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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 timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:06PM (#43327687)
    "Weeding out naysayers" is a advice that should be applied very carefully IMHO. Anybody who's worked around engineers and been on slashdot a while can get the point - there are plenty of guys who never heard an idea they didn't hate, who only ever see problems and never opportunities. On the other hand, I imagine a few level-headed and empowered naysayers could have done a lot of good at Enron and Bear Stearns. I am not sure if there is really a principled way to tell the difference defeatists and prophets though. I spent a good part of this morning reading Sundown in America [], and the reader replies to it, and trying to decide whether the guy is loony, or America is doomed.
  • A jerk in a suit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kwyj1b0 ( 2757125 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:16PM (#43327739)

    A jerk in a suit, especially with an 'old-boys' network, however, would get hired instantly

    Nothing for/against Jobs per se (I didn't know him), but it seems like the jerk part doesn't seem to be a problem with many managers and top level executives. A jerk who would drive employees to the brink of exhaustion would be welcome.

    And to be fair the manager/executive is not hired to improve moral - short term gains outweigh employee happiness nowadays. It is easier to motivate employees to work hard by being a scary control freak, than by being a kind and caring person who looks out for you. Especially when times are tough and it isn't easy to get a job. And this mentality filters down - if my boss's boss screams at him, he vents at me.

    The problem is cultural. 2 weeks of vacation is the norm in certain parts of the world - money is seen by many (especially the younger crowd) to be the deciding factor in taking any job. A consumerist mentality only compounds the problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, 2013 @09:50PM (#43327901)

    ... On the other hand, I imagine a few level-headed and empowered naysayers could have done a lot of good at Enron and Bear Stearns. ...

    This point is actually brought up quite directly in Susan Cain's book titled "Quiet" []. It's not so much about "naysayers" (because both introverts and extroverts can be such), but is about the fact that introverted folks tend to put more effort into thinking about the (both positive and negative) effects of something, compared to extroverts who tend to dive in head-first and hope for the best. There were a good number of introverted folks giving Enron (and others) level-headed advice, with all the warning signs provided -- all of which was ignored (by extroverts who controlled things); both Enron and Bear Stearns were both mentioned.

    The reason I mention her book is because it sheds an enormous amount of light on the exact attitude, thought process, personality type, and even lifestyle, that the United States (and to some degree Canada as well) has come to expect from its citizens ("workers") -- it's expected that everyone be extroverted and that nobody ever question anything. All our systems (social, economical, educational, governmental, you name it) are designed solely to support the extroverted attitude and thought process -- especially from the moment we enter kindergarten. Introversion isn't awarded in any way, it's shunned. Once this evidence is presented to you (with hundreds and hundreds of facts to back it up), it really changes how you view American life/society/etc.. It's actually amazingly depressing, because it proves that everything, right dow to our very core, is money-driven rather than neutral/balanced or even improvement-driven.

    Captcha: remorse.

  • Re:Yup. This. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, 2013 @10:37PM (#43328067)

    I other words, the "team" member shouldn't be part of a team, or use tools and methods that others in the organization are familiar with, or even show up to work when the rest of the "team" needs him to be there.

    In other words, I'm going to bitch and complain and end up doing dead-end contract work because under normal circumstances I wouldn't be able to hold a job for longer than 6 months anyway.

    Yes, we real professionals know your type. You're the entitled, self-righteous college kid who thinks he deserves a corner office and a company Porsche on his first day of work, and a pat on the back and a promotion every time he accomplishes even a meager task. But, in reality, that you think you need to work at a specific time of day and under your own terms to be creative is not a demonstration of your genius, but rather of your mediocrity.

    The company situation you describe does not exist outside of Hollywood and the Dilbert strip. That's how I know your post is complete and utter whining bullshit.

