Steve Jobs interview: One-on-one in 1995

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In April 1995, Steve Jobs, then head of NeXT Computer, was interviewed by the Computerworld Information Technology Awards Foundation, producers of the Computerworld Honors Awards Program, as part of an Oral History project. The wide-ranging interview was conducted by Daniel Morrow, executive director of the awards program.

From his early years -- when he says except for a few key adults 'I would absolutely have ended up in jail' -- to how he felt about Apple in the mid-'90s -- 'The Macintosh will die in another few years [under John Sculley]' -- to his predictions about how the Internet would change the world, this is a rare look at Jobs after his first string of innovations but before he returned to Apple.

Steve, I'd like to begin with some biographical information. Tell us about yourself. Steve Jobs (SJ): I was born in San Francisco, California, USA, planet Earth, February 24, 1955. I can go into a lot of details about my youth, but I don't know that anybody would really care about that too much.

Well they might in three hundred years because all this print is going to disintegrate. Tell me a little bit about your parents, your family; what are the earliest things you remember? In 1955, Eisenhower was still President. I don't remember him but I do remember growing up in the late 50's and early 60's. It was a very interesting time in the United States. America was sort of at its pinnacle of post World War II prosperity and everything had been fairly straight and narrow from haircuts to culture in every way, and it was just starting to broaden into the 60's where things were going to start expanding out in new directions. Everything was still very successful. Very young. America seemed young and naive in many ways to me, from my memories at that time.

So you would have been about five or six years old when John Kennedy was assassinated? I remember John Kennedy being assassinated. I remember the exact moment that I heard he had been shot.

Where were you at the time? I was walking across the grass at my schoolyard going home at about three in the afternoon when somebody yelled that the President had been shot and killed. I must have been about seven or eight years old, I guess, and I knew exactly what it meant. I also remember very much the Cuban Missile Crisis. I probably didn't sleep for three or four nights because I was afraid that if I went to sleep I wouldn't wake up. I guess I was seven years old at the time and I understood exactly what was going on. I think everybody did. It was really a terror that I will never forget, and it probably never really left. I think that everyone felt it at that time.

Apple

I've got a couple of questions I'd like to ask you about specifically about your experience at Apple. Looking back at the years you were there, what were the accomplishments you are most proud of? Are there a couple of Apple stories you really like to tell? Apple was this incredible journey. I mean we did some amazing things there. The thing that bound us together at Apple was the ability to make things that were going to change the world. That was very important.

We were all pretty young. The average age in the company was mid to late twenties. Hardly anybody had families at the beginning and we all worked like maniacs, and the greatest joy was that we felt we were fashioning collective works of art much like twentieth century physics. Something important that would last, that people contributed to and then could give to more people; the amplification factor was very large.

In doing the Macintosh, for example, there was a core group of less than a hundred people, and yet Apple shipped over ten million of them. Of course everybody's copied it and it's hundreds of millions now. That's pretty large amplification, a million to one. It's not often in your life that you get that opportunity to amplify your values a hundred to one, let alone a million to one. That's really what we were doing.

If you look at what we tried to do, it was to say "Computation and how it relates to people is really in its infancy here. We are in the right place at the right time to change the course of that vector a little bit." What's interesting is that if you change the course of a vector near its origin, by time it gets a few miles out its course is radically different. We were very cognizant of this fact. From almost the beginning at Apple we were, for some incredibly lucky reason, fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time. The contributions we tried to make embodied values not only of technical excellence and innovation -- which I think we did our share of -- but innovation of a more humanistic kind.

The things I'm most proud about at Apple is where the technical and the humanistic came together, as it did in publishing for example. The Macintosh basically revolutionized publishing and printing. The typographic artistry coupled with the technical understanding and excellence to implement that electronically -- those two things came together and empowered people to use the computer without having to understand arcane computer commands. It was the combination of those two things that I'm the most proud of. It happened on the Apple II and it happened on the Lisa, although there were other problems with the Lisa that caused it to be a market failure; and then it happened again big time on the Macintosh.

You used an interesting word in describing what you were doing. You were talking about art not engineering, not science. Tell me about that. I think there's actually very little distinction between an artist and a scientist or engineer of the highest calibre. I've never had a distinction in my mind between those two types of people. They've just been to me people who pursue different paths but basically kind of headed to the same goal which is to express something of what they perceive to be the truth around them so that others can benefit by it.

And the artistry is in the elegance of the solution, like chess playing or mathematics? No. I think the artistry is in having an insight into what one sees around them. Generally putting things together in a way no one else has before and finding a way to express that to other people who don't have that insight so they can get some of the advantage of that insight that makes them feel a certain way or allows them to do a certain thing. I think that a lot of the folks on the Macintosh team were capable of doing that and did exactly that.

If you study these people a little bit more what you'll find is that in this particular time, in the 70's and the 80's the best people in computers would have normally been poets and writers and musicians. Almost all of them were musicians. A lot of them were poets on the side. They went into computers because it was so compelling. It was fresh and new. It was a new medium of expression for their creative talents. The feelings and the passion that people put into it were completely indistinguishable from a poet or a painter. Many of the people were introspective, inward people who expressed how they felt about other people or the rest of humanity in general into their work, work that other people would use. People put a lot of love into these products, and a lot of expression of their appreciation came to these things. It's hard to explain.

It's passion in the truest sense of the word. The computer industry is at a very critical juncture where those people are clearly leaving the field.

What are they doing? Hard to say. They're not being attracted by something else. They're being driven out of the computer business. They're being driven out because the computer business is becoming a monopoly with Microsoft. Without getting into whether Microsoft gained its position legally or not -- who cares? The end product of the position is that the ability to innovate in the industry is being sucked dry. I think the smartest people have already seen the writing on the wall. I think some of the smartest young people are questioning whether they'll really get in it.

Hopefully things will change. It's kind of a dark period right now or about to enter. Next: Apple's growth

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