I knew Steve Jobs but I did not know Steve Jobs like his family, close co-workers and friends knew Steve Jobs. This may surprise you that a “random” black guy knew Steve Jobs and felt valued by him. I met Steve, spoke with him, saw his email responses to my email to him, saw him personally help one of my Spelman College students when no one else gave her a chance, and had him hire me personally to help him with something that was deep on his mind and heart. In a recent article, the actors of the new “Steve Jobs” movie admitted that no one in the movie had ever even met him. I did. And I have I some thoughts about why this movie should not have been made right now especially by people that didn’t know and love him personally and didn’t want to wait for Steve’s wife’s blessing. But I also have some thoughts on the Steve Jobs I “knew” from 2007 to 2011. One thing I learned about Steve Jobs from my personal interactions with him is that among other things, he cared about disadvantaged, black students.
This week, the new “Steve Jobs” movie is playing in theaters but after seeing the trailer my heart sank because the man portraying Steve Jobs was “not him” nor did he even look like him. He did not look like him at all nor did I want to see the movie because I knew it would all be made up by people that didn’t know him (I may be mistaken, maybe there was some “consultant” that knew him who helped make the movie, but I know his family was not involved.). I read in a news article that no one acting in the movie had even met Steve Jobs before. Because I’ve met him, I want to share what little I knew about the real Steve Jobs from my tiny interactions with him. Because his life was so impactful, he made an impact on me that continues to make an impact on others. I wish the movie makers and actors would have respected his family more and waited until they were ready for this movie to be made. Maybe it’s too soon for those who are still grieving his loss. Maybe they should consulted those who loved and knew him the best.
Believe it or not, I had a movie producer who wanted to make a movie about me and what I’ve done. He asked me to sign over the rights for no money at all but then said if I didn’t sign my rights over, he didn’t need me to make the movie any way. He said he could just use the internet to find out my story or my book. In essence, that’s what the producers, writers, actors, and directors said about the new “Steve Jobs” movie. They said they didn’t need the “rights” or the “blessing” of his wife, his kids, his friends at Apple or his other close associates. That hurts. When some no name producer said that he didn’t need me or my family to tell my story, it hurt. But that movie about me and what I’ve done hasn’t been made yet and would never get the attention or views that this week’s movie will get. The movie producers or movie studio for the “Steve Jobs” movie didn’t even offer to give any of the profits to the the people Steve cared about. We know Steve deeply loved his wife and children. Who else did he care about among others? Black students.
How do I know he cared about black students? He personally helped one of my Spelman College students get hired at Apple while she was in college. She was frustrated that she could not get past the first interview at Apple or Google. Why would someone want to hire a black young lady from Florida. She couldn’t “code” could she? She didn’t have an “engineering” mind, did she? Only white guys who have been to “elite” schools or colleges that look like hipsters can code, right? This young lady not only could code, but her and her roommate won a national mobile app contest hosted by a major company. The year before, a team of students from Harvard University had won the competition, and the year before that a student team from Stanford University. But the school this young lady went to was a small, all-female, liberal arts school without an engineering program and was predominantly made up of African American students. Real talent, creativity, and innovation can’t be found there, right? Well Steve Jobs truly was blind to what a person looked like on the outside. He wanted to know what they knew, how well could they do it, and how passionate they were about it. After seeing this student’s resume, Steve personally sent it to a recruiter, who quickly called her and invited her to interview with Apple (again). She not only got the internship but is still working at Apple as a software engineer. While some other people at Apple and Google were blind to this talent and thought she wasn’t a good “fit”, Steve could see and recognize the talent that was represented in this black young lady.
