Updates & Writing

Everyone wants to be like Steve Jobs

One of the great things about working from home and living in the middle of Gippsland is that I’m able to spend a lot of time walking my dog down local trails. And that also gives me a lot of time to listen to podcasts.

One of my favourite podcasts is Behind The Bastards, where the host, Robert Evans, and a guest (usually a comedian), look at the biggest bastards in history. A recent episode looked at Elizabeth Holmes and her medical-tech startup, Theranos.

Holmes was obsessed with Steve Jobs, adopting a black turtleneck as her signature outfit and even using the same management techniques as the Apple co-founder. Holmes cultivated a personal mythology, that of an entrepreneurial wunderkind, which helped Theranos raise over $9 billion in venture capital funding for a product that simply didn’t work.

Steve Jobs may have been brilliant in certain ways, but in others, he was a monster. He wouldn’t shower for days at a time, he stole from his co-founder, and he was abusive and tyrannical both to his employees and his family.

He was brilliant, but also a jerk. And he is deified by the tech industry — particularly designers.

On the other hand, there is Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and the chief engineer and designer of the Apple I and Apple II. “The Woz” had no interest in management and despite the success of Apple he felt “that the company was hindering him from being who he wanted to be.”

He worked as a teacher, helped to found the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and seems to be a true hacker, in the sense that he invents, improves, and builds things.

I actually don’t remember whether the point is made explicitly in the podcast, but if Elizabeth Holmes had been obsessed with Steve Wozniak, instead of Steve Jobs, it seems highly unlikely that the Theranos scandal would have happened.

And that seems to be one of the big problems with Silicon Valley; too many people in the tech sector want to be like Steve Jobs and not enough want to be like Steve Wozniak.