On the Resignation of Steve Jobs

By Mike / On / In Personal

I knew the day would come when Steve Jobs would retire, and I could have predicted that I would blog about it, but I didn’t expect to cry. The feeling of tears welling up in my eyes took me by surprise. It wasn’t the shock of the announcement, or the soonness of it, but the implication of it.

It would be one thing if Steve got up on stage, said, “We’re richer than Europe. I think I’ve proved my point,” dropped the mic, and walked into the sunset. Instead Steve said, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

I’m crying because I never got to meet Steve Jobs, never got to shake his hand, never got to suffer his direct criticism. I’m crying because I’m afraid I never will.

My personal relationship with Steve Jobs, like most people’s personal relationships with Steve Jobs, means all the world to me, and nothing at all to Steve Jobs. When I needed a ticket to the first WWDC to ever sell out, I was told to appeal to the man himself. I didn’t even know you could email Steve. It just didn’t even occur to me that was something one could do.

My first email to Steve was lengthy, giving a full accounting of myself, my career, my history with Apple, and the value of having me, my company, and our little music game, at the conference. It took most of the day for me to write it. The response: “Sorry, we are truly sold out.” Terse poetry, worth not getting the ticket just to own that little piece of classic Steve.

That wasn’t the only time I wrote to Steve Jobs. Years ago I had a premonition that he was sick again, and wrote him a letter about it. I never sent that letter. I thought he would find it intrusive and creepy, especially if it was true. And it was true, sadly.

When I outgrew Wil Shipley as my mentor, I made Steve my mentor. I didn’t actually propose this to him. That would be absurd. I just started studying him, reverse engineering his techniques, learning to perform his tricks, on stage and off.

When I went to work for Apple, I went to work for Steve. To be inside Infinite Loop is to have the rare privilege of hearing Steve Jobs speak off the cuff. I would see him around, but I never approached him. He is always extremely busy. And extremely skinny.

Legend has it that when Apple sends retail employees to Infinite Loop for training, they warn them not to look at Steve. I guess there was a serious problem with people getting caught in him like deer in headlights. They were probably blocking the sidewalk. He hates that.

I never talked to Steve at Apple. Not once. I would talk about Steve. I was appalled at how little people at Apple knew about him for all the time they spent worrying about what he was thinking. “He’s not an unknowable entity,” I would say, exasperated. “There are books you can read about him.”

After my shift at the sausage factory, I would go home to continue coding in my Silicon Valley garage, get ferociously stoned, and email Steve.

Mike Lee and Steven Wozniak, standing in line at Valley Fair for the iPad launch.Woz signed my iPhone

I emailed him before camping out at Valley Fair for the iPad launch (sixth in the door, behind Steve Wozniak). I was so excited about it, and I wanted him to know how excited I was. I told him about going to the Star Trek Experience and how all the tablets ever envisioned for Star Trek look like crap compared to the iPad.

I emailed him to tell him that I had to choose between being in the same room as Steve Jobs or a naked woman, and chose the woman, because I thought that’s what he would do. I wanted to let him know that bmf@apple.com was a pirate. I hoped that would make him smile.
Mike Lee's Apple Badge
I emailed Steve for the last time before leaving Apple and Silicon Valley behind to ask a question: when I was a kid and I thought of the future, it wasn’t as good as my life is now, so what am I meant to think of now when I think of the future?

Like the other late night missives, Steve never responded, which made me realize the answer was obvious: the future is ours to invent.

Thanks, Steve.