Six months before Steve Jobs would sell NeXT and a year before he would return to Apple in triumph, Jobs, then 40, was interviewed by Robert X. Cingely for a PBS documentary, “Triumph of the Nerds.” The interview with Jobs was lost until after Jobs died and released as a 70-minute documentary in 2012.
The original documentary, “Triumph of the Nerds,” was a British/American production released in 1996 in three episodes in April in 1996 on British Channel 4 and then as a single program on PBS in 1996 and covered World War II to 1995 and included interviews with Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, Ed Roberts, and Larry Ellison.
As with most documentaries, the footage collected is often edited down to a few minutes. Only 10 minutes of the interview was ultimately used in “Triumph of the Nerds.” The master tape of the interview had gone missing. This was a shame because there were very few in depth TV interviews of Jobs. After Steve Jobs died, the director found a VHS copy of the original interview.
In “The Lost Interview,” Jobs talks about his first experiences with a computer when as a ten-year-old he would write a program in BASIC or Fortran using a timeshare computer which was basically a printer and a keyboard hooked up to a computer. At 12, he wanted to build a frequency counter and wanted some spare parts so he called up Hewlett Packard and was given the parts and an internship. He was introduced to the first desktop computer there, and would hang around every week at Hewlett Packard.
Jobs recalls meeting Wozniak and how an Esquire article about Captain Crunch set them on a missions to learn how to make free phone calls which they learned to do after finding the AT&T technical journal in a library. They even called the Pope, but what was essential was they also learned they could make a small thing that could control a large thing.
Wozniak and Jobs built a terminal to use a timeshare computer for free and Jobs claimed that an Apple I was an extension of a terminal. They made computer circuit boards and sold them to friends and then tried to sell them to others. They got parts on 30 days of credit, built computers that were fully assembled and sold computers to a local computer store and they were in business.
With the Apple II, Jobs also talked about how Mike Markkula got involved and how both he and Wozniak had different ambitions. In business, Jobs found that there was a type of business folklore and that by asking why things were done, he came to understand that a lot of things are antiquated and just done because it had always been done that way.
Jobs felt that programming teaches you how to think. “I think everyone in this country should learn how to program a computer, to learn a computer language. It teaches you how to think,” he stated. “I view computer science as a liberal art.”
When asked what it was like to get rich, Jobs recited how much he was worth at certain ages, but he claimed it wasn’t about the money. “It was not the most important thing, The most important things was the company, the people, the products.”
Jobs also talks about the mistakes that he felt Xerox and Apple made. He recalls he was blinded by the graphical user interface, that he didn’t really see the object-oriented programming and the networked computer system. The big difference between old companies was that sales and marketing got promoted and ran the company. Product people get run out of the decision making process. Xerox missed an opportunity by not realizing the possibilities of some of the products and developing with a tunnel vision. Flexible thinking is important. The mistake in big companies is that they want to replicate their initial success and think that the “process is the content.” That also was a problem at Apple. “That’s what makes a good product. It’s not process. It’s content.”
After seeing Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” you might cringe when Jobs mentions the Apple II or the Lisa. If you’ve seen the PBS documentary “Steve Jobs: One Last Thing” as well as Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” you’ll also wonder about Jobs’ version of his dealings with John Sculley. Sculley is still alive and he has spoken about his views of Jobs.
“Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” is raw material and rough and worth viewing along with the more complete and polished “Steve Jobs: One Last Thing.” Cringely introduces the segment and in places provides explanations. We see Jobs looking at Apple from a distance provided by his ouster a decade before and the perspective of his age. “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” is available on Netflix.