Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

by Joel Spolsky

on October 6, 2011

I want to say a word about why we felt it was so important to honor Steve Jobs with a special system-wide message on Stack Overflow, a site for programmers, as well as our Apple-specific site, Ask Different.

Remember, for a moment, the first Macintosh. A brilliant computer, but we programmers looked at it and said... wait! It's not expandable! It has inadequate memory! You have to change the floppy disk every ten seconds! How on earth can you run Serious Programs on this thing? Even then, Steve didn't give a hoot about your needs as nerdy computer geeks. He was trying to make a computer as simple as a toaster. Because he figured out that until you make computers as simple as toasters, you can't make the world a better place.

Steve Jobs never forgot that quest. The mouse had to have one button. There was never more than One Way to do things in the user interface. The simpler you could make things, the happier he was. And, over the next 26 years, he stuck by that vision, and now, it has been realized. We have unbelievably powerful computers that you can put in your pocket and that anyone can figure out how to use. Anyone. I remember standing in the Apple Store on the day the iPhone came out. It was full of grandmothers from Brazil and kids from the Upper East Side, but the one thing they had in common was that every single human being was able to use every single feature of that phone without reading a manual. And that's why Steve Jobs changed the world.

As we make our code easier to use, we bring more people in. As we bring more people in, we start to have an impact on the world. For better or for worse. Sure, other companies made MP3 players. But Steve Jobs taught us that you can't start changing the world unless you make "1000 songs in your pocket." Yeah, the Microsoft Mouse had lots and lots of buttons of all shapes and sizes. But Steve Jobs taught us that you can't start changing the world until you let people point at things, without learning what all the buttons are for. And now, behold!, we all have these insane, Cray supercomputers in our pockets that tell you exactly where you are on the planet and show you where that is on a map, and where the nearest sushi restaurant is and how good it is and whether it is open and you can touch a button and you'll be speaking to someone who works at that sushi restaurant, and this changes the world because ANYONE can do it. Not just nerds. So everyone does.

The banner running today on Stack Overflow is from the 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. "I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did." This is very important to me personally. I've been on a quest for more than a decade to make programming a career you can love. The one thing that brings everyone on Stack Overflow together is that we love what we do and we can't get enough of it. Thank you, Steve, for showing us how important it can be.

In Hebrew when someone dies you say "יהי זכרו ברוך" -- "His memory will be a blessing." We are all better off for the example that Steve Jobs set and we are blessed to be able to remember his life's work.