Steve Wozniak Atari and Steve Jobs Image source: (Photo by Reuters) Steve Wozniak on Breakout, Atari and Steve Jobs
I believe that most people have a dark past, a past that they wish won’t come to light, but sooner or later you have to take that pressure off your chest and come clean. This is what Steve Jobs did about the fact of how he tricked his best friend into working all night long for several days and then cheating him out of his paycheck. This proved to be only the first offense in a long litany of his penchant for pettiness and pointless cruelty.
The friend that I am talking about is Steve Wozniak, him and Jobs were working at Atari, one of the first video game consoles which revolutionized the video game market. The owner of Atari at the time was its actual founder by the name of Nolan Bushnell. The first game that came out was “Pong,” a classic which many people remember. Due to its high success, Bushnell thought of making a sequel that would be only a single-player and call it “Breakout” in 1975.
Appearances can be deceiving
For this project, Bushnell was thinking of tasking Steve Jobs to be in charge and take care of the project. Jobs was considered (at the time) a low-level Atari technician with huge potential. As this game was expected to be much better than its predecessor, Jobs recruited Steve Wozniak, who was known on the market as the better engineer. Jobs and Wozniak had been friends for quite some time at that point. They both were working towards the Apple 1 which would follow to become the most iconic computer around the world for four long years so they got to spend a lot of time together.
The way that Atari worked was by offering a monetary bonus for every chip fewer than fifty that was used when building a game. Wozniak was ecstatic when Jobs asked him to help with this big project. This is when Jobs started to lie to Wozniak in order to use him for his expertise. He told Wozniak that the deadline was four days and that he had to use as few chips as possible. The truth is that Jobs was given a whole month for this project, not four days.
Jobs never told Wozniak about the bonus for using fewer chips and the four-day deadline was self-imposed by Jobs, as he needed to get back to his commune farm to help bring in the apple harvest. It is imperative to mention (for those who are not aware) that Steve Jobs came from a very poor background.
Wozniak was working for Hewlett-Packard at the time as well, so he had to balance his main job as well as this project. So he would end up going to his job in the day time and spending most of the night working on “Breakout”. The only thing that Steve did was implementing the required chips, making sure that there were less than fifty chips. Their herculean efforts succeeded, as they finished the game in four days and only using forty-five chips.
When payday came, Steve Jobs only gave Wozniak half the pay, he kept the rest of his pay as well as the bonus for himself.
Wozniak only found out about this ten years later. He is quoted in the Isaacson biography Steve Jobs:
“When he talks about it now, there are long pauses, and he admits it causes him pain.”
“I wish he had just been honest. If he had told me he needed the money, he should have known I would have just given it to him. He was a friend. You help your friends.”
“Ethics always mattered to me, and I still don’t understand why he would have gotten paid one thing and told me he’d gotten paid another. But, you know, people are different.”
Quotes are taken from Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson
Wozniak, to his credit, did not hold this against Jobs in later years. The reason why Jobs did this is unknown to the public, many think it was his need for money to keep on working at the Apple 1 computer, whilst others say that those are his true colors. I am not here to judge Steve Jobs as I believe we all, at some point in time, chose the wrong path, especially in our younger years.