Steve Jobs, engineering hero?

June 16th, 2011 4:33 PM
Filed under Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs;

Last month, Steve Jobs was declared in a survey of 900 engineering undergraduates in the UK as one of the third greatest engineers of all time, taking credit for the Apple II and iPod.

Not to undermine the unbelievable heights to which Mr. Jobs has brought his fruit company, but is his engineering prowess really the quality that brought about those successes?

Steve Jobs is a salesman, for sure. But has been examined and debated on this blog, his role in the creation of many popular Apple products is questionable. Steve Wozniak (who was not on the list) invented the Apple II, and many other concepts that Apple Inc. has since popularized were first proven by other companies. It was Jobs who came up with the packaging and pitch that made these concepts into products, but he's no hands-on inventor.

But let's step back and see if this complaint is warranted. By definition, an engineer is "a person trained and skilled in the design, construction, and use of engines or machines" I think it's fair to say that Jobs is familiar and perhaps responsible with both the design and use of Apple's runaway hits. As for the construction, could he disassemble an iPhone, identify its parts, and then put it back together? I sincerely doubt it. Is two out of three qualities enough to label Jobs an engineer? Did the UK students in the survey even care, or was this more a popularity contest?

I cannot find an official publication of the survey or its methodology, but the validity of the students' results must surely be questioned, regardless of Jobs' presence or absence. The Apple co-founder ranked higher on the list than Nikola Tesla, Bill Gates, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison. Those pioneers were working with truly revolutionary ideas; Steve Jobs, they were not.

(Hat tips to Ben Camm-Jones and John Brownlee)