How can I say he cared about black students? He personally hired me to help Apple hire more black students. This happened years before the Rev. Jesse Jackson put the magnifying glass on the dearth of black engineers in Silicon Valley or elsewhere in the United States of America (again Steve Jobs could see and think ahead of everyone else in Silicon Valley). I used to work at that small, historically black college that only has female students who are mostly black. Apple had a program to bring in educators so they could learn more about their products and buy them for their college and students. My college was selected as a school Apple wanted to sell computers to so I and a few other college employees were invited to visit Apple . I met a lady that worked there and I shared what I did and about the team of young ladies that I helped learn and compete in robotics. After that meeting she asked, Scott, someone from Apple’s University Relations, “Why aren’t we recruiting at that school?”. He called me up and wanted to come over and meet me because they were in town visiting a big, engineering university to recruit. One thing led to another and he and his friend in Apple Retail, began visiting our school to try to recruit young people to work at Apple. Because of what I did with this all-female robotics team, our students were invited to do a panel presentation at the Gender Institute at Stanford. I had recently met a Google recruiter named Anna and let her know we were going to be in the area, so we were invited to tour Google. My Apple University Relations friend and Apple Retail friend also invited us to visit Apple.
When the students and I were at Apple in Cafe Macs eating lunch with Scott, Denise, Erin, and Irene, Scott noticed that Steve and Jony Ives walk in to the cafeteria. At the time, I did not know Jony Ives but Scott filled me in. I went up to Jony and introduced myself and told him how much I liked his designs. It was a clumsy moment for me because I didn’t know what to say. Who does not like Jony Ive’s designs? I had told Jony the obvious. To my surprise and delight, Steve Jobs walked up and stood next to Jony and I introduced myself. Why would Steve Jobs come talk to me? They were there to have lunch together. Most people when they see me, they ignore me. In fact, I’ve had police follow me to my backyard and ask me if I lived in my own home because they said I looked suspicious. Yet, the greatest innovator of our time, Steve Jobs, walks up to me and listens. Then he spoke. He asked probing, thoughtful, and honest questions like he was shooting targeted arrows to get answers to a question that burdened him.
He asked me if we had engineering there at the small college I worked at? He asked me if I knew how many black engineers worked at Apple? At the time, he knew of only one black engineer at Apple and he expressed his disappointment and frustration. He asked me for ideas on how Apple could recruit and hire more black engineers? Wait a minute! You mean the world’s most innovative person and CEO of the world’s most innovative and successful company, is angry that his company hasn’t hired more black engineers? Why? I don’t know why but obviously HE CARED that there weren’t more black young people working at his company. What else did the world’s greatest innovator do? He admitted he didn’t have all the answers for that situation and wanted to learn from others who may know more than he knew about a particular subject and he valued their opinion, experiences, and talent…even a black, “suspicious looking” guy like me. Just maybe, he knew how important it was to get different perspectives from people of other races to make great designs and products and that it was an injustice that there was only one, not one hundred, but one black engineer that he knew of at Apple, which had, in 2007, around 20,000 total employees including engineers! Just maybe, Steve knew the value of having black engineers and new that talent was not limited to just white guys. Just maybe he wanted those who were disadvantaged and black to have an opportunity to use their personal ingenuity, passion, talent, and creativity to build wealth for her or his family and community for generations to come and to help increase Apple’s wealth and success. Just maybe.
These are just some of my stories and reflections about the Steve Jobs I knew. I could write more about my few interactions after that, my emails I sent him about the good things that Apple was doing to hire more black engineers and employees that made him happy. Or I could write about the ideas I sent him about how he could hire more black engineers or improve his company from the top down. Or I could write more how I was able work with Apple’s talented engineers and staff to help Apple hire more black engineers. I still keep to myself the emails I sent to him or the ones I’ve seen him write about me and what I told him. I haven’t shared what I heard him say to college students when they asked him questions. The time isn’t right. I need to respect his family and his legacy. I need to balance the timing of when and what I can say about the Steve Jobs I knew.
Addendum: I have learned that there were some movie consultants that worked at Apple that knew Steve Jobs but as an outside observer I wouldn’t know that they loved Steve and his family or if they had another agenda. I have seen Steve’s wife’s tweet that approved of Walt Mossberg’s article, The Steve Jobs I knew isn’t in this movie.