Oct 05 2011
It is with great sadness that I’ve learned of the death of Steve Jobs. I met him at the First West Coast Computer Faire, the day he announced the Apple II in 1977, just after he moved out of the garage and into their first office.
We hit it off well together. The booth was very crowded, so we went off in the bleachers in the auditorium, and he told me all of his plans for competing with IBM, who hadn’t announced their PC yet. Ironically, he told of his vision that he would design the Apple II to be an open platform, so that folks could design cards to plug in to his machine, and IBM would be a closed system, borrowing on their IBM 360 heritage, in which IBM even tried to control the punched cards used in their keypunch machines. We spoke excitedly for at least an hour. I have an audio tape of our conversation floating around somewhere.
My impression of him that he was a synthesizer, able to pull things together from disparate areas. He had a keen sense of simplicity – a trait I like to think I share with him in my software designs (I helped design the core technology of the VA VistA Electronic Health Record system with a single language with 19 commands and 22 functions operating on a single data type).
I could sense his “reality distortion field” back then. He had a laser focus on what he wanted to accomplish. That was the topic of conversation. If his laser focus shifted, then that was the new topic of conversation.
He also had a business sense of creating a vacuum and then filling it. People didn’t know they needed the Apple II, iPod, iPad, or iPhone until they saw it. He didn’t wait around for “virgin territory” to occur, he made it himself.
I went back up to Cupertino a few weeks later, with loose discussions of my coming to work for Apple; I would have been Apple employee #13. I looked at housing prices in the area, and had sticker shock: $69,000 for a 4 bedroom house in Silicon Valley. I could sense a tension between the Steves; I suspect that Woz was off doing new engineering when they wanted to get a product out. CEO Mike Markula mentioned the possibility of needing some documentation written on Woz’ “Sweet16″ software. I wandered over to Woz’ desk, asking if he wanted to grab some lunch. He looked up, said “no,” and went back to his work.
Mike Markula was the first CEO of Apple. I really liked Mike. He seemed to have the cool business focus that Steve Jobs lacked at the time.
It’s hard to think of someone whose creativity has had a more direct influence on society. Perhaps Walt Disney or Henry Ford.
Good bye, Steve Jobs. It was great being on the same planet with you.
(These images are copyrighted because they are licensed through Getty Images