Interview: Rare Photos Documenting Life in Silicon Valley during the Digital Revolution

From 1985 to 2000, photographer Doug Menuez had unparalleled access to the private daily lives of Steve Jobs and other brilliant innovators during the rise and fall of Silicon Valley’s golden age. Newly returned to San Francisco after covering the horrific famine and conflict in Ethiopia, Menuez turned to the Valley for a more positive story for the human race, intrigued by the creative geniuses setting out to change the world through technology. He reached out to Jobs, who had just started NeXT Inc. after being forced out of Apple, and was granted unprecedented access to the famously private man who would become an icon of the promise and ambition of the digital revolution.

For three years, the photographer followed Jobs and his team as they set about inventing the NeXT computer, a powerful device that was supposed to transform education. When Menuez asked Jobs what he meant by this, he replied that he wanted “some kid at Stanford to be able to cure cancer in his dorm room.” That statement encapsulated the lofty aspirations and sincere idealism of those dedicated engineers at the time. From boardroom to office to secret lab to home, Menuez documented the tireless work and passion of the young employees, capturing each moment of crippling doubt, heartbreaking failure, unexpected success, and pure triumph.

Jobs’ trust of Menuez put him in the good graces of other leading figures of the Valley at the time, and he went on to photograph over 70 other trailblazing companies and innovators, including John Warnock at Adobe, John Sculley at Apple, Bill Gates at Microsoft, and many more. His time there drew to a close after 15 years, just as the extraordinary era was ending. The dot-com bubble burst, taking with it trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, and countless hopes and dreams.

Left with an archive of over 250,000 photos, Menuez is taking it upon himself to make sure the history of the tech boom is remembered by all, from the public to the inheritors of the digital legacy working in Silicon Valley now. With his photo book Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000 and a cross-media platform that includes a documentary, traveling exhibitions, TV and web series, education program, and leadership conference/awards, Menuez presents an eye-opening chronicle of the digital revolution while looking ahead to the new wave of innovation today.

We were lucky to ask Menuez a few questions about his experience in Silicon Valley. Scroll down to view that exclusive interview, along with images and captions courtesy of the photographer.

Above: Steve Jobs Explaining 10-Year Technology Development Cycles. Sonoma, California, 1986.

Steve giving a history lesson about how technology evolves in ten year wave cycles to his new NeXT team at an off-site meeting during a retreat in the countryside. Steve hoped to ride the next wave by putting the power of a refrigerator-size mainframe computer into a one-foot cube at a price affordable to universities, thus “transforming education.” He was also on a quest for redemption and revenge after being forced out at Apple in a humiliating boardroom coup after alienating keyboard members and his handpicked CEO, John Sculley. Steve and most industry pundits believed NeXT would be a huge and rapid success. Instead, it was the start of a decade of difficult, often bitter struggle.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

The Day Ross Perot Gave Steve Jobs $20 Million. Fremont, California, 1986.

Steve, who understood the power of a compelling setting, hosting a formal lunch for Ross Perot and the NeXT board of directors in the middle of the abandoned warehouse he planned to turn into the NeXT factory. He told Perot that they were building the most advanced robotic assembly line in the world and that “no human hands” would be assembling hardware. He predicted that NeXT would be the last billion-dollar-a-year company in Silicon Valley, and that they would ship 10,000 computers a month. Perot, an education reform advocate, invested $20 million in the company, becoming a key board member and giving NeXT a crucial lifeline.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Susan Kare Is Part of Your Daily Life. Sonoma, California, 1987.

Susan Kare’s playful icons and user interface design have impacted the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Susan, a part of the original Mac team, designed the original Mac icons and much of the user interface. Leaving Apple with Steve after his ouster, she became a cofounder and creative director at NeXT, where she worked with the legendary Paul Rand and oversaw the creation of its icons and logo. Later she designed and redesigned icons for many other computer operating systems, including Windows and IBM's OS/2. Here, she's listening to Steve at a meeting with her colleague Kim Jenkins (right), a key member of NeXT's marketing team who started an education division that eventually proved a threat to Apple's domination of the education market.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Steve Jobs Returning from a Visit to the New Factory. Fremont, California, 1987.

