October 11, 2011
I NEVER met Steve Jobs. Even so, my Steve Jobs story is a personal one.
Looking back, it seems that his footsteps were with me during so many critical junctures in my life.
Few others over the past three decades did more to define their time than Jobs. The swashbuckling captain of the technology ship confidently sailed us into the unknown tech future before ultimately staking out his claim to reshaping modern culture.
In 1979, I was a high school kid aimlessly sitting in a science class in San Antonio. Mr. Potter, our physics teacher, had somehow gotten his hands on an Apple II. During my free period, I hacked around on it and actually figured out how to program the game of blackjack with all the graphics to boot. Compared with anything I had done up to this point, I felt like I had really accomplished something significant.
Six years later, I was studying electrical engineering at Rice University. As I approached graduation in 1985, instead of a gold watch (which wasn’t going to happen), my father generously funded the purchase of a just released Macintosh. Now this was something: I actually wanted to show it off to my normal friends. The very first thing I did with my new Mac was to write out my resume for my first big job search. OK, yes I went font crazy — but who didn’t in those days? It all worked: I received an offer from HP in Santa Rosa, California.
After deciding to forgo industry and head to grad school, I became engrossed in what was then the new field of wireless communications. There were all sorts of amazing proclamations about what the future would hold. (That’s for another article.) My research focus was on developing the analytical models that would dramatically speed the simulation of complex communication systems.
But to make it all work, I needed access to a fast computational engine. There were these strange little cubes sitting idle in our computer lab that had gotten the computer engineers all excited. I jumped on one of them and was literally off to the races. At that time, I certainly didn’t know that Jobs was behind the Next computer, but given the elegant minimalist styling, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
In the early 2000s, it seemed as if my days playing with Macs and the Next computer were in the distant past. I had become deeply involved in the development of mobile phones and networks — Apple and Steve Jobs were nowhere to be found in this space, or so I thought.
In March 2005, I was speaking at an awards banquet in San Francisco with Walt Mossberg, the legendary tech writer from the Wall Street Journal. He had just been to Cupertino to visit the folks at Apple and was talking at full speed about what Steve Jobs was about to do to the wireless world. No trade secrets were exchanged, but I just knew something special was coming.
The iPhone rocked the handset world — in my view the crowning achievement of Steve Jobs’s career. Elegant, sexy, futuristic, simple, fun, timeless, accessible, and very cool!
Today, as I speak to students across the country about what is possible with engineering, I invariably use the iPhone as my go-to example. Suddenly I feel young again — and excited about what the future will bring.
Thank you Steve Jobs. DN
Geoffrey C. Orsak is Dean of the SMU Lyle School of Engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org