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Saying Goodbye to Steve Jobs

Kelly Bell's picture
on Thu, 10/06/2011 - 10:58pm

Steve Jobs changed my life.

Spring of 1984 was the second semester of my freshman year of college at The University of Texas. I was 17, a musician and Plan II Honors Program major. I was taking computer science classes, but the languages were Pascal and CPM, and the machines I worked on were clunky and command-line driven (DOS was king). I had started coding when I was 12, in BASIC using a Radio Shack TRS-80 16k machine my grandfather bought me. I hung out on ARPAnet (a favor from a grad student friend) and CompuServe, and participated in many BBSs (as they were called), where the "mail" was exchanged among all nodes once per day at 4AM.

Then, one spring day, the UT MicroCenter announced an education discount for the brand new 128K Apple Macintosh - it was coming, any day now. I watched the "Big Brother" ad on TV. We could only buy one per student, and I remember the day I brought my Mac and ImageWriter home I was so excited - built-in graphics! A mouse! 3.5" floppy drives! This new language called PostScript! It was heady stuff. It cost $1,200 (not too different from the price I've paid ever since). I was already a member of a campus-based computer user's group, and an offshoot quickly formed around the Mac, and I was introduced to the Lisa (the also-amazing proto-Mac). I was the only girl there, for almost the entirety of the next 3 years. I learned every single software package that came out for the Mac over the next 6 years, each one as it was released.

By 1990, I had bought 3 upgrades from the original 128K machine - the 512, the SE, and was up to the SE-30 (the first color Mac) by then. A deep recession hit Texas in the wake of the oil bust of those years, and my grandparents (with whom I had lived for most of my life) lost everything. I was solidly on my own, with a husband, two children and a band, and no prospects to make a living adequate to support my family or my music. My husband and I flipped a coin, and moved to Minneapolis. in August 1990, 6 weeks after my daughter was born.

I worked as a temp for two weeks for an agency, and one day they called me up and said they had a first-time-ever request - a marketing communications company needed someone who knew how to do stuff on a Mac. I said, "I can do anything on a Mac", so they sent me in. One month later, I was making $40/hour as a freelance production artist (Adia cut me loose, with their blessing), working on the Apple account, using beta versions of Photoshop, Director, Illustrator, FreeHand, Fontographer, Quark XPress, and every piece of software that was currently available that a business might make use of. Bezier curves! vector and raster graphics! layers in Photoshop! (oh, the revolution that created in prepress!). We were building the Small Business Sales System (SBSS), a series of sales materials that Apple planned to give to Value-Added Resellers (VARs) to provide guidance on comprehensive business solutions based around the Macintosh. Apple insisted that their sales materials have all the prepress work done using Macs, and so we did groundbreaking, cutting-edge work in lithography, pushing the envelope with color compositing and photo editing - using souped-up Macs (I often ran three Mac fx's at a time, waiting 20 minutes for Photoshop to apply some compositing or filtering function). I learned how to read film, make plates using the newest "imagesetters" just coming online, how to scan and retouch, how to ensure accurate film registration, how to build traps, how to think in Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, and I memorized thousands of typefaces and Pantone Colors. Apple demanded the very highest standards in everything they did, and we were no exception: the best creative, the best technology, the best of everything. I learned what it meant to have the highest standards of quality, from Apple, and from the creative minds behind the company's marketing communcations.

By this time, I had been working off and on at a type shop that used SGML to code high-end advertising headline type and to set books. I worked on the headlines. I was hearing a lot about HTML, and the opening up of the World-Wide Web - not restricted to using a service, we could make our own pages on the newly-hatched Internet. I worked on my skills (lots of work around graphics formats - there was no gif or jpeg for a while, and the standards were in flux). My prepress knowledge translated easily to this medium, and Flash had come out. I waited, with bated breath, for the day when there would be enough commercial work for me to switch from prepress to web pages full-time. I took small jobs, and I built a site for my band, The Shivers.

I was 24 years old. One year after we moved to Minneapolis we were able to put a down payment on a house - an idea I had long ago resigned myself I was never going to have. Two years later (after the birth of my third child), we moved to Portland, OR, and 3 months later my band was signed to Restless Records. As we recorded and toured all over the US, I supplemented our income by working at my trade, using a modem wherever I could find a place to plug one in as we traveled from show to show, to send my files to my clients. It was a glorious time, and lasted until 1997. Our label fired all their indie rock bands and went all-rap. Things changed. Those Jobs-less interim years at Apple yielded no real innovation, just a steady supply of increases in power with not-particularly-inspiring designs, and some unfortunate choices (Power Computing clones, anyone?)

I worked for advertising agencies and marketing companies, design shops and color prepress houses. I built more and more websites. I bought more Macs. My children used KidPix and learned how to surf the Internet as soon as they could type on a keyboard (3 or 4 years old, at latest). I started recording my music digitally, but was disappointed in the quality (this would stay true until Ableton Live was released). More and more of my clients were making use of my Web skills, and more of my business moved online. I worked with interactive agencies more and more, building Flash sites and min-apps, animations, once an entire set of textbooks on Technology Education (the first digital textbook accepted by the State of Texas for classroom use). 

Dot Com Boom, Dot Com Bust. Throughout the summer of 2001 I was living and working in the World Trade Center in NYC, on the 80th floor for Morgan Stanley. They were separating from Dean Witter, and their sites all had to be re-branded and rebuilt. There were hundreds of us on that floor, from KMPG Consulting (like myself) and Deloitte Touche. We lived in WTC 3, the Marriott Hotel. I spent every moment of every day either working or sleeping in the World Trade Center, pulling 80-hour weeks on the reg. In March, KPMG had gone public, at the very tail end of the Bust. We all knew it would be bad, and it was. By summer's end we were all done, my entire division laid off, from the VP all the way down. I left NYC August 11, 2011, one month to the day before (had the Bust not occurred) I would have died a horrible death in the attacks on the World Trade Center. I owed my continued existence to the DotCom Crash.

Cut to today, and Gotham City Drupal. Back in NYC after many years in Austin, things are different, yet they're just the same. I just purchased my 29th Apple device (21 computers, 7 iPhones and an iPad2) a few months ago, and am looking forward to celebrating the 1st anniversary of Gotham City Drupal on January 1, 2012. We have lots of wonderful initiatives planned over the next two quarters, great clients, groundbreaking community initiatives, a growing client list. My children and I all use Macs and iPhones pretty much every waking hour. I have never yet purchased a Windows machine.

Steve Jobs is directly responsible for the life I've led. He personally inspired, me, and the Macintosh opened up computers to me in a way that I could understand, engage with and ultimately techno-geek-out in. I would never have pursued software development if the boys' club-run, intimidating edge hadn't been taken off. I was the only girl in the room for a very long time (especially when I left the Creative world and stepped into the Interactive and Software publishing worlds). I could do the deep dive because I was so comfortable. My first copy of Inside Macintosh was purchased in 1985. I read it cover to cover several times, learning a little more each time. Years later as things changed, those early experiences had a great impact, lending me instincts for troubleshooting the machines and their behaviors that made me highly sought after in my field. The Mac led the Vanguard, and then it held the Hill. I wonder how many women are in technical careers today, purely because of the existence of the Mac?

My circuitous route to self-discovery has signposts cemented in a Mac chassis. The life directions my children have chosen were born and have thrived in a world seen through the eyes of the Macintosh. It's a world where the Apple sticker on the back of my car is a declaration of allegience to principles of great design and to prioritizing beauty and elegance. I owe my entire life to Steve Jobs, and he will never know. How many others are there out there, just like me? Thank you, Mr. Jobs.

Requiescat in pace.