My chat with Randy Wigginton, Apple employee #6

Last week in the course of reporting articles for Newsweek about the death of Steve Jobs, I spent some time on the phone with Randy Wigginton, who was one of the first employees at Apple. Wigginton started working at Apple when he was a 14-year-old high school kid. He had met Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club. His first job was writing software for the Apple I, for which he was paid $2.50 an hour. He left Apple in 1985, later worked at Google, and now works at Square.

So you were at Apple in the garage days.

Actually I was there in the couch days, before we were big enough for a garage. It was just me and Woz. I was 14 and writing software.

I read that you used to get up at 2:30 in the morning to write code before you went to school.

Yes, I was pretty crazy.

How did you hook up with Jobs and Wozniak?

I met Woz because he was going to meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, and I was going too, but I wasn’t old enough to drive. So it was a challenge for me to get a ride every week. One day I asked if anyone from the Cupertino area could give me a ride, and Woz volunteered.

What was Steve Jobs’s role in the early days?

Steve never viewed technology as valuable for technology’s sake. It was only valuable for solving problems, for doing something. Woz was enamored with technology just for the sake of technology, like many of us in the industry. Steve did not attend a lot of Homebrew Computer Club meetings, probably four or five altogether. The only reason he went to meetings was to try to sell the Apple I — to find people who would buy the boards.

Did you have any idea the company would become so huge?

No, even Steve admitted that in his wildest dreams he didn’t think Apple would become as big as it did. There was not a lot of forward thinking. It was just, “Hey, this is cool.” When we got to $250,000 in sales in a quarter we had a big party at Mike Markkula’s house. That was a big achievement.

You left in 1985. What happened?

Jobs had left. Scotty (Mike Scott, Apple’s first president) had left. It was like Apple was becoming very corporate and bureaucratic.

What was your job in those days?

Well I worked on the Apple III. That was a debacle. But the main thing I did was I created MacWrite for the Mac project.

Did you ever end up going to college and studying computer science?

No, I’m all self-taught. I learned mostly from Woz at Denny’s. On the way home from Homebrew meetings we would stop at a Denny’s and order chili fries and he would just talk for an hour and a half and I would soak up what he said.

What was the relationship between Jobs and Woz like?

They got along but it was funny. It was more like Woz would put up with Jobs. Jobs would bug him to get stuff done. I’ll never forget the night Jobs called all of Woz’s friends and wanted us to call Woz and tell him to quit HP and start Apple. Woz wanted to stay at HP. So we did it. Until that point, Woz was undecided.

Why was he reluctant? Did it seem too risky?

Neither Jobs nor Woz ever cared about the money or the fame. Woz was concerned about being a great engineer and doing cool stuff. Steve was about creating his vision. He thought computers were too hard to use. He wanted to change that. With the Apple II the slogan was, Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. He spent one evening explaining how he chose the wording for that. He was totally into it.

Do you think that even way back then Steve had a vision for where everything was headed? Did you guys know from that start what things would be like today?

No. No way. Nobody did. That’s just crazy. He brought out the Macintosh, and then brought out desktop publishing. I think he helped to create early networking. But none of us saw what was coming. It was crazy. It was amazing. It was so much fun. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Did you get rich?

I got wealthy, but all that money disappears over itme. Bad decisions on my part. I had some stock in the company early on. And even a small amount turned into a fair amount of money. You have to feel worse for Ron Wayne. He sold a 10-percent stake in the company for $900. That has to be one of the all-time bad decisions.

Was Steve really as difficult as people say?

Steve was always very demanding. He liked things to be done right. He didn’t like things to be done poorly. That was important to him. To a lot of people that seems like you’re being overly demanding. But with Steve, if you paid attention when he said what he wanted you could get a glimpse of his vision. That made all the difference.

In the early days, was it apparent to all of you guys that Steve was brilliant?

Coming from an engineering point of view, no. He was never an engineering. He could never program. I don’t believe he ever designed any circuitry himself. He used other people to get that done. So that’s why in the early Apple days it was more a case of putting up with Steve than doing what Steve said. He owned a third of the company and we all saw that he actually had a drive to get things done. He wanted to see things happen. And we liked it.

But if you had asked me back then who would change the world I would have said Woz. He was the most brilliant engineer I’d ever met. Or if not Woz, then Markkula. Markkula was a marketing genius. Markkula did a lot of great things at Apple, but he’ll never claim that he changed the world as much as Steve did.

Do you think Steve became a better businessman during his time in exile, after the board pushed him out in 1985?

Absolutely. I think the board made the right choice in not letting Steve run the company at that point. He needed to go out and grow up. We had all grown up with Apple and that’s all we know. That was our world, our universe. There was so much out there beyond us that we didn’t see.

Like what?

The fact that Windows took over the world. That MS-DOS took over the world. That MS-Office took over the world. We didn’t understand that. The whole Internet. We never glimpsed that. Plus Steve had to grow up in terms of his ability to deal with people. Not being so blunt and rude. When you own a third of the company no one can tell you you’re being rude but outside of Apple he had to learn how to deal with that.

Was he always rude, even back in the garage, before Apple was successful?

Well, rude is the wrong word. Steve was never rude. He was just very straightforward. He said what was on his mind. There was no censoring between his brain and his mouth. He wasn’t rude. Rude implies some kind of malice. He had no malice.

But was he always direct like that?

Oh absolutely. One time he tried having me do hardware and he looked at my work and said, “Well I’m going to have to have someone else do this.” And it’s like, okay, fine, if you knew Steve you didn’t get offended. That’s just how he was. If you were used to corporate speak or political correctness, absolutely you’d be offended.

You now work at Square, which is run by Jack Dorsey, a guy that many people say reminds them of Steve Jobs. Do you see that similarity?

Yes, Jack has a vision for things taht don’t exist yet. And he also believes that things should be well done. They should be beautiful and not just rushed to market to make a profit then spun off and sold. He is obsessed with every detail of things. I truly believe he is the Valley’s next Steve Jobs. He’s like Steve in that he’s not enamored with technology for technology’s sake. He’s interested in people, in solving human problems.

8 Responses to “My chat with Randy Wigginton, Apple employee #6”

  1. david

    super interesting. i sort of object to the jack dorsey comparisons — that guy seems like a total tool. i’ve never worked with him, but if steve jobs were at the helm of twitter, i don’t think he would have handled, well, anything the way that jack dorsey did. maybe dorsey’s just young still.

    Reply
  2. woz

    “Neither Jobs nor Woz ever cared about the money or the fame.”

    Sez you – hey Lyons, can you get him to pony up for the gas money he still owes me for those rides? With interest?

    thx okbye

    Reply

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