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The Woman Who Stood Up to Steve Jobs

The Woman Who Stood Up to Steve Jobs

Joanna Hoffman was the fifth person hired to the original Macintosh developer team in September 1980. As its only marketing person for more than a year, she wrote the first draft of its User Interface Guidelines. In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson recounts how the Mac team would give an annual award to the team member who stood up to Jobs. Hoffman won it the first two years, in 1981 and 82. 

According to the biography, when Jobs changed Hoffman’s marketing projections to ‘reality distorting’ levels, she told his assistant, “I am going to take a knife and stab it into his heart.” In angry jest, of course. 

Similarly, when Jobs told his team they could create their next product in only 18 months, Hoffman talked back, pointing to past experiences. “Reality distortion has its motivational value and that’s fine, but when it comes to that date affecting the design of the product, that’s when we get into a rut. Real deep shit,” she told Jobs bluntly.

In 1985, she spoke to the importance of Apple’s foundation: “We were creating the raw materials for people to build on top of them and be able to build phenomenal applications in the future.” You can hear her full speeches at 10:24 here and 3:55 here, but the point is that women had a vocal role in creating the first Mac. 

Still, Hoffman is completely excluded from the movie about Steve Jobs’ career, and there are no women speaking in the Mac scenes throughout the film. “We need to know that women have always done these jobs at elite levels, even if they’ve been written out of the stories,” Megan Smith said in her MAKERS video. The U.S.’s new CTO worked with Hoffman at General Magic. She continued, “We just lose our history all the time, and it’s debilitating to young girls and minorities, and to young boys who don’t realize that women and girls should be there too.”

It’s time we start completing the history books with the women who have made amazing advancements in STEM fields. As the White House’s new Chief Technology Officer, Smith will undoubtedly bring more of these stories to light. We can do our part by sharing them with women and girls who will continue the legacy.