October 7, 2011


I've worked or lived in Silicon Valley for 15 years. I did not know Steve Jobs, though I did see him walking in downtown Palo Alto once or twice. Some of my friends knew him quite well, having worked for Steve in the early days of Apple or Next.

Jeff worked at Apple for a few years. He was one of the first people on the iPhone team, working on a critical piece of technology. (You know, the phone piece.) I'll never forget the day Jeff called me and said "I just had a meeting with Steve." I was completely unfazed, thinking he was talking about some random Steve on his team. Jeff had made it clear that he wasn't happy with the way things were going at Apple. Mr. Jobs himself called Jeff to his office to ask him to stay. He did, for a while anyway.

Steve was the worst kind of manager. People at Apple work ridiculous hours. They burn out. The internal politics at Apple are notorious, and Steve had his hand in every decision, from big strategies to small details that no CEO should be involved in. It's not a great long term strategy.

But Steve was also the best kind of leader. He inspired with his vision, and by keeping such a firm control over the details of his products, he made his vision a reality. That is the tough part, by the way: making things happen. He made the hard decisions, even if they were unpopular, and that meant Apple actually shipped products. And people believed in him, so they worked the hours, and gave up control. It wouldn't work anywhere else, but it worked at Apple.

Steve's passing has touched so many in the autism community. The iPad has given many children a voice, a new way to communicate and learn. The device and apps are affordable, the touch screen makes sense to our visual and tactile learners, and best of all, it is cool to carry around, unlike the expensive, bulky augmentative communication devices kids and adults had to carry around before.

But still, why do we feel so personally about this loss? In part, because our devices are personal. We carry them in our pockets. We hold them all day, polish the screens on our sleeves. We make them ours, with the apps that we use to work, play, organize, communicate and connect.

But would we feel this way about the founder of Motorola or Android? Do you even know the founder of Android? (I do, but I happened to have worked for him.) Jeff was talking last night about the magic that computers held when we were kids. We grew up on the Apple II and felt the world change with the introduction of the Mac. I imagine it was like our great grandparents seeing the first cars, or our parents getting their first TV, a whole new world in front of them. That magic came to us from Steve, and so we feel a loss not just of a man, but of a piece of our childhoods as well.

So goodbye, Steve Jobs. We carry your spirit in our hearts and your imagination in the palm of our hands.


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