Monday, October 17, 2011

Steve Jobs Is Dead, And So Is My Dad: Two Very Different Silicon Valley Stories | 12 Pt. Plan:

Like Jobs, my Dad was a college dropout. He learned his trade by repairing hardware during battles as a Marine serving in Vietnam. After the end of the war, he got a job in the nascent computer industry, a heady time when law-breaking phone phreaks like Steve Wozniak were on the cusp of becoming millionares, and the industry was open to just about anyone with an interest and some technical know-how. My Dad worked his way up as a software engineer in an industry that was very different than it is now, with employees expecting that they would grow old comfortably working at the same company. When I was very young, he was a well-paid project manager at a Motorola subsidiary located in the same building that now houses Apple’s world headquarters, an office park since given the iconic name “1 Infinte Loop”. We had a large house in the pricy Santa Cruz suburb of Aptos, and I remember eagerly awaiting Christmas mornings where it seemed that no expense had been spared.

In the mid-’80s, his division was shut down and my Dad was laid off. Unlike Jobs, he did not enjoy a golden parachute or late-career comeback. Instead, he was told at the many job interviews he went to that his experience left him overqualified, that his lack of a college or advanced degree left him underqualified, or that he was too old, in euphemistic terms. He doggedly applied for jobs that paid much less than he was worth, for entry-level positions, but there was no place for unconventional backgrounds or desperation in the newly minted, efficiency-obsessed tech industry of the mid ’80s.

For the following two decades, until his death in 2006, my Dad had no choice but to take minimum-wage service jobs, often two at a time, to support his family — his wife, my Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother, and myself, his only son. He worked at 7-11, as a security guard, and as the desk attendant at a hotel, and never let his pride or the fact that he was capable of so much more get in his way. The large house in Aptos was sold, and we relocated to small apartments in also-expensive Cupertino and Sunnyvale. During my first two years of high school, the four of us shared a one-bedroom apartment as my parents struggled make ends meet.