★ About Steve Jobs

Unless you live under a rock, and said rock doesn’t have access to public broadcasts, internet, or cellular service, you’re aware that Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs passed away last week. Seeing as how I’d never met the man or worked at Apple, I’m not going to eulogize him. He was incredibly brilliant, flawed, and visionary, and the things he created moved technology as a whole forward whether you used Apple’s products or not. I’ll leave that at that. Instead, I wanted to write down my “Steve Jobs/Apple” story.

Within a year of 1986, three major events occurred in my life; my mother passed away, I was starting first grade, and I used my first computer. It was a scary, confusing and hectic time. It was around then that I encountered my first Apple IIe on a library visit. I was hooked. My dad and I would hit the library and I’d make a beeline for the IIe. I’d be mad when other kids were on it. I was enraptured by the keyboard, that amazing monochrome green screen, and some dinky lemonade stand game that seemed to always be running on it.

I don’t remember when it happened, exactly, but one day I came home and my father had purchased an Apple IIGS. To say I was ecstatic would have been an understatement. I’d spend long days and nights on the IIGS. It started with games. When I got tired of catching Carmen Sandiego, I started poking around to see what else was available. I learned all about ProDOS; the IIGS’s operating system (to be fair, it wasn’t much of an OS. The IIGS didn’t have a hard drive like it’s Mac cousin, so the OS was loaded into memory manually via a floppy on boot). I poured over the IIGS system manuals, wondering what a modem was and why we didn’t have one. I pleaded with my dad to expand the memory on the IIGS so I could run newer versions of ProDOS and Activision’s Music Studio. I started teaching myself BASIC and Logo based on the examples in the manuals. Again, I was hooked.

It didn’t take long (third grade, maybe?) that I would routinely start assisting the Sisters at school with the IIe’s and IIc’s in the computer lab between classes or during recess. We’d have computer class and while the rest of the class played Oregon Trail, I’d fire up BASIC and write my own game or Logo and make crazy patterns on the screen. I became that “computer geek” before such classes of individuals were even well defined within the grade school caste system.

Time went on and in the early 90’s we became a PC family. The IIGS disappeared and was replaced with a Packard Bell 486. Hey, who needed Apple? We had Doom! And Wolfenstein! And AOL! And Encarta! I kept going with the technology, moving over to Microsoft QBasic and then Visual Basic shortly after High School started. Macs at that time were in a strange place; hardware was stagnating, many companies were making Macintosh clones, and the OS seemed stagnant compared to Windows 3.11 and, later, Windows 95. I lost interest in Apple as a company and the Mac as a hardware platform. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the same timeframe that Steve had been forced out of Apple, and Apple was dangerously close to becoming a footnote in the history of computing.

By college, I had become the anti-Apple zealot. I hated Macs. I hated seeing them, but more I hated using them. For our C++ class, we were forced to use these horrible System 7 Mac clones running the horrible Metrowerks CodeWarrior IDE. The platform was slow, buggy, and required me to leave my dorm to do homework. I was pissed. Add to all of that the fact that Steve and Apple had just introduced the candy-colored iMac at the end of ’98, and in early ’99, John Carmack announced that the test version of Quake 3 (the sequel to THE dorm-wide fragfests of the day) would come to Mac before Windows. The perfect storm intensified my hatred for the platform.

Fast forward to mid-2001. I was working as a developer on a web application platform, and we were seeing error reports from Mac users that we couldn’t replicate on our PC’s. We had to get a Mac, and of course, it was my responsibility to find and fix those bugs. A few days later, a graphite iMac G3 was on my desk, and I was spelunking for issues in AOL for System 9. I vaguely remember System 9 being a lot snappier and better than the Macs at Northeastern, but it still wasn’t a machine I’d use for anything other than debugging. That all changed when we installed Mac OS X later that year. I liked the interface. I dug that I could install all my Unix tools and use those from a terminal. The environment started to feel cohesive, even if that System 9 speed disappeared when booting into OS X.

Of course, the slippery slope kept going from there. We got a Quicksilver G4 at work. I started moving my day to day operations back to the Mac. Some of us IT guys would sit around watching Apple’s live streams as Steve would twice a year deliver us new hardware and software. The Titanium Powerbook. The luxo-lamp iMac. The Mac Pro. The Macbook Pro. And the OS got better and better as well. The Intel transition sealed the day for me: I purchased the Quad Xenon Mac Pro for use at work (a machine I still use to this day). Who wouldn’t want a workstation that could run Mac OS and Windows concurrently? I purchased my first home Macs around that time. I’ve been a Mac household since.

Around that time is where the modern legend of Steve Jobs begins. The cancer, treatments, and subsequent return to Apple. The Intel switch. The iPhone. iPod Touch. iPad. Macbook Air. Steve returned to Apple and made it the most successful company in the world, and one of the most influential in technology. None of this happens without Steve Jobs.

And certainly, without Steve Jobs, that Apple IIe in the corner of a small public library in Manchester, New Hampshire never happens either. And it’s highly likely that my life today would be radically different as well. For better or worse, Steve and Apple created the wonderful tools that shaped my life and my career. To be sure, the real hero of this story isn’t Steve Jobs, it’s my father, who supported my passion for computers every step of the way however he could. But it was Steve who created those machines, and drove the industry to keep pushing that state of the art forward.

I never met Steve Jobs, but his passion shaped my passion and the passion of millions whom he never met. And for that, I owe the man a debt of gratitude and a word of thanks. So, thanks Steve. Thank you for the tools, the inspiration, and the contagious work ethic to pursue excellence in everything we do. We’ll miss you.