Location Dictates Innovation: A Tale of My Neighbor Steven Jobskyby@nebojsaneshatodorovic
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Location Dictates Innovation: A Tale of My Neighbor Steven Jobsky

by Nebojsa "Nesha" TodorovicSeptember 11th, 2021
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The more unusual your new neighbor is, the better, the more unusual. The story of my neighbor should be a long book, which I’m compressing into a short story. He spent his childhood and high school in the Eastern European version of California, which was the former Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s. Both of them dropped out of college at the same time, both began their journeys of self-discovery and self-spiritual “spiritual. “For example, I recommend these great articles: On the. Yugoslavian DIY Computer from the 1980s Lives and The. story of DIY Computer of Yugoslavia's DIY computer revolution.
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Location is everything. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Entrepreneurs and founders, not startups and companies. 

As far as I’m concerned, you can register, build, or do whatever you like with your company - on the North Pole. What difference does it make? Plenty, but you can still make it. 

What? Do you have some heartbreaking slumdog millionaire story to share? Sorry, but I’m not interested. I’m not afraid, but I’m aware it’s pointless to say anything about (who’d even dare to use “against” instead of “about”) the sacred cows of the entrepreneurship universe. It’s just the way things are and have always been. 

I’m biased, but let me state something obvious. 

If Nikola Tesla hadn’t moved to the USA, he would’ve ended up being a priest the way his father, also a priest, had always wanted for him. That’s what I have on my mind when I write about locations in this story.

Do you have to be born at the right time and at the right place and in the right family (optional, desirable, ideally)? Is all that it takes for someone to eventually comes down to changing a location? Let’s see. 

It’s always nice to see a new face in your neighborhood, isn’t it? The more unusual your new neighbor is, the better. 

So, a few years ago, an elderly man in his late sixties moved into one of our building’s adapted (habitable) garages. The garages have cult status among entrepreneurs and founders. This isn’t the case with my new neighbor. The stairs have been his nemesis for quite some time. The combination of poor genes and an even worse unhealthy lifestyle are to be blamed. I found his arrival in this fully transformed garage to be rather symbolic. 

I was among the first to offer a helping hand in unloading a moving truck. Two groups of things caught my attention. First, there were a dozen computers of different models and sizes. Some of them could be considered ancient. Second, there were hundreds of books, mostly SF. Entire collections, some of them very rare. 

Long repackaging story short, my new neighbor sacrificed a lot to keep his computers and books. In terms of furniture, clothes, and other things required for living, one word sums them all up perfectly - essentials. 

Hear! Hear! Behold The Tech Pioneer!

What I feel is a mixture of guilt and ungratefulness. The story of my neighbor should be a long book, which I’m compressing into a short story. 

First, we traveled into the distant future during our conversations about all the SF books we read. Then, we went back to the past as soon as computers became our main topic. His tech and entrepreneurship journey is a story worth writing and sharing. 

There’s nothing wrong with comparing my neighbor to Steve Jobs. I found it to be both useful and interesting. Here it goes. Judge for yourself. 

My neighbor was born a few years later than Steve. Just like Jobs, he spent his childhood and high school in the Eastern European version of California, which was the former Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s. Based not on Google and Wikipedia results, but my parents’ and my own first-hand experiences, I can say that a no-longer-existing country was an oasis of freedom, technological, and economic prosperity compared to the Eastern (Communist) Bloc. That’s why I can’t say that my neighbor was in a dramatically disadvantageous position compared to his US tech enthusiasts during that period. 

They both developed a mindset of an engineer and became passionate about electronics thanks to their environment. Just to give you an example of how it used to work in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As early as in elementary schools, the kids were given the freedom to choose which “newspaper” and magazines to read. That’s how my neighbor got in love with technology and electronics. As a much younger countryman, I myself caught a few years of magazines about literature. Needless to say that all these interests were encouraged and sponsored by the state itself. 

