Wednesday, October 12, 2011

…something touched me deep inside, the day the music died...

I have (had) a (very) few things in common with Steve Jobs: we were born within a year of each other, we were both adopted, we were both cancer survivors (until last week), and we both worked in the computer industry.

We differed in so many different ways: Steve dropped out of a liberal arts college, embraced the counter-culture, and peppered his career with daring moves. I conformed: starting at the U.S. Naval Academy, transferring to an established (if somewhat innovative) engineering school, married young, and moved between "safe" software jobs over the years.

I had been working in software for seven years, mostly in CAD and computer graphics, when I first encountered an Apple computer — a pre-release Macintosh — as an employee at Lotus Development. I was skeptical for a short time (a few weeks), but I eventually concluded that the Mac represented a compelling vision of the future of computing, and embraced it; or, as some would say, started drinking the Kool-Aid.

I had the privilege of "meeting" Steve twice, in small-group situations. The first time, he and John Sculley met Mac developers at Lotus, shortly after Sculley had been hired by Apple. The second time, Steve visited Lotus as CEO of NeXT (with Conall Ryan, an ex-Loti who was NeXT's VP of Marketing). During that visit, Steve expressed an interest in seeing the product I was working on (Lotus Agenda) implemented for the NeXT platform; I was hooked. I eventually landed a job working on Lotus 1-2-3 for Mac at Lotus, where I was able to pursue this passion, and it was one of the most satisfying projects of my career.

After those experiences with Apple and Steve at Lotus, the Mac (and NeXT, to the extent that I understood it) became my personal reference points for how software should work for users. This orientation was not always conducive to career development. I did land a position with Symantec developing Symantec C++ for PowerPC (a descendant of THINK C for the Mac, which I had used for years), which was probably my dream job of all time; but the Mac tide was ebbing, and I had to find work in domains where my Mac experience and values were not, well, valued.

Four years ago, I landed a job to lead the implementation of a Mac version of a successful Windows product. The project was not a spectacular success, for various reasons, but I was back to the Mac, and anxious to stay. As corporate interest in that product waned, I moved on to a similar situation (a company with a successful Windows product and a desire to succeed on the Mac). I am back in my element, and determined to implement something Steve would approve of.

I am crushed by Steve's passing; in private, I have cried, uncontrollably. We have been deprived of years of his masterful guidance. I have great confidence that Apple can continue to execute as well as it has in the past, but it is undeniable that something is lost without Steve's oversight. Nonetheless, I cast my lot with Apple. (Literally: I have Apple stock I bought in 1997, and I'm still holding.)

I have only a few years left to work in this industry before retirement (I hope), and Steve's advice (as expressed in his Stanford commencement speech) rings in my ears: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life".

I am not going to waste the time I have left.