Yes, we knew it was coming; in spite of headlines saying that Silicon Valley was stunned by the Steve Jobs’ resignation yesterday, we’re not shocked. Deeply saddened, stopped in our tracks, but not surprised. It’s similar to the way we feel about earthquakes—they’re not unexpected, but the world does seem to stop turning for a moment. Last night, at a back-to-school dinner, I brought up the news of Jobs’ resignation with a friend; she’d somehow missed the announcement earlier that afternoon. She was silent for a moment, then said, “I know I’m always going to remember how I was sitting here on a bench in the sun when I heard this.”
The end of the Jobs era is hitting us so hard not just because Apple is a great company, or because so many of us use and love Apple products. It’s not just because Jobs has been an amazing leader and visionary. It’s because, for so many of us, Jobs epitomizes the Silicon Valley culture—our culture. It’s hard to see him leave the stage, particularly in the wake of HP’s latest missteps that threaten to reduce that venerated company to rubble.
Here’s why we love Jobs:
He lost his company and got it back. Silicon Valley’s culture of entrepreneurship forgives failure, and comeback stories of success after failure are not uncommon. But, while many entrepreneurs get forced out of the companies they started after the companies go public and get big, only a rare few are begged to come back to their original start-up. Jobs’ return was a win for every entrepreneur who was ever tossed aside by old-school corporate America.
He doesn’t live behind a wall. For those of us in Palo Alto, he’s our biggest local celebrity. But he doesn’t live in a gated estate with security guards; his relatively modest house is close to the street, with a low rail fence around it. Our kids trick or treat his house on Halloween, his kids play with ours on local sports teams, Jobs takes walks around the neighborhood, shops at local stores, and eats at casual cafes, waiting for an outside table on nice days just like we do. This is the way executives are supposed to behave in Silicon Valley, where anyone with an idea can start a company, and the person crashing at a friend’s house because they’re too broke to pay the rent can be a multimillionaire a year or two later. It’s not a land of limos and velvet ropes.
We love his fashion choices. Steve Jobs’ standard uniform of Levi’s and a black mock turtleneck came long before Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie—and gave the rest of us in Silicon Valley the freedom to ignore fashion. It’s really relaxing not to have to try to be in style, and saves us time that we can spend doing more interesting things. (And it’s why we hated Carly Fiorina when she took the helm of HP; even if the rumors of her traveling hair stylist and makeup artist were untrue, her style was just too slick.)
And, personally, here’s why I love Jobs. On the day of one of his landmark product introductions (the first video iPod, I think it was), while the journalists were still madly writing their stories and the crowd was still milling around the auditorium, Jobs didn’t stay around to bask in the glory; he went home early and jumped with his kids on their trampoline. And that’s the way we do it in Silicon Valley.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.