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What was it like to be a software engineer at NeXT? (quora.com)
308 points by Nuance 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 246 comments

Welcome to the creative industry, it's not unusual for businesses with a design culture to operate like this. It would be pretty similar working for any big name architect anywhere. Likewise in graphic design, product design etc... If you come from a design background you will be used to having your work taken apart at a presentation because it will have been happening since the first day of architecture/art/design school. It's a key skill to learn to be able to let go of the work you have done, stand back and analyse it dispassionately then go back and re-do things. After all, the criticism is meant to make the work better and better work gives you more of a sense of achievement. Yes, it was done in a way which was a little bit cheeky, but it doesn't sound mean to me.

It can be drastically worse than this. When I was at architecture school in the 90's some tutors would actually compete to see if they could make students cry in presentations. Things like physically tearing up hand drawn plans in front of all the other students. I remember tutors going round the final year presentation at midnight and deciding the general standard wasn't good enough, phoning the people they thought needed to do more work, telling them they would fail and that they needed to get out of bed and work for another 24 hours. These were people that had been already been working super long hours for weeks to get their stuff done. Madness. It wasn't just my school that was like this either, it was much worse back then but there are still pockets of this culture in my industry. It is no wonder that back then architecture students in the UK had the highest rate of suicide.

I worked in design for a little over 10 years. Having an art director "tear apart" your work is generally the best scenario. They can usually back up the critique with helpful insights. Regardless of tone.

The most dreaded situations, for me, were clients who would tear something apart, but offered no helpful reason why. "Jazz it up" was something repeated an alarming number of times in meetings. I can also remember someone saying that they wanted us to use more colors since they were paying for a full color ad. Because, you know, that's what cost all the money. The colors.

I've been a client for a variety of artistic professionals.

I'm not artistic, don't have that kind of creativity, and can't use words that would be helpful to you.

I can only tell you whether or not I like it and give a fumbling attempt to explain why.

This is why I (or my company) hired you: to do something that we can't.

It is incredibly hard to do the translation between designer language and client language. I've worked with some graphic designers who are absolutely amazing at taking my malformed mumblings and using them as effective critiques and requests. But not many people can do that and it leads to frustration on both sides.

This is why those who can do the translation can make incredible money and run their own firms. Just like how people in other industries (accounting, law, coding...) who can translate across domains make more money and run firms.

If you're not artistic, and you don't have that type of creativity, what makes you believe you're the best judge of what is good or not? Yes, you may have the money to pay them, but if you're hiring them why don't you just trust their judgement instead of your admittedly poor sense of creativity?

I'm asking this out of curiosity, not attacking you, since you said yourself you're not creative and rely on these people for their creative talents.

You can know whether the aesthetics of something does or does not work without being able to determine why.

For instance, I can't cook much more than eggs and bacon, but I can sure tell whether a dish at a restaurant is any good. And I can even narrow down a dish's quality into various broad classes: disgusting, bland, okay, good, really good, and great. Most other aesthetic creations are similar.

> You can know whether the aesthetics of something does or does not work without being able to determine why.

You can no whether or not they work for you without knowing why. But the nature of subjectivity is you can't know whether they work in a more general sense without analyzing the elements of the thing in question against an accurate-enough picture of the distribution of tastes in the population.

You may know if you like a particular dish, but would you think your sense of taste is good enough to pick enough dishes to make a successful restaurant? Probably not, especially if you don't know how to cool.

Just because you like or dislike a particular creative piece doesn't mean that you have what it takes to dictate a piece of creative work that will be exposed to millions of people.

No, but you could probably pick a restaurant to cater your wedding, which is more like what OP was describing.

But that feedback isn't too helpful without specifics like "too salty", or "too runny".

I have goals to achieve, information to convey, possibly emotions to instill. For product or marketing I as a client would know the target market and positioning. Does the design reflect that? Does it have references that are too close to images/products of a competitor (or failed old products of ours)? I can assess whether the delivered work hits the goals that I have - I may only realise after seeing one iteration that an expressed desire actually detracts from a goal either due to ineffective communication or my not understanding how things would come together.

Is the image very busy? I may know that I'm going to want to use it along with other assets or in presentations - how is it going to affect that? How do the colors and shapes used compare to other assets it will be used beside, how will it work in different mediums? Bright yellow isn't great for projectors or for legibility.

One example - a global accounting firm introduced a new framework. They had a diagram that had core elements, supporting concepts, and overarching concerns. It would work fine at full size on a laptop but was very poor for display on a low res projector to an audience of 100. This design was core to the effort and would be used in very many situations with projectors to large audiences.

I may say that I want to look like James Bond skiing - you design me a yellow ski suit very similar to the intro of The Spy Who Loved Me. I'm horrified because I want a look similar to the all black look of Daniel Craig in Spectre. My inability to communicate about design created a problem but I can judge on whether or not you've achieved my goal.

Translation across domains is VERY HARD.

I am not sure that creativity and criticism are not somewhat orthogonal.

Ah, yes, “Jazz it up,” cousin of “Make it pop.”


One of my managers in a former data science job reviewed a 15 slide deck and gave me feedback. On 4 slides he said "ok"; on the other 11, he said "so what?"

Everyone thinks they're a designer because they can see things with their eyes. In reality they have no clue wha is going on. As a developer who is acutely aware of my shortcomings in design it hurts to sit in client meetings with designers. The whole process is totally back to front on about 95% of the projects I have worked on.

> Having an art director "tear apart" your work is generally the best scenario. They can usually back up the critique with helpful insights. Regardless of tone.

Definitely, and in my professional career I have never had my work thrown out in a way which made me feel bad. I have been ignored a few times only to be proved right a few weeks later though!

Yes, harsh but valid criticism is one thing, if the director/instructor is legitimately an expert and is truly trying to make you better.

If he is only feeding his own ego by being an asshole, it's better to get away.

It can be hard to tell the difference, especially if you are young.

If you can't jazz it up, at least make the logo bigger...


Or you know, more pizazz!

The post is talking about a situation where engineers get the first feedback on their work 3 months after they started, and it turns out the work is "all wrong". And then the work is discarded and replaced with a fake demo. This is entirely different than what you describe, which is a culture of tough but objective criticism.

Thank you for pointing this out. Not getting any feedback for 3 months and then getting ripped apart in front of external stakeholders sounds like a horrible place to work.

Been there, done that. My "panel member" for our telemetry and power design review was another electrical engineer who was senior to me. He was supposed to give me feedback leading up to the review, but he didn't. So when the design review happened, he shredded me in front of our customers so badly that the customers actually complained about him to my senior managers.

It was indeed a horrible place to work.

> It's a key skill to learn to be able to let go of the work you have done, stand back and analyse it dispassionately then go back and re-do things.

I wish this principle was adhered to across all industries where we (as individuals) get our 'work' reviewed. If you can't do your best and then be able to let go of it, it causes some serious pent-up anger and demotivation. I find myself slipping into 'brutalist feedback' mode (that I'm used to from creative work), before worrying about offending the recipient.

I'm not sure if this is coincidental, but anecdotally I found that my biggest shift in being able to let my creative work 'go' was after reading The Power of Now[0] and The Chimp Paradox[1], and practicing mindfulness. Fundamentally, I think it's an ego issue as to why it's so hard to take criticism. I'm certainly not saying ego-death is a prerequisite, but instead to learn how to short-circuit your anger away from feedback as a result of taking it too personally.

It is after all, not the work itself, but how it is received that you should be striving towards!

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_of_Now [1] - https://chimpmanagement.com/the-chimp-paradox/

I know what you mean.

To instill creativity in my direct reports, I have to smack them in the face when they fail to demonstrate sufficient creativity.

I know it sounds harsh, but they're developing great callouses on their face which they would not have obtained had it not been for my unorthodox training.

A lot of people might think I should apologize, but ask them in my presence if they would rather work elsewhere!


this is damaged behavior -- you are seriously projecting "that is the way it is" and then casually drop a line about high rates of suicide? wtf

I think the suicide line was specifically to highlight that despite that being "the way it is", it has very real unacceptable consequences.

100% this. I've been through a BFA conservatory program. Having your work torn apart, respectfully, in public happens every single day. When I moved to the corporate world I was shocked that no one knew how to give or receive feedback. I've seen and given a few talks on how this activity can by applied in a corporate setting.

This is so, so true! I went to Parsons School of Design in the late 70s and the final presentations were ungodly brutal. It was very normal for people to leave in tears. The good part about this (the bad part is obvious lol) is that many people who shouldn’t have been there and would not have made it in the commercial art business would go and do something else after these reviews. It was probably for the best.

During my short career as an in-house illustrator, it was perfectly acceptable for the art director to kick your ass and generally abuse you. You learned to develop a thick skin really quickly!

