My Summer with StevePosted: October 6, 2011
What surprises me most about the death of Steve Jobs is how deeply I feel that loss personally. It is a feeling I can only compare to the loss of a family member, which is surprising to say the least. I was unprepared for the inexplicable sense of anxiety I feel for the unknown, unprepared for the emotions that were stirred deep within me, and unprepared for how I would be turning over and over thoughts of him in my head all night long and into today.
Among those thoughts is a great sense of gratitide for having the opportunity and privilege to have worked in an office a couple doors down from him for a summer while I interned at Pixar in 1996. I remember seeing him for the first time that summer and looking upon him with the same sense of wonder that only exists when looking at a celebrity: staring, unable to look away until you realize his gaze might be turning towards yours and then quickly turning your head as to not give the impression you were staring. For the first couple days I did that, joking with others that he literally wore the same outfit everyday: black mock turtleneck and blue jeans. I imagined him getting dressed in the morning and opening up a huge closet with rows and rows of blue jeans and black shirts hanging before him, with him carefully choosing what he would wear that day as if each shirt and pair of jeans had a special meaning to him, even though they all looked the same.
Every once in a while he would check in on what I was doing. We would engage in chit chat and would ask me the way a CEO asks any intern, “so, how do you like working here?” or “what are working on?” He would also, every once in a while, peak in on the first ever Pixar University which I was attending at the time. He would watch my friend Oren present to the class about the fundamentals of Pixar’s homegrown animation system and look over our shoulders as we worked through our assignments, which included such mundane things as building models of snowmen to practice the deformations of a series of interconnected spheres.
The one assignment I remember most of all was the day we were reviewing our work in a lighting exercise. We were each tasked with something surprisingly hard: produce a single black and white rendering of a lighted sphere (technically an orange, which is just a sphere with a texture map applied to it) in an attempt to give it as much depth and realism as possible. On the computer screen next to us you could see test frames being rendered from a character study of Hopper from Bug’s Life, which Steve dropped by to take a look at. And never one to *not* share his opinion, he stopped to comment on our oranges. It was a moment that instantly filled me with anxiety, but that was quickly tempered by the simple and encouraging notes he provided, punctuated with occasional light hearted criticism.
In the last week of my internship and as Pixar University was winding down, I had the single most intimidating job interview in my life. I walked into the conference room across from Steve’s office, and there, arrayed in chairs around the table before me was Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, Eben Ostby, and Ed Catmull. The four of them took turns asking me questions, and then, amazingly, they offered me a job.
The next day, I turned it down. The job, as enticing as it was, would have made my senior year at Berkeley near impossible. Plus, I was confident that once I graduated, I would have the opportunity to work at Pixar again. I was wrong, but as Steve has said, it is impossible to see how the dots of our lives are connected except when you look backwards. Then and only then can you see and appreciate the importance of even the hardest decisions you make, or that are thrust upon you.
And sure enough, that one decision not to work for Pixar, as difficult as it was for me at the time, took me down a path that now, looking back, makes complete sense to me. That path has inevitably led me to the next stage of my life and career that I am just now about to embark upon; a path that, ironically, would not be possible if it weren’t for the amazing platform and ecosystem Steve would later build, and a path I will share with the very friends I made while working at Pixar that summer. In that respect, I owe a lot to Steve.
Thank you Steve for the opportunities you gave me, and for the opportunities you have given so many people through the products you helped pioneer. The loss we all feel is testament to how profoundly and unexpectedly you touched and transformed us all.