“May the Wind Forever Be in Zarko’s Sails”: The Death and Life of a Mobile Pioneer
This weekend, the family and friends of Zarko Draganic will gather to pay their respects to the longtime Silicon Valley techie, who worked on some of the seminal iterations of mobile devices.
Tragically, it was a particularly sad end for someone who was a promising and influential entrepreneur — the 47-year-old Draganic took his life two weeks ago, an act that came after a long battle with depression.
Among his mourners will be a panoply of some of the most influential innovators in mobile, including Nest’s Tony Fadell, former Apple exec Andy Herzfeld and former Google Android chief Andy Rubin.
All had worked with Draganic at the iconic mobile device company General Magic, a failed effort that was well ahead of its time in the space and yielded many of its later leaders and innovations.
“Zarko was always ahead of the pack. He brought not just youthful engineering brilliance to a bunch of unpolished 20-something American hackers, but also the European flair and appreciation for the finer things in life — coffee, wine, cheese, food and sailing,” said Fadell. “We all learned from him.”
At General Magic, where he worked from 1991 to 1996, Draganic was the principal developer for its Magic Cap OS, including its many telephonic implementations. He worked at all levels of the device, from hardware to audio to user interface to critical software that would marry it all together.
General Magic’s products were among the first to talk in a language of mobility and integration of device services, from which later ones would borrow, such as Apple’s iPhone.
“Zarko was one of the best people I ever had the privilege to work with: Idealistic, brilliant, kind and generous to a fault,” said Hertzfeld. “He was a seminal General Magic employee; in fact, he was so enthusiastic about the company that he moved into our offices and started work before we even had time to make him an offer.”
Added Hertzfeld: “The world seems a poorer place with him gone.”
Draganic later moved on to other adjacent arenas but stuck in the telecom space, selling a software modem company he founded called AltoCom — technology spun out of General Magic — to Broadcom. More recently, a lot of Draganic’s focus was on electric cars and related environmental areas.
He also was an avid sailor, racing his boat in San Francisco Bay. It was a huge joy to him, said friends, and “May the Wind Forever Be in Zarko’s Sails” was at the top of an online memorial page to him created by friends like James Joaquin.
“Zarko was an inspiration to me: A loving husband and father, a brilliant engineer, a fierce sailor and an amazing friend,” said longtime tech entrepreneur Joaquin.
Draganic leaves a wife, Nellie Draganic, and two children.
“Zarko’s mission in life was to help make the world run more efficiently and responsibly through the use of technology,” said Nellie Draganic. “He was a beautiful and brilliant ‘Supergeek’ with a gentle, loving and generous soul.”
Indeed. Here’s a video of Draganic giving a demo of the Magic Cap cellphone in 1995, which will make you realize what a debt of gratitude modern-day Silicon Valley owes to entrepreneurs like him: