“Not Impressed” By Jobs and Wozniak: An Interview With A Founding Father of Modern Computing

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Antoine Sylvia sent me a magazine article on the late Jerry Lawson. An electronic engineer by trade, Lawson was a central figure in the computer and videogame movement in America.

One of the only blacks on the tech scene in the 70’s, he was a pioneer in every sense of the word.

The article covers Lawson’s background and views on technology, business, and socio-economics…..

On a Young Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak:

“I was not impressed with them — either one, in fact. What happened was that when I had the video game division [at Fairchild], and I was the chief engineer, I interviewed Steve Wozniak for a job to work for us. Well, my guys were kind of impressed with him at first, and I said I wasn’t. Never had been.”

On The Lack of Black Professionals in Science and Technology:

“I think what has happened is that engineering is a thing that has never really appealed to black people directly, because they’ve never had…

You see, I grew up in a different environment. My mother — she invented busing. When she went to a school, she would interview the teachers, the principal, and if they didn’t pass her test, I didn’t go to that school. She once put me in a school called P.S. 50. Turns out Mario Cuomo went to that school. He was a little older than me, and I didn’t know him at the school, but he went to the same school. My mother — now get this now — the school was 99% white. My mother was the president of the PTA.”

On Corporate Ineptitude:

“Me and a sales guy got together, and I wrote a proposal called “Take Fairchild to the Customer.” And the heart of that proposal was a 28-foot van — mobile home. And I wanted to tear it down and put in product demos, literature — a laboratory on wheels. They went for it. I went to a company called Formetrix, and they built the inside of it, and it looked like something from James Bond. It even had a rear-projection screen that came out of the ceiling. It turned out to be an overwhelming success, so they came back to me and said, “We want you to do it again.”

So I went to FMC, and they had a brand new coach they built. The rear-end was the Bradley differential for a tank. It had a 485 cubic inch engine, a 50-gallon gas tank, four air condition units, and it drove like a car. The wheels were in tandem, next to each other. That thing was somethin’ else.

One time, my daughter wanted to ride in it. I said, “Oh, ok.” So I got her in it. The guys at FMC said they had just tried out a brand new cruise control for it. I said, “Oh that’s nice.” They said, “Let us know how you like it.”

I got out on the highway and pushed the cruise control; it took over. I went to disengage, and it wouldn’t disengage. And I went, “Oh my god.” I slammed on the brakes, and it was riding the brakes. I came around, and there was a truck and some cars parked at a light, and I was trying to figure out which one of these vehicles I’m going to rear end, right? Just then, I reached down and pulled all the wiring out. It cut the engine off.“

I brought it back in a slow walk and said, “You clowns.” And I told them what happened and they said, “Oh my God, it didn’t disengage?” I said, “No.”

Full interview here (Source: Vintage Computing): http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/545

In a world where many are more interested in finding fault than pitching-in to help, the Lawson Interview is a refreshing read.

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