Everyone at Apple has a “Steve Story”. These are usually harrowing tales of running into Steve Jobs on the Apple campus and having a conversation with him. The reason these are usually harrowing is not because people idolize “Uncle Steve” and get intimidated by his presence, but rather because Steve used to have a penchant for firing people seemingly at random (he still might, but there’s every indication to believe that things have settled down a bit). However, it’s rumoured that at one time someone followed him around to reassure people that they weren’t actually fired and to return to their offices and keep up their good work.
I worked at Apple as an intern during Summer of 2007, and I had a royal blast. One of my projects shipped with Java6 on OS X very recently, and I discovered last weekend that one of the students in a class I’m tutoring actually used it as part of his project when it runs on OS X.
The feature, for the curious, was the JSR223 AppleScript support through javax.script, the scripting language support library only in Java 6. I originally started off by playing with jasconn, but the implementation that I eventually wrote is completely different, without requiring any System.execs (it’s a JNI, so interfacing with OSA was done in C). Interestingly, the bug has more information than the release notes. Anyway, it’s super-cool and if you’re a Java developer working on OS X you should check it out. Extra thanks to my mentor and my surrogate mentor for their help, since when I left it wasn’t really ready to ship yet.
Getting back on track, this was around the time when Leopard was converging and the iPhone was getting launched. It was a very busy time.
The atrium of IL1 usually has banners hanging off the ceiling, one facing the front door, the other facing the interior of the atrium. When I started, the front banner was a simple black advertisement for Leopard, and the rear was a colourful, 60’s style tie-dye iPod poster. At 6pm when the iPhone launched, the Leopard banner was taken down and a new iPhone one put up, also in a minimalist black style.
And I wondered: Leopard is going to ship before the next round of iPods, so why did the iPod banner stay up (instead of being replaced by the Leopard banner)?
So a week later, I had my chance to find out: I ran into Steve Jobs while standing in line for food in Caffé Macs with my surrogate mentor:
me: “May I ask you a question?”
Steve: “I’m at lunch”
me: “We’re both in line”
Steve: “… Okay”
me: “Why is the Leopard banner not up in the atrium of IL1 anymore? iPods are further off from being shipped than the OS.”
Steve: “(pause) Because the iPod one is prettier”
I paused for a moment, my brain parsing what I’d just heard, when I realized that Steve is not an engineer. He’s possibly the furthest thing from an engineer, which is exactly what Apple requires and needs from his position. The leader of the company isn’t necessarily a problem solver, but a problem finder. Their job: find problems the company can solve, and then sell the solution. When he talked to the entire company around the time the iPhone launched, he said that the motivation behind making the iPhone was because “everyone we talked to hated their phones.” It’s true, it seems so obvious when you think about it. No phone was really simple, easy to use, and powerful. Some came close, but every one had issues. But everyone hating their phones isn’t a good argument for Apple building a solution. Apple was the right company to create the solution when he showed us how the phone has very few unknowns in terms of Apple’s product experience because of our work with Macs and iPods already. And when you think of the technology in the iPhone, he was right. There’s an incredible amount of overlap.
All that thinking took about a second, at which point I thanked him, collected my food, and walked back to my team, who were all very surprised that I still had a job.
I think Steve’s a fine guy. Nothing to be afraid of, just a bit misunderstood. Apple’s going to be in serious trouble when he’s gone, but I plan on enjoying the time that he’s with us, because it’s going to be awesome.