Jazz Blog - October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

steve jobs

In 1980, I used a personal computer for the very first time. The computer was an Apple II Plus and it was one of two computers at my elementary school. At the time, nobody aside from hobbyists and engineers knew anything about computers. So even though I was only in second grade, I was experiencing personal computing for the first time along with everyone else.

I'll never forget that feeling I had when I ran my first program. After typing a few lines of BASIC code, the computer screen flickered and lit up with text racing infinitely before my eyes. The program was just a simple GOTO loop that I had copied from a book, but it still felt incredible to know that I had made the computer do something. It was even more exciting when I realized that I could change the text, and the number of loops. So not only could I make the computer do stuff, but I could make it do anything I wanted! Before long, I was totally hooked and the teacher would have to beg me to get off the computer.

For the remainder of my elementary school years, I spent as much time on the Apple II Plus as I could. By the end of my fifth grade year, I had written the better part of a Zork-like text-based adventure game, complete with animated cut-screen graphics. At the time I thought it was an impressive accomplishment, but in reality it was terrible. I mean, you can't really have any fun when typing E(ast) instead of W(est) results in "You were killed by a wolf." Little did I know it, but those early years on that Apple II Plus ended up paving the way for my eventual career as a software engineer, which I've been doing full-time since 1995.

While Steve Jobs and the Apple II are responsible for getting me interested in computers as a kid, their influence was initially isolated to just those first few years. Steve Jobs had left Apple in 1985, and when he returned in 1996, Apple was a floundering underdog in the computer industry. I didn't even know a single person who owned an Apple computer back then. So when Apple began the "Think different" ad campaign a year later, with photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Jim Henson, I remember thinking it was pretty arrogant. "How could Apple (and Steve Jobs) possibly compare to the greatness of these icons? Apple will never be relevant again..." Boy was I wrong. In the next fourteen years, Steve Jobs led the rise of Pixar, and along with his stellar team at Apple, he brought us the iPod, iTunes, MacBook, iPad and iPhone, forever changing the way we experience movies, music, computers, and phones. Apple became the wealthiest public company in the world, and almost everyone I know (including myself) owns a Mac or some other Apple device.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been a full-time software engineer since 1995. To many people, computer programming is a geeky activity performed by introverted guys, in dimly-lit rooms (yes, it's just like jazz). While there definitely are some geeky people who program, I don't see programming as a geeky endeavor at all. Instead, I view programming as an art form. It's a magical way to create something out of nothing. I can start with a rough idea in my head and before long I've got something interactive that actually works. And as Steve Jobs and the past decade of Apple products have shown us, the final product has the potential to enrich and forever change our lives.

No, I'm not a brilliant programmer, nor are my applications life-changing. But, like so many other computer programmers and user interface designers, I constantly strive for the elegance and refinement that Steve Jobs cultivated in Apple products. For example, when I worked on my iPhone ear training app, I kept thinking about Steve Jobs and all of the changes he'd want to make. I knew I didn't have the time or skills to make it as good as he would have wanted, but I had to try -- I hope he never actually used it! And I know many of my peers feel the same way about Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs raised the bar for all of us, making us want to design the best software possible.

It saddens me to think of a world without Steve Jobs, but I know he'll be a constant source of inspiration in my life. Anytime I think it's too late to do something great, or that I have to accept the status quo, I'll think of Steve Jobs. And I'll think different.

Thank you Steve, for everything. Sorry I ever doubted you.

Comment by Sam

Well, for what it's worth, considering I have never owned any Apple device/app and have been using your trainer quite a lot in the past few years, your work certainly has been more life-changing for me than his ;) Thanks !

Comment by Eric

Very well said. Our backgrounds are similar except I started on a Commodore 64.

Comment by Felix

I am a little older than you cats. I was 30 years old in 1980. In 1985 I was teaching 6th grade. I had just gotten my honorable discharge from the Army Band in New York City in 1983, taken a band on the road, gotten hired in a school system as a grade school teacher, working part-time as keyboard/music teacher at a local music store which was selling Dr T and Passport Designs Music Software. My buddy was teaching public school music and had some money to spend. I sold him a Korg 800 keyboard which was 4 voice polyphonic and Passport Designs music dictation software for the Apple II E. This was the state of the art stuff at that time. The keyboard and software cost around $1,500. The school system furnished the Apple Computer. Ritchard was a public school music teacher who had grade school music K-6 at the only gifted and talented elementary school in town. I always had trouble transcribing. This new toy would write out whatever pitches you played on the keyboard up to 4 voices at a time. If you accidentally hit a 5 th voice or more it would not write it on the computer print out. It was very impressive and when the State of Indiana inspectors came to evaluate the music program they were pleased. The Apple was the most advanced computer for music at that time that our store was selling. I owned a Commodore 64 which had a library of sounds and an 8 track recording studio for midi but that was as far as it went. They did not have the capacity for notation software. I liked my Commodore and could write programs on it. "Run" Magazine (*) had pages of code to copy and run. It was fun and easy to copy and write your own programs. After that things got complicated. I was too busy teaching public school music the next year as I switched from being a classroom teacher to a music teacher. Code got too hard for me continue. Commodore Basic was a lot of fun. I did twenty years and retired when jobs were easy to get and money was easily made. I wish things were as good now as they were then. The Apple IIE was slow, but it worked. You could play a few bars and it would stop and say "thinking" then after a few minutes it would print out whatever you played on the keyboard in standard western music notation. The Mac/Apple was always more music oriented than any of the other companies. Steve Jobs was my kind of guy.

What a nice tribute to Steve Jobs. You're an excellent writer. I'm really enjoying all your improv stuff you posted too. Really cool of you to share!

steve jobs did the best .. he created the most powerful technology we have been using now ... can make our lives easy ... in terms of communications

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