Here’s a wonderful interview with The Other Steve (Wozniak) on the start of Apple. It’s part of a new book called Founders At Work, full of similar interviews with all sorts of well-known founders of companies/products from Adobe and Lotus to TiVo and Ruby on Rails. (I don’t have any commercial interest in the book; I just heard about it via the blogosphere.)
Fair warning: It’s a long interview. But it’s fascinating. Here’s a small excerpt that resonates strongly with me in our highly complexified world of deeply layered and arbitrarily composed software, where programmers are all too often insulated from knowing the true cost of something as simple as a library call:
Livingston: What is the key to excellence for an engineer?
Wozniak: You have to be very diligent. You have to check every little detail. You have to be so careful that you haven’t left something out. You have to think harder and deeper than you normally would. It’s hard with today’s large, huge programs.
I was partly hardware and partly software, but, I’ll tell you, I wrote an awful lot of software by hand (I still have the copies that are handwritten) and all of that went into the Apple II. Every byte that went into the Apple II, it had so many different mathematical routines, graphics routines, computer languages, emulators of other machines, ways to slip your code in and out of an emulation mode. It had all these kinds of things and not one bug ever found. Not one bug in the hardware, not one bug in the software. And you just can’t find a product like that nowadays. But, you see, I had it so intense in my head, and the reason for that was largely because it was part of me. Everything in there had to be so important to me. This computer was me. And everything had to be as perfect as could be made. And I had a lot going against me because I didn’t have a computer to compile my code, my software.