I’ll never forget my college drawing professor. It was a hard class to get into, and I was young and trying to keep up. He came over to my easel, stroked his chin, and said, “yea, looks good.”

Pauses, steps back and says, “I think it can use one little change, may I?”

He then takes a white paint brush and proceeds to erase my entire drawing with it.

“Ah, much better”, he says.

He was a total asshole but had a cult like following. Those of us remaining by the end of the semester loved him. To this day I credit that class with dramatically improving my drawing skills, but it definitely wasn’t for everyone.

That sounds like Stockholm syndrome. Telling you your work was bad or even garbage is one thing. Doing a bait and switch in conversation and then destroying someone else's work/property is just abusive

I don't recall the studies offhand, but I remember reading that this kind of macho attitude generally has worse results than actually constructive criticism. That wouldn't surprise me. Not many people respond well to this, and it can easily turn into abuse.

I wonder what he would have said if you responded : "interesting, I think that's your best work" <with sly grin>

...harsh criticism can be hard to take, I often try (and fail) to inject some humor into the situation to take the edge off.

Fostering excellence means weeding out the crap as that just brings everyone down and makes everyone else suck.

Even letting minor defects pass implicitly creates a culture where hey minor defects are okay.

I would love that guy. Yeah, he seems brutal from your words here.

But, that can often be what it takes.

I have had similar experiences. Once a person breaks through, the relationship changes.

Reminds me of the movie Whiplash (“Were you rushing or were you dragging?”).

Without the cymbal throwing, of course.

> having your work taken apart at a presentation

What, I'm currently through this process with my Masters' dissertation. It's not exactly disheartening, but it's uncomfortable.

Bonus, the math-heavy (I'm in computational physics) 70-page documentclass-article thing has a couple of asides that are so, so wrong (1.5 years ago I didn't really understand a lot of things) and it's embarassing to have them pointed out.

But eh, I'm glad I'm going through this process. ---

I'm an amateur student of philosophy and often want to blog about certain ideas I think I'm beginning to have. But I'm not sure enough to put my name on them! I wish I could hire a professional philosopher (many of which will be underemployed anyway) to look over my stuff and tell me when they're embarassingly wrong rather than just out of the box.

You are wise not to. Even with the help its a long way from years of grad school:


I know "amateur philosopher" is a trope, but I've read a lot and have tens of notebooks filled with gradually-with-time less-and-less cringeworthy stuff. I can also often point out to flaws of scholarship in scholarly material -- stuff jerry-rigged into an argument in open contradiction to what the original material says in context.

It's like the academic version of being scolded about running into the street. You surely will not make those mistakes again. I remember my dissertation the same way. They weren't abusive, but they were not going to sugar coat when I was simply wrong. Felt pretty intense to be grilled like that but boy did it teach me a lot.

In engineering, we typically have (mostly) logical discussions on the merits of designs. There are sometimes strong opinions, but they are typically backed by non-subjective data. Subjectivity is frowned upon.

When I started getting into the arts, I was introduced to the culture of "workshopping" pieces, i.e. have my work criticized. It was disorienting at first, but the honest feedback was very useful plus it helped me develop a thick skin. It helped me get better fast.

State of design in tech today:https://youtu.be/F6Srzcm8EEg

People in the comments here focus on the bad bits (working at night), but then there's this:

- an enthusiastic CEO working with the team on Sunday morning

- standing ovations from the customer on Monday

Sure, if you have a family you probably can't do that often, but I'd love a job with an occasional experience like this.

I once met a developer who bragged about how he'd take his laptop into the bathroom and work on issues with his software, because his wife would give him flak for working too much. Basically he could hide in the bathroom for an hour and she'd give him a pass.

He recounted to me how he'd done this on Thanksgiving and I was just scratching my head, wondering "why would you do that?" These are people you might only see twice a year, the code will still be there on November 26th.


- An opportunity to contribute to computing history.

- To work on something new and novel.

- Not having to worry about politics because there's only one diva allowed.

Not for everyone I'd agree, but there is certainly enough unhealthy appeal, kind of like hard liquor or bungee jumping ..

Is there any reason to think other people weren't intensely political? If everybody's running around trying to look good for the abusive diva, I'd expect there'd be a ton of politicking.

Fair point ... I kind of thought it was more like everybody is in the firing line. But yeah - I can see how this could just lead to people just trying to not be the one to mess up.

In my head I was thinking of that other narcissistic megalomaniac boss Jose Mourinho, and how his style of management drew the media away from the players and allowed them to "just play".

A benefit for the top players no doubt, but I've no evidence that this was how Jobs operated ...

What history? What's new and novel?

Xerox parc, SGI & Sun already did everything the hardware could.

Software-wise it gave us terrible things I rather not know about. Objective-C & Appstore.

>Xerox parc, SGI & Sun already did everything the hardware could.

The question of invention vs innovation pops up again on HN.

> what’s new and novel

Literally the genesis of OSX.

What's new and novel about OS X? It's another Unix OS and not even a great one at that.

As an OS for the masses it was groundbreaking.

The opportunity to contribute to computer history is hindsight here. Many other amazing opportunities the same way also had the same footing. Some probably looked more well positioned, all told.

Same for the other points, honestly.

You want to read some fun history, read up on what it was like to work with some of the earlier members of Lucasfilm games.

> history is hindsight here

Sounds like loser talk

They may have had a standing ovation without the all-nighter we'll never know as we live in the universe where the all-nighter happened

The last part sounds like a classic Henry Kissinger move[1] where he would tell people without even looking at their work "Is that the best you can do?" After which the person spent an entire night reworking the whole thing.. to which Kissinger said "ok I'll take a look now"

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/best-you-can-do-henry-kissing...

This could backfire, looking hard for improvements where there are none leads to change for change's sake where the change might be inferior.

We've all found later versions of stuff inferior to the original, sometimes wildly and publicly so, like the Gap logo redesign, the various experimental efforts of George Lucas to modify Star Wars, windows 8, the new macbook, later versions of winamp, or whatever your personal disappointment has been with a later version of something you loved.

Nowadays this has bred a generation that resubmit the same work again even if you tell them specifically what’s wrong.

It doesn't take much effort on your part to check that something hasn't been fixed. But it does take a lot of effort to re-do the work you spent much time on because some jerk pulls idiotic tricks.

Evolution succeeds once again.

It has? I have never experienced that and I would be very surprised if someone did that to me.

In a place like NeXT this may have been applicable:

(From 48 Laws of Power):

"In 1502, in Florence Italy there lay an enormous block of marble standing in the church of Santa Maria del Fiore. Everyone had agreed this piece of marble had been ruined and was impossible to sculpt. Friends of the great Michelangelo decided to write to the artist, then living in Rome. They were sure he could do something with the marble. Michelangelo traveled to Florence, examined the stone, and came to the conclusion that he could in fact carve a fine figure from it.

Piero Soderini, Florence’s Mayer, thought this was another waste of time to attempt to sculpt the impossible. Weeks later, as Michelangelo was putting the final touches on the statue Soderini entered the studio to examine it. Likening himself a connoisseur of fine art, he studied the huge work and told Michelangelo that while he thought the piece was magnificent, the nose was too big. Michelangelo realized that Soderini was standing in a place right under the sculpture and did not have the proper perspective. Of course he did not tell him this.

Without a word. He gestured Soderini up the scaffolding. Reaching for the nose he picked up a chisel, as well as a little bit of a marble dust that lay on the planks. Michelangelo started to tap lightly with the chisel letting the little bits of dust he had gathered in his hand fall little by little creating the illusion that he was changing the sculpture. He actually did nothing to change the nose, but gave every appearance of working on it. After a few minutes of this charade he stood aside: “Look at it now.” “I like it better,” replied Soderini, “you’ve made it come alive.

Michelangelo knew that by changing the sculpture and the shape of the nose, he might ruin it. Yet Soderini prided himself on his knowledge of his aesthetic judgement of art. So to offend such a man by arguing over such a thing as ‘perspective’ would be foolish and futile. In fact it would probably put future commissions in jeopardy. His solution was to change Soderini’s perspective (literally bringing him closer to the nose) without making him realize that this was the cause of his misconception. He found a way to keep perfection of the statue intact while at the same time making Soderini believe he had improved it. A genius move.”

Known to many programmers as the Battle Chess duck: https://rachelbythebay.com/w/2013/06/05/duck/

agree 100%!

A good boss will figure out how to motivate the troops. To me, it sounds like Steve Jobs found someone on the team who was motivated by 'saving the presentation.'

Kissinger architected genocide. Maybe his management technique isn’t what we should learn from him.

> Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents.


The author of this answer, I note is a neuroscientist. Wouldn't be surprised if he knew Bud Tribble prior to joining NeXT, who also was a neuroscientist (or studied it a great deal).

