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Steve Jobs' First Boss: 'Very Few Companies Would Hire Steve, Even Today' 420

Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Mercury News reports that Nolan Bushnell, who ran video game pioneer Atari in the early 1970s, says he always saw something special in Steve Jobs, and that Atari's refusal to be corralled by the status quo was one of the reasons Jobs went to work there in 1974 as an unkempt, contemptuous 19-year-old. 'The truth is that very few companies would hire Steve, even today,' says Bushnell. 'Why? Because he was an outlier. To most potential employers, he'd just seem like a jerk in bad clothing.' While at Atari, Bushnell broke the corporate mold, creating a template that is now common through much of Silicon Valley. He allowed employees to turn Atari's lobby into a cross between a video game arcade and the Amazon jungle. He started holding keg parties and hiring live bands to play for his employees after work. He encouraged workers to nap during their shifts, reasoning that a short rest would stimulate more creativity when they were awake. He also promised a summer sabbatical every seven years. Bushnell's newly released book, Finding The Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent, serves as a primer on how to ensure a company doesn't turn into a mind-numbing bureaucracy that smothers existing employees and scares off rule-bending innovators such as Jobs. The basics: Make work fun; weed out the naysayers; celebrate failure, and then learn from it; allow employees to take short naps during the day; and don't shy away from hiring talented people just because they look sloppy or lack college credentials. Bushnell is convinced that there are all sorts of creative and unconventional people out there working at companies today. The problem is that corporate managers don't recognize them. Or when they do, they push them to conform rather than create. 'Some of the best projects to ever come out of Atari or Chuck E. Cheese's were from high school dropouts, college dropouts,' says Bushnell, 'One guy had been in jail.'"
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Steve Jobs' First Boss: 'Very Few Companies Would Hire Steve, Even Today'

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  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @08:32PM (#43327517)
    Few companies are willing to hire anyone today.
  • He's right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @08:33PM (#43327521) Homepage Journal

    Steve Jobs would have made a lousy employee.

  • by DavidClarkeHR ( 2769805 ) <<ac.tsilarenegrh> <ta> <ekralc.divad>> on Sunday March 31, 2013 @08:37PM (#43327547)
    Why take a chance on hiring an outsider if your management isn't supportive?

    It's a quick way to turn into an outsider yourself.
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @08:38PM (#43327549) Homepage Journal

    He'd laugh himself out of the door if he showed up for a job today.

  • Post Hoc Advice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @08:52PM (#43327629)
    It's a false idea that Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. In other words, saying "because it happened after XYZ, it must have been because of XYZ" is wrong. I think Nolan Bushnell is probably right about a bunch of his ideas, but ultimately Atari did not rise to the top like the cream that was Macintosh/Apple did, or that IBM's PC architecture did because of all of that "complimentary copying", or that Unix or POSIX did in being used everywhere including in GNU/Linux.
    Look at past successes to see that one die roll that won in the corporate world of selecting employees who turn out to be diamonds in the rough
    is as crazy as

    looking at the past performance of 65536 (~sixty-five thousand = 2^16) brokers each of whom makes one of the binary bets of heads/tails on 16 binary events and then being surprised that one of them got all 16 bets rights, and 120 got 15 out of the 16 bets right.
    Sometimes it's pretty random, and looking for reason in fluke choices won't get you far. As for that betting example, go look at the Binomial distribution []. Also see [] where they use an example of 100 letters, whereas they would be better off having a power of 2.
    The best explanation of the "stock market prediction scam" is at [] .

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:02PM (#43327669)

    I'm an iOS developer and I get two or three headhunter calls a week. I know people who took an iOS course and got consulting gigs for over $100/hour within a month. It's easy to get a job if you pay attention to what the market demands.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:05PM (#43327675) Journal

    Managers advance by minimizing risk, not by innovating.

    This is not always true. A manager who innovates successfully can advance very quickly, in a company that hasn't yet reached organizational senescence (as Dr. Peter describes in The Peter Principle.)


