Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955 and died just south of there in Palo Alto, CA on October 5, 2011. While he stuck to Northern California for his life and work, his reach spread across the world through his products and the cutting-edge way in which he approached technology.
The legacy of Jobs will live on for a long time. If you look around you can see it every day – the iPods that kids listen to on the way to school, the new iPhone that already sold over 1 million copies before it hit the shelves and the MacBook Pro that the Coen Brothers used to cut and edit Academy Award Best Picture No Country For Old Men.
But Jobs was a lot more than just the products he created. To understand more you have to go back to his early years, before the home computer existed.
The early years
Jobs was adopted at age 5 and moved to Mountain View, CA, right in the heart of Silicon Valley and now home to companies such as Google. He attended high school at Homestead High School in Cupertino, CA and frequently attended lectures at Hewlett-Packard where he was later hired.
After high school, Jobs spent a semester at Reed College in Portland, OR before dropping out. He continued to audit classes while scraping together money to live on before taking a job as a technician at Atari. Once he had saved up enough money he headed to India where he became a Buddhist and experimented with psychedelics including LSD.
In What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, John Markoff writes that “[Jobs] explained that he still believed that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life, and he said he felt that because people he knew well had not tried psychedelics, there were things about him they couldn’t understand. He also said that his countercultural roots often left him feeling like an outsider in the corporate world of which he is now a leader.”
A brand is born
A couple years after returning from India, Jobs founded Apple with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. The task: creating a computer and selling it. The first Macintosh was released to the public in 1984 accompanied by the below Super Bowl commercial and was the first commercially successful small computer with a graphical user interface.
Things didn’t work out quite as planned for Jobs who was seen as erratic, and he resigned from Apple to begin NeXT Computer in 1985. There he put out products such as NeXT workstations and NeXT cube, which had the innovative NeXTMail multimedia email system that allowed users to share voice, image, graphics and video in email for the first time. NeXT was acquired by Apple in 1997, and WebObjects (a platform for developing web applications) was later used to build and run iTunes, MobileMe and the Apple Store.
Jobs did return to Apple, however, in 1996 where he was formally named interim chief executive (they would later drop the interim tag). From then on Apple would continue to roll out world-renowned products such as the iMac, and later on iPod and iPhone. Jobs resigned in August 2011, just a short time before he would die due to complications from a rare form of pancreatic cancer.
“Steve Jobs' genius was his obsession with delivering perfect products that enabled anyone, even your mother, to benefit from the latest technical achievements,” said Swaraj Banerjee who is a software engineer at Zynga, which creates popular games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars.
As mentioned earlier, however, Jobs’ legacy is much more than the products he created. It’s in the people he touched, whether or not he knew them.
“Normally when a celebrity passes away I consider the event tragic – but no more so than any other of the human deaths that happen every day. I generally have a somewhat callous attitude toward our celebrity-driven worldwide culture,” said Zane Claes in a blog post. Claes is the CEO and computer programmer for inZania LLC, which creates iPhone applications such as the commercially successful Airfare Pro.
“Yet I found myself profoundly moved by the passing of Steve Jobs, despite myself. At first I was confused and mystified that someone I had never met could elicit such a reaction.”
It is true that in the celebrity-driven world that we live in, the passing of prominent figures often elicits over-the-top reactions from unlikely people. Claes, however, is not a person to overstate anything and summarized how many in the tech field felt after the death of Jobs.
“So was Steve Jobs a hero? To me, and many in the tech community, he was inspirational,” said Claes. “I still look at what he did and use it as a reason to push myself. So, yes, to me he was a hero.”
Jobs was unconventional and innovative. He would answer random emails from customers sent to his Apple email account from time to time, even if it wasn’t a favorable response. He did things his way, which included being a great boss and businessman.
“He did what a CEO should: Hired and inspired great people; managed for the long term, not the quarter or the short-term stock price; made big bets and took big risks,” said Walt Mossberg in a blog post. Mossberg is the creator and author of the Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal and knew Jobs on a personal level.
“He insisted on the highest product quality and on building things to delight and empower actual users, not intermediaries like corporate IT directors or wireless carriers. And he could sell. Man, he could sell. [Steve] liked to say, he lived at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.”
For anyone out there trying to make it, whether in technology or any other field, take a lesson from Jobs. He was a self-made man who was always looking to move forward, both personally and professionally.
So what is the legacy of the man most of us didn’t know? It’s the millions of young people he inspired with his passion and tenacity.