Connect with us


Apple’s Joe Shelton tells about about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak



Apple employees early

Apple’s Macintosh team at an offsite meeting in Carmel,
California, sometime in 1982: Steve Jobs is in the middle-left of
the photo, two rows down from the top.

Joe Shelton

  • Joe Shelton joined Apple in 1979, when the company had
    fewer than 100 employees, and his desk was 30 feet from founder
    Steve Jobs. He was the first product manager for the original
  • Shelton told us what it was like dealing with Jobs’
    infamous “reality distortion field.” In truth, Shelton says,
    Jobs’ was not the master of mind control that many people made
    him out to be.
  • And Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ cofounder, was like a “big
    kid” who occasionally hid behind office cubes when he didn’t
    want to get dragged into something.

Joe Shelton joined Apple on April 30, 1979, when the company had
fewer than 100 employees. “I stumbled into it” after six years in
the US Navy, he told Business Insider.

“They were making something called a ‘home computer’ and my
mother said, ‘I don’t know why anyone would want a home
computer.'” But, “I leaped all over the job because it looked
like it was going to be a lot of fun,” he said.

He was right. For a few years, Shelton’s desk was 30 feet from
that of late founder Steve Jobs. He also worked with Steve
Wozniak — the other founder of Apple who contributed most of the
programming brilliance in the early Apple years.

And, with the two Steves, he also took meetings with a young Bill
Gates, whose (then) little-known company Microsoft supplied part
of the operating system for early versions of the Apple II
computer. They worked together until Jobs and Wozniak left the
company in 1985. Shelton left the company in 1992.

Business Insider asked Shelton what it was like dealing with
Jobs’ infamous “reality distortion field” — his ability to
convince colleagues of grand, ambitious projects, even when they
didn’t make sense, based on the sheer intensity of his
personality. In truth, Shelton says, Jobs’ was not the master of
mind control that many people made him out to be.

Shelton was initially hired as a marketing analyst but soon
became the product manager for many of the early versions of
Apple’s software, such as Apple Writer, the word processing app
for the Apple II.

In 1981, not many people were writing software applications for
the Apple II. Shelton was worried that the Apple Software
Publishing group was promising impossible-to-meet sales numbers
at the expense of quality. So Shelton decided to resign. “I’d
already written my resignation letter with my opinions on the
company’s direction and given it to one of my bosses, the head of
the Apple II and III group, and had just given a copy to Mike
Markkula — chairman of the board and VP of marketing — when I ran
into Steve.”

Standing in the hallway at the Cupertino headquarters at Bandley
Drive, Jobs asked, “So what are you doing?”

Apple employees with the Mac in the early 1980s.
The Macintosh division
gathered in front of the Bandley 3 building just before the
launch of the Mac in late 1983 or early 1984.

Joe Shelton

Shelton said, “Actually, I think we’re going in the wrong
direction and I’m leaving the company.”

Jobs replied, “come with me.”

The founder took him to Bandley 4 building and showed him what
Steve’s secret group was working on next: The Mac prototype. It
was the first computer to use a point-and-click interface, with a
mouse, and pull-down menus for commands and functions.

The machine was revolutionary: It swept away computers that used
lines of code text as commands and replaced them with a visual
environment that featured folders, icons, and trash cans — things
people recognised from real life. The reason your laptop looks
the way it does today is because of the Mac.

“Would you like to be the product manager?” Jobs asked.
Obviously, Shelton said yes.

Apple joe shelton

Joe Shelton with the original Mac, pre-launch, sometime
between October and early December 1983. Shelton demonstrated the
Mac for journalists at its product launch.

Joe Shelton

“Everybody in the Mac group loved Steve,” Shelton said, even on
the days when Jobs was wrong.

A key feature of the Mac was its 128K capacity. This tiny amount
of memory was a big deal in its day. But even during Mac’s
development stages, it threatened to become a limit. One day,
Jobs gathered the Mac team — about 40 people — in the atrium at
Bandley, where there was a Bosendorfer piano, a ping-pong table
and a 500cc BMW motorcycle. He wanted to address his decision to
hardwire a 128K limit into the new Mac. The 128K limit meant that
users could not run programs that needed more than 128K of
capacity — including the operating system.

Steve Jobs
There was a motorbike parked in the Atrium of 10460
Bandley Drive. Shelton says: “It was a 500cc BMW motorcycle
similar or identical to the one that Steve had ridden in Africa
(or so the story goes.) A man called Apple one day in early 1984
after the Mac was introduced and offered to trade it to Steve for
a new Mac. Steve agreed and I got a ride to pick the BMW. It was
late Friday afternoon so rather than leaving it outside for the
weekend and having my garage full of my five motorcycles plus
his, I parked it in the atrium — where it remained for some time
like a work of art. It was perfect! I don’t know if Steve ever
took ownership.”


Standing in front of his employees, Jobs told them, “we want
developers to write small, efficient code, not Microsoft code.”
His logic was that would metastasize all over the place. The
limit would become Apple’s advantage by forcing developers to do
more with less headroom.

The staff seemed to like the logic — Jobs’ reality distortion
field at work — but Shelton wasn’t convinced. “I was the only
person who wasn’t accepting it because I knew how operating
systems grow, how software grows.” Jobs thought developers would
make their apps smaller, “but it wasn’t going to go that way,”
Shelton says. Software code only ever balloons in size.

apple joe sheltonAlthough
Shelton’s employee number was 345, due to staff churn there were
only about 100 people at Apple when he joined in

So Shelton visited a colleague in the Mac development group, Andy
Hertzfeld, the primary software architect on the Mac. “We can’t
do that,” Shelton told him, referring to the 128K limit. “That’s
really dumb. We can’t design a hard stop on the software.”

Hertzfeld replied, “I agree, we won’t do that.”

But didn’t Steve Jobs just insist on a 128K limit?

Hertzfeld told Shelton, “Steve will do what he wants to
do. We will do what Steve needs us to do. Except when
we need to do what we need to do.”

That was the moment Shelton realised the Jobs reality distortion
field had holes in it. The Mac was not, ultimately, hardwired
into a 128K limit although many believed it was. It had capacity
beyond that, although Jobs’ people did not initially inform their
boss that the Mac was more powerful than the company was
officially saying.

“Steve figured it out eventually,” Shelton said.

Wozniak was almost the opposite of Jobs, Shelton says. Jobs
regarded himself as the company’s North Star, a leader who would
get up in front of the entire Mac group staff and announce a
difficult decision. But Wozniak — who preferred building and
coding — sometimes ducked management responsibility.

Shelton remembers one time trying to get Wozniak’s input on a
decision as Wozniak walked through the office. Wozniak wasn’t the
tallest person in the room but he has distinctive bushy hair,
which Shelton could see bobbing between the cubes that separated
each desk.

“Hey Woz,” Shelton yelled at him.

“His head would disappear when he ducked down [behind the cube
walls] because he didn’t want to deal with you.”

Apple went public in 1980, making Woz a wealthy man. “The minute
he got money Woz was mentally out of it,” Shelton says. He had a
child-like enthusiasm for new toys and gadgets. He bought a
single-engine airplane with his new wealth (which
he crashed in 1981
). “Woz loved his stuff,” Shelton says.
“Woz was, and still is, a kid at heart [and] there are not enough
adult kids in the world.”

Apple t shirt
company sweat-shirt from the early days of the Mac. Everyone in
the black and white photo at the top of this article is wearing

Joe Shelton


On the other side of the sweatshirt, the word Macintosh
had been spelled wrong.


Continue Reading
Advertisement Find your dream job