October 2011

Steve Jobs

It's OK to have heroes, right?

I didn't think I had any heroes, but when Steve Jobs passed away last week, it hit me harder than expected. I didn't cry, I didn't go into a funk, but I was sad and felt like I'd lost something.

We idealize our heroes. We ignore their flaws and the fact that they are just regular people, and instead create simple character sketches based on a few noble aspects of their personalities and deeds. For example, Albert Einstein was a very smart, yet very warm and kind person, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. We reduce a hero to a simple sentence, knowing that it is an incomplete picture, but focusing on what it is that makes the hero important to us.

Steve Jobs inspired people to make awesome things.

To me he represents the drive to make things better. But "better" wasn't good enough; he insisted that they be great. Sure, he exaggerated the greatness of Apple's products, and didn't give credit to the sources of many of the ideas that went into those products, but he did everything he could to make them the best they could be, and to give them a little bit of magic.

He didn't make things easy for software developers, or for hardware engineers, or for component manufacturers, or for IT managers. He simply did not care about their problems. His goal was to bring the amazing power of computers to normal people. He wanted normal people to have machines that they could use to create things and to enjoy themselves, without expecting them to become programmers and hardware techs.

A lot of business-type people wish that they were Steve Jobs. Not me. I would not have wanted to be Steve Jobs, but I would have loved to work for Steve Jobs. Even if I was the recipient of his famously colorful criticism, I'd know that I was getting advice from someone who expected me to do great things.

I missed out on the Apple II era (having an Atari 800 instead), so my first Apple product was a Macintosh SE. I loved that cute, beautiful little computer. I learned Pascal, C, and Motorola 68000 assembly programming on that computer. I drew pictures, I played games, I stuck it in the back seat of my car when going from place to place.

But you know what it is about that Mac that really sticks out in my memory? If you opened the case, instead of finding just metal and wires, you found engraved signatures of Steve Jobs and other members of the Macintosh team. They had created something special, and they were very proud of their work. That inspired me to be proud of the things I make, and to make them as beautiful and magical as I am able.

Sometimes I forget to do those things. I need Steve Jobs around to occasionally remind me.

It's OK to have heroes, right?