  • Re:Steve Jobs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @10:42PM (#43328095)

    Yeah, and his cool box was built out of a whole bunch of technologies (Objective-C, Smalltalk, MVC, DisplayPostscript, WYSIWYG) and open source software (Mach, BSD, GNU compiler) created by others, which he then promptly attempted to make proprietary and whose licenses he attempted to violate. I can't actually think of a single major technical contribution of NeXT. Steve Jobs was a talented product designers, but he had no scruples.

  • by spiffmastercow ( 1001386 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @10:45PM (#43328105) is looking to hire thousands of people, right now. Not saying that that makes a dent, but there are companies with very strong growth right now.

    I interviewed with Amazon. After the second in-person interview I had nailed technical questions, but was not offered a job. No matter, I was offered a job for 20k more in Portland where cost of living is lower and the culture better. Honestly Amazon didn't look like a great place to work, particularly given the location, starting salary, and amount of hours you're expected to put in. Might be okay right out of school before you have a life, but not a great place if you have a family to take care of.

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

    by elbles ( 516589 ) on Sunday March 31, 2013 @11:03PM (#43328167)
    AC seems exactly right to me, based on what I remember of "Apple Confidential." In fact, if memory serves me right, Jobs was trying to get Sculley fired when Sculley was out of town, and Jean-Louis Gassee warned Sculley of the attempted coup.

    So when Apple was looking to buy a company for the next generation Mac OS, Jobs had a very personal motive to get Apple to buy NeXT instead of Be (as Gassee was the president of Be, and in negotations to sell Be to Apple). That, and he got Apple to buy NeXT at a time when he was considering investing his own (and Larry Ellison's) money to take over Apple. Instead, he got paid to do it, and got the guy who executed the move fired.

    Jobs was great at many, many things... but he wasn't exactly a nice guy, or--from everything I've read--the kind of guy you'd want running anything when he was forced out of Apple. I think even Jobs would admit it was probably good for him (and Apple) in the long run.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 31, 2013 @11:20PM (#43328229)

    The first 9 numbers, listed in alphabetical order.

    This question, if used nowadays, may risk you getting sued for discriminating against non-native English speakers.

    Non-native English speakers will NOT mentally translate the Arabic numerals to English at all, thus they would be disadvantaged.

    You may understand this more clearly if you imagine a Chinese company give you a similar interview question, but ordered by each number's stroke count as written in Chinese. Or a Japanese company using their phonetic order, or similarly with any other language.

    Being able to communicate with a language is a reasonable hiring requirement, being able to play word games with it is not.

  • by philip.paradis ( 2580427 ) on Monday April 01, 2013 @12:15AM (#43328427)

    You seem pretty angry. You haven't provided any details on the sort of IT work you do, but you should probably be aware that the entire field isn't outsourced to India. The companies I've worked for over the last 14 years (yeah, I'm getting old at 32) hardly employ any overseas employees. My current employer has offices in London, but they're not staffed by outsourced employees. I'm earning good money, especially considering the fact that I'm in Texas (moved here for the job), and am able to support a wife and two children with only my wages. I'm also a high school dropout toting a GED for my educational experience, unless you count unrelated technical training from my time in the Navy. My current job title is "senior Linux engineer," and I greatly enjoy my work.

    Attitude goes a long way in any company, and this counts double if you're looking for a new job. If your attitude stinks, you're probably going to have a rougher time than others. Shouting about your intelligence doesn't help matters any. Maybe it's also worth noting that the most talented people in this industry tend to have history that is either devoid of a college education, or had majors completely unrelated to computer science. The difference is their passion for the work and their willingness to constantly learn on their own. Innate intelligence is only the base requirement for a lot of this stuff; the rest is simply dedication.

    Good luck. If you're honestly looking for a change, reply to this with more information on yourself, and maybe I can lend a hand with putting your resume in front of someone.

  • by tyrione ( 134248 ) on Monday April 01, 2013 @06:58AM (#43329351) Homepage

    Minimum wage in 1982 was not $4/hr. It was around $3.25/hr. You were making above minimum wage. I graduated high school in 1987. I finished working at a local radio station at $3.35/hr and no it wasn't the luxury of getting paid to advance my knowledge of programming languages. It was soliciting the general public to determine how the radio station would best serve it's listening audience by pretending to be an impartial service unaffiliated to the station I was working for, all to boost their market share. In short, we were lying and violating FCC rules while getting paid shit to do it.

