Thursday, August 22, 2013

This is my Steve Jobs story about interviewing at NeXT

With the release of the movie, I've been thinking a bit about Steve Jobs lately. I only have a few Steve Jobs stories. This is one of them. (Adapted from a Google+ post).

I bought an Apple ][ in 1978, loved it, and moved to California to work at Apple in 1983. After 4 amazing years there, I left to go to a startup, because that's what you did, even back then. I loved Apple, but I had learned a lot and gotten a bit bored, so leaving seemed like a pretty good idea.

The startup didn't work out for me, and after 6 months, I wanted out of there. Now I needed another job. I conducted a thorough and extensive search of every company ever founded by Steve Jobs. Pretty soon I had an interesting offer to return to Apple. But I also had an interview at NeXT. At the time NeXT was still in stealth mode. People knew they were making some kind of computer, but there were few details.

I was subjected to the typical Silicon Valley all-day interview. I thought I did well. Nobody told me anything about what they were building; it was a secret. Most of my interviewers knew me from Apple, and they focused mainly on selling me on NeXT. Can't you tell me something about the product, I asked? No. You have to take a leap of faith, they said.

My final interview was to be with Steve Jobs. I was told that in those days, Steve had to interview everyone who might be hired. I was nervous, but excited. I was a huge fan but had never really met Steve during my time at Apple.

The interview with Steve went fine, I thought. Sure enough, a few days later the hiring manager called to offer me a job. The next day, in the mail, I received an offer letter from NeXT. At the bottom was the place for me to sign. Under the signature line it read:

"I accept this insanely great offer!"

So now I had to decide whether to return to the comfort of Apple or head into the unknown at NeXT.

Well, I just couldn't make that leap of faith. Like most people at that time, I thought Steve's best work was already behind him. I decided to return to Apple instead. So I called NeXT and declined the offer. I was told that Steve would probably call me back. I said OK, and braced myself for his call, sure that I had made the right decision.

Minutes later, Steve called. His opening line to me: "I hear you don't want to work with the best people in the valley, on the coolest new technology, making an incredible new product. Is that true? Do I have that right?" Wow. What do you say to that? I stammered and laughed nervously a little. Finally I managed to say that I had decided to work at Apple, avoiding his direct question that was impossible to answer anyway.

We went back and forth a little. I didn't budge and eventually he stopped pushing. Finally, he asked if there was anyone else I could recommend. I gave the name of a friend (let's call him Earl) who was still working at Apple, relieved to be past the point when I had to say no to Steve Jobs.

And then, this happened

But I wasn't done yet. A few days later, my home phone rang at 10:30 PM, which was very unusual. The call went like this:


"Is this Scott? Scott who works at Apple?" The last word was clearly said in a mocking tone.

"Uh, that's me." I thought I recognized the voice.

"Hi Scott. This is Steve Jobs. Can you help us find your friend Earl? We interviewed him and now he disappeared. We think Apple has locked him in a room or something."

Terrified of having to say no to Steve Jobs again, I gave him Earl's unlisted number. (I'm not sure I ever apologized to Earl for that.)

"Thanks. Oh, and, let us know when you get tired of Apple again."

"Uh, I will, Steve. Thanks."

Overall I'm very happy with my career so far. But I wish I had accepted that insanely great offer.