Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs, visionary

There are thousands of accounts of Steve Jobs’ life and accomplishments available on the Internet, so I will skip all of the stuff that you can read elsewhere.

The year was 1986 and I was working in New York City for Peat Marwick Mitchell (nka KPMG), an international accounting firm that had adopted the Apple Macintosh as its computer of choice for auditors in the field. During my two-year stint at KPMG’s head office, I spent one year on a team that revamped the interface of our audit software and one year on a two-man team that assisted and promoted KPMG’s consultants who installed small office computer networks and accounting software.

Part of my job involved traveling to computer trade shows and making presentations on the positives and negatives of various accounting software systems available on PC and Macintosh platforms. You might think that seminars involving such a dry subject would lack the glitziness and show-biz elements of a classic Steve Jobs product unveiling. And you’d be right.

But those seminars took me to places, like the 1985 Macworld Conference & Expo in Boston and the 1986 MacExpo at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, where I attended a panel presentation by several of Jobs’ Macintosh development team. It was shortly after John Sculley, the Pepsi guy who took over the reins at Apple, ran Jobs off.

Though Jobs was absent, the team still carried his vision for the computer industry; one in which software and hardware design would focus on users, not the druthers of programmers and engineers. This vision was shared by Jef Raskin, who headed up Apple’s effort to produce a low-cost computer with an intuitive interface.

Members of the development team also included Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith, Chris Espinosa, Andy Herzfeld and Guy Kawasaki. There were others, but these are the people I remember seeing at the Expos.

One of the above, I don’t remember whom, said something that I’ll never forget. Though it wasn’t Steve Jobs intimating this vision that day, I’m absolutely sure that he believed in it because it has nearly come true.

In response to a comment from someone in the audience about how great the Macintosh is because of its portability, one of the panelists challenged that thought. His definition of “portable” was that you could carry something else at the same time. The Macintosh failed this definition, more appropriately falling into the category of “luggable.”

Let me take that a step further, he said, and hypothesized that computers wouldn’t truly be portable until they could be woven into the fabric of your clothing.

That statement, made in 1986—before iPods, Smart Phones, and Wii Jackets were a twinkle in any of our eyes—captured my imagination.

Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 and got to work remaking the company by bringing back the “fantastic” and “cool” that we had associated with Apple in its early days. And, sure enough, we started seeing products that integrated into our daily lives almost as seamlessly as a computer woven into a sweater.

Some people were on TV this week speculating that the era of computer innovation is over with Jobs’ passing. That’s no more true than declaring that innovation in song writing died with John Lennon’s assassination (although some may believe that too). People with genius move the creativity ball forward with incredible pace, but there is always someone who comes along to pick up the ball.

I’m just glad that I got to watch this amazing person and his team lead an entire industry from its infancy to what is now probably its toddler stage.

From Apple's Think Different ad campaign:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. 
The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. 
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. 
Maybe they have to be crazy. 
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? 
We make tools for these kinds of people. 
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Copyright 2011 Randy Hunt

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing Randy. You were there, well, there at some really cool events anyway. RIP Steve Jobs. A man who changed our world.


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