pen rainbow

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monday—The Reading Corner: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

our garage computers
"The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." 
 ~Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford University Commencement

Describing the effect of this book is a little like trying to tell someone what it feels like to stand on earth that is younger than you are.  It sounds cool, but it does not compare to being there.  Fly to Kona on the Big Island, and drive the choppy and challenging Saddle Road over to Hilo.  Ascend Kilauea and navigate the road around the volcano's caldera.  When you see signs that say that the ground you are on was formed after you were born, you are there.  The journey is what makes it worth it.  

Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Hare Krishna, meditation, the Whole Earth Catalog, Atari, Xerox PARC, Basic, Pascal, microprocessors, Apple Lisa, Next, rainbow apple stickers, beige electronics, desktop computing, boardroom coups, secret negotiations, tradeshows, investors—breathtaking --- technological --- progress.  These are snapshots from my early adult life.  

I was 21 when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to finish college.  This was six years before the Mac was introduced and a couple of decades before anyone could imagine that desktop computers would be as plentiful as macramĂ©d plant hangers.  I was on the sidelines of what was happening in SiliconValley, quietly graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree that none of my friends or family really understood (Linguistics).  One of my last classes was a grad class in natural-sounding, computer-generated language. I had taken classes in syntax, phonetics, phonology, and Pascal, and my fiancĂ© was completing his Master's in Computer Science.   

I got married and went to secretarial school for a year so that I could get a job in an office.  In 1984, the Mac was out, and we were both employed.  Giant shoulder pads and all, we were 20-Something yuppies riding the wave of technology that spread from Silicon Valley to the 6' x 6' workstation cubicles and beginner homes of the Bay Area.  

As the technology developed at breakneck speed, engineering and marketing also evolved.  Everything was changing before our eyes and what was good about technology, design, and industry presentation became :::dazzling::: thanks to Steve Jobs and those who worked with him.  
photo by mylrdude - wikimedia commons
I remember when Steve Jobs was booted from Apple in 1985.  On the one hand, it was really kind of unbelievable that Apple had fired its founder.  But, on the other hand, it was a sign of how things had changed.  The shine was off of start-ups, and ruthlessness had overtaken the giddy partnerships and hyperdriven creativity of the industry. It was no longer fun, no matter how much money there was to throw around.  The untethered enthusiasm and youthful collaboration that had driven a decade of change had turned to cynicism and now tainted every conversation between former work associates and friends.  It was as if someone's grumpy old uncle had been sent in to babysit.    

Reading this book brings it all back with surprising clarity.  More than once, we were faced with the personal decision to put career ahead of family, and we always chose family—our family.  One thing I learned for sure is that you can't have it all, and while Steve Jobs was becoming a billionaire, we were changing diapers.  No regrets.  We knew what we were looking at when we peered over the edge of the cliff and pondered whether or not to jump into the abyss.  We did a few times, with some success and some failure.  We always knew our limits and that monstrous success did not happen without a seemingly unlimited amount of sacrifice.

It's a fascinating book, especially for anyone who was (and probably still is) in the business and around when it all happened.  I kind of miss the old garage workbench days...and it's never too late to push the envelope.  If today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today?  If the answer is, no, then change something. 

Think different.