Ever since his death in 2011, we’ve heard lots of different accounts of what it was really like to work with Steve Jobs. One of the best ones was actually written very shortly after his death but is becoming popular again after being discovered by a Hacker News user. Glenn Reid, who had previously worked at Adobe, NeXT and Apple, wrote a testimonial about working Jobs right after he passed away and it’s a really interesting read.
Among other things, he discusses Jobs’ general approach to designing software:
Steve would draw a quick vision on the whiteboard, we’d go work on it for a while, bring it back, find out the ways in which it sucked, and we’d iterate, again and again and again. That’s how it always went. Iteration. It’s the key to design, really. Just keep improving it until you have to ship it.
Given what we know about Jobs’ infamous perfectionism, it’s not surprising to see that the work was almost never good enough and could always be improved. Jobs was also never shy about telling people what he really thought, so I’m sure he said things to Reid that went well beyond telling him aspects of his work sucked.
If you were an engineer, it was impossible to escape Jobs’ gaze since his No. 1 passion was being involved in product designs:
He told me once that part of the reason he wanted to be CEO was so that nobody could tell him that he wasn’t allowed to participate in the nitty-gritty of product design. He was right there in the middle of it. All of it. As a team member, not as CEO. He quietly left his CEO hat by the door, and collaborated with us. He was basically the Product Manager for all of the products I worked on, even though there eventually were other people with that title, who usually weren’t allowed in the room.
He also talks about the importance of leaving ego at the door when working in a group. Basically, if people reject your design ideas, you shouldn’t take it personally. By the same token, if people love your design ideas, you should think of it as a victory for the group and not for you personally:
There might be 3 or 4 or even 10 of us in the room, looking at, say, an iteration of iPhoto. Ideas would come forth, suggestions, observations, whatever. We would “throw them into the cauldron”, and stir it, and soon nobody remembered exactly whose ideas were which. This let us make a great soup, a great potion, without worrying about who had what idea. This was critically important, in retrospect, to decouple the CEO from the ideas. If an idea was good, we’d all eventually agree on it, and if it was bad, it just kind of sank to the bottom of the pot. We didn’t really remember whose ideas were which — it just didn’t matter.