Kenyan recounts working under Steve Jobs

October 14, 2011
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 14 – In 1986, a young Kenyan engineer from Mombasa walked into the hallowed halls of Apple Computer headquarters in Silicon Valley, California.

For the next 11 years, David Seda would spend some tough, yet rewarding long days and nights at Apple Headquarters, serving in several capacities including engineering, marketing, and finally as senior director of communications.

“Apple always pushed us hard. In my first three years, I slept under my desk at the office for three hours a night. There was so much to learn and know and do. And it was so much fun! I remember visits to my customer, NASA Mission Control, to help the rocket scientists with their scientific applications on the Macintosh,” he recalls.

Seda started his professional career with the former Kenya Posts & Telecommunications Corporation, in 1978 as a technician.

He moved to the United States to pursue degrees in Economics, Computer Science and a Master’s at Texas Tech University, where he eventually started working, writing speech recognition software and running an advanced technology lab.

“For my lab research, I applied for grants from all major technology companies. An Apple representative told me that if I applied for a job at Apple, I’d have access to all the technology I needed. Six months later, Apple hired me as an engineer,” Seda said.

In those early days, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs had left the company and was concentrating on building other successful companies – the Pixar animation studios and NeXT Computer.

Seda, who is now vice-president of marketing at Calix, the North American leader in access communications, recalls Jobs’ pitch to the Apple Board that would re-admit him into the fold.

“Steve’s presentation was masterful. He showed a deep understanding of where personal computing was going. I could tell, he didn’t think much of the board of directors. He thought most were buffoons and didn’t have a clue how much damage they had collectively done to the company.”

At the time of Steve Jobs’ return, Apple was a few months away from bankruptcy. The company’s market share had dropped to four percent of the PC market and annual losses exceeded $1 billion.

Apple’s market capitalisation was $3 billion at the time, which has since grown to $350 billion today.

Of course as history showed the deal was sealed, Jobs was in and Seda was given the responsibility of reeling in Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, by his boss and Apple Chairman at the time, Dr Gil Amelio.

“The chairman asked me to call Steve Wozniak and convince him to re-engage actively in the company turn-around effort, now that Jobs was coming back. I talked with Wozniak for 45 minutes. He re-engaged,” Seda said.

Once back in the company, Jobs would frequent Seda’s office to sit and chat, often asking him what software he was using on his computer or what interesting meetings were going on in the company.

Jobs was hardly the delegating sort of CEO, he was inquisitive, hands-on and as Seda explains had an affinity for the “can-do” attitude in employees.

“He often defined, for engineers, impossible design goals that at first defied laws of physics. And because “no” was not an answer, the engineers somehow met those impossible expectations. You loved being around Steve because you could see the wheels turning. You waited for the genius insight and time after time it came.”

However, now with Jobs no longer around the question persists: Will Apple be able to maintain its strong global brand or will anyone be worthy enough to fill his infamous white running shoes?

“The appeal of the brand never waned even during the period Steve was not there. In consumer technology there will always be hits and misses. Apple will experience misses,” Seda says, “Steve learned from every mistake he ever made and came back stronger. It never deterred him. Instead it propelled him to reach even further. I expect the Apple machine to continue in that vein.”

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