What I Learned from Working for Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” — [Attributed to] Mark Twain.

.. Case in point: I was the brash young engineer who quit from NeXT Computer in 1992 when Steve Jobs cancelled the project I was working on: a PowerPC based next generation dual processor workstation running NeXTStep. The project was almost finished, the system was ready to be shipped, and was due to be announced at an industry conference the following week when it was cancelled. I was so mad that I didn’t even bother including the job experience on my resume!

Steve tried to get me to stay at the company but I was too hot headed and angry to realize that he had made the right call. He had realized that the battle over processor architectures was over and Intel had won. He completely killed all hardware projects at NeXT and gave the company a software-only focus. I, of course, stormed out the door. How dare he cancel my project?

I was too busy looking at the trees in front of me to see the forest all around me. The processor war was over. The correct answer was to move up the stack and innovate in software, not to keep fighting the processor war for an ever-shrinking slice of the market. Of course, he then returned to Apple with the NeXT team intact and the rest is history.

.. What I learned from Steve later — much later, after I had cooled down — was to fight the right battles. Continuing to fight a battle after the war has already been lost is an exercise in futility.

.. Now that you look back on it, you can see that Windows lost the mobile phone war to Apple, the server war to Linux, and the cloud war to Amazon.

.. It’s so hard to put into words the amount of organizational inertia that goes into an engineering team responsible for a successful platform being used by billions of people. They almost never see the disruption coming at them. Or if the leaders do, the rank and file don’t. Most of them are too busy pushing the current rock up the mountain, the classic definition of “Innovator’s dilemma.”

.. The more open you make it, the more programmable you make it, the more people that build stuff around and on top of it, the harder it is to innovate on that platform later.

.. If you pay enough attention, everything is interesting.