Although Steve could be extremely rude, critical, and occasionally even vindictive, he also was incredibly joyful, with an infectious grin and energy that was irresistible. In the early days at NeXT, he would often come bounding in, hungry to get to work. Still, there were not many unrestrained moments of hilarity such as this one, when Steve was riding back from a visit to the newly chosen factory site with the company employees in an old, rented school bus.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Steve Jobs Pretending to Be Human. Menlo Park, California, 1987.

Steve was not the kind of guy who ever seemed to relax. He was usually focused like a laser on the task at hand. So it was surprising to see Steve kicking this beach ball around at a company picnic. He seemed to be having a good time, but it felt more like a performance designed to encourage the team to relax. He knew well from previous experience that his team needed breaks in order to sustain the forced march that would culminate in shipping the product.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

The Founders of Adobe Systems Preparing to Release Photoshop. Mountain View, California, 1988.

John Warnock (right) and Chuck Geschke (left) confidently ready the launch of Photoshop, a landmark program that would utterly transform photography and the graphic arts. This followed their first breakthrough software called PostScript, which allowed computers to talk to printers. This seemingly small function was incredibly difficult to achieve and represented the biggest advance in printing since Gutenberg invented movable type in 1436. The duo left Xerox PARC after their ideas were ignored and founded Adobe in 1982 with $2 million. A few months after they opened for business, Steve Jobs pressed them to sell the company and come work for him. As Chuck told the story, they refused, and Steve responded, “You guys are idiots!” After their investors urged them to cooperate with Steve, they agreed to sell him shares worth 19 percent of the company, for which Steve paid a five-times multiple of their company's value at the time, plus a five-year license fee for PostScript, in advance. This made Adobe the first company in the history of Silicon Valley to become profitable in its first year.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Russell Preston Brown in Costume. Mountain View, California, 1989.

In a public defense of the early Photoshop, Adobe Systems creative director Russell Brown pointedly said that software is just a simple tool, like a hammer–you can use it to build a house or tear one down. Many photographers and graphic designers resisted digital technology and heavily criticized Photoshop. Perhaps more than anyone else, Russell deserves credit for the dominance of Photoshop by winning over the creative community with his Photoshop classes and lectures, where influential photographers, graphic designers, and artists were invited to come learn the software.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

The Painter David Hockney Rests during the First Photoshop Invitational. Mountain View, California, 1990.

As digital technology grew more powerful, Silicon Valley became an unexpected crossroads of culture. Artists arrived from all over the world, eager to experiment and hang out at happenings such as the TED conference, creating a version of what Paris in the ’20s must have felt like. Here, painter David Hockney attends Russell Brown’s first Adobe Photoshop Invitational, where he learned how to use the first-release version of Photoshop, happily smoking in the computer room and playing with his beloved dogs during breaks.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

John Sculley Masters His Shyness to Meet the Press. Fremont, California, 1990.

At the Fremont factory, Apple CEO John Sculley charms the press. He overcame severe shyness and a stutter to eventually become CEO of Pepsi, and was then convinced by Steve Jobs to join Apple in 1983. After forcing Steve out, John grew Apple from $800 million to $8 billion a year in revenue. Despite this achievement, he was often dismissed in the Valley for being a marketing guy, not an engineer, and for being the man who fired Steve. In fact, he worked hard to find and encourage the best ideas inside the company. In 1993, John knew that Apple was tilting toward chaos, unable to rewrite its operating system and innovate against the threat of Microsoft. John's solution to provide a new revenue stream alongside the Macintosh was to green-light the development of the world's first personal digital assistant. The "Newton," as it was called, was an ambitious gamble–a new type of product for a market that did not yet exist. Although the Newton ultimately failed, it validated John's vision and paved the way for the Palm Pilot, iPhone, and iPad. Ironically, he was fired in 1993 for refusing to license the Mac OS, but he left Apple as the most profitable computer company in the world with billions in the bank.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Geek Sex. Mountain View, California, 1991.

