Stanford because I taught at Stanford University once a month to the graduate school, the business school. And I said, "Give me a copy." They had a copy. That afternoon, I went to Stanford and got a floppy disk... You know what a floppy disk is? [inaudible 00:26:15] Got a floppy disk, came back with a virus. Took it apart. And, it was the world's first artificial intelligence, people. Yeah. What is a virus? We'll it's a piece of code that tries to do three things: hide, survive and propagate in the story. Well also, they do damage. But, many of them didn't do much damage, but... so I'm going "Fuck me."
I wanted to hire those motherfuckers and start a company. There were two brothers in Lahore, Pakistan. They had a computer repair shop. They created this thing. Well, fuck me. Anyway, so, as I was looking at the code and understanding what it was, I thought, Well, fuck, this is so easy to fix." So I worked on the program, took me less than two days. Put it up on my bulletin board and called home base. The world's at that time, certainly Silicon Valley's largest [inaudible 00:27:26] system. I had 32 phone lines coming in. We didn't have the internet back then, folks. So you couldn't just send a message to Russia. What happened is all of your thousands of users on the bulletin board downloaded the good shit and then uploaded it to other bulletin boards where it was downloaded and uploaded. Within the month, I had 5 million users. Within four months, I had 13 million dollars in the bank.
Smooke: Were you even incorporated in the beginning.. [crosstalk 00:28:04].
McAfee: No, fuck no! Nothing, nothing.
Smooke: Locking it up for yourself?
McAfee: You don't plan this shit, people. You can't plan success, not fucking possible. Not possible. No. What you do is... Immediately, I quit Lockheed. I quit the juiciest, most incredible job, any technology you could ever fucking have. A God damn black program with the U.S. Government? [inaudible 00:28:32] I could do whatever I fucking wanted and make 10 times what any other technologies could ever fucking make. And, I quit that immediately. I lost my wife, my house, everything, because I realized that this was an opportunity. I quit Lockheed instantly. I didn't even give them notice. My boss said, "What? Are you crazy? Come in and talk to me." I said no. I brought in what I equated coming in and talk to me. I said, no, I'm not coming in. I quit. I'm sorry. I'm not coming in. And, you have to do that. Not talking to you anymore.
McAfee: My world has changed. My wife who had a job as a flight attendant just walked out. I lost everything. Everything! But three months later, I was a multimillionaire. This is what success is. You can't plan success, people, it's idiocy. You have to smell the opportunity wafting past your nose. You have to be willing to risk your job, wife, your house, your kids, everything you've ever fucking loved. And if you're not, stay where you are.
Smooke: So let's talk about another booming opportunity.
McAfee: We have time for one more question. I have an interview in three minutes. My apologies.
Smooke: I guess I had a last question for you. I'd say, what is the scariest thing about the internet right now? And if you controlled the whole internet, what would you change?
McAfee: I don't know what the second half. Okay. What the scariest thing is, is that you have no privacy, people, none. If you think that antivirus software or security software is protecting you, whether an encryption is protecting you, it's not. It's not! It's not. Encryption was designed 30 years ago to protect from a thing called "man in the middle attack." What does that mean? I'm communicating with someone in Australia and there's someone listening. There ain't no man in the middle anymore, please fucking God.
You understand that our smartphones and our computers and our pads and our laptops are designed for one thing: to find out exactly what the fuck you are doing, where and when. There's no man in the middle. You, in your fucking system have the software that's watching what you type into your security software, that's going to be encrypted and sent. And on the other end, you have software that's watching because you can't [inaudible 00:31:28]. Encrypted communication has to be decrypted and displayed on your fucking screen. And, they're reading what's displaying on your screen, people. They're watching what you type in. Encryption is the most worthless piece of shit today, and people actually pay for it. What the fuck is wrong with you people? And, I'm really sorry, but I must go.
Smooke: Thanks, John. I enjoyed the talk.
McAfee: All right.