Is that Steve Jobs having a kopi?

Dixon Chan
Yahoo! Tech Talk

COMMENT

The eulogies have been delivered, a long-anticipated biography will hit the shelves soon, and the scramble to immortalise the man on celluloid has begun in Hollywood.

But for me, it is a personal encounter by which I will remember Steve Jobs.

In early 2010, I worked in Silicon Valley at a startup called Gigya, leading advertising operations as part of the year-long NUS Overseas College program.

One day, I was on my way to the office when I passed two men sitting outside a café.

When I walked closer, one of them lifted his head. He looked at me for a second, for a little while longer than a glance. Just like any stranger would have done, he returned to his conversation.

I didn’t recognize him immediately, until my trailing ear picked up his voice. He spoke with a familiar, somewhat high-pitched, voice. He was also wearing a black turtleneck shirt and blue jeans.

By the time I walked up the stairs to my office moments later, I knew it was Steve Jobs.

I told my colleagues about it immediately. A few of them headed downstairs excitedly to take a look. One of them, a Silicon Valley native and Apple fan boy, turned to me when he saw them.

“Oh my, Steve is with Eric Schmidt,” he said.

He was right. Shortly afterwards, the “sighting” was broadcasted all over the tech blogs.

Curious readers were discussing what the CEOs of Apple and Google, companies with a combined net worth of over US$500 billion, might have been discussing at a public café.

Those were pre-iPad days, so the discussion ranged from speculation of an Apple-Google partnership to whether the black object on the table was the highly-anticipated tablet device Apple was said to be launching.

The popular tech blog Gizmodo even got a body language expert to analyse the photo. One of the conclusions, interestingly, was that Schmidt’s hunched shoulders indicated fear: He was trying to make himself a smaller target for Jobs.

But that’s besides the point.

For me, the cool thing was that they were at a table outside the cafe on the pavement, doing breakfast just like any two normal people would. No bodyguards, no special treatment.

There were a dozen other patrons – a mixture of middle-aged folks and high school kids – nearby, enjoying lattes and smoothies under a perfect blue sky. But nobody gathered near them.

That’s the magic of Silicon Valley. Jobs and Schmidt may seem like Tech Gods to the rest of the world. But in Silicon Valley, we saw them lead their normal lives.

The cashier from Calafia Café, the café in the photo (which was interestingly opened by a former Google chef), mentioned that Jobs often goes there for breakfast. My friends have also met people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter creator Jack Dorsey.

Unlike in Hollywood, there is no special treatment, no fanfare. People respect them and their space.

And often, they reciprocate. Steve, for example, reads and (if you’re lucky) replies to emails personally.

At the same time, these are people who have changed the world in profound ways.

They’re heroes, and heroes will continue to shape heroes. Steve Jobs will not just continue to inspire innovations, his legacy will inspire people to think different. His products taught us less is more. His life taught us that we find success in failure. His death taught us life.

I didn’t meet Jobs. It would still be a stretch of the imagination to even say I bumped into him.

All I did was pass by two men who changed the world, having coffee like regular guys on a regular day.

But that, for me, is what makes it special.

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The writer is co-founder of local start-up Burpple, a mobile social food diary which lets you share and explore your favourite meals with your friends.