  • Re:Steve Jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:09PM (#43327703)
    Why does everyone forget that he was pushed out when Scully cam on board? Jobs had to rebuild from square one at NeXt (or NeXT, or some other camely spelling) where he built the underpinnings for OSX and for applescript in building the NeXT machine and the NeXT cube while keeping his cool artistic and "beautiful box" ideas and still providing:
    - a hardware base with a programmable DSP that could be used as a modem, or a fax, or as in the basis for real time audio processing
    - the first commercially usable mexapixel display with 24-bit color
    - UNIX based underneath with a pretty interface on top, NeXT-Step, also the precursor of OSX
    - the first optical drive on consumer hardware (it was magneto-optical however)
    - a NeXT machine was the workbench upon which Tim Berners Lee was able to program the beginning of the WWW=world wide web and HTML language and HTTP protocol

    Jobs also started up Pixar which gave him his entree into hollywood connections. Jobs was flung down quite a few times and built his own way back up. Good luck finding someone with that level of arrogance and that level of actual capability and that level of chutzpah.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:23PM (#43327769)

    ...I've learned to shut my fucking mouth and let science projects explode spectacularly.

    Nobody seems to want to hear about potential risks and dangers that teams must take into account. And yet, they're of course completely shocked when shit goes up in flames.

    Well, everybody wins. I get a sense of smug self-satisfaction, and non-term thinkers get to keep failing. Damned if I know why it brings them such joy, but whatever floats their boats. (Caveat: Your hull should be intact if you have a boat. This is not something that can be fixed "after going public". Your boat will FUCKING SINK.)

  • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:34PM (#43327833)
    Sub 1% unemployment in my section of the computer industry. I was getting bombarded with job requests for the past few years, but they've let up as I kept telling them that I enjoy my current job.
  • Re:Steve Jobs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by puto ( 533470 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:45PM (#43327875) Homepage
    Let me address a few comments in your post. 1. Pixar was founded Lucas Group, and then later spun off as sep corp with an investment from Steve Jobs. 2. Canon invented that drive, and the Next was hardly consumer hardware and was not marketed with consumers in mind. 3. Next would have tanked without Ross Perots money. So maybe we owe Ross Perot for OSX. Jobs was a great driving force behind Apple an Next, but he wrote no code, nor did he invent Unix, he was just an excellent overseer. He is was a great salesman and marker. But an asshole.
  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:58PM (#43327951)
    Dude, Steve Jobs tooks Pixar where it went, from an in-house digital effects firm for ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) into what it became: a Hollywood powerhouse that took in Lasseter and made Toy Story and other blockbusters.
    Sure Canon invented the m.o. drive in the NeXT machine; I made no claim that Jobs invented it. Jobs didn't invent USB even though he put it into the iMac fruit-colored all-in-one '040 machines that ran system 7 or 8. Jobs didn't invent firewire but he put those into Powerbooks and Powermacs. Jobs didn't invent ethernet but he created ethernet dongles for 68040-based Mac IIci machines. He may not have invented those things, and he didn't invent the macintosh, but he was the prime mover behind the creation and marketing and success of those things on consumer-grade hardware.
    3. F.U.! Read what I wrote. I never said he wrote unix. He incorporated Mach and Posix into NeXT, designed the use of the NeXT-step GUI interface, and pushed for the integration of the dsp chip into easy to use software APIs and allowed for programmers to access the hardware in a useful way.
    He was an excellent overseer, and a slave-driver, and an ego-maniac, and an asshole. That's how he got things done. My point was that selecting for the same traits in someone else will more likely get you 50-70% of those traits: the external expresed phenotypes, like jack-assery. Selecting for those external traits will most likely not get you an employee that will star-ship rocket your company into the world of success.
  • Yup. This. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @10:28PM (#43328047) Homepage

    I've written multiple books, done award-winning work, and have sterling recommendations/references from people that can say all kinds of fabulous stuff about me. But all of my best work in life has been done in the contracting/consulting space, where I was basically a lone wolf.