Boyfriend and girlfriend act out a rudimentary electrical metaphor at an Adobe Halloween party. Technology worker, especially male engineers, were notoriously socially inept and often shy. Fantasy games and roleplaying were popular, and any opportunity to dress in costumes was welcomed. This couple repeated the ritual all over the company, to the delight of fellow workers.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Bill Gates Says No One Should Ever Pay More Than $50 for a Photograph. Laguna Niguel, California, 1992.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates discusses cheap content for the masses and debates with reporters about the long-delayed vaporware upgrade to Windows at the Agenda '92 Conference. Later that year, at the third TED conference, Gates was onstage making a presentation about digital content and the cost of photography, saying, "No one should ever pay more than fifty bucks for a photograph." As Gates explained, he was completing construction of his high-tech Seattle home, with interiors that would feature screens with continuously changing displays of images. Licensing images on the this scale would be expensive, so he began to think about how to own or control vast archives of images. This led to the idea of forming a stock photography business tasked with developing large image libraries for online distribution. Originally called Continuum, the business is now known as Corbis.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

The Newton War Room at Apple Computer. Cupertino, California, 1993.

Apple programmer Sarah Clark kept her newborn baby with her at work, almost never leaving the building for two years as the team rushed to finish the software. She pulled curtains over her office so colleagues knew when it was naptime or if she was breast-feeding. Her dedication was typical of Apple employees, and management was generally grateful. Flexible hours and other worker-friendly modifications were adopted, and John Sculley showed leadership by appointing women to positions of power (an unusual move in Silicon Valley at that time). What's not often considered is that whoever writes the code determines how the machine will behave and interact with the user. What if someone other than a 20-something white man wrote the code? A different world view would likely change the priorities of the code writer, and that would likely change the nature of the technology that is so profoundly shaping our behavior and culture.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Calculated Risk. Northern California, 1993.

Apple Newton software engineers defy orders (and gravity) to not risk their lives until the product was done. Their boss, software engineering manager Donna Auguste, was not amused, but understood their need to blow off steam by skydiving after years of intense work.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

An Infant at Apple. Cupertino, California, 1993.

As the Newton team worked even more hours, including almost every weekend, they began to bring wives, husbands, and children into the Apple offices. That way, kids could see their parents in daylight hours. Today, Apple employees still work very long hours, particularly when new products are being readied for market.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

President Clinton is Really Smart. Mountain View, California, 1995.

During his reelection campaign, President Bill Clinton attended a fundraiser thrown by the top CEOs of Silicon Valley. L. John Doerr (center) helped organize the visit at the home of Regis McKenna. During dinner, the CEOs peppered Clinton with questions related to complex technology, trade, and economic issues. Listening patiently, the president smoothly delivered a point-by-point response to each guest, revealing a jaw-dropping breadth of knowledge about all the issues, even obscure aspects of encryption technology. Everyone pulled out his checkbook and donated generously to the campaign.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Exercise Break at Intel Fab 11X. Rio Rancho, New Mexico, 1998.

Workers inside Intel’s largest chip fabrication plant exercise and stretch as part of their break time. The plant is a giant, sterile room, so protective “bunny suits” must be worn throughout the facility to prevent contamination from skin and hair. These workers produce five chips a second, 24 hours a day. Many of them are from the nearby Pueblo tribe and maintain their traditions when not working with new technology. After work, many tend their corn and bean fields with their families before dinner.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Bill Joy Is Worried about the Future of the Human Race. Aspen, Colorado, 1998.

Bill Joy, a legendary programmer and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote Berkeley Unix while a student at UC Berkeley and helped the US Defense Department with the TCP/IP stack code that allowed email to travel along the path of least resistance in case of nuclear attack. He then cofounded Sun Microsystems, became a billionaire, husband, and father, and patron of the arts. He also championed and helped finish the code for Java. Bill now believes unfettered innovation for its own sake endangers the very existence of the human race. He warns that without thoughtful controls, the convergence of our most powerful 21st century technologies–robotics, supercomputers, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering–might destroy the human race.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

The Mission. Redwood City, California, 1998.

