Friday, 4 July 2014

Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) and JOBS (2013) together tell the entrepreneurial legend of our era

Both JOBS (2013) and Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) make it clear that behaving like a complete diva with your staff serves only to alienate yourself from the people you rely on – you would think some of that would permeate through the cult of the entrepreneur eventually.

I’ve been working in IT for 20 years at a disadvantage. I got dragged into this industry by people who grew up with it. To them Microsoft v Apple was the accepted origin story of the industry, worthy of intense argument. To me it was like listening to the Rugby League vs Rugby Union debate, polarised opinions on both sides that put me off the whole thing. My IT origin story wasn’t Microsoft v Apple (or the demise of the BBC Micro), it was Neuromancer by William Gibson.

So the whole Steve Jobs v Bill Gates story passed me by and I have been at a disadvantage since. I wouldn’t want the same to happen to you or your kids so ..
so here is me late for work again writing blogs…

JOBS, last years biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher is blatant corporate propaganda for Apple at the same level of Top Gun and the US Navy. That said, it is beautifully packaged in a fashion that will appeal to younger types..
JOBS is very watchable and Kutcher is excellent, perhaps the best thing about the movie.  The surprising casting is perhaps the reason this film isn't better known.

It helps that I saw Pirates of Silicon Valley first to get the wider story of this era including Bill Gates and Microsoft. Pirates is a tv movie back from the days when the march of the IT corporate was still something of an unreal joke. It is light on its feet and fearless. It has at least one absolutely brilliant scene in which Steve Ballmer (John DiMaggio) breaks the forth wall to announce the moment that IBM signs over the software for its personal computers to Microsoft because they think the money is in the hardware. It obviously is playing fast and loose with events, characters and facts but seems to get closer than JOBS to the reality.

JOBS is made very much in the wake of Steve Job’s death in 2011. Although it is obvious Pirates way back in 1999 was playing fast and loose with reality there is a constant feeling, supported by plenty of factual detail  - we even see Ridley Scott on the set for Apple’s ”1984” advert-  that it is explaining real events rather than seeking to create a legend. Supposedly most of the real people depicted in Pirates thought events and portrayals fairly accurate, (with one obvious exception) while JOBS, though beautifully made, never got anything like the same endorsement.

JOBS is nauseating in places and Pirates is too comedic, almost a long episode of Big Bang Theory - but seen together they cover the era quite well. The only consistency they seem to have is that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is a real hero, and Steve Jobs will be an excuse for company founders to behave like cruel assholes for centuries to come.

I don’t need to wonder what would have happened if I had met Steve Jobs – I know -  because as an IT contractor I meet a new ‘Steve Jobs’ on average every 18 months and we are nearly always glad to see the back of each other. Both JOBS and Pirates make it clear that behaving like a diva with your staff serves only to alienate yourself from the people you rely on – you would think some of that would permeate through the cult of the entrepreneur eventually.

Only slight irritation watching these movies is that the story has to stop at the present. Pirates has to stop at Jobs leaving Apple (as its from 1999) while JOBS stops at the launch of ipod. The story of Apple and the smartphone, and Microsoft vs Netscape then Google is still waiting to get told. (The Social Network , also worth a mention in this context, obviously covers Facebook with some brilliance).

Bill Gates(Anthony Micheal Hall) finally sees the Apple Mac in Pirates of Silicon Valley

This really is the industrial story of our era and both should be mandatory viewing in schools, I'm slightly annoyed I'd never even heard of Pirates of Silicon Valley having seen it. It is light and funny and would go down well in a classroom environment. There is some drug use,  Steve Jobs takes LSD in both movies – but it is not casual and it is taken fairly seriously.

The slavish adherence to the cult of entrepreneur displayed by TV such as Dragons Den and the Apprentice really makes me want to move to Cuba, but if you have an inkling for the subject, and god knows the next generation will have to swim in these waters, then watching the story of Gates and Jobs, even through a Hollywood hagiography and a tv movie, is more instructive than seeing Alan Sugar shout at people.

I should finally draw your attention to the British equivalent  of JOBS and Pirates, the BBC's Micro Men, featuring Alexander Armstrong as a clearly insane Sir Clive Sinclair and the reliably brilliant Martin Freeman as the founder of Acorn, Chris Curry. Seen in hilarious direct comparison to JOBS and Pirates, Micro Men is essentially the same story, but set in an adorably Pythonesque alternative reality we also know as 1980s Cambridge.

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