Technology CNN & the Steve Jobs documentary


Mike Sterling Canadian Community News

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CNN ran a two hour documentary on the life of Steve Jobs.  I found it interesting and it added to what I knew of him.  In the past I spent a good deal of time with him.  That story might serve as background Read More

The documentary was far from flattering even acknowledging his drive and gifts.  He could be, and at times was, a very unpleasant person.

There were some telling insights in the documentary.  Some of them I knew, but some were new.

He expected absolute loyalty and he was willing to pay for it via stock options and salary.  Stock options were really the preferred weapon to ensnare gifted employees. 

If key people left for most any reason, they were banished.  This is not uncommon in any industry.

For those unaware of the stock option strategy, it is a way to keep employees because they earn or vest options to buy company stock over set time periods at lower than market rates or so it is hoped. 

This tactic has made many millionaires and a number of Silicon Valley billionaires.  It has the advantage of snaring an employee in a golden web.  If the company does poorly the employee does not exercise their options and will leave for more golden sunsets.

Sometimes Jobs went beyond what the law allowed in that murky, high flying world of Silicon Valley. 

He fiddled with dates for stock options.  That is, he went back and allowed options to be exercised before they were due or pushed them ahead to gain advantage.  He did this for himself too!

Ok, so he played with the rules.  The worst, in my opinion was early.  Steve Wozniak, his 'original' Nerd partner, tells a tale in the documentary that revealed the true Jobs.

Jobs and Wozniak had a connection with Atari, the pioneering game maker.  Wozniak had come up with a way to make games like Pong and run them on ordinary TVs.  I had one of these and maybe still do.

Wozniak was working by day for Hewlett Packard.  He knew electronic design and software.  He ‘hacked’ together a prototype of the game for the Atari on a primitive 'mother board'.  The then Atari president  liked it when Jobs showed him.  Later, Atari made it a product, paying Jobs $5000.00.

Jobs told Wozniak that Atari had paid the two of them only $750.00 for the idea and cut a cheque for Woz of $350.  That is, half and half – partners, you see. The real truth was of course 7% for you and 93% for Jobs.

Later Wozniak learned about it and was disappointed, but apparently not surprised. He must have known Jobs did not value his contribution.

Wozniak survived as a whole person and very rich in the end.  To become rich for a relatively short service is an accomplishment.

One of the most interesting characters in the documentary is Regis McKenna.  He is little known outside of Silicon Valley, but he is the marketing genius behind many companies including Apple.  He worked hand in hand with high tech start-up companies and with the venture capital community that leaped out of nowhere and took over the $$$ financing of these startups.

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McKenna has a rather even minded view of Jobs or so it appears.  One of the major gifts that Jobs had was recognizing talent and commanding their attention.  McKenna was recognized, but not eaten alive by Jobs.

Another player in the documentary told a sad tale of losing his family.  He shed tears on the documentary saying he spent the best years of his life with Jobs and the worst too as he lost what was dearest to him.  This was not uncommon in Silicon Valley as sleeping on the floor with a few pillows in some cluttered lab was more common than family interaction in many cases.

I worked as a consultant for one high tech company out west who brought the families to work on Sunday for a picnic for a few hours to try to mitigate their  disintegration.  After the chicken and corn, they were expected to go back to work and the families home.  Jobs was not a picnic guy.

You see Jobs major gifts were not technical nor really esthetic design, but rather how he could find and capture people who were open to his techno-religion'.  You see Jobs was a pseudo-religious leader, who expelled heretics and embraced believers, if they were loyal.

If you look at him in terms of a gifted preacher, you will be close to his reality, but not close enough.

In the documentary Jobs did say something that shows he saw things clearly.  He said what he did would be only a small mound compared to the mountain that will be human-computer interaction.  That's true.

The documentary is quite good.  Wozniac seems to like it.  The myth goes on however.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016