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How ex-Apple engineer Ken Kocienda reacted to Steve Jobs insult



Steve Jobs
Former Apple CEO Steve

Justin Sullivan/Getty

  • Steve Jobs once described work done by
    former Apple software engineer Ken Kocienda as “dog
  • Kocienda was working on a new font to bring the
    best out of iPhone 4’s new retina display. Jobs did not
    approve of his first eight attempts.
  • Kocienda eventually found a solution and said Jobs’
    criticism could be effective — even if it wasn’t always

What do you do when one of the most mercurial CEOs ever to
live calls your work “dog s–t”?

That’s the conundrum Apple software engineer Ken Kocienda
faced when he was helping develop the iPhone 4 during his 16
years at the trillion-dollar tech giant.

In an op-ed for The Wall Street
l, Kocienda recalled working on a new font to bring the
best out of the iPhone 4’s new retina display. He prepared eight
different routes all based around the old iPhone Helvetica font,
but there were problems with each, which made them look “smudgy
rather than sharp.”

Here’s how Kocienda remembers Jobs reacting to options:

“Steve looked at each phone screen, pulled his round-rim glasses
up so they rested on his forehead, stared again closely, then put
his glasses back down and returned each phone to the table in
front of him. Then he expressed himself. I was left wishing I had
a plastic bag in my pocket to clean up my work.”

ken kocienda headshot wide
Ken Kocienda.

Kocienda eventually found a solution using Helvetica Neue,
which Jobs approved. But the former engineer said he learnt two
valuable lessons from the experience:

  1. Jobs’ abrupt feedback was often very helpful.
    “Criticism can be effective even if it’s not constructive.
    Steve had no problem issuing a rejection without
    explanation,” Kocienda explained.
  2. Brand new work is “frequently no good.” He
    said rounds of iteration are often required to produce a
    polished final result.

Reflecting on Jobs’ management style, Kocienda added: “Steve
could be unpredictable and moody, and luckily, I was never on the
receiving end of one of his full-on harangues.

“But let’s be honest: Most of us swear. The key to making harsh
words count is to have a trusting environment where everyone
knows that comments are about your work and not about you.”

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