>> One thing that was unusual is that all the technical people there understood all aspects of the machine

Is this something 'Apple' specific culture wise, I remember SJ saying Apple was the biggest collection of startups on the planet.

I personally prefer small sized teams with lots of in depth knowledge per engineer on the team. IMHO, unless you have a deep understanding of the machine you are working on, you can't make a difference. Not to say that, without it, one will suck, I guess it is that X factor in the outcome I am alluding to.

OTOH, there are other places which won't stick to small team sizes, more stakeholders, yet succeed. So there is that.

I personally prefer small sized teams with lots of in depth knowledge per engineer on the team.

Does anyone prefer huge teams in which each person has only a shallow understanding?

If the personalities on the "know everything" teams are not constructive or compatible, then yes--I prefer large, shallow-knowledge-base, specialized teams.

That's not just a personal preference: if you have people that are poor team players who have near-total-overlap with everyone else's skill areas, the quality of the output suffers. It suffers in the long term because everyone wants to leave their mark and has an architectural idea in mind (compared to the a functional high-expertise team's behavior of collaborating at the architectural level and agreeing on a compromise for design direction). It suffers in the short term because burnout, intimidation, and political wheel-spinning become common (compared to a functional high-expertise team's behavior of bringing even comparatively unskilled people up to the team's expertise level surprisingly quickly through a combination of humility, mentorship, and infectious enthusiasm and camaraderie).

Those aren't the only two options. The better one IMO is large teams with small sub-groups, each with at least one person who knows the whole stack top to bottom, with frequent communication between the subgroups. That's pretty typical in the corporate world where each manager has multiple teams under them, one architect, and a liaison to an advisory board to communicate to other teams.

The reason I prefer this approach is something Apple seems to be struggling with: lots of small teams breed lots of small solutions that don't add up to one big solution.

Case in point: I have a latest-gen iPhone and iPad. The iPhone has a touch-sensitive home button, while the iPad has a real actual click-button. The iPhone has no headphone jack, the iPad does. The iPhone is waterproof, the iPad is not. The iPhone has stereo speakers in landscape, the iPad does not. The iPhone has force touch, the iPad does not. The cheapest iPad has support for the Pencil, the most expensive iPhone does not. Moving on to the Macbook, the iPhones and iPads use Lightning to charge, while the Macbooks use USB-C and have never in their history ever even included a Lightning port. The Pencil exclusively uses Lightning to charge and has no other way of connecting, and even helpfully includes a Lighting-to-Lightning adapter in the box, still rendering it completely incapable of charging from a Macbook without yet another adapter to convert Lightning (male) to Lightning (female) to USB-C (male).

There's no real reason for these differences except to say the teams don't work together to synchronize their engineering efforts. Individually each one is a great engineering achievement. Combined, it's a mess of small solutions that don't add up to one big solution.

Alternative explanation to incompetence: iPhone, iPad, and MacBooks are different form factors for different use cases.

iPhone is used in more active situations. Not running in rain with iPad strapped to arm. On iPhone stereo speakers in landscape, not sure what that one means; for me it’s the iPad with speakers on both sides while in landscape. Force touch requires force, easy with a phone in your hand, less easy if iPad propped on origami Smart Keyboard. (Could be reason for button diffs too, light touch with haptics vs. real touch, or just a very common use of home button on iPad is while landscape so you squeeze a “real” button between your thumb and forefinger.) The phone is not slate sized, why should it try to be a slate? Don’t know why you’d be charging a pencil from a MacBook some way you couldn’t charge an iPad with.

To me, seem to be plausible reasons for every one of these differences beyond just “teams don’t work together”. Certainly both are possible, just saying the device modalities are different. ATV, HomePod and Watch UIs are different too.

People read on iPads by the pool or lake or on a boat all the time. There's a good reason to make it waterproof.

Re: the stereo speakers. The iPhone uses the earpiece as one speaker and the bottom speakers as another, so when it's on its side and you're watching Netflix, sound comes out of the top and bottom. The iPad (except for the iPad Pro) only has speakers on the bottom, so when you're using the Smart Cover and watching Netflix, all the sound comes out the bottom. On a device far larger than the iPhone, this really makes a difference.

I don't think a device needs to be a slate in order to be worth writing on. Scribbling notes is easier on an iPhone since you can hold it in your hand, and since you have unlimited pages the increased size of the iPad doesn't matter.

Few would say they prefer that, but quite a lot of people are in situations like that, so they apparently do prefer it.

I suspect that everyone prefers it but just don't have the option. I'd like to hire only people with a deep knowledge of the projects they'll be working on. Turns out that's impossible.

When you take into account the larger talent pool for building a team like that, I'd say probably quite a few.

Especially once you add in the incentive for individual managers to grow their own teams.

It's very much a thing in the traditional corporate world.

In a similar vein there's Carmack interactions with Jobs online now. Worth a read.

What was the demo application's purpose? I'm having trouble grokking that from the post.

Sounds like it might have been a demo of DBKit or EOF (NeXT's ORMs).

I remember watching Steve demo EOF at a tradeshow in Chicago, probably around 1995. His demo system crashed hard in the middle of the presentation, and we got to watch it reboot NEXTSTEP on the big screen. He handled it well, with an "oops" and a laugh, but I bet some people got their asses handed to them afterwards.

Last year I watched a demo in San Jose where the company started re-writing the code, in front of the audience, during the demo.

I felt terrible for them; it would've looked a lot better if they just fell back on something else. It was boring watching them write code, people were getting up and leaving, it made it look like they were wildly unprepared. I wouldn't be surprised if the entire company went kaput after that.

I'm surprised a demo visibly failed. Steve almost always had a hidden backup computer and an engineer following along with the preplanned demo in lockstep. If the machine crashed, a switch could be through and the demo could continue on the new machine.

It was DBKit, the precursor to EOF. DBKit started life as a sales demo to show that the NeXT was useful enough to connect to a real corporate database. The demo was so popular that the field asked it to be integrated into Application Builder, except that there wasn't an actual framework or design behind it. So we needed to come up with something.

DBKit was later rewritten with a real architecture which became Enterprise Objects Framework (EOF).

Probably EOF/EOModeller. He was later the CEO of a startup I worked at, the founders were both EOFy people.

I don't know what to think. Here we have a report of an engineer that was told a so harsh thing (you ruined XYZ just because a demo was not what the spectator was looking for), with the boss evaluating probably a very technical thing like an ORM, without having AFAIK the competences, and the report is that it was a great experience.

Hmm, well, if you read Jobs responses he was exaggerating, dramatic, and manipulative:

"he looked at the demo for 5 minutes and told me I had "ruined NeXTSTEP" (the software platform)" -> overly dramatic, exaggerating.

""Unless...", he paused with a twinkle in his eye, "there is a way of making it work like the old way,"" -> of course that way exists, but it requires working on saturday. He's not asking that directly though. Manipulative.

""This is 10 times, no 100 times, no 1000 times better!!!"" -> Overly dramatic, exaggerating.

It is telling that they had been preparing for this demo for 3 months and Jobs decided to come by two days before the demo, on a Saturday, only to trash the project and personally attack the developers.

It is quite the skill to be able to do that in a way that is motivational.

Imagine he decided to come by on Friday instead. Oh well, then we wouldn't have this story either.

EDIT: My bad I meant Thursday instead of Friday, so that it could've been fixed on a regular Friday.

Not sure I follow.

EDIT: So you think it speaks well of management to check up on a very important demo the last few days of a three months preparation? And make huge changes? That should have been known long in advance. Instead of a smoke-and-mirrors demo they could have produced the real thing had Jobs communicated what he wanted from the beginning or half-way through.

> So you think it speaks well of management to check up on a very important demo the last few days of a three months preparation?

Nope, I think that's terrible, but that's an easy judgement to make. Who knows what a stressful mess management was in.

My point is that its part of a facade (broadly called "reality distortion field"). I quoted 3 examples of clearly manipulative behaviour.

Jobs could've made it easier for the engineer by checking out on Thursday. Why didn't he? Perhaps he just had high expectations and was very much disappointed? Has he ever published memoires where he went into examples like these?

The demo for Steve was originally scheduled on a weekday the week previous, but kept getting rescheduled by Steve. Maybe it was a low priority for him and he thought he already knew what it was going to be. The preview only happened at all because we kept pushing for it, because we knew it had changed a lot and it would be very bad if he was seeing it for the first time live.

I know what to think, as I lived at the times before iPhone too. If nothing else, iPhone is an abolute proof of brilliancy of Jobs’ product decisions. So from the product/technical perspective, there was nothing comparable to be part of. But from a perspective of somebody not in his twenties anymore, I surely would’t continuously work under the described pressure. Everybody has to decide about his own limits and what is an acceptable amoumt of work.

The iPhone was just the first successful, always-on, capacitive touch device. The market was largely focussing on resistive touch devices which Jobs successfully identified was the wrong way (though the stylus did keep your screen clean!).

