Steve Jobs Thanks Silicon Valley in New Posthumous ‘Memoir’
In 1998, I was in Apple’s parking lot in Cupertino, covering a protest by 100 fans of its hand-held Newton, which had just been discontinued. But what I didn’t know was that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wrote an email to all Apple employees that same morning, welcoming the protesters and promising Apple would graciously offer them coffee. “Hopefully they will feel our enthusiasm about the future of Apple, and leave more settled than they arrived…”
It’s a thrill to have this glimpse into what Jobs wrote at this exact moment in his career — and it’s part of a new curated collection of intimate glimpses made available last week to the general public.
More than 11 years after his death in 2011 at age 56, Steve Jobs’ own words from emails, speech, and interviews have all been assembled into a slick new “memoir,” published free online by his family at friends running the official Steve Jobs Archive. Available at book.stevejobsarchive.com, it can also be downloaded as an EPUB-format ebook, or purchased in Apple’s ebook store.
It’s official: Our first book—“Make Something Wonderful: Steve Jobs in his own words”—is now available to read, for free.https://t.co/9voLvLcGwz
— Steve Jobs Archive (@SJArchive) April 11, 2023
Clicking the site’s “Read Now” button first pulls up a Polaroid-shaped rectangle that slowly develops into a photo of young Steve Jobs — a kind of visual metaphor for the clear yet gradually-revealing picture that it’s promising will follow…
The memoir — titled “Make Something Wonderful” — offers an ample collection of fun and inspiring quotes, which at times seem to suddenly coalesce into a life story stripped down to its essence.
First it opens with a tone-setting quote from Jobs — just four years before his death — that “one of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there.”
It’s a theme that recurs through the book. “We [at Apple] feel that, for some crazy reason, we’re in the right place at the right time to put something back…” Jobs says later in a speech to a conference of designers in 1983. And the book ends with a quote from Jobs urging the reader to remember that life can be changed and influenced. Its source isn’t identified, but it’s from an interview that 39-year-old Jobs gave to the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association back in 1994 — though it takes on extra gravitas when set down as the finale of his printed memoir.
“The minute you can understand that you can poke life, and if you push in, then something will pop out the other side; that you can change it, you can mold it—that’s maybe the most important thing: to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there, and you’re just going to live in it versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it…”
The memoir seems to ground this idea in a very real recognition of how Jobs was shaped by Silicon Valley, all the way from his early childhood. It starts with his machinist father, who gave Steve his own workbench when he was six years old.
Jobs also remembered learning a lot from Hewlett-Packard engineer Larry Lang, who lived up the street — including how to build your own gadgets from hobbyist kits. Jobs said the experience “gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe…. Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation, not these magical things that just appeared in one’s environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors.”
And throughout his life Jobs remained grateful for the mentorship he received from Robert Noyce, the co-founder of both Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor. (The memoir was edited by the archive’s director, Leslie Berlin, who in 2005 wrote The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley.)
In a 2003 interview with Berlin, Jobs said that he’d joined the Grinnell College board because “Bob asked me to do it.” And remembering the start of their friendship in the 1970s, his fondness comes through. “He just kind of tried to give me the lay of the land and tried to give me a perspective that I could only partially understand… We just became buddies.”
Jobs also remembered regular lunches with Intel’s Andy Grove and AMD founder Jerry Sanders during his early years at Apple. “Everybody I ever asked said yes…. I sort of feel like that second era of the Valley, the semiconductor companies kind of leading into the early computer companies—I got to smell that, and I always held that very near and dear. And Bob was sort of why.” Jobs seemed genuinely grateful that he’d had that connection to the vivid human drama of it all.
One of my favorite moments in the memoir is an exchange Jobs had with an Intel engineer about 3D graphics performance — and Jobs balking at the idea of sharing Pixar’s secrets.
Intel engineer: “We have not entered into any financial arrangement in exchange for good ideas for our microprocessors in the past and have no intention for the future.”
