Jef Raskin on Apple Culture

Source: Interview with Jef Raskin, 13 April 2000.

Pang: After you leave, there develops an antagonism between the Macintosh group and the rest of Apple, especially the Apple II group. What were relations between the Mac group when you were working on it? Did they have that antagonistic character?

Raskin: [Shaking head] No, no. Definitely not. I'm not an antagonistic character. [Pang laughs] It was a collegial spirit. Jobs is a different kind of character.

Pang: I've heard that there were some people who felt there was a divide within the company between those who had formal engineering training or advanced degrees in the sciences, and those who did not. Was that true?

Caroline Rose talks in her interview about this question.

Raskin: Oh, there was, yes. It was certainly on the part of Woz and Jobs, things that came out of large corporations or academia were ipso facto bad ideas. So I actually did not tell them, when I came to work there, having learned of their prejudices, I didn't tell them that I had a graduate degree in computer science and had been a professor. They had no idea-- it was just, "Hey, you know software and hardware, I know how to write, I'm a writer."

Pang: So they knew you mainly through your Dr. Dobbs incarnation--

Raskin: Strictly through that. And since in those days, no resume or anything else was required, I was, I think as far as Jobs was concerned-- though you'd have to ask him whether he knew about the other stuff I worked on-- I was musician, a bestraggled street musician from San Francisco, and a music teacher, who wrote articles. I felt knowing about my formal background would be a hindrance.

Pang: Was this a perception that other people shared?

Raskin: Yeah. Some of the people who worked there, some of the reason the Apple software has had problems to this day is because it was designed by people who didn't have any training, and so didn't know even elementary stuff that even an undergraduate degree in computer science would have taught you. A lot of it was amateurish. Jobs and Woz were not amateurs themselves in that regard: Woz was very clever, and some of his work was quite brilliant, his pre-decoded BUS was way ahead of what anybody else was thinking. One does not need a formal education to do good work. But they were under that silly misapprehension that formal education can destroy intelligence. I've never seen any evidence for that, I think it's a myth. We could call it a scholastic myth, to go along with urban myths.

I've been subject to that myth myself. When I was kid, I was very good at improvising on keyboards: I could sit down, and you name the style, you name the key, and give me a theme and I'd go improvise in that style on that theme in that key. I could sound like Mozart, or Beethoven, or Brahms, or whoever-- it's a parlor trick that lots of keyboard players can do-- and for a long time, I resisted studying more formally because I figured it would ruin my inspiration. It didn't. I improvise as well or better than ever, and I can play classic pieces by Mozart or Chopin and so on.

So there was this feeling within Apple that too much of a formal education or too much corporate-ness can be poisonous. Too much corporate-ness can be poisonous, but that has more to do with the organization, and not I think what happens to the individual, necessarily. Maybe this company will change my mind.


Document created on 6 June 2000;