Steve Jobs, 1955–2011: Mourning Technology's Great Reinventor

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Jack Arent / Palo Alto Daily News / AP

Jobs speaks at the graduation ceremonies at Stanford University on June 12, 2005

Steve Jobs, whose death was announced Wednesday night, Oct. 5, 2011, wasn't a computer scientist. He had no training as a hardware engineer or industrial designer. The businesses Apple entered under his leadership — from personal computers to MP3 players to smart phones — all existed before the company got there.

But with astonishing regularity, Jobs did something that few people accomplish even once: he reinvented entire industries. He did it with ones that were new, like PCs, and he did it with ones that were old, like music. And his pace only accelerated over the years.

He was the most celebrated, successful business executive of his generation, yet he flouted many basic tenets of business wisdom. (Like his hero and soul mate, Polaroid founder Edwin Land, he refused to conduct focus groups or other research that might tell him what his customers wanted.) In his many public appearances as the head of a large public corporation, he rarely sounded like one. He introduced the first Macintosh by quoting Bob Dylan, and he took to saying that Apple sat "at the intersection of the liberal arts and technology."

Jobs' confidence in the wisdom of his instincts came to be immense, as did the hype he created at Apple product launches. That might have been unbearable if it weren't the case that his intuition was nearly flawless and the products often lived up to his lofty claims. St. Louis Cardinals pitching great "Dizzy" Dean could have been talking about Jobs rather than himself when he said, "It ain't bragging if you can back it up."

Jobs' eventual triumph was so absolute — in 2011, Apple's market capitalization passed that of Exxon Mobil, making it the planet's most valuable company — that it's easy to forget how checkered his reputation once was. Over the first quarter-century of his career, he was associated with as many failed products as hits. Having been forced out of Apple in 1985, he was associated with failure, period. Even some of his admirers thought of him as the dreamer who'd lost the war for personal-computer dominance to Microsoft's indomitable Bill Gates.

Until the iPod era, it seemed entirely possible that Jobs' most lasting legacy might be the blockbuster animated features produced by Pixar, the company he founded after acquiring George Lucas' computer-graphics lab in 1986. Instead, Pixar turned out to be, in Jobs' famous phrase, just one more thing.

Born in 1955 in San Francisco to an unmarried graduate student and adopted at birth by Paul and Clara Jobs, Steven Paul Jobs grew up in Silicon Valley just as it was becoming Silicon Valley. It proved to be a lucky break for everyone concerned.

He was only 21 when he started Apple — officially formed on April Fool's Day, 1976 — with his buddy Steve "Woz" Wozniak, a self-taught engineer of rare talents. (A third founder, Ron Wayne, chickened out after less than two weeks.)

But Jobs had already done a lot of living, all of which influenced the company he built. He'd spent one unhappy semester at Reed College in Portland, Ore., and 18 happy months of "dropping in" on Reed classes as he saw fit. He'd found brief employment in low-level jobs at Silicon Valley icons HP and Atari. He'd taken a spiritual journey to India and dabbled with both psychedelic drugs and primal scream therapy.

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