Me & Steve

The other day, I asked my wife, “If the version of me today ran into the version of me 10 years ago on the street, would the version of me 10 years ago like the version of me today?

My wife said, “Yes, because you became the big brother you always wanted back then but didn’t have?”

When I was younger, I used to be a heavy programmer.  No joke.  I made video games in Basic A or Pascal and then converted them to Assembly Language on old computers my parents got from work. These games were rudimentary, on par with Space Invaders or Pong (pre-internet, pre-html and Flash animation) but amusing no less.   I would take the bus home from school with a long print out of computer code in my hand.  After eating dinner, I would stay up late studying “for –next “ loops and “if…then” conditional statements and Boolean logic, fixing some “bug” or analyzing a snippet of code not rendering graphical animation like my Nintendo games did.   For a hot second, one could have confused me for an extra in the movie, “Revenge of the Nerds.”

At the time, Steve Jobs had left Apple and was releasing his latest concoction called NEXT, which was supposed to revolutionize the computer world yet again.  The famous Steve Jobs, who had brought the first PC to the market with the inimitable multicolored Apple logo.  I didn’t know much else about the computer world (like the software revolution that Microsoft was waging) but I did know the long haired, jean wearing Steve Jobs and I knew I wanted to be like him; the magician and futurist  able to make people fall in love with a mouse and a small screen.

I don’t know what it was about him.  Maybe it was the fact that he wore a black turtle neck all the time, which made him the “blackest white man” I ever saw in business and technology in Silicon Valley.  And so I could relate to him, even look up to him as a big brother.

Then his next big act, NeXT, hit the market…and it flopped.  It was not a mainstream success like Apple II.   And most of the 90s Steve Jobs was written off and relegated to the background of  Bill Gates’ dominance with Microsoft.  Ironically, as I got older my interests began to partition and other passions took over, far from computers and the world of tech.  In a way, I had no big brother to emulate in that world and so that world became less relevant and I got into other things.

For example, the version of my 10 years ago was greatly into film, music, and poetry.  If I told the version of myself 10 years ago that in ten years he would be getting an MBA and pursuing a career in technology and marketing.  The version of me ten years ago would have been like “What are you on, are you crazy?”

This brings me to my main point about Steve:

A month ago I was trying to engage this smart college kid(with an engineering background) in a conversation about bridging the digital divide in inner-city communities by getting Fortune 500 companies to invest technology and entrepreneurship resources in these communities.  And this kid looked at me baffled.  He asked me, “Why would Fortune 500 companies invest in inner-city kids when these kids have not demonstrated any history of ability for success in technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and Silicon Valley? “

Fair point… but then I thought about Steve Job’s personal background — He was born out of wedlock.  He was given up by his parents.  He dropped out of college after one year and when he was in college he took an art class.  AND he did not have an engineering background like this kid. In fact Steve Job’s background is more similar to these inner-city kids than this college kid. Yet Steve Jobs changed the world, flipped the business rules for consumer products, and took Apple from the brink of bankruptcy to the richest, most innovative company in the world in 2010.

Most people like to remind talented people not to forget them if they “make it.”  But the reverse holds true.  People should not forget talented people if they don’t “make it.” There is talent in under-served communities that don’t “make it.”

In honoring Steve Jobs, I would like to honor the times he was not as successful during his NeXT years, because it was that time when he was like a big brother to me.  His ability to rise again from the ashes with Ipod, Iphone, and Ipad remind me still that anything is possible and that I am not as crazy as that college kid made me feel.  I hope that in my journey to aid non-traditional path-makers with my personal story –Street Poet to MBA– I can continue to be the inspiration to others that Steve was for me…

Staying hungry, staying foolish