The closest I think I ever got to meeting Steve was in 1999, at the Macworld expo in San Francisco. I spent a lot of time on the showroom floor that year, and it is very likely, statistically speaking, that Steve and I were in the building at the same time at some point during the week.
So yeah, not very close.
It was a good trip all the same. I was there with my stepdad on a kind of geek vacation—we got a cool hotel room near Moscone, and I got to wander around on my own for a few days, looking at all the neat stuff people were making for the beleaguered world of Apple computers. The morning following Steve’s keynote address, I remember sitting in the hotel restaurant and reading the Chronicle, which had run an article on the just-announced candy-colored iMacs—or as they put it, Mac’s Life-Savers. I had a notion that it was a Good Thing, and that I definitely wanted to collect them all.
Among the enormous amount of loot I gathered that week was a glossy poster advertising the new iMacs. It went up on my wall the minute I got home.
I find the memory of 14-year-old me plastering my walls with advertising kind of cringe-inducing—but to be fair, the same can be said for basically every other memory I have of my adolescence. More to the point, Apple kit in the nineties just wasn’t that good, so I have been wondering where all the emotional attachment and identity issues came from. It could simply be that I needed a team to root for, given how completely I ignored sports. But even back then I think I had the sense that there are basically two approaches to technology: you can make a thing and try to sell it, or you can see a problem and try to solve it. Doing the former is respectable; doing the latter, and doing it well, is admirable.
I’m about to start an engineering career at post-Jobs Apple. When I interviewed with the company, Steve had already formally resigned as CEO; when I start, they will have already held his memorial service. He is gone, and I am sadder about it than I expected to be, but I am also excited. A few weeks ago, Guy English wrote a piece called Not About Steve, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind since. Here’s what gets me:
One of the first things I remember reading in the news when Jobs first returned to Apple was that he had the Icon Garden mothballed. At the time, around 1997, Apple had pixelated sculptures of Mac OS icons on the campus grounds. Once Steve returned they had to go — appreciating history is one thing, enshrining it is something else.
To me, dismantling the icon garden speaks of a remarkable combination of pragmatism and imagination. For fourteen years, Apple’s ethos has been a statement and a question: what we have done is good; how can we do it better? That’s not just good business, that’s people aspiring to greatness.
So with that in mind: thanks, Steve, for making what I have done possible. I can’t wait to see what I’ll do next.