Tag: Steve Jobs

On the life of Steve Jobs

The very first computer I ever saw in person, or touched, was an Apple ][e. It was in the Fall of 1980, and I had just started first grade at Pine Elementary School. It was in the school library, and, as far as I knew, it was the only computer in the school. I don’t think they let the first grade do anything with the computer, but when we got our orientation of the library, they showed it to us and told us what it was, and explained the monochrome display to those of us who knew only color television.

That was it.

That year, for Christmas, we got an Atari 2600. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Jobs and Wozniak had also worked at Atari for a time.

These two computing devices probably had more influence over my life than anything else.

In second grade, I went to a new school where they had many computers — several Apple ][ and a bunch of Commodore 64’s. I got to learn about BASIC and Logo and word processing. In college, I used a Mac Centris 610 which I upgraded a few times, and it served me well for about 6 years — pretty good, considering how quickly technology becomes obsolete.

I can’t remember when I first learned who Steve Jobs was. By the time I was really aware of Apple Computer as a company, he was already out. In fact, during the entire time I was a Mac-only user: 1993-1998, he was even not with the company.

Although Jobs was said to be a perfectionist, Apple products have never been perfect. They’ve merely been better than anything else anyone else has on the market, or had even thought of, and more often than not delivered more than the public expected or even knew to expect. This often gets mistaken for perfection, but really the idea of perfection is misguided to begin with. Jobs took great ideas from everywhere around him, often made them better, and integrated them into a cohesive package and brought it to market ahead of the rest of the industry. And he did so consistently for many years.

Where do you go when you achieve perfection? Nowhere, right? You’re done. Well, year after year Apple delivered not perfection, but something even better: an elevated expectation which few people could have expected previously. What was thought to have been perfect last year if it had been delivered this year wouldn’t cut it next year because by then we’d already have ideas for things that would be even better. He did it so many times, so consistently that on occasions when he didn’t, people were disappointed by the merely incremental evolution of the new.

Thanks for that.

So, the world learned about Steve Jobs’ death yesterday, and everyone’s talking about his life and accomplishments, his personality, his greatness, and what it all means.

For most of us, we know of these things secondhand at best. As such, I am unqualified to speak about them.

I will say, though, that I can’t imagine my life without Apple Computer and Steve Jobs. And many other brilliant and talented engineers and designers as well. But Jobs deserves the credit he gets for leading them and having the vision to re-shape the world.

I wonder how much of what we think we know about Steve Jobs is the young Jobs. I don’t know that we know all that much about the mature Jobs. He was very private about his personal life, despite being the one of the most recognizable CEOs in the world, and the public face of Apple for many years.

When I think about the legend that was made out of his biography, I think primarily about the intensely motivated, young Jobs who wasn’t always the nicest person to be around or work for, but who was dedicated to an uncompromising vision of quality and greatness which he demanded, and mostly got. Greatness, which, for the most part, forgives him the feelings he might have hurt or the stress he might have inflicted upon those under and around him. He had a charisma which attracted many of the best people around him despite not always treating them fairly.

I think about that Steve Jobs, and wonder, given the times and the climate, how he could have gotten done what he did had he been anything other than what he was. Obviously, there’s no way to know, but I think the answer is no. The was Steve Jobs was was the only way he could have been and still gotten the things done that he did.

I wonder about this, not because I wish I could somehow distort reality, to revise history to make a “nice guy” Steve Jobs who still finishes first, but because the world needs many more like him, who have the kind of forceful vision that Jobs embodied in order to change our world for the better. And how do you produce a person like that? Or more cogently: how do you improve on a person like that?

Steve Jobs the human being wasn’t a perfect person, just as no one is. But the main criticism that seems to be leveled against him is that he wasn’t as nice as he could have been, or should have, to the people around him. Could we have improved Steve Jobs by making him a nice guy? It’s been said that Apple is a cult, and maybe cults are special cases, where abuse is accepted or even seen as necessary, because good, able people will often sacrifice themselves for what they believe in, and a cult leader like Jobs provides a real vision which people can believe in. Perhaps niceness would have diluted the vision.

But I also wonder, as he matured, if Jobs learned how to get the results he demanded without being the sort of person who most people probably couldn’t stand to work under for very long.

I don’t think so many people today would be saying such good things about him if he hadn’t. But I would really like to know what differences there were between Young Steve and Old Steve. At least in my mind, the reputation of Young Steve — they guy who’d fire you for little or no apparent reason, the guy who could be extremely harsh (albeit right) with criticism, sparing no feelings — tends to overshadow Old Steve in my mind. Was he still like that the second time around, or had he learned a better way?

I like to think that he did, but I wasn’t there; I don’t know. I’m sure there are people who do know, the people who worked around him for the last decade or more surely can answer that question.