Exactly. Those little details, as insignificant as they seem, can magnify into an enormous difference in failure situations.

For instance, even after getting a hairline crack on my iPhone, I haven't bothered to replace the screen because I can use the device just fine, in most cases.

Contrast that with my 4yr-old Nexus 7[0] device which got a hairline crack about 1.5months ago, and the device is completely unusable, because of the design decision to use a resistive touch screen!

[0] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DVFLJKQ/

The Nexus 7 has a capacitive touchscreen, not resistive.


Prior to the crack, the tablet responded to touch gestures differently than my iPhone -- I have to re-apply pressure for gestures to register sometimes. Also, I am unable to register tap gestures on the device with sweaty palms unlike on the iPhone, so I just assumed Asus used a resistive touch screen.

Anyway, the digitizer/touch screen build quality is brittle as plently of people have reported similar usage difficulty from hairline breakages [0].

Thanks for the correction though.

[0] https://forums.androidcentral.com/google-nexus-7-2013-rootin...

Saturday morning meeting, then worked all night, on the whim of one person, to present on Monday. Just wow.

If this is what it takes to succeed in our industry, then I accept that I will not. I just simply do not have the stamina for it.

I am not trying to be flippant. I am genuinely amaze how driven some people are.

When I was working at Google (now retired living in Germany), I spent my first year there working insane hours and pushing myself beyond self-imposed limits. However, after dealing with burnout and having some close friends implode on the job, I soon realized that I was nothing more than a cog in a machine that would, if I let it, chew me up and spit me out.

I started gradually reducing the number of hours I worked for 'real' until, a few years later, I found myself working for two hours a day, choosing to spend the rest on things that contributed to my sanity and self-development (on company time). To fill the gap, I would work on my own software projects, socialize with co-workers, do research on things I found interesting and read books.

Needless to say, nobody noticed. I kept this up for a number of years and then I quit. Looking back on it now, those were some of the best, most carefree years of my life. There is nothing like getting paid a competitive six figure salary to mostly do the things you enjoy and not care one iota about corporate management structures.

I worked at TMobile and had a similar story: I worked insane hours on projects, found myself sleeping at my desk way too much.

The thing that was important in my situation was that my working hours were becoming increasingly erratic, and a lot of my coworkers had no idea what I was working on. For instance, there were days when I'd come in at noon, put in four hours at my desk, then drive to the data center and work until three in the morning.

So I was working about fourteen hours but it looked like I was working four.

If you're working for a small company, people will probably be aware that you're burning the midnight oil. But if you're working for a large company, there's a lot of good reasons to be present at your desk from nine to five.

Out of interest, why did no-one notice you were only working two hours a day? Presumably you did the work you were expected to do in that time, but did you not have a manager or co-worker noticing you sitting in the corner reading?

I was reading on the computer or, away from my desk. I don't want to spell out exactly what I did, in terms of management, but I'm certain I wasn't the only one doing it.

When you're a software engineer, you get a lot of leeway in terms of expected behavior. Especially in silicon valley companies the size of Google, it's easy enough to seem like you're working your ass off, while doing your own thing on the side. It's all about cultivating an image in the beginning and projecting it. People are mostly busy with their own anxieties and career concerns to scrutinize you.

How would you justify this to a line manager? Would they spend a large amount of time on personal projects as well? I don't see how this would work, given my own experience in the workplace.

From one extreme to another isn't quite a good solution IMO. I'd much rather quit and work on something I really care about than pretend I care about my job and put in the bare minimum of work possible. But Ive never been comfortable just punching a clock and taking a pay cheque, being a mindless cog at a big company. So to each his own...

I don't see his comment as doing the bare minimum. More like being in no man's land. If the extra effort and time cannot lead to greater rewards or will go largely unnoticed why do it? Otherwise you're risking resentment and burnout. Some people can increase their output linearly (or better) by putting in more time and some of those people are positioned to benefit from that increased output. The rest (and the company) would probably benefit from a different approach. I often wonder when management theory will start exploring this issue. As something of a workaholic I had to teach myself moderation.

Why not do both? I got to work on things I really cared about and got to keep a high salaried job and all the perks that come with it (I quit on my terms, not theirs, once I had enough to retire).

My employer may not have cared about the things I worked on but that's fair game. After all they hired me and they were happy to have me there for years. I don't see the 'extreme' in what I did, more like common sense or self-optimization.

i'm curious why did you quit?

I was 40 years old and had enough money to comfortably retire from the daily grind. This was something I always wanted to do.

Stock options are a wonderful thing.

> If this is what it takes to succeed in our industry, then I accept that I will not. I just simply do not have the stamina for it.

It's a matter of what success means to you. I don't value a fancy job title or a higher number on my bank account (above the 'basic' software engineer pay grade I am at already) enough to do this kind of mentally back-breaking BS work. I do the job I was hired for and get paid for. I do that job to the best of my ability 9-5 (well, 8-4) and then I leave.

For me, that constitutes having succeeded at the school, uni, job hunting and employment challenges. I expect most future successes in my live will come from my family/social live or will be personal triumphs like getting into shape and learning interesting new skills.

I don't even entertain that nonsense anymore. Being a contractor helps ("You want me to stay late? Great, where do I send the invoice?"). Oddly, I almost never get asked to work overtime anymore because when money is involved critical deadlines suddenly become more flexible.

It amazes me how many people in our industry will eagerly work seven days a week without pay for an employer that:

A) Won't do it themselves. B) Can easily afford to pay for it, but won't.

It won't help you get ahead, either. It shows gullibility, not dedication. That's not the kind of quality you want in a leader of anything. It's for this reason I would disagree with your premise that by not allowing yourself to be exploited you're forgoing future career success. You've learned the first lesson in success which is, crassly, don't be a punk.

>Being a contractor helps ("You want me to stay late? Great, where do I send the invoice?")

Oh man, I've recently gone back into contracting and absolutely love this aspect. Sure, contracting has its downsides, but if you don't want to deal with being bossed around contracting is brilliant.

A sharp friend of mine takes advantage of this. He looks for a full-time job, and then says, "Look, I'd rather work 4 days for 80% of the pay, so just make me an hourly employee at 32 hours a week." He's really good and will stay at the same place for many years, so somebody will say yes.

Then, no matter what crazy things are going on, he's insulated. As he says, "full time is full time, but 32 hours is 32 hours."

That is the most genius fucken' way to play it.

Hah, that is really clever of him. I should try that next time.

I do this. I work on whatever I feel like on the other day.

>It's for this reason I would disagree with your premise that by not allowing yourself to be exploited you're forgoing future career success.

I did this early in my career for a few years, and it was absolutely worth it for my career in the long run. It wasn’t a one sided deal either. My boss allowed me to have all sorts of responsibilities that at the time, I absolutely didn’t have the experience to back up. I got through it entirely based on perseverance and hard work, and when I left that company I landed a much nicer job that was years ahead of what I would have otherwise been able to get. Now I’ve learned and done enough that I largely get to set the terms for my own employment. I haven’t even had to properly apply to a job since then.

It worked for me at the time, because I was young and didn’t really have any responsibilities outside of work. Situations like this are only really a problem if you’re not getting something bigger out of it, or if you have too many personal responsibilities to manage it.

Same here. I simply cant do it, physically. I feel im much weaker than the average person. Im not depressed. Im 32 and need 9 hours of sleep or i wont feel productive. I can pull an allnighter but then i feel like shit the whole week. I get 2-day hangovers when im drinking. Did all the blood and liver tests, chest xrays everything seems fine.

You are not weak, you are normal. There are a lot of people, my brother included, that need their sleep and simply can't function without it.

You only think of yourself as weak, because you compare yourself to people working 12-15 hours every day for years, because they want to "make it" in the software world. In the end, most of them are going to be burned out and depressed, with no family or friends around, because they simply didn't have any time developing that part of their lives. Hopefully, some of them will continue on to do that then later in life.

I'm okay with 7 hours of sleep every day and can function well for 8 hours of work in the work week. But then I need time on the weekends with my friends and with myself to recover. When I'm doing a lot of overtime, the first thing I do on Friday evening is come home, get out of my shoes and fall onto my bed. It's completely normal to be tired after 8 hours of work and needing sleep. Our super-fast, ever changing society puts a lot of pressure on us, and at some point, people will not function under that pressure anymore. Which is why mental health issues are on a high rise.

> I get 2-day hangovers when im drinking.

You may just be getting older. These started for me at 40. And it's not just the physical symptoms: the multiple days of depression and low motivation after they've subsided are deeply unpleasant as well. Drinking to excess just isn't worth it any more, if it ever was.

