Although he passed far too early, Steve Jobs’ impact on human endeavor cannot be overstated. Much has been written about how the products he helped create at Apple changed the way people interact with technology, and how his attention to aesthetic beauty and intrinsic usability created machines with which we formed intense personal connections. The confluence of art, technology and design that Jobs brought to his work is something that many entrepreneurs aspire to – but only he was able to master.
I’m proud to consider myself an entrepreneur as well, albeit a far less successful one (aren’t we all?). Looking back, my path is due in no small part to Mr. Jobs’ influence, although I never had the good fortune to meet the man himself. I was born in Southeast Portland in 1976, the same year Jobs and Wozniak established Apple. A sweet family lived next door to me then: Barb and Jack Dudman and their son, Joe. Jack was a much-loved math professor and later Dean of Students at nearby Reed College. I spent much of my free time as a child at the Dudmans; first and foremost because they were great friends and secondly because they had wondrous computers: an Apple II, an Apple III, and then, in 1984, the first Macintosh. At my house, the most advanced technology was a 12” color TV.
Despite my mother’s strong preference that I grow up to become a writer, she couldn’t ignore the fact that whenever we went to OMSI, I was strongly drawn to the electronics section. When I was six years old, Barb Dudman offered to teach me Logo on the Apple III. Logo is a programming language that uses commands to move a turtle cursor around the screen, a deceptively simple concept that can generate amazing graphics. After one lesson with Barb, I was hooked: at home, I wrote a long program that drew a complicated picture, as I recall it was an American flag. At the next lesson, I typed in the program – and lo and behold the turtle drew the flag for me in beautiful green-on-black monochrome. What power! My programming skills improved over time, and soon Barb was teaching me Pascal. By then there was a true reward for doing well in the lesson: I would get to play One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird with Joe on their Mac.
Only later did I learn how the Dudmans came to have such amazing computers in their Eastmoreland home. During Jobs’ legendarily brief time at Reed, after he dropped out but before he returned to California, Jack Dudman helped him survive those tight, couch-surfing days when Jobs audited classes – including the famous calligraphy course that inspired the ground-breaking fonts pioneered on the Mac. Steve never forgot Jack’s kindness during this period, and made sure the Dudmans were always equipped with the best Apple gear; they in turn patiently tutored the eager kid next door.
I’ve worked in the technology industry for over a decade now. My engineering days are behind me, and I’m learning a new set of skills in leading the team at Elemental. Once again, the environment that Steve created at Apple is a guiding light. We are working hard to build a culture that will allow us to hire new people at a steady clip while maintaining and strengthening the core values with which we’ve attained our modest level of success so far. It’s been a challenge, to say the least. Yet a friend of mine recently interviewed for a position at Apple, and during the process was told that the only goal for each employee is “to make the platform cool.” That’s it. So simple, yet so effective; this mantra permeates everything Apple creates, from the lovely devices themselves to the shimmering operating system to the elegant packaging, even down to the environmental impact statement on Apple’s website.
I’m a Windows user now, and have been ever since a late-1990s engineering curriculum forced me to trade in my Power Mac for a PC. But Steve Jobs will always be a guiding light for me and entrepreneurs everywhere, and Apple the company we endeavor to emulate. Thank you, Steve, for your incredible innovation and inspiration.