When I was growing up in Palo Alto in the 1960s, it was a town of engineers and Stanford professors. Today, it’s the capital of Silicon Valley, the home of venture capitalists, titans of industry and $1 million teardowns.
More than anyone, Steve Jobs was responsible for the change.
Jobs was the prototype for all the famous entrepreneurs who followed him — a college dropout who started a company in his Palo Alto garage. He didn’t invent the personal computer. But he was the first person who had the vision and the balls to sell one to consumers.
Until then, the big tech news in Palo Alto was Hewlett-Packard. My Dad used to come home with the latest HP calculator, and I used to think that was cool. He also used to take the punch cards from defense contractor Westinghouse to a giant computer off University Ave., crunching numbers that an iPhone could do in a nano-second.
Today, HP is failing. Apple, almost undone after Jobs was ousted by John Sculley, has rebounded under Jobs’ leadership to become valuable and respected tech company in the world.
PCs, computer animation, iPods, iPhones, iPads, music, video — you’d have to go back to Edison to find a businessman who’s had such a wide impact over so many industries.
No saint. Working for him could be hell, and his anal control over Apple’s ecosystem infuriated millions of us and enabled the rise of Windows PCs and even Android.
But he is irreplaceable. It’s perhaps fitting that he died a day after the mildly disappointing launch of the iPhone 4S — a phone that was a stepwise improvement over previous iPhones but certainly not revolutionary. Jobs, for better or worse, was all about sweeping, fundamental change in people’s relationship to technology. The world won’t be the same without him.