When I was 15, I wrote my first really useful program. I’d written lots of cute little distractions, and followed tutorials to write code that made computers do neat things — my first when I was 11, I think. But during a 10th grade Computer Science class, when the assignment was to write a program that drew 4 different shapes on the screen, I decided to instead write a MacPaint clone. Using Turing. And not even Turing OOP, just crude old procedural code.
Of course I was no Bill Atkinson (nowhere close!) and my teacher, permanently frustrated with my lack of focus, actually failed me on the assignment. But it was pretty functional, and I was proud of it. So I e-mailed it to a guy I knew of, working at this computer company called NeXT, and told him I was going to come work for him some day: firstname.lastname@example.org
This was years after he’d been ousted from Apple, and while NeXT’s technology was amazing, and hugely impactful behind-the-scenes in the technology world — NeXT workstations running in labs and at universities — they were never the press darling that Apple was. Still, I was very pleased when he replied:
“I’ll be keeping my eye out for you.
These days, Steve’s one-liner replies to apparently randomly selected e-mails he receives, of which I’m sure there are thousands daily, are still exciting enough to make most of the gadget sites and geek blogs. For a 15-year old kid, failing computer science because I couldn’t “follow instruction” it was the encouragement I needed to keep going.
When Steve Jobs came back to Apple as the “interim CEO“, bringing NeXT’s revolutionary operating system with him, and charging the brilliant designer Jonathan Ive to differentiate Apple’s sea of samey products in a marketplace full of beige and boring, he re-sparked the imagination of an industry. What he’s done since: from the iMac, to the iPod to the iPhone, delighted all of us, but surprised none who’d used the original Mac. We reasonably expect Steve to shake things up. It is his demanding, sometimes tactless, but visionary genius that shaped his company — and helped shape the industry.
I won’t pretend to be emotional about a man I don’t really know resigning from a company I don’t work for — unlike some of the press. But I will acknowledge that this is the end of an era. When Bill Gates resigned from Microsoft, the industry lost a brilliant thinker, engineer and businessman. As Steve winds down his presence at Apple, the industry is losing a brilliant creator, leader and artist.
I’m a little disappointed that I was too young to end up working for either of them — having missed Bill by a few years at Microsoft, and having followed a path not likely to end in Cupertino (save for that one night I crashed the bar where Apple employees hang out, Windows Mobile phone in tow!) But I’m proud to have the opportunity to occasionally stand in the shadows these titans still cast.