I'm in my early twenties and I really don't see the appeal of drinking so much that one gets a hangover. Maybe it has different effects on me? Because I start getting sick in progress of drinking after around 5th or 6th beer (I'm Czech, this is considered low amount, my buddies can drink 10 with no problems).

For the record, you’re in good company: even John Carmack can’t function very well without 8 hours of sleep. https://twitter.com/id_aa_carmack/status/932600909632327680?...

What precisely made you do the bloodwork?

After 23-25 ive noticed my hangovers getting worse when drinking on the weekends or once every 2 weeks. I thought maybe its a liver problem. Blood tests are just a regular thing i do every year with my health insurance. I was never a heavy drinker, but like hanging out with colleagues and staying out longer once in a while.

I'm pretty much sure you are describing the vast majority of tech workers.

They (we) earn an above average salary, at maybe non Forture 500 companies, 40ish hours weeks, still enjoy what they do at work, but can find fulfillment in other domains outside of it.

In my limited experience, being a driven employee is quite literally that, in the sense that it’s someone else, the manager, who is doing the driving. Let me explain with an example.

At a previous job, I was at one time working on a large project under a enthusiastic, but hard driving project manager (he is a karate coach in his spare time). At the beginning of the project he pulled the entire team aside and held a pep talk, talking about how important this project was for the company, how hard he himself planned to work because of it, and finally how hard he expected us to work. He was upfront about the fact that there would be many days with very long hours, and he said the company was committed to doing what it would take to make it work for us: Paying taxis to get home from the client late at night, paying for meals and doing whatever to help those who had families with children (I don’t remember the specifics, as that didn’t apply to me at the time). Because of the personality of this project manager, it worked. He got us riled up, and for many weeks the whole team worked from early morning to late in the evening. At the end of the project, we received a small bonus and were commended in front of the rest of the company. During it all, the manager did what he had said he would: He worked as hard as any of us, staying each day until the last of us left, to the point where we worried about his ability to drive himself home safely.

In an environment such as this, I would expect many people who normally wouldn’t think they had it in them, would find that they also were able to perform to a level far higher than they were used to.

No, this isn’t what it takes to be successful in our industry. There are plenty of successful companies and opportunities where you don’t have to work crazy hours like that.

Steve Jobs was a singular character, who could pull off stunts like that and succeed. Achieving results consistently in that manner probably is more of an outlier rather than the norm. If you’re not Steve Jobs chances are this might work occasionally but in the long run you’ll ruin your company.

Being successful in most cases is a marathon, not a sprint.

Case in point: NeXT didn't succeed that much and was merged into Apple, Apple only really took off years after this particular episode with the release of the imac at first, then the iphone later on.

I'm sure some of the UX developed during the period described by the poster eventually made its way into the iphone, but it didn't need an overnight thing. I think. Unless the money they got from Oracle ended up saving the company and allowing them to invest in their platforms, IDK.

NeXT's "success" is definitely owed to the Apple acquisition, which almost didn't happen.

DBKit was basically discarded and redesigned as EOF, which did make it into the Mac. I'm not sure EOF made it into the iPhone, but the tech lead on EOF Richard Williamson, became tech lead for the first iPhone application stack.

It's not like the stories of Steve Jobs' escapades are rare. There are plenty of successful companies that don't have someone as insane as Jobs at the helm. But it's undeniable where Steve took his companies and the industry as a whole.

Where, exactly, did he take NeXT?

Also remember, Jobs was the driving force behind the AAGI wage-fixing cartel.

NeXT bought Apple for negative $400M

Arguably, NeXT was the mother of today’s Apple. The old Apple bought NeXT along with Jobs, and the new products were basically NeXT technology with an Apple logo.

This is why everything in the Mac and iOS SDK is prefixed with NS - think it stands for NeXT Step?

Yes, that's exactly what it stands for - see e.g. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/473758/what-does-the-ns-....

Could also be NeXT/SUN–but there's clearly a NeXT in there either way.

You are correct - the NS* stands for "Next/Sun" ...

Does anyone have a counterpoint to this? I've heard both, so I'm curious if any one is "more correct".

I've heard both too, but I've seen docs that refer to the "NextSTEP/Sun" namespace .. somewhere buried deep in the Apple docs .. but I can't find it now. Either way, both "NextSTEP" and "NextSTEP/SUN" have been used to answer this question in the past, so I'd say both are correct .. especially since Sun left the project early.

NeXT is definitely the mother of today's Apple. OSX is the NeXT operating system and application stack repackaged with the Mac look-and-feel. More importantly, Steve put the entire NeXT management team in all the VP roles at Apple, where they were in charge of reworking the entire Apple software stack. iOS is a stripped-down version of OSX.

It’s running the Mac and iPhone.

>> Where, exactly, did he take NeXT?

To your iPhone.

But re-read this part:

> Working at NeXT was the most exciting software engineering job I ever accepted. NeXT was like graduate school, bringing together a high concentration of some of the brightest and most innovative technical minds...

He loved it. Stressful as it surely was, he looks back on that weekend as a great memory.

I think probably everyone here on HN enjoys hard work, the good burn at the end of a productive and worthwhile day. It's the useless slog for unclear pointless goals that brings us down.

I personally love the times I'm so into what I'm doing at work, that I get up on Saturday morning and start coding away.

Working Saturdays and maybe Sundays works once or twice a year.

Then you get to the next week completely unmotivated having had no rest and feeling like crap

Tuning out of work is needed

Just a note, not all people are wired the same - some people are very good at working long hours and 7 days a week. I've done it at times, and my brother has done it to an extreme before.

True, though "being able to" doesn't mean you should.

Also there's a frequent confusion between "working longer hours" and working more (might not be the case here)

The work environment at NeXT was amazing because of the colleagues. That particular weekend was demoralizing and disillusioned me about Steve Jobs, not because of the criticism, but because it was so out of touch with what the market, application developers, would like.

That said, Steve's intuition was right. We pushed on the impossible for a while and found a way to make the actual technology work the way he liked, by using an entity-relationship model to object-pointer mapping. And that approach later became the standard paradigm for database application building tools across the industry.

Steve made unreasonable demands, but he was on the right side of history sufficiently often that top people wanted to be on his team and tolerated the craziness of it.

It really depends on the context. You can be very driven if you will get something out of it and if the work is sane. It's totally different when you have to work in the weekend because the managers don't do their job (no clue what they want, they don't care about technical things and so on).

I dunno, working overnight to get a standing ovation to 400 people at a very, very rich company that you can sell a very, very large amount of product to sounds worth it, especially if you're holding stock with the company you work for (or know you'll earn a big bonus with that).

I don't think anyone at NeXT or Apple that worked on a successful product minded they had to work at night sometimes.

As long as this isn’t a common thing, sometimes you have to commit and go for it to get to the next level.

That's rarely the case though, employers that are bad at this sort of thing are consistently bad.

And not only them. Regular people are the same. If you are called to help with something, even move furniture, it's either all is smooth except one thing if the people are organized or it's more like "the car can't pull the trailer, the trailer is too small, the furniture breaks apart by itself and so on). All is bad.

Most people that need help are in the latter category. It's the same for jobs. Jobs that get posted online most likely are bad jobs.

It sounds like an awful place to work; a cult-like working environment controlled by an sociopathic ego maniac with no concept of the value of other people's self-worth and time.

Demanding last minute changes to a design that's probably been presented and approved by you at least a dozen times in order to lie to your future customers at the cost of your engineer's weekend while telling them they ruined the whole thing. What? I mean, seriously? Who could possibly excuse that behaviour?

I don't think Jobs was so much a charismatic leader as he was lucky enough to encourage trauma bonding between the right people while just barely managing to maintain control.

I think that's quite a downplay on Jobs achievements.

It's well known that Jobs wasn't perfect, but he did have vision and an amazing capability to develop and sell products.

I wonder what he'd say to the current MacBook team for example? Broken keyboard and problems with overheating?

Apple is seriously lacking vision these days and it shows. This time Steve is not around to save them like he did after NeXT.

It's an unreliable keyboard, but I'm not sure it's worse than e.g. the hockey puck mouse, the G4 Cube or "antennagate".

Hockey puck was something people could (and did) replace. Especially if you wanted 2 mice buttons for OS X.

G4 cube at least worked, although it was far too expensive. No doubt Steve was wanting another cube and it was purely "art".

AntennaGate was way overblown. The GSM iPhone 4 was sold for four years without a redesign. The unreliable keyboard - yeah that's a real issue.

Well, he would say that the users are using them wrong. Precedent: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/blog/2010/jun/25/ipho...

It's not like they didn't have MacBooks with serious design flaws when Steve Jobs was around...

My iBook G4 got a new logic board 4 times in its 5 year lifetime. Other than that it was a fantastic computer mind..

Trauma wasn't Steve's strategy; it was a side-effect of his strategy.

