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Remembering Steve Jobs

On Wednesday, the world lost one of the greatest inno­va­tors of our time — Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. He was the dri­ving force behind many of the company’s iconic prod­ucts that have changed the way people work and interact, and how infor­ma­tion is con­sumed. We asked Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of Northeastern’s Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, who was friends with Jobs when both were at Reed Col­lege, to describe what he remem­bers most about him — and what we can learn from his legacy. 

When did you first meet Steve Jobs, and what do you remember about him from that time?

We were class­mates at Reed Col­lege in 1972, and we were friends. He obvi­ously had extra­or­di­nary talent that would get real­ized later, but seemed ordi­nary enough at the time. I remember sev­eral things about him. He was fas­ci­nated with eating Roman Meal bread, which he claimed helped the Romans con­quer the world – and so would he. He built com­puters from scratch using spare tran­sis­tors, proces­sors and wires. That fore­shad­owed what was to come, though we didn’t think much of it at the time. He was also very taken with a class in cal­lig­raphy, which is very high-​​level letter design. That was impor­tant because when Apple launched its first com­puter, one of their major inno­va­tions was the ability to manip­u­late many fonts and point sizes. That was some­thing he learned in this class, and had a lasting impres­sion on the design of com­puters we have today.

When you think about his life and legacy, what stands out to you the most?

Throughout his career, and despite his iconic suc­cess, Steve was often under­es­ti­mated. I remember him being rel­a­tively unas­suming but very sharp and intel­lec­tu­ally intense. The lesson for me as a pro­fessor in the Uni­ver­sity is that we don’t always know how people are going to turn out. People have var­ious tal­ents, and if they can dis­cover how to put those tal­ents to use in the right ways, they can go very far in life.

He had a con­stant per­fec­tionist drive — never sat­is­fied and always looking for some­thing better and more inno­v­a­tive and inter­esting. He had that rest­less­ness, and that’s some­thing I take from him as a pow­erful life lesson.

What can we learn from Jobs and his vision?

It’s the will­ing­ness to be not just a visionary, but to act on that vision — to bring it into reality. A lot of people can be visionary, but Steve was one of the very few to realize his vision and con­tinue building on it. Many people have been con­tent to have one or two great ideas and then rest on their lau­rels. He just kept going and going. He had some notable fail­ures, too, but those too kept dri­ving him. The word “drive” is one you cannot help but asso­ciate with Steve Jobs. He was driven to get as much out of life and inno­va­tion as he pos­sibly could.

– by Greg St. Martin

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