Steve Jobs bio: A Canadian IT director’s review

As I take some time off to recharge my batteries before taking the next step in my career I was relishing the opportunity to sink my teeth into some books which has been a luxury that I have not really had time to do over the last several years. The first book on my list was the recently released authorized biography of Steve Jobs

So why was this a book I wanted to put number one on my reading list? I suppose given my occupation I have always had a professional reason to follow certain companies and individuals to have a better understanding what is happening in the high-tech industry but as the lines between professional and personal life have become so blurred – in large thanks to Steve Jobs – I also have a personal interest. I was also fascinated with the close connection between the man and the company, so much so that any news on his health was reflected in the stock market.

Full disclosure: Our household has 5 iPods, a Mac Mini & a MacBook Pro. So for our personal technology needs we use mostly Apple products. From a professional perspective all the organizations I have worked have been predominately Wintel shops. So I’d like to think that I have a somewhat balanced view here. Apple is great for personal use but not so much for the enterprise.

Based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs conducted over two years, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is filled with conversations among more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues.  This provided an interesting perspective as a reader, as there were times you could empathize with Steve and other times you would shake your head and think, “What a jerk!” This was a well-balanced book in that sense and, quite frankly, the way biographies should be written. Throughout the book the author was very clear about Steve’s desire to have the book paint the whole picture. I’d say that mission was very much accomplished.

The beginning of the book starts off a bit slow in terms of his life, adoption, school and parents. His father worked as a machinist who I believe had the biggest impact on his early life and provided him with his obsession of the “importance of design.” Next up: meeting Steve Wozniak who was a brilliant engineer and eventually creating Apple and working out of his father’s garage creating the Apple II in 1977 which was the first mass marketed personal computer. This, of course, is what really launched his career.  The next part of the book deals with Apple’s rise-fall-rise, which I found riveting. It gave a pretty candid account of some of Jobs’s relationships against the backdrop of his company. The book finishes up with his health decline and how he decided he would leave a legacy.

I found the insight and perspective of this book very fascinating, from Jobs’s tumultuous relationship with Bill Gates to getting kicked out of Apple and returning triumphantly 10 years later; his brilliance in not only making technology hip but very desirable; and, his focus on design simplicity and his obsessiveness both professionally and in his personal life. Steve Jobs basically took technology, crossed it with the arts and we haven’t looked back since.

As much of a visionary as he was, he also got incredibly lucky, such as the time that he got to see what Xerox was doing with the first graphical user interface (GUI) and rightly decided that was the way to go, beating IBM and Microsoft to the punch by copying the idea while Xerox sat on it. And let’s not forget that not every Apple product was a home-run … anyone remember the Lisa, Newton or Apple Network Server? 

Steve Jobs said that he wanted to put a dent in the universe. I’m not sure I would argue with that.  In years to come he will be remembered with the likes of Edison, Einstein and Ford. This book is a must read for anyone with a slight interest in the high-tech industry, consumer electronic goods or inspirational leaders. It is thought provoking, insightful and inspiring … but be warned … once you pick it up it is very difficult to put it down.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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