NetObjects CEO and cofounder Samir Arora, who today heads mega-successful Mode Media, delivers a personal and moving talk to motivate his employees prior to a crucial board meeting with investors. An inspirational leader, Arora was himself inspired by Steve Jobs and came from India to work at Apple as an engineer in 1986. After quickly rising in the ranks, he left Apple and, together with his brother Sal, influential graphic designer Clement Mok (top left), David Kleinberg (lower left), he cofounded NetObjects, which became the first company to create software that allowed anyone to make his or her own webpages. With competition and pressure from investors increasing, Arora's message to his employees that day: they just had to work even harder than they already were.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

New Employees Are Requested to Wear Balloon Hats. Redwood City, California, 1998.

Samir Arora of NetObjects (right) pushing his team in their attempt to “own” the webpage design software space during a staff meeting at company headquarters. New employees were asked to wear balloon hats as a mild hazing ritual. This was believed to improve bonding of team members, which was crucial in high-pressure work environments.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

End of the Dream. Silicon Valley, 2000.

Everything rising up will eventually falter and sink–that's the natural cycle of life. Knowing that things were bound to end was a constant worry and discussion point in Silicon Valley, but few noticed the exact moment when everything began to unravel. The dot-com bubble collapse was a slow-motion disaster at first, unfolding hesitantly through late 1999 into 2000, then accelerating with neck-snapping g-force as it spread from local VC's, to Wall Street, to the big retirement funds, to mom-and-pop investors. By 2001, trillions of dollars of shareholder value had washed away. It felt as though a toxic cloud had descended and hung over us all in the Bay Area, suffocating jobs and dreams. But soon Web 2.0 would boot up, bringing along Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to disrupt and burn new pathways, luring yet another generation to the Valley to build apps, invent, and text their friends. The dream was too powerful to die. While the hangover from the dot-com crash lingers, making investors shy of funding big-bet, change-the-world ideas, the new kids are poking their heads up and looking around for something cool and perhaps more meaningful than short-term apps. And smart people in the Valley are all saying that a new wave of innovation is coming that will make the digital revolution pale in comparison. To catch that next wave and make great things, innovators will no doubt have to be as passionate, hungry, and willing to sacrifice everything as those whose work is documented in these pages. Since the beginning, the pathfinders of Silicon Valley have always found that success was gained through bitter struggle. They also discovered meaning in their lives, and changed ours, through their quests to invent the impossible. Thus it will ever be.

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

Photo Doug Menuez/Contour by Getty Images

My Modern Met: Looking back on your fifteen years in Silicon Valley, how would you describe your time there?

Doug Menuez: It was transformational and life-changing for me. I was a young news photographer hoping to change the world with my photographs. That hadn’t happened yet, but I realized here were the people who actually were changing the world right in front of me–all I had to do was shoot them and create a record of their lives and accomplishments. That would become my purpose; that felt useful. Steve Jobs forced me to figure out what I believed in and was willing to fight for. So I was discovering a hidden tribe through my project in the Valley that was inventing a new culture to go with the new technology.

It was also an awakening to the latent power within the tech community, both technological and economic. At first I was interested in documenting Steve Jobs as an avatar for a new generation flooding into the valley and merging with the previous space race generation. He was a way to show the human side of tech, through his struggles and failures. It was not about tech, per se. For me and most of us, it started with personal computers and how we could leverage those cool tools, but I realized it was much more. It was about culture and the nature of work. As they developed the new tools, they created their own culture and language, style of dress and way of working. That emanated out to profoundly influence the wider culture. So it was about human behavior in many ways. But it was also about the economical shift from manufacturing to information–to creating millions of jobs and then off-shoring them, the intersection of the arts/humanities and science, where you find the coolest, and often most profitable, products emerging. It was about diversity, getting women and minorities into the mix, the challenges with education in terms of getting more engineers, the way tech is funded… So many layers, it blows my mind.

MMM: At the time, as you documented history in the making, did you have any idea how much these people were going to change the world?