    Virtually every time a company has hired me, they have immediately put me in a box.

    Step 1: Refuse to allow him to use his own tech tools/toolchains crafted over years and with which he is fabulous and familiar.

    Step 2: Make sure that there's no allowance for him to do intense/creative work on his own daytime schedule; meetings are mandatory and if that means that the only time left for actual work is during hours when his brain isn't at its best, oh well.

    Step 3: Lock him into a narrow chain of hierarchy/command so that he can't ever talk directly to the role players that he needs in order to directly get things done; instead, ensure that he's always stuck playing telephone through many organizational layers and that his immediate contact has an MBA and doesn't ever understand what he's saying.

    Step 4: Evaluate him immediately (always too early) and on a linear progress model with synthetic "benchmarks," whether or not any of this matches the natural trajectory of the task at hand or not, so that instead of doing great things in the best way, he's working to "hit benchmarks" in ways that often interfere with the actual work, either slowing it tremendously or significantly reducing the potential of the final outcome.

    Step 5: Take away any physical and psychological comfort and idiosyncrasy that enables him to act naturally and think clearly; dictate dress, office layout and organization, hours, speech and communications channels, venues, and characteristics, so that he's not even himself most of the time when he's working for you (you know, the self that did the great work that you want to have).

    Step 6: Toss assorted new tasks and underlings into his lap that have no relationship to what he was actually hired to do and/or his actual area of expertise, ensuring that he'll spend more and more time doing stuff for which he is not the optimal laborer, again taking away from the work that you actually hired him to do.

    Step 7: Undervalue or refuse to value at all any research work, preliminary design/development work, or anything that isn't clearly "making product" and "hitting benchmarks" and be sure to stop by the desk every ten minutes and remind him that he wasn't hired "to do that" but instead to "produce."

    Under conditions of "employment" this has happened to me so many times that I hesitate to accept "employment" now and prefer to consult instead. I'm tired of seeing excitement turn into bewilderment of the "He came so highly recommended!" sort after just about every last thing that makes the best work that I've done possible (the work that they wanted to see done again, on their time) was methodically written out of my work life.

    Too many MBAs and HR drones out there in the corporate world that are really only comfortable seeing other MBAs and HR drones buzzing about the office, wondering why nobody outside of management and HR seems to be "getting anything done."

  • Wrong assumptions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khchung ( 462899 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @10:51PM (#43328127) Journal

    Finding The Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent

    Bushnell is convinced that there are all sorts of creative and unconventional people out there working at companies today. The problem is that corporate managers don't recognize them. Or when they do, they push them to conform rather than create.

    The underlying assumptions are WRONG. Most companies are NOT interested in finding any creative talent, nor are they interested in any unconventional people.

    In my experience, most companies just want cheaper worker who do not make waves and will just bend down and work. Their managers like to TALK ABOUT finding talent, or finding creative/unconventional people, mainly because it is what their stockholders expect to hear, and partly to make it sound like they are working hard, and also partly to make their cheap workers think that their managers actually care when they work hard.

    The fact is, most companies managers just want to keep the status quo and rake in their bonuses. Any creative or unconventional worker is threat to their status quo, and that's why even if those people were hired, they would be pushed to "conform rather than create".

    ACTION speak louder than words. See what companies really DO, rather than what they TALK about, to infer what they really want.

    If you are the next Steve, go ahead and start your own company, no existing company will want you.

  • by philip.paradis ( 2580427 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @11:58PM (#43328349)

    This explains the quality of many iOS apps.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 01, 2013 @01:18AM (#43328621)

    The taxes aren't that bad compared to historical rates. The wages, OTOH, have been stagnating for 30 years.

    Hey, big companies - who are you going to sell to now that you've drained the middle class of disposable income?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 01, 2013 @01:39AM (#43328681)

    If you can do digital and analog, and are a web wizard, then you must be God.