His strategy was demanding an unreasonable level of excellence and being indifferent to how the people who worked for him might be impacted. Those that survived got to work at a company where everyone was extremely talented. People who couldn't stand the heat were free to work elsewhere. It's arrogant, but it did allow him to create a uniquely creative and effective environment.

And keep in mind that if the Apple acquisition of NeXT hadn't worked out -- an acquisition that Steve was opposed to, I believe -- NeXT could have ended up in the dustbin of history, and there would be no OSX, iMac, iOS, iPod, or iPhone. So in many ways, the approach could have backfired, but in this case, it didn't.

"I don't think Jobs was so much a charismatic leader as he was lucky enough to encourage trauma bonding between the right people while just barely managing to maintain control."

You are ignoring the whole other side of him that made him effective and revolutionary: His vision of the future was second to none.

It doesn't make Steve - or people who act like Steve - in the right. But his genius wasn't just pissing off a bunch of people to get them to "trauma bond." The iPhone didn't get made that way.

No, the ends don't justify the means. History is replete with people who have grand vision -- domination, the elimination of undesirables, universal peace and love through enforced belief. We're fortunate then that Jobs's vision happened to be limited to "elegant" consumer electronics.

His reportedly preferred means of achieving it: legendary abuse, ever changing requirements, pop "explain your job in the lift or you're fired" quizzes and removal of choice for consumers (when it suited his tastes) is simply repugnant. Who knows how many engineer's sanity, awesome hacks or creative careers his vision quest cost?

I am not downplaying his accomplishments -- I'm saying that giving Jobs credit for what Apple accomplished is like giving credit to dust in the air for a rainstorm and acting as though that's the only way a rainstorm could happen.

The iPhone happened because thousands of engineers threw themselves into a machine and ground themselves into a fine mist in order to produce it to Jobs's deadline and ever changing liking. We almost certainly would've had it or something like it -- with or without Jobs and his imminently destructive vision.

Jobs didn't invent the iPhone from whole cloth, fully formed. He didn't magick up a whole new product category or new approach. At best, he (or more likely his market research team) extrapolated market demand. Palm and other feature phone manufacturers had been trending towards what the iPhone would become for years.

Apple simply happened to be first to market and arrived with a barely passable product. The real innovation, the app store, was not a launch item. If I recall correctly, the web browser was supposed to be the future and was the only way for third-party "applications" to run on the device at launch. There is zero reason to think that vision was singular or complete.

Jobs is not and never was a role model. He succeeded in spite of his flaws, not because of them -- or because of some ineffable genius.

Who do you think persuaded AT&T? It sure wasn't thousands of engineers.

I suspect you have never even seen a Microsoft CE phone.

Who do you think negotiated with the record labels? Hollywood?

Hate to say it but engineers that aren't pointed to a goal and kept on task are worse than useless.

Go ask anyone about Nokia, RIM and even the once mighty IBM and Microsoft how good is lots of engineers if they are blind and directionless.

Jobs set out to change the world, and did for a while.

Now professional users are shunned with 5+ year old machines at full retail.

That much is true, Jobs was good at getting people in a room and "smooth talking" (to read manipulating) them until he got what he wanted.

Who was going to come out with an iPhone like device?

Microsoft - they were invested in making a Windows based phone.

Google - the first concept of Android was a BlackBerry like device.

RIM - RIM was poo pooing the idea of a touch screen phone two or three years after the iPhone was out.

The App Store wasn't really that much of an innovation. The carriers had app stores selling downloadable J2ME apps before the iPhone came out. I was on Sprint back then.

Nokia and telcos had a java app store before iPhone even started, so no he didn't invent those.

NeXTSTEP had digital distribution via Electronic AppWrapper in the early 90s.

Was that a store or a package manager ?

A store.

> You are ignoring the whole other side of him that made him effective and revolutionary: His vision of the future was second to none.

Well, it's easy to say this after-the-facts. The iPhone in my opinion was a HUGE gamble, and also in my opinion, was successful due to a stagnant smart/cell phone market and the desire to bring internet to the mobile world. The first iPhone provided a fast HTML+CSS+Javascript-enabled browser out of the box, albeit with severe limitations, no external apps, no 3G. Nevertheless Jobs had the luck to launch the iPhone at the right time, when no other manifacturer was daring to do that. And it was clear, when shortly after iPhone announcement, several other manifacturers released similar looking devices (Blackberry Storm, Nokia 5800)

> But his genius wasn't just pissing off a bunch of people to get them to "trauma bond." The iPhone didn't get made that way.

How do you know? Were you there? With each Steve Jobs story I read he seems less of a genius (though I never was in the "Steve Jobs is a genius" camp) and more like a mad man with incredible luck.

So I guess it was just luck how he pulled Apple out of the dirt after John Scully almost ran the company to ground?

Apple I, Mac, Pixar, iPhone.... that guy Jobs was sure a lucky person. I wonder if there is a word for people who have that sort of consistent luck...

...and iPad, iPod, which were achievements in themselves. I agree with you it's not luck, he simply knew how to create a product that fills the needs of the market. But I also think that his managerial style was unacceptable, and had nothing to do with Apple's success. As far as Pixar is concerned, he actually kept the distance on purpose (there's a great book "Creativity Inc" by Catmull) which shows it's not his management that is worth copying.

Yes, there is: outlier.

How do those sour grapes taste?

Given that I asked for them, they taste delicious.

I wonder if there is a word for people who have that sort of consistent luck...

That word is Woz. If Jobs had not met him, he (Jobs) would have died penniless and alone.

Had Wozniak not met Jobs there would have been no Apple–most likely he'd just be a gifted engineer working at an above-average position at some technology company that's likely not even around today because Apple ate its lunch. Also keep in mind that the last product that Wozniak really had a hand in was Apple II.

I have a feeling that if Woz and Jobs had never met, Woz's life would have turned out much like that of Gary Kildall [0] or Phil Katz [1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Kildall

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Katz

Well, let's look at what Jobs did without Woz and compare it to what Woz did without Jobs.

Jobs - the Mac, Next, Pixar, iPod, iPhone, iPad, the physical Apple Stores....

Woz - the first universal programmable remote.

Well, let's compare what each of them actually engineered:

Woz - Breakout for Atari, the first universal programmable remote, the Apple I, and so on

Jobs - ... (had a strong opinion about buttons and money he made off of Wozniak's inventions and his ability to sell them)

Computer geeks are a dime a dozen (I’m one so no insult intended).

An idea is nothing without execution. Jobs proved that he could successfully change multiple industries (animation, music, mobile) without Woz. None of Woz’s ventures have been a success without Jobs.

If it was so easy, why couldn’t anyone else in the PC industry do it including companies that were in a much stronger position when Jobs came back in 1997?

Even in the animation business, Disney could barely produce a hit while Pixar was producing a string of successes.

I can't show you examples of how badly your statements are mistaken if you aren't willing to look for them yourself.

Dell (just in time supply chain design and driving the cost of the PC down), Pixar (not related to Jobs until acquisition, certainly not driven by him), Woz (breakout was certainly a success - Jobs was assigned to build the prototype at Atari and essentially stole a large part of Woz's compensation and even then Woz is given credit for the design alongside Bushnell; in a sense it was assigned to Jobs essentially because he was Woz's friend) are all counter examples to your statements.

In 1997, anything computer related was experiencing the dot-com boom. It would've been hard to screw up Apple's increasing valuation then, for anyone.

Dell - was far from the cheapest PC manufacturer. Around 1999, Emachines was much cheaper than Dells. They were literally giving computers away to sign up for 3 years worth of internet service. How was Dell doing in 2005?

Dell never shipped as many products in their heyday that Apple was shipping by 2010. No one would ever say that Dells logistics were better than Tim Cooks even when shipping 50 million iPods a year, let alone iPhones.

Pixar was bought from Lucas and their grand ambition was to make special effects for other movies and commercials. Definitely not to make full length theatrically released movies.

In 1997, the Internet was the big thing, but not Apple. Apple was near bankruptcy and didn’t announce its first profit until 2001.

Breakout netted Jobs around $3000 from the stories that were told. Not exactly billionaire material.

The point is that Woz was successful without Jobs and that Jobs's Apple was by no means a singular innovator in the field. The point is to say that it's a bit rich to claim what has been claimed in regards to the necessity of Jobs.

That said, I do grant that Jobs certainly had skill in gathering the right people and ensuring things got done.

What I abhor is the manor in which that was accomplished and the canonisation of Jobs as an individual singularly responsible for everything created by Apple without regard to the hard, bloody work of the hidden legions of staff and burnt out engineers beneath him.

For me, personally, the human cost of Jobs's methods far far outweighed the value of what was created; especially when it was likely to have been arrived at independently by others through less destructive methods.

If it could have been done by others, then why wasn’t it? In 1997, Apple was nearly bankrupt. When the iPod came out in 2001, Apple was just barely eking out a profit.