DM: At first, I wasn’t sure how much I was seeing was blue-sky hype or what might become real, but after a few years it was crystal-clear that a massive shift was happening and would overtake everyone, even my editors in NY who thought they would never have a computer on their desk! Or photographers who predicted digital cameras would fail hard.

MMM: How does the Silicon Valley of today compare to the Silicon Valley that you immersed yourself in from 1985 to 2000?

DM: The people I photographed were obsessed with inventing cool technology that could improve our lives. Many were extremely idealistic and driven to the point where they were willing to sacrifice everything for the dream. They knew they’d make money, but it was secondary. Today, the climate is dominated by money–what will create scale, fast growth, and get you to a quicker IPO. I’m generalizing, but you hear the phrase “change the world” all the time, but sadly, very few can now get funding for anything that involves hard science to solve really hard problems, like climate change (almost all VC funding for alternative energy, etc. has been cut off in recent years, leaving government funding, large corporations like Google, or whoever is funding Elon Musk!).

Long-term “patient” money is hard to find, so what you can do is build stuff that can be done quickly–apps. Which is cool, I love my apps. But it’s the really hard science problems that have the power to create the next tech revolution and transformational change. There are tons of great innovations out there, but it’s all iterations of stuff that was invented in the ’80s and ’90s or earlier, by the people I photographed. Every single thing we use today can be traced back to pre-2000, including the iPhone. There are amazing new technologies percolating–3D printing, nanotech, quantum computing, genomics–all of which should blow up soon and lead to a new revolution. They have not scaled yet, however. And one issue holding things back, aside from long-term investors, is Moore’s Law. If it cannot continue as it has, we won’t have the processing power required by those new technologies to really scale.

Having said all that, there are definitely a lot of young visionary millennials out there who are also idealistic and looking for deeper meaning in their lives. The kind of meaning that can only come by being part of something bigger than yourself and being willing to sacrifice for your dream. And wanting to contribute something to the greater good of humanity. Remember, Steve Jobs and his gang all came out of the ’60s and the ethos of building a better world. That’s coming back, I think.

MMM: Can you tell us more about your book Fearless Genius, and how you're working to expand that as a cross-media platform with a documentary, exhibitions, an education program, etc.?

DM: There are two things: first, we are building a platform of content based on my photographs and stories, plus new video interviews and shoots I’m doing with the veterans from the early days, as well as the cool new kids paving the way to our future. So we are leveraging the past to talk about what’s coming next and who the next fearless geniuses might be. Who will be the next Steve Jobs? Where will she come from? So the book and exhibit were part of phase one, and now we are working on the documentary and web series, hopefully with corporate sponsorship soon.

Second, we are building a foundation around my archive housed at Stanford Library to develop education programs. We hope to educate, challenge, and inspire the next generation; mentor diverse visual storytellers; and finish the preservation work that Stanford Library has begun with my archive. We are working with several institutions to create useful programs for different age groups, from junior high school to MBA entrepreneur programs.

It’s extremely exciting and rewarding to see the reaction to this mostly unknown history, particularly from young entrepreneurs and innovators who are reaching out to me. It keeps me going.

MMM: In your opinion, what does it take to be a fearless genius?

DM: It takes a willingness to step off the cliff into the unknown; having tremendous faith in yourself and your ideas, despite all evidence to the contrary, or the dire predictions of smart people. You don’t have to be an actual genius, but if you can let go of fear, you can accomplish anything. Fear is probably the single most destructive force in our lives that can hold us back from accomplishing our goals. Fear of failure, humiliation, and the real risk of losing one’s job, family, health, and friends. And that kind of catastrophic failure can happen when you start a company to build something new that nobody knows they want. I saw it.

Not everyone can do this. But life is too short to not figure out what you are truly passionate about doing, and doing it. If you don’t, you are designing a life of regret. But I would also say it does not have to be binary. You can work toward a day when you take the leap, and plan step by step for your liberation. But you still gotta take the leap!

Excerpted from the book Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000 by Doug Menuez, Atria Books. For more info, please visit: www.fearlessgenius.org

Doug Menuez: Website | Instagram | Twitter
Fearless Genius: Website | Facebook | Simon & Schuster | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Doug Menuez.





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