    "Oh, so you're a god? That's good, we're looking for gods right now. I hope you're okay with $45k a year, 1 week of vacation, no bonuses, no advancement, crappy health insurance, and naturally we require a drug test before you can start."

  • Re:Steve Jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Monday April 01, 2013 @03:44AM (#43328899)

    To be completely fair to history, he didn't start Pixar he acquired them. And, their management said that they succeeded in spite of him, because they ignored everything that he told them to do. The only time he ever really shined was at Apple. And, the only time Apple ever shined was when he was there.

    1. He started Apple 1 and made hundreds of millions.
    2. He started Next and made hundreds of millions.
    3. He bought a small company named Pixar and made several billions.
    4. He went back to Apple 2 and made hundred of billions.

    Once is luck. Four times, the man has something, and if people can't see what it is, they don't have it.

  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Monday April 01, 2013 @07:44AM (#43329503) Journal

    Speaking as the owner of a decently-sized company, and a responsible adult, I can say with certainty that work is not supposed to be a frat party, and throwing lunchtime keggers for your employees does not make them more creative or more dedicated workers.

    Yes, it's important to provide a comfortable working atmosphere for your employees, and to be flexible to the needs of your employees should they have life circumstances they need to deal with. But, a completely slack environment void of rules and expectations only leads to organizational chaos.

    Back when I used to do "conventional" hiring, I interviewed a lot of "Steve Jobs" types - the arrogant, entitled, indignant type that was more concerned about the frat party and with there being no rules or structure than with the diligent exchange of productivity for compensation. More often than not these would be people who had high expectations of my company, but expected me to have low expectations of them. I was just to take what they were willing to give me and be happy about it.

    Those kinds of people, the ones who are in it for "what can you do for me today?" are absolutely toxic to an organization in my experience. I'd much rather hire the altruistic "what can I do to help my teammates succeed?" type.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday April 01, 2013 @09:10AM (#43330061) Journal

    I love how all the (high rated) posts here are about companies 'thinking outside the box' and 'needing to recognize talent' etc.

    The fact is, the title could just as well have been "Steve Jobs' success was extraordinary; complete assholes STILL generally not preferred as employees, coworkers, or bosses."

    Let's be honest, yes, Steve Jobs' success was extraordinary - whether that's a combination of talent or luck, is your call. But he was an asshole, and 99.9% of the time, assholes really aren't great to work with or for. HE wasn't great to work for, he was still a dick, it's just that he was successful.

  • Re:He's right. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Monday April 01, 2013 @11:48AM (#43331143)

    Yes, in fact it was quite the opposite. Steve would tell you your work was shit (quite literally), but you'd usually keep your job.

    Thing is, Steve Jobs was a package. He was a great marketer, but he could be a shitty boss. That can work... if you have people willing to follow and deal with it. And make no mistake, he was able to continue to offer people continued employment because he was able to get his way, and people didn't quit and go elsewhere. That would not work for everyone.

    To some degree, I also think his management style was crudely effective. In many cases there are times when managers pussyfoot around things and care more about the feelings of their employees instead of the job at hand. You should be able to tell someone that their work is shit, without making the employee believe that you think they are shit personally. In Jobs' case, he was able to convey the first part, and I think the employees ignored his inability to do the second. The secret ingredient being his ability to somehow have top tier design and engineering talent *not* storm out after one of his episodes.

  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @05:40AM (#43335617)

    Well it's like this for .NET developers, and in fact, many areas of software development in most of the UK at least (the few exceptions may be places like Cornwall, or the North West north of Manchester perhaps, not sure).

    You really have to be quite awful to not be able to find a job in this field in the UK right now as there are far far more jobs paying well with good benefits than there are candidates. In fact, I'd go as far as saying if you're genuinely at least semi-competent and can't find a role in this field then you're one of those people who probably doesn't really actually want to find a job if they're honest with themselves.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"