[editor's note: I wrote this in August when Steve announced his retirement but I never published it. Steve Jobs' death was announced this afternoon.] Today Steve Jobs announced he is resigning from Apple, although he is retaining his role as Chairman of the Board. He has been on medical leave for most of the year but this is his admission that he will not be able to return to full strength in his role at Apple.
This is not just about the CEO of a large electronics company stepping down - What this really means though is that he is admitting he is done with his multi-decade tenure of shaping the personal computer industry.
To say that Steve Jobs "made computers" is the understatement of the century, so really this announcement is admitting the end of his influence on the cell phone industry, the personal electronics industry, the music industry, and dare I say, the entire Internet.
There's a very personal aspect to this as well, since Steve Jobs' products and vision have influenced me since the very beginning. My first exposure to computers was an Apple ][ in elementary school, programming in Applesoft Basic. In high school I moved to Macintosh. By the time I hit college I had a NeXT, later becoming the NeXTStep admin for the network of NeXTs. I applied to work at Apple in 1997 on the CHIRP (Common Harware Reference Platform) team but that team got shut down when Steve returned to Apple. I ended up being an intern for Apple as a grad student in 2003 which fulfilled a life-long dream to work for Apple.
Because I worked in the MacOS group, my office was in Infinite Loop-1, the same building as Steve, but two floors down. I parked next to him in the parking structure and I thought it was cool that he parked right next to the "rest of us." I crossed paths with him a few times but most people just stayed out of his way, lest they incur his wrath by catching him on a bad day. There's a long-told tale that Steve Jobs had a reputation for arbitrarily asking random employees what they did for Apple and firing people who didn't have a good enough answer. They say "never get into an elevator with Steve Jobs" because in the time it takes to pass a few floors you might be grilled about your value and lose your job.
One day I was walking across the lobby back from lunch and I saw Steve walking across the lobby for the elevator to his 4th floor office. I'm on the second floor and I usually take the stairs but the chance to take the elevator with him and perhaps have a chance to defend my purpose was too much to pass up. We both got on, he hit '4' and I hit '2' and looked off into space, not giving him any undue attention or otherwise acting "weird" around him. The doors didn't close. The silence got awkward. He looked at me, looked at the lit buttons on the elevator, looked at me again, and walked right out, leaving me (at the fitness peak of my life) standing all alone waiting to take an elevator up one floor.
Sure, I was probably wasting his time by adding an extra stop. Sure, I was just some pukey intern trying to stand next to Steve Jobs for a minute. It was selfish but it was worth it. I got into an elevator with Steve Jobs and escaped with my life!
I haven't worked for Apple since then but I live in Silicon Valley and I have a lot of friends who work there, and it is clear that the work they do is still directly influenced by Steve.