Hanton: From dreams to reality

Rick Hanton

While some people think his story has been overplayed by news outlets in the last week, Steve Jobs is a man who deserves the attention he has received as the curtain falls on his amazing career. I’ll start off saying that while I’m not a Steve Jobs fan or an Apple fanboy, I do have to admire his products, his achievements and his career path. How did one man who seemed more preoccupied searching for his spiritual self during his college years, and only toyed with computers in his spare time, manage to revolutionize the technological world?

Well, that is a very good question to ask.

For those who don’t know his history, Steve Jobs was an adopted child who grew up in San Francisco in the ’60s, the days in which man first walked on the moon, integrated circuits were invented, race and gender equality were being established, and students were revolting against popular culture. Jobs was influenced by all these things, but one of his biggest early achievements was being noticed by Hewlett-Packard employee Steve Wozniak as he became interested in computers during his high school years.

Jobs would later attend college, dropout, become a Buddhist in India and return to California before working with his friend again. It was in 1976 that Jobs convinced Wozniak they should commercialize a simple computer design Wozniak had created and convinced a local shop to buy the computers for $500 apiece. It was that simple. With Wozniak’s brilliant engineering skills and some shrewd business decisions by Jobs that kept company ownership in their hands, Apple Computer had begun.

Their second design, the Apple II, is generally credited with creating the home computer market with its simple interface, ease-of-use and easy setup. Jobs was always pressing the envelope and pushing his employees to create a more user-friendly experience. This is what got the 24-year-old founder famously interested in the interesting things Xerox was doing at its Palo Alto research center nearby. After seeing the graphical interface Xerox invented there years before its time, Jobs set out to copy it — creating the graphical Apple Lisa and Apple Macintosh in 1984.

Even when he was then fired from Apple in 1985, Jobs went off and created the NeXT computer, which used object-oriented programming — now a standard of most software — and revolutionary devices like the Ethernet port (that now connects your computer to the Internet). On that machine he could send multimedia emails and could eventually use the newly created CD-ROM drive to load programs. As Jobs explained to news outlets at the time, the NeXT computers were far ahead of their time and eventually their NeXTSTEP operating system was bought by Apple to become the current Mac OS X.

From his early days learning about computing with Wozniak, Jobs always wanted the computers they developed to have the very best technology possible coupled with the best design in existence. Jobs has delved in software, engineering and design but has never tied himself solely to one discipline. He thinks about developing the best holistic product and pushes his employees to develop it as quickly as possible.

One of Jobs’ greatest gifts is his intuition about what the user needs. When Jobs designs a new product, he can visualize how it should work and function for the user. It was said that during the last decade one of the toughest achievements for Apple product managers was to get a finished product past Jobs. The brilliance of Apple is they have never been hindered by what “the market” wanted. The company took risks to design devices to fill gaps in current technology with unique combinations of both new and old technologies.

For years, if a new product didn’t live up to all of Jobs’ expectations, it was sent back to the drawing board. One requirement of Jobs’ position is to have a completely open mind. Apple thrives on the mentality that if you throw enough smart people at a hard problem, anything is possible.

This is something to think about as you go through your college career. The young people of the last few decades have accomplished some amazing world-changing feats because they pushed boundaries and were never told what could not be done. The moon landings in the ’60s, the creation of consumer electronics in the 1970s, Jobs’ and Gates’ work to create personal computing in the ’80s, the Internet in the ’90s and social media revolution in the new millennium were all achieved by people in their 20s who were willing to dream. What will our generation create and develop? How can you and I change the world for the better?

Learn from Steve Jobs’ example: Do your dreaming first, unbounded by real-world constraints. Then work with diverse people, diverse techniques and diverse technologies to bring your dreams to life. When you’re done, you will have something your customer wants, something beautiful that seems as if it is from the future. As Jobs once noted about Apple computers: Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.