“It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. — Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Steve Jobs has passed away. Everyone is talking about him in terms of what he did for the world. His contributions have long since passed “significant” and can without reservation be called legendary. But that will be talked about elsewhere, extensively, and by people far more eloquent than myself.
I’m just going to talk about what Steve Jobs did for me. His philosophy made me a better developer. His relentless pursuit of simplicity and ease of use for the end user changed the way I looked at IT.
I used to be a unix administrator. I used to revel in my knowledge of the arcane. I read the BOFH with glee. I used Linux, but I was always struggling with little things. Editing config files. Building from source. But smart people like me can figure it out, right? And for the most part, I did.
Then I got my first Mac, with OS X. It had the comforting unix command line which got me in the door, but I ended up using Terminal less and less. It just worked. I could still mess around with my computer, but now I didn’t have to deal with the mess if I didn’t want to.
Then the iPhone came. It’s hard to remember the world of cell phones before the iPhone. It seems like we’ve always lived in a world of touch screens. But before iPhone were dark days. I had a Blackberry for work, and I hated it with a burning hot hate. iPhone cut through the tyranny of the cell carriers and showed what was possible if someone, anyone, would just spend a few minutes giving a damn about their users.
Gradually, my entire perspective changed. Steve Jobs showed me that making computers work in an intuitive way is not only possible, but imperative. He showed me that programs that work in simple, expected ways can not only eliminate frustration, but can even be delightful. “User Error” isn’t dumb people. It’s software that doesn’t know how to work with people because no one gave enough of a damn to make it work the way ordinary, non-computer people do.
I work in IT, but I don’t work for IT. I work for some of the most brilliant physicians and researchers in the world. I work for an army of dedicated nurses and medical staff. These people are smart, sophisticated, and know what they’re doing. But they are not “computer people” and any system that requires them to be one in order to get it to work is a failure. There is a PEBKAC error, but the “P” in this case is the programmer.
I’ve been fighting a fight at work recently. No need for specifics, but I was given something from the higher-ups to implement. Implementing it as given would have been easy. But I knew it would be a huge and frustrating roadblock for users. It wasn’t my place but I fought for the users, and while I haven’t won a complete victory, I did get some concessions, and I got some people to really think about how what we do affects these users. It was the spirit of Steve Jobs that compelled me to make that stand.
I’m not a great programmer. I have neither the time nor the resources to dedicate to the loving craftsmanship that’s necessary to achieve perfect Jobsian simplicity. But I care. I fight. I work harder. And I do so because of Steve Jobs and his vision.
Thank you, Steve.