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Howard Anderson
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20 People Who Changed Tech: Steve Jobs

Apple co-founder, more artist than engineer, blew up the status quo in multiple industries.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Maybe the best thing about Steve Jobs was that he wasn't officially an engineer. Think about it. Engineering teaches many very good habits: discipline, a cognitive way of thinking, a symbolic logic of problem solving.

I've spent my entire career hanging with engineers, and no one appreciates their talents more than I do. But engineering can stifle creativity. From Day One, when they first open their cute little lab books, engineers live with a rigor; they want the world to be at a sort of intellectual attention. They want to order facts. They want to represent reality in a set of firm parameters.

Jobs did work for Atari, helping to build a circuit board for Breakout, and he certainly imposed his will and vision on a generation of engineers. He was smart enough to recognize the genius of Steve Wozniak, who designed and built the Apple I. Woz once said: "Steve didn't ever code. He wasn't an engineer and he didn't do any original design." But it was Jobs who came up with the idea to actually build and sell those Apple Is.

We need engineers, but we also need artists. And Jobs was more artist than engineer. And a revolutionary. And a turnaround specialist. And a polymorph.

And a politically incorrect bully. He would bully people he thought were compromising on design or quality, people who weren't thinking or delivering as he did (nearly everyone), people who were just making human mistakes or who couldn't see what to Jobs was so very obvious. "Be a yardstick of quality. People aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected," he said.


Jobs once agonized over the color of two little screws inside an Apple computer that no one would ever see. For most engineers, design is something grafted on after the "hard work" is done. For Jobs, design was paramount. User interface was the Eleventh Commandment. He would sweat the details, and holy hell would rain down on those who cut corners.

Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers once said that Vince Lombardi treated all players equally -- like dirt. Steve Jobs had a little of that in him too. His biological sister, Mona Simpson, wrote a book in which the protagonist, someone so like her brother Steve that it hurt, couldn't be bothered to flush toilets. Make your own conclusions.

But don't forget to give Jobs credit for the NeXT computer, whose object-oriented software system would handle email, voice, image and collaborative work. And remember that Tim Berners-Lee designed the World Wide Web on a NeXT computer while he was at CERN.

For the longest time, I was angry at Jobs. I had switched my company from all IBM PCs to all Apples, but then I couldn't get the software I needed to run the company because the third parties were not writing for Apple. It had only 3% of the market. Yes, it was the smartest 3%, but that didn't help me. So I had to switch back to IBM, wasting time and money.

I thought that Jobs and I had an implicit contract: I would standardize on Apple computers; he would make sure that the software I needed to run my company would quickly follow. It didn't. But Jobs learned from this experience. He learned that he wanted to control all the parts of the product and that counting on other companies meant a series of compromises. Jobs may go down as many things, but "compromiser" wasn't one of them.

20 People Who Changed Tech

Jobs is often compared to Thomas Edison, and that comparison falls short on two counts. First, Edison was a consummate businessman and Jobs was a so-so businessman (even though Edison never created great personal wealth and Jobs was among the richest Americans when he died in 2011). Second, Edison changed the world essentially in one way, through electricity. Jobs revolutionized consumer electronics, software, computers, retailing, music and film. And even maybe television if the soothsayers are right.

Steve Jobs was more like Leonardo di Vinci, an artist and a thinker, or Howard Roark, the hero of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, who would never compromise his design for commercialization. But even that latter comparison is wrong, because Roark in the end needed architectural commissions. Jobs created his own "commission" -- hordes of customers who bought Apple products because they were technically advanced and elegantly designed, and because there's a little of Steve Jobs in everyone.

When John Sculley drove Jobs from the Apple temple and he wandered in the desert for 10 years, Jobs went on to build NeXT, a computer way ahead of its time. And it was the NeXT operating system, which Apple acquired, that brought Jobs back to Apple. (Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years because he didn't have GPS and because, as a man, he refused to ask for directions.)

Jobs gave directions. He would tell everyone where to put the unasked-for advice he provided. Jobs often said that the period after he was fired from Apple until he returned may have been the most creative in his life. He craved going against the conventional wisdom and proving it wrong. Think iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes Store, App Store, Apple Store.

That awesome stubbornness may have caused his premature death, from complications of pancreatic cancer. He too long believed that homeopathic methods were better than conventional medicine.

Jobs was a showman in a way no one else in the history of the computer industry was. Not Watson. Not Gates. Not Bob Metcalfe. His sense of timing was impeccable. The press covered his every newscast and the loyal Apple-lovers genuflected and kissed his ring.

In the end, he would be one helluva venture capitalist and an even better negotiator. He bought part of George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic for $10 million, dropped a bunch more money in, changed its name to Pixar, and ended up selling it to Disney for $8 billion. Thanks for Toy Story and everything that followed.

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Jobs started out making illegal blue boxes, which let people make illegal telephone calls, and he ended up creating the iPhone, the stalwart upon which AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other carriers rely. Today, the electronics world is smartphones and computer pads and music devices, all of which are contributing to the inevitable decline of the personal computer and making life a living hell for HP, Lenovo and Dell. So it was Jobs, who was there at the conception of the personal computer, who led the charge to make it obsolete. Of course, who else?

Larry Ellison said at the Steve Jobs memorial service: "They say that no one is irreplaceable. I don't believe that, not anymore. Steve Jobs is irreplaceable ... the irreplaceable genius of our generation ... an intensely focused singularity who translated ideas into things that worked. In doing so, he reinvented entire industries -- computing and communication, music and movies. All done in one, too short, lifetime."

Winston Churchill once said he knew that history would be kind to him because he intended to write it himself. Steve Jobs knew that the future would be kind to him and his companies because he created it.

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