March 28, 2015

Interview with New Steve Jobs Biographers is Quite Good

On Friday I saw that John Gruber had interviewed the authors of Becoming Steve Jobs as part of Apple’s Meet the Author Podcast series. I had been reading snippets and reviews about the book for a couple weeks, with Steven Levy’s “The War Over Who Steve Jobs Was” and Rick Tetzeli’s Fast Company except “The Evolution of Steve Jobs” and found them interesting and much more inline with the many books I read over the years about Apple and Steve Jobs, than I did the Walter Isaacson book snippets I read.

This morning I watched the iTunes podcast of Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli: Meet the Author and it more than lived up to expectation. It was incredibly good. So good I bumped the book to the top of my wishlist.

Why this book?

I have read quite a few books about Apple and Steve Jobs with Alan Deutschman’s “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs”, Steven Levy’s Insanely Great, and Adam Lashinsky’s “Inside Apple” standing out from the many others I read and all the Silicon Valley history and culture books I have read along the way. They stood out as they grasped the lore, debunked it as well as extended it. They filled in the gaps with new stories and understandings. But, under it all they looked to only tell the stories of what, the place setting, and how, but they get to the why.

This book seems to fit why I liked the others with filling in the background and understanding the lore. This book seems like it will fit well in my underlying interest.

My fascination with Apple and Steve Jobs has to do with influence and foundation setting. In particular its early-ish influence and foundation setting with me.

I was born in the Bay Area, but grew-up up and down the whole of the West Coast in and just outside the major cities until my second year junior high when my parents moved to the California’s Central Valley. Being back in Northern California and a little over and hour from San Francisco we got San Francisco stations. This meant in the late 70s the personal computer was being talked about a lot. My dad was a systems and operations guy in the health insurance industry and there were always magazines around with computers in them. His fascination and work with computers rubbed off.

But, being in Northern California meant television and print news also covered computers and technology. This hippy guy with long-ish hair and a scruffy beard was continually on talking about what was happening today and in the near future. It was Steve Jobs. His near future visions influenced my perception of reality and how things should be. Our family’s first computer came in 1983 and it was an Osborne Executive, which I learned to use and copy code (copying small software that was handed out in local user groups) and play around with to see how things worked until they broke (then I swore and did it again).

But, in 1984 the Mac came out and that changed my whole perception of things. Not only did I have computer envy for the first time, but I also began to understand the future of where things were headed and was (then) thankful I didn’t go into computer science as a major as things became much easier to use (what I sorted out a few years later is much of what I wanted to do would have been aided by having a formal CS background). But around this time I also was meeting people who worked at Apple and they loved what they did and loved their jobs. Many at college had Macs and our newspaper my last semester not only was set up with Macs, but we got a new type of software, desktop publishing, for Mac from Aldus, called Pagemaker. It was so new we got a lot of training as part of the deal. We sort of had a digital newsroom (with a fully functional sneaker net).

After Jobs left Apple I followed what he was doing and had deep interest in Next. During this time I still had Macs around with most jobs and in grad school a couple students had Macs, but they weren’t as prevalent as they were in the late 80s in California. Often jobs I had would have a Mac around for creatives or testing, but by the mid–90s they were buggy. When Jobs came back to Apple as advisor as part of Apple purchasing Next in 1997 I still knew a few people at Apple and they were quite happy to see him back in some capacity. The shifts and changes at Apple fascinated me as the guy who influenced a lot of my belief in personal computing, what is was doing and could do, and how it should be done (with a focus on the user and ease of use - this was a “no duh” for me in the early 80s as I was making and breaking things on my Osborne).

Around 1999 I started cluing into the Steve Jobs keynotes again and in 2001 I picked up my first Mac, a PowerBook G4 Titanium, lovingly known as a TiBook. I got it because my laptop I was using, a light Toshiba, was tied to my project I was on and I left that project. I missed having a laptop, but I really wanting power, good screen, and ability to have UNIX / LINUX as well as a major consumer OS. In the TiBook I had UNIX as the core of OS X with command line ability, OS X, Classic Mac, and importantly a Windows emulator that allowed me to use Visio and MS Project (those needs would dwindle and become tiresome the more I got used to the Mac and its ease of use and its “it just works” approach to things - these do not always hold up). But my needs for the 4 OSs on one device that was powerful and relatively light eased into the background as the lack of needing to spend regular time maintaining things turned quickly into me just doing my work on the device.

Over the years with my Mac and increasing interest in Apple and how they do things and frame things, I got to know even more Apple folks as friends went to work there and I gave a some talks inside Apple. I was also running into people who had managed at Apple and I enjoy interacting with them as they think and work differently, which often fits how I like working and approaching things.

It is this trying to understand why my Apple tools and software (mostly) work really well for me and how I enjoy working with Apple (and ex-Apple) folks (I also have this enjoyable fit with McKinsey folks, but for very different reasons). It is trying to understand the what, how, and why of the fit with Apple, but as well as they “this is the way things should be” that was seeded in my head in the late 70s and was feed and groomed through life, that has me interested in understanding Apple and Steve Jobs.



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