My First Encounter With Steve Jobs

| John Martellaro's Blog

It was Friday, May 16th, 1997, and I was at my 5th WWDC. Steve Jobs had returned to Apple thanks to Apple’s purchase of NeXT, but he was only an adviser to CEO Gil Amelio. In a closing WWDC keynote, Mr. Jobs took some questions, and this author, an aerospace engineer at the time, had one ready.

In 1997, Apple was not yet out of the woods. Pieces were being put into place, and Mr. Jobs was cautiously optimistic having seen some really good talent at Apple after he came back. It was time to get some visibility with the Apple developers.

David Krathwohl introduced Mr. Jobs in a special closing keynote so that Mr. Jobs could see what was on the developers’ minds. The session opened with a question about OpenDoc — which Apple had just killed — and it was a huge sore spot with the audience. Already, it was clear that Mr. Jobs had other plans, and this was a turning point in history. Mr. Jobs was starting to articulate a new vision and redefine Apple’s fundamental new direction, namely, fabulous Mac hardware, at “the top of the food chain” in his words.

Steve Jobs in 1997

More generally, the whole session highlighted everything that was wrong with Apple. It all crystalized in the minds of the developers and was verbalized. One gets the sense that the future Apple CEO had pretty much figured it all out, based on his experience at NeXT, and had great plans. If only he could somehow come to be in charge of Apple…

At 45:43, Mr. Jobs turns his attention to a Lockhed Martin senior software engineer, yours truly*, who is beginning to sense that Apple was turning things around and would like to see some TV commercials that address Apple’s emerging new technologies. That’s because Apple was still being roundly beat up by the competition in TV ads, as I pointed out in a follow-up comment. In perfect hindsight, the request was premature.

You can see the wheels in Mr. Jobs head working at this point. No doubt, he knew about the development of the first iMac, and he sensed that it would be a consumer sensation. But first things first. Apple had to ship the iMac, nurse it into success, then sit back and wait for the Wall Street Journal and other major publications to state that “Apple is back.” That was the desired imprimatur.

So at this point, Mr. Jobs isn’t interested in TV ads because he knows that Apple does not yet have but needs a blockbuster hardware hit. His feeling is that marketing has to lead to profits, and at this point expensive TV ads are a waste of precious resources, namely money that could be better spent on R&D. In hindsight, it’s perfectly clear that Apple’s empty boasts couldn’t convince the world that everything was okay. Only a fabulously successful product could.

John Martellaro in 1997

The author at the microphone**

But at the time, we in the audience were nevertheless very eager, jumping the gun to put it plainly, for Apple to flex its new muscles and talent in a more visible way. The idea of print ads just didn’t seem bold enough at the time. We were wrong.

The rest is history. Apple released the Bondi blue iMac about a year later, in August 1998, and it was an instant hit. Then, and only then, the now famous TV ads narrated by Jeff Goldblum started to flow.

This closing WWDC 1997 keynote is an immensely informative and historically important video. It reveals the mindset of the developers at the time and how Mr. Jobs was constructing, in his own mind, the future course of Apple.

___________

* I did not join Apple until August, 2000 to do science and technology marketing for Apple’s new UNIX-based Mac OS X.

** I believe that’s Mark Jeffries with Genentech behind me.

Comments

Doug Hanley

That is indeed Mark Jeffries, unfortunately he is no longer with Genentech.

wab95

Very nice tour down memory lane, John; thanks for sharing.

The take home message(s), however, are several; one of which is the peril of genius, or at least being way out ahead of the pack in terms of vision and the art of expressing it.

It’s one thing to have a clear vision - an essential first step to progress and innovation. It’s quite another to mete it out in intelligible quanta such that, on the one hand, each discrete part is stand-alone acceptable and gets buy-in from all principal stakeholders, including one’s workforce, investors, third parties and target clients; and on the other to maintain a consistency of strategic trajectory over time.

For that, each stand alone piece needs to reflect an overarching vision carved in mental stone, impervious to temptation to deviation yet adaptable to opportunity for added momentum. 

A clear, comprehensive and sweeping vision, buttressed by not only a sound but brilliant strategy gives birth to a juggernaut, which is the industrial force that Apple have become.

One more thing, it doesn’t hurt to have one’s competition underestimate you.

Nemo

Beside offering direct proof that, while you maintain your youthful vigor, you were also once young in years—I too was once young—what Steve Jobs had to say about networked client-computing may shed some light on Apple’s plans for its Maiden, NC data center.  Or perhaps, Mr. Jobs’ delight with his then server-based Next computer is not as relevant today, and his plans are different.

John Martellaro

Nemo: As a UNIX nutcase myself, I suspect that Mr. Jobs’s experience at NeXT with a real UNIX OS taught him how important TCP/IP networking was. And Apple, while an early leader with AppleTalk, was lagging when it came to real grown up networking and things like NFS. The eventual deprecation then demise of AppleTalk was the result. - JM

John Dingler, artist

Hello Nemo and John,
Viewing that video, I was struck by three things: How much he was in command of his vision for Apple Corp. and how exquisitely he was able to articulate it. Three occasions (I believe) in which he pointed out the lack of good networking he experienced with Apple’s Newton and with the devices of other manufacturers; How smooth and unobtrusive networking between devices and locations would the next big goal for Apple.

Yes, the new data center, as well as the recent patent haul apparently consists of significant-enough networking intellectual property acquired by Rock Star in which Apple took part with its competitors in the mobile space, must form part of his vision which he articulated in the video.

By the way, he made a few references to these suggestions being his opinion only, looking back this being deliciously cheeky, considering the inherent pull he already had vs. Gil Emilio being the current man in charge.

By the way, one year before this video, I was a user of DOS, content with the power of Shift F-7(?) to print, etc., but my TA who had a Performa something or other convinced me to go with a Macintosh product. I chose the PowerComputing PowerMac 180; It had better specs compared to the current Apple issue.

notarysojac

As a longtime reader of Mr. Martellaro’s columns, I wanted to say THANKS MUCH for resurrecting this video with Steve Jobs from WWDC 1997.  Alot of what he says in this clip speaks to the same issues we face today.  This was a very inspiring visit with Mr. Jobs, I must say.

JonGl

You know, I watched that video the other day, and when I saw you ask the question, I thought to myself that that guy looked vaguely familiar. But since I only have your little avatar pic here, I didn’t quite make the jump. Thanks for pointing out to me that it was you. grin

-Jon

DeargOB

Great article, great video and great advertisment.
The negatives?
I’ve spent the last 3 hours watching the WWDC, pausing, researching wikipedia and then playing again.

Back to work now….

DamenS

I chose the PowerComputing PowerMac 180; It had better specs compared to the current Apple issue

The PowerMac 180 had better specs than the current issue of Macs ??!  Now THAT must have been one powerful computer back then !

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