Why couldn’t Microsoft, RIM, Motorola, Google or Nokia do something similar to the iPhone?

Even today, with dozens of companies making Android phones, none can create a phone compelling enough that people are willing to pay enough for to make them profitably.

But as far as what Jobs did with iTunes, Bill Gates himself praised Jobs....


Steve Jobs ability to focus in on a few things that count, get people who get user interface right and market things as revolutionary are amazing things.

This time somehow he has applied his talents in getting a better Licensing deal than anyone else has gotten for music.


Apple without regard to the hard, bloody work of the hidden legions of staff and burnt out engineers beneath him.

All of the “burnt out engineers” who worked on the original iPhone could easily write their own ticket for the rest of their life. Given a choice between being able to say that I worked on the original iPhone and that I did yet another software as a service CRUD app, I would much rather have been able to say I worked on the original iPhone.

An equivalent product to the iPod, the Creative NOMAD Jukebox, was also released around 2000-2001.

The iPhone launched around June 2007, iirc. The T-Mobile G1 launched around September of 2008. The iPhone did not receive an App Store until v2 of the device a year later. Android launched with all core functionality.

I think it's safe to safe that if they had waited until the product was fully baked -- they would've launched at about the exact same time.

I don't really care what Bill Gates's opinion of Steve Jobs is, his opinions don't hold much weight with me.

As to burnt-out engineers "writing their own ticket" ... well, if they're tired of working at a place like Apple -- I seriously doubt they'd enjoy working for a place that wants to be just like them and hires people with a history of working there in an attempt to emulate them.

An equivalent product to the iPod, the Creative NOMAD Jukebox, was also released around 2000-2001.

Saying the Nomad - a larger player that used a 3.5 inch hard drive, with a worse interface was “just like the iPod” so not gets why the iPod was better it’s actually a famous Slashdot Meme on why geeks can’t release great products.

“No wireless, less space than a Nomad...lame”


As far as the G1 coming out a year after the iPhone and would have come out about the same time, you don’t know the history of Android. Android was originally designed to be an BlackBerry clone. After the iPhone came out, they completely went back to the drawing board.


A complete hardware and software interface redesign with testing and certification in under a year? By a new entrant in the hardware space with external partners? By Google? Sure, I believe that... - it's more likely that a number of prototypes were made. Guess which was picked? The one that competed most effectively with the nearest competition, of course.

Also, yes, the iPod was lame. It was worse than the nomad in many many technical respects. Now, what the iPod did have over the nomad was the only best-of-class thing Apple has ever sold - the perception of cool. It was smaller, it was silver and white... it had one button (well, later anyway...).

Apple tech is very much a fashion accessory in addition to being a technical instrument but that does not make it visionary or superior. Often, quite the opposite (butterfly keyboard failures, poorly spec'd expensive pro everything, insufficient flawed VRM design on the latest core i9 macbook, etc etc). However, the superior product, in the functional sense, doesn't always win in the market place.

Actually, now that I think about it, Apple is not really a tech company; they're a fashion company that makes products who's primary purpose is as a technical fashion accessory. It performs its purported function perfunctorily, if not unreliably or begrudgingly and, of course, if it can't do something or doesn't work right you shouldn't have wanted to do it at all ("you're holding it wrong"). However, what it's real function, what it is best at, is permitting membership to a cool kids club - the club of owning and displaying Apple products.

When you think about it like that, their attitude, the lacklustre functionality of their products in deference to appearance, and the behaviour of their customers makes much more sense.

Jobs reportedly acted far more like a stereotypical fashion designer out of a fantasy than a reasonable human being or typical Tech-firm CEO.

Granted, perhaps a stereotypical fashion designer who's never really sewn competently in their life nor can design by drawing up real plans for others to build. But, of course, they've had armies of competent fashion engineers working themselves to the bone to produce design after design and the designer really knows what they like, once they see it anyway, maybe, so there's that. Naturally, nobody cares about where those plans come from and at what cost - it only matters that the blessed one chose them as the true way.

Apple is very much like a Warholian art factory, now without a Warhol; but I digress.

It's no wonder firms trying to imitate Apple fail. Apple doesn't have to be superior or right - they just have to play cool. The perception of cool is built by luck and timing and maintained by luck and skill. Jobs was an outlier in these areas, and so, we see the exception rather than the rule. Jobs and Apple are little more than anomalies maintained by the efforts of a cast of millions, the public included.

Ah, and it all falls into place. There's no point to arguing with people who have bought into Apple or the Jobs myths. One may as well debate the meaning of Duchamp's Fountain in the context of the semiconductor. It's pointless masturbation with little to no possibility of real change or outcome other than increasing local entropy, for these people have already chosen willingly the Apple option - to think different, as it were.

And with that, I resign from this particular thread of discussion knowing that at the least I have explained and explored why I feel so strongly with regards to the façade Jobs built in Apple and its influence on how people both see and do not see the manipulation beyond the technical in technical products.

A suitable explanation for myself, at least, if no one else.

A complete hardware and software interface redesign with testing and certification in under a year? By a new entrant in the hardware space with external partners? By Google? Sure, I believe that... - it's more likely that a number of prototypes were made. Guess which was picked? The one that competed most effectively with the nearest competition, of course.

This was no secret that Google retooled the entire Android form factor after the iPhone came out. This story has been told a million times.


Also, yes, the iPod was lame. It was worse than the nomad in many many technical respects. Now, what the iPod did have over the nomad was the only best-of-class thing Apple has ever sold - the perception of cool. It was smaller, it was silver and white... it had one button (well, later anyway...).

And this is why geeks (not an insult, I proudly consider myself a geek) who think like Woz will never bring a successful product to market. The Nomad was a big bulky portable device with a large 3.5 inch hard drive, a slower transfer mechanism than FireWire, less battery life, and a clunky method of transferring files.

By the time the iPod became popular in 2004, iPod + iTunes was a easy way to get music on a device that consumers enjoyed.

Actually, now that I think about it, Apple is not really a tech company; they're a fashion company that makes products who's primary purpose is as a technical fashion accessory.

You realize that Apple has the best ARM processor designers in the industry?

If all Apple has is “cool” tech then why is the rest of the industry failing? All of the computer manufacturers that were around 20 years ago are either dead or barely surviving, the phone manufacturers are not doing much better.

Like the old saying goes, “if they are so smart, why aren’t they rich”?

There were a string of Apple CEOs between Scully and Jobs.

Most of which seemed to dig Apple deeper into the ground…

Exactly! The history of CEOs at Apple shows very clearly the value that a CEO can bring.

> and more like a mad man with incredible luck

This term "luck" is often abused in the gaming world. "I wasn't lucky" is a bullshit excuse to deal with bad RNG. You work around bad RNG and make the best of it. Calling others lucky is a way to deal with envy. "It isn't my lack of skill, he was just lucky."

Personally, from what I gathered Jobs had some severe flaws which are fairly well documented in the movie made about him. Consider for example the way he dealt with his child (Lisa). Its interesting to learn more of his personality in his youth (same with e.g. Holmes, Gates, or any person of interest who seems flawed). Steve Jobs used LSD. Steve Jobs did phreaking together with Steve Wozniak. They even sold blue boxes.

> How do you know? Were you there?

We don't need to be there to know that there are a lot of assholes like SJ around. But none of them shipped the iPhone.

Emulating that part of SJ is easy and is done in several places. But that was not all he did

Even Jobs said that he was a changed person when he returned to Apple as opposed to when he left to run NeXT.

With advancing age, I find people rarely, if ever, truly change. Apropos, they simply become more efficient and skilled at hiding their true nature whilst applying it still to an even finer degree of effectiveness.

For counterpoint, see the well-known Jobs video recanting the Microsoft/Apple feud, just after he regained control of Apple. His views did change.

Link: https://stratechery.com/2013/steve-jobs-at-macworld-boston-i...

A fair assessment. I, however, would take care to separate the nature of a person from the views they find acceptable to express in public; especially those views for which there is considerable contention and/or ambiguity.

Here’s to the crazy ones

More often than not a feature I'm working on is just a bullet point to the management/marketing. The sooner I realize that the better. Also, it's hard for them to notice how much work went into a working and polished feature. Sometimes it's better to show something half-baked, let them notice the rough edges and they are more thankful when you eventually fix it. It's basic psychology.

I've recently finished reading Bad Blood, on the hype, personality cult and fall of Theranos. Elizabeth Holmes often imitated Steve Jobs, including his insane management style. In Theranos' case this did nothing but make the company miserable and crash the whole thing.

Sure, every wannabe wants to cargo-cult the bits of Jobs that they can because they can't replicate the genius part.

There's even an easy way to tell the difference: emulating a CEO down to the clothes they wear, while knowingly peddling a fraudulent product? Cargo cult. Working your team hard and producing multiple massively successful products? Steve Jobs.