    After doing a Mechanical Engineering B.S. at WSU and later a CS bachelor's my first job was a 9 week contract at NeXT Software Inc for $19/hr. The year is 1996, I'm way overly educated and in the bay area it's a shit wage. God has not a fucking thing to do with being on Earth and Greed has everything to do with cluster bombing the economy into a global shit storm. You got way overpaid in 1998 at $140k plus stock options. I know a ton of folks like you that continue to get way overpaid creating nothing and getting paid a shitload for it. One clue, you're reading resumes. Top Engineers aren't reading resumes, they are in R&D creating projects to help drive a company forward to pay for managers making $140k/year plus benefits to micromanage their staff, none of which wanted the job so you as a fellow engineer stepped up to take it.

    Reality: 99% of IT is a me too world which follows and never leads, and is filled with overly paid data entry personnel who with engineering, physics and other hard science degrees slowly move into positions that they do for 20 years and then if they are lucky retire and never look back. Apple, and a handful of other companies drive the entire industry vision which kickstarts the entire Semiconductor industry to create products that these visionaries foresee the world will eventually need. Whether it is CAD, CGI, Applied Engineering, Gaming, you name it, the ones with the imagination challenge those with the scientific pragmatism what is or is not possible to make the impossible. Without them, the Semiconductor industry is stagnant and full of 30 year veterans bored to death but afraid to retire due to the loss of salary and too much free time. They can problem solve like nobody's business, but they sure as hell can't seem to figure out what problems to solve without those creative thinkers. The industry constantly turns to the youth knowing they have no experience and thus too stupid to realize all their bright ideas will be flushed but with a few exceptions, and those most often by pure chance end of succeeding with you most likely never enjoying the spoils of said idea(s).

    It's the reason Bushnell talks about some of the greatest ideas come from people who look at the IT Industry and this massive system of me toos cloning and doing repetitive work like drones as wrong, and who carve their own paths to break the monotony by doing the next big idea(s).

    Whether it happens to be a Ph.D. or a dude newly released from prison, great ideas come around rarely and when they do don't be afraid to grab onto them and nuture them with the mind that espoused the idea(s) first. If you don't, you'll most likely fuck it up and it'll never become the next insanely great product and/or service(s).

    My 22 year since deceased Grandfather and former Vice President of West Coast Credit for Intermediate Credit Federal Bank for the USDA told me when I was young,

    ``Man will always place a high value of his self worth to society no matter the job, experience or skills. None of this I have ever understood as his worth never matches his self appraisal.''

    I think he was conservative in that observation, and far too kind.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday April 01, 2013 @10:06AM (#43330471)

    Why should I have to work hard and "be good" -- and then get lucky -- just for minimum wage?

    Because after communism fell, there's no more reason for capitalism to pretend, thus it's reverting back to the good old Gilded Age.

    The American Dream? What a lark. You work hard, they pay just the same: very little. You wanna get ahead in life? Suck dick.

    They are going to pay the least they can get away with, for either IT or blowjobs. Join a union and use collective bargaining to force them to pay more. It's either that, or continue dreaming of winning the lottery. We no longer have a frontier, so the original American Dream of getting some land and living independently is no longer possible, and the modern version of starting your own company doesn't really work for most people - which almost certainly includes you, no matter how much above average you might think you are.

    Alternatively, you could accept that your economic position will always be terrible, and seek solace from spirituality, flights of fancy, mind-altering substances, or whatever. Basically, disengage from economy as much as possible, and alter your value system accordingly. The problems with this are that it's not possible to do so completely (you still need food and shelter), it's very difficult to truly cange your value system, and since people not caring about the rat race is one of the few things that actually threaten the powers that be, mind-altering substances tend to get banned and communes raided.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.