Friday, October 21, 2011

A Fallen Icon

In a couple of days, a new biography of Steve Jobs will be available, written by Walter Isaacson.

As someone who has spent the majority of their life programming in one language or another (over a dozen at last count), I owe a lot of that to Mr. Jobs and the machines that he and Steve Wozniak created years ago. The first computer I ever owned was an Apple IIc, and I pushed it to its limits by learning BASIC, Pascal, 6502 assembly language and machine language. I developed my own 3-D house drawing program, wrote a full-blown word processor, and was working on my own programming language by the time I stopped working on the machine (in 1992). I even started working on my own operating system, which was essentially a stripped down version of DOS 3.3 with a rebuilt cataloging system.

I look back fondly on those days now, and all the people that made home computing possible. It opened up incredible doors for me, as well as thousands of software engineers elsewhere in the world. Yet with Steve's passing the other week, I wondered where he stood in terms of his faith, or if he even had one. According to this article over on Yahoo!, it sounds like we may get some more insight into his beliefs:
"A new biography portrays Steve Jobs as a skeptic all his life -- giving up religion because he was troubled by starving children..."
Somehow I think there is more to the picture than this statement, and according to this article he was a least as recently as 2008. Maybe the biography will delve into those issues or maybe it won't. Whatever the case, I can understand his skepticism.

You see, it's hard for a software engineer (or many engineers really) to trust in the concept of God and take it exclusively on faith. Many of us are highly logical people, sometimes to the detriment of our social skills. Many of us also love to solve complex problems. Yet at the same time we can hung up on details that most people would just gloss over or not fret about. Perfectionism can make this issue even worse, which can be great in some respects (i.e. shipping a solid product) or make us difficult to get along with because things have to be "just right".

Yet I've also seen God connect with engineers in some funny ways that only an engineer could appreciate. I've seen God provide abundant evidence via the most surprising means that shows that faith can indeed be rewarded with action.

For example, when I was working on my book Theft at the Speed of Light, I went through moments of doubt and some days I just felt like giving up on the whole story. After all, I had been working on it for over a dozen years and I had rewritten the thing several times over. Yet for the third and fourth versions of the manuscript, I decided to incorporate the story of Jonah into the main storyline because the main character resembled him.

Something peculiar happened when I did that. Whenever I felt like giving up and started walking away from the manuscript, I'd get a gentle reminder from the most unexpected sources. What was the reminder? Jonah. I heard references to Jonah on television, on the radio, in sermons, saw it in books, etc. every time I felt like giving up. It got so ridiculous that I started writing them down. It pretty quickly became obvious where the reminders were coming from. In another post, I'll elaborate more on this subject, but I'll leave you with one more anecdote.

One cold January weekend, while I was ice fishing on Lake of the Woods in subzero weather, we flipped on a radio in the fish house to pass the time. The radio was only on for a half hour, and we picked up some obscure station from Chicago. During that half hour, I heard two references to Jonah. As you can probably guess, I was not working on the manuscript at the time because I didn't feel like it anymore. Yet here I was, up in the middle of nowhere, in a tiny ice house on a huge lake, and I hear that.

So did Steve know God? Only God really knows the answer the that, but hopefully the upcoming biography will shed some light on the subject. I still wish I could have met him while he was alive, and maybe someday I'll get the chance to meet (and thank) Woz.


  1. We see the workings of God in our life daily as you mention so everyone knows who God is. The real question is whether we choose to know more about him or walk away from a friendship freely given.

  2. Thanks for the comment and you make an important point.

    What's interesting, too, is that I saw another interview today with Jobs' biographer that gives a more ambiguous answer in terms of what Steve thought of God, and more specifically the "afterlife"...but much of that was triggered as he began to battle cancer.