If this is what it takes to succeed in our industry

Much more onerous things happen regularly in lots of white collar jobs. People in medicine, law, finance, etc. A weekend with an all-nighter before some big deliverable? College students do this.

College students who didn't plan their time properly.

The only reason it happens in those other white collar jobs is because it's cheaper for management to work a few people really hard than hire enough to the job with reasonable working conditions.

If you work like that you're literally sacrificing your free time and health for the benefit of the company's bottom line. Maybe if you're lucky you'll get a small bonus and 'recognition'.

If any of this were true, it would be a very strong indication we live in a particularly naively written simulation.

I like how you listed the three most dysfunctional industries and trailed off with etc. Reminds me of the proof that all odd numbers are prime - 3, 5, 7 are prime, so the rest should be prime as well... 1 is the exception that proves the rule!

I'm glad you like it but I'm afraid I don't understand what your point is.

Medicine is quite bad, good luck when being attended by someone forced to do 24h+ shift due to lack of personnel.


I'm guessing this is partly tongue in cheek, but if if you drop the nastiest connotations of such personalities... is it really that surprising?

I just watched "wild wild country," so my mind is on a different flavour of euntrepreneurship and euntrepreneurship. But...

Jobs, Kalanick, Gates... By all accounts were very difficult people personally & professionally. By most accounts, they crossed all the lines to get where they were trying to go. Can someone who doesn't do that get where they got to?

Uber is a good example. They're model of expansion led to Uber being all over the world. Ubers' product meant ignoring, bending & breaking "taxi laws" all over the world. It just couldnt have been done legally, especially given that these are often municipal rules, and Uber operates in thousands of jurisdictions. On the labour side, a standard labour model wouldn't have let them take over the world.

Ubers' "gigging" labour model didn't/doesn't have a legal or normative framework. Without bending these rules, they would not have gotten so big, so fast either.

These are just the most legible, concrete examples. By all accounts this mentality permeates everything. Move fast and break things, I guess. Break rules, conventions, people....

Some people want to fight for Fabien. Some people want to fight for Xenophon.

Imagine that we let murderers roam free. Ruthless Mafia-style lunatics would run everything because they'd have their competitors killed. And you'd still be saying, "Can someone who doesn't do that get where they got to?" This is "ends justify the means" thinking.

If, on the other hand, we tested everybody for sociopathy before they were allowed to manage other people or manage other people's money, I believe we'd still get at least as much innovation. Probably more, as monopolists like Gates and Kalanick were happy to work to crush competitors. See, e.g., a small sampling of the companies Microsoft screwed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_litigation#Private

That's taking it someplace different... Gates and/or Jobs haven't murdered, to my knowledge.

They did break rules though, sometimes laws. More notably the trailblazed rule/law breaking. In some cases this led to rules or laws being renegotiated. I think both taxi laws and labour laws are currently under review in a lot of places, owing to Uber's bulldozing.

I'm not making any normative judgements. I'm just correlating such a personality type to certain businesses, at a certain place and time. If you are going to be part of an uber-like story of nothing to global generic within a few years... You are probably working for a rule breaking, screaming unreasonable Jobs type. But... You get to go on adventure in Persia.

That's an analogy, so of course it's not directly true. But it's not a particularly wild one. Sociopaths will do whatever they can get away with. The dumb ones and the ones with poor impulse control end up in prison. The smart ones stick with abuse that is legal, like Jobsian verbal abuse and Kalanick and Gates's market abuse.

Whatever your intent, you are in effect justifying their actions. My point is that you can use your exact logic to justify anything that succeeds at the expense of others. It's used all the time with political leaders in other countries who succeed through violence.

Instead of justifying it, we can work to change things. Sexual abuse was perfectly acceptable for decades, probably centuries. But the #MeToo movement shows that standards can change, and that abusers can face accountability. The same sort of change is possible if we want to limit other kinds of abuse. It's up to us.

This has gone off the rails. They are metaphorical sex abusers and murderers. I am metaphorically an accomplice...?

I don't think we're talking about the same thing, but even if we are civil conversations end when metaphorical accusations start, so... I guess there's no way to right this ship.

I guess it has gone off the rails for you. It's pretty clear to me. Feel free to ask questions if you need something clarified.

> Jobs, Kalanick, Gates... By all accounts were very difficult people personally & professionally.

Why is Gates on that list?

Anecdote from Joel Spolsky:

" ... “Four,” announced the f[uck] counter, and everyone said, “wow, that’s the lowest I can remember. Bill is getting mellow in his old age.” He was, you know, 36.

Later I had it explained to me. “Bill doesn’t really want to review your spec, he just wants to make sure you’ve got it under control. His standard M.O. is to ask harder and harder questions until you admit that you don’t know, and then he can yell at you for being unprepared. Nobody was really sure what happens if you answer the hardest question he can come up with because it’s never happened before.” "


The exact account I was thinking of when I said, "by all accounts."

He's such a sharp pen. Too bad he isn't blogging. I wonder if he's got some new takes. He was a small codeshop CEO when he wrote that. Now a multiunicorn CEO.

Because he was also difficult to work for and had no problem doing "whatever it takes" to win. See Microsoft antitrust lawsuit.

Gates was worse to compete against than to work for, from what I've read/heard (I've never worked for Microsoft myself.)

If you read, at the very least, the public accounts of the people who worked with him, you'll find that he came across as a very technically-able, detail-oriented person with pretty sane management style -- certainly far better than Jobs' tantrums.

"And how much do you think a really good programmer should get paid? Around here we pay our best programmers around two thousand dollars per week. Do you think you should be paid more than that?"

"I don't know," I replied. I was finally beginning to see where he was coming from. Bill was trying to get me to brag that I could write the application switcher really quickly, so he could justify paying me a lower price for it.

"Well, I don't think that you could expect to get more than four thousand dollars per week, tops. Actually, I think that's too much, but let's go with that. If it takes ten weeks, and you get paid four thousand dollars per week, that means you should get paid $40,000 for writing it."

$40,000 didn't sound like very much to me, especially if it was as strategic to Microsoft as it seemed to be. I think Bill was expecting me to make a counteroffer, but I wasn't very enthusiastic about selling it to Microsoft regardless of compensation, since it really should eventually be part of the Mac OS.


Was there anything about his treatment of employees in the antitrust lawsuit? I must've missed that.

The actual question here is that whether we want, as the global community, them to get where these people and the like want to go. Otherwise it should not be surprising that the more agressive an entreprise is the more it can penetrate various economical areas.


Anyway, better than a company run by "the clueless". See the MacLeod Life Cycle of the Firm, in:


Who were the losers working at NeXT?

Psychopaths just pay better.

They not only pay you scraps, but keep you hostage by employing blacklists shared by multiple companies (so that if you leave, you don't get another job at a high level company) and conspire with other companies to keep your wages low.


"The defendants are Adobe, Apple Inc., Google, Intel, Intuit, Pixar, Lucasfilm and eBay"

Psychopaths pay what they'll make you think is better but in reality is as little as they can manage to make you accept.

Some do, others just don't care about what'd be a fair compensation and will do whatever it takes.

Did NeXT pay well, that is, as well as Uber pays today in inflation adjusted terms?

Memory: you forget the bad parts

From this story I take away:

- A Sr. Marketing staff member saw technical deficiencies in the project and pulled a _complete 180°_ literally days before showtime in front of a huge client, successfully.

- Jobs pushed his workers hard.. though the ends justify the means

- The NeXT computer pioneered nearly everything we take for granted today (mouse, networking, Objective C) in a package targeted at the high end consumer. Sound familiar?


[edit: clarify meaning]

Why the mouse? That was a holdover from Steve’s time at Apple, which was famously “borrowed” from Xerox PARC. Unless next did something special with the mouse that I’m unaware of.

"borrowed" - Apple paid Xerox in stock to have access to their technologies.

Jobs said later that he took away the GUI and the mouse, when he really should have taken away the networking and Smalltalk. That's why NeXT used BSD under the hood and Objective-C as its development environment.

Huh I didn’t know about the stock angle. Apparently it was a purchase agreement since they were pre-IPO, not a giveaway. So he got some pre-ipo financing and a look at great research tech. Very cool deal, thanks for the pointer.

I don't think anyone takes for granted Objective C today. It's not used but for legacy code. Awful thing anyway.

Hardly awful. It was message dispatch object oriented programming. It allowed development of what was essentially the Mac OS X operating system and applications, in the early 1990s. Software that ran on a 25Mhz Motorola 68040. Years before Windows 95, and far more advanced and cohesive and productive than any other desktop computing platform. HTTP and web browsing was invented on a NeXT computer.

What makes you think it is used only for legacy code?

If Taligent had used Objective-C instead of C++ they might have actually shipped something.

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