Steve Jobs: “This approach has not served you well in the past, as evidenced by your poor graphics architectures and performance. Maybe you should think of changing it for the future…”
Jobs follows up with an email to his friend and mentor, Intel CEO Andy Grove, arguing “If I were going to make hundreds of millions of something, I sure as hell would be willing to pay for the best advice money could buy… ” But Grove writes back gently reminding Jobs of the advice Grove had given him free over the years, adding that “In the long run, these things balance out.” And Jobs writes back to say he’s changed his position, 180 degrees.
“I have many faults, but one of them is not ingratitude.”
It’s in a later section that Jobs talks about meeting Apple other co-founder Steve Wozniak during his teen years in Silicon Valley “in a friend of mine’s garage”. Jobs was 13, while Wozniak was 18. While staying up late on a project, “We ended up talking for hours.’ And two sentences quoted from a 1996 interview on Fresh Air seem to perfectly encapsulate the story of the birth of Apple.
“The reason [Woz and I] built a computer was that we wanted one, and we couldn’t afford to buy one. They were thousands of dollars at that time. We were just two teenagers.”
But there’s an even more revealing memory that Jobs emailed to himself when preparing his famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford. Though it was never included in the final speech, Jobs had considered including the words he’d said to Steve Wozniak when they’d first quit their jobs to try selling Apple I computers. “If we don’t do this now, we never will…. the worst we’ll get out of this is that we’ll have the memories of having gone for it.”
But Jobs had specifically described it as giving themselves “the experience of participating in what Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard did — to start a company….”
Some things have been left out of the memoir. Jobs’ college days are represented by a 1984 interview, when 29-year-old Jobs told reporter David Sheff about not being sure what he’d wanted to do in his late teens when he’d started attending Portland’s Reed college. There’s no mention of Wozniak’s visits, with his magical yet illegal free phone call-enabling blue box — though it seems like a direct precursor to Apple (judging by a 2011 profile by Reed magazine).
But maybe the memoir was focusing on something more important, sharing instead Jobs’ recollections in a 1991 speech he gave at Reed college to welcome to incoming freshmen. Jobs instead remembered being hungry — literally — and being fed by a local Hare Krishna temple. Jobs quipped that he’d learned about “situational ethics” from the Hare Krishnas who’d funded their operation by selling incense to local department stores, and then stealing it back so they could sell it again.
But he also fondly remembered Jack Dudman, the school dean who looked the other way when Jobs attended without paying tuition. “And oftentimes, when I was at the end of my rope, Jack would go for a walk with me, and I would discover a twenty-dollar bill in my tattered coat pocket after that walk, with no mention of it from Jack before, during, or after.
“I learned more about generosity from Jack Dudman and the people here at this school than I learned anywhere else in my life.”
The memoir has attracted some quibbles. After interviewing 12 scholars and historians, the New York Times reported in October that the archive “has worried historians who fear it may inspire other wealthy and influential figures to curate the historical record about them just as ordinary people curate their lives on Instagram.”
After an interview with Leslie Berlin, the archive’s founding executive director, the Times reported she “declined to say whether the collection would be open to researchers or include any contentious material.” And Courtney Chartier, an archivist at Columbia University, told the New York Times that she’d prefer a “warts and all” approach. “People are complicated, and that’s something we shouldn’t shy away from.”
The memoir is also a short read, and more time could’ve been allocated to, for example, Jobs’ interest in education. In a 1985 interview with Newsweek, Jobs says the thing he’d cared most about at Apple — after the Macintosh and the original Apple II — was the Apple Education Foundation, which gave a computer to every school in California.
But the memoir does deliver on its promise to show Jobs in his own words, offering up true stories with truly inspiring insights, capturing highs, lows, and occasional moments of gratitude and kindness. Ordered chronologically, it comes to an end with a photo of Steve’s resignation letter to Apple on August 24, 2011. Its last line? “I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.”
It’s followed by a poignant photo showing just his eyeglasses — neatly folded.