For a better understanding of what I'm talking about, I recommend these two great articles:

Moving on with my story. Both of them dropped out of college. Probably at the same time, a few years, give or take, both began their spiritual journeys of self-discovery and “spiritual enlightenment.” The only difference is that Steven went to the far east, all the way to India, while my neighbor traveled to his cousins in Switzerland and Germany. 

When they returned “enlightened,” they entered into two different worlds. This is the moment where similarities died, and the difference became as deep as an abyss. 

Socialism vs. Capitalism - Public Ownership vs. Private Ownership

Steve was deep into entrepreneurship and fully independent waters, while my neighbor became a part of the controlled public companies. Socialism offered financial, healthcare security, and all kinds of benefits but took away the choice of individual development and entrepreneurship. 

For Jobs, computers were a matter of life and death. For my neighbor, a hobby and a personal, non-profit passion. Jobs was building his own computers, and my neighbor was assembling already existing computers. It wasn’t an easy thing to do back then in the early 1980s in our former country. So, kudos to my neighbor. I had to Google just to get a glimpse of what he was talking about. I think that “his” first computer was Spectrum. How he was able to get all the parts is a story for itself. 

Here are some Twitter screenshots to show that my neighbor wasn't the only DIY computer enthusiast. A heads up for translation, but you'll get the point.

There’s a cheesy line, which wasn’t far away from the truth, that former Yugoslavia was neither West nor East. Some kind of a “hybrid.” That’s how my neighbor was able to work on the IBM systems in a socialist country. 

Remember the two articles I mentioned earlier? Well, here's one of the subheadings that perfectly matches this screenshot:

Meet Galaksija, the wooden wonder computer.

If we can avoid the term “visionary,” and settle for a problem-solver, I’d be grateful. Steve was making our world a better place with his Apple computers for profit. My neighbor wanted the same in his heavily bureaucratized publicly owned company. Meaning, he wanted to improve productivity as a part of his own private initiative. As a self-taught developer, he created an accounting program from scratch. One of the very first of its kind in the whole country.

I had to Google because I’d never even heard of Cobol. His reward wasn’t the money or company’s shares, not even a medal (you saw that in old communistic propaganda movies), but skepticism, indifference, and even envy among his colleagues and supervisors. 

They both left their companies. It wasn’t pleasant for either of them. While Jobs was busy with NeXT and Pixar, my neighbor created a completely new accounting program based on Access. Our country was collapsing. The civil war was on the tour from one former federal state to another until the full cycle of destruction was completed with the NATO bombing. 

A few years after Jobs returned to Apple, my neighbor was able to finally start his own company for accounting software solutions. The following years were the most productive for both entrepreneurs. Apple’s iPod and iPhone models were taking the world by storm. 

My neighbor’s software did the same on an incomparably smaller scale on the remains of a once big and respectful market of former Yugoslavia. He didn’t complain because he was finally free, independent, and creative as he’d always dreamed. 

Sky's The Limit Until Life Revokes Its Permit 

They were both struck down in the prime of their lives. Steve and my neighbor’s wife were diagnosed with cancer. 

I found a quote on Wikipedia from the 1995 documentary “Steve Jobs: The Last Interview.” He was talking about computers.

“I feel incredibly lucky to be at exactly the right place in Silicon Valley, at exactly the right time, historically, where this invention has taken form.” This invention he was referring to was the computer. 

On one occasion, I asked my neighbor, “Why didn’t you leave our country? Why haven’t you moved to the USA? Anywhere, but here.”

“When I could have, I didn’t want to. When I wanted to, I couldn’t.” 

The story about Steve’s adoption is one of the saddest I’ve ever read. Being huge SF fans, my neighbor and I discussed alternative realities among so many things we found in all those books. I wondered out loud, what would’ve happened if my neighbor had been born in California instead of former Yugoslavia. He didn’t like that idea at all, even if it was a theoretical one. 

“I would have never met my wife, then. And, even if I did, there’s no cure for cancer in California.” We have never spoken about “what if” scenarios after that. 

Yes, it’s true that the locations are everything, but without people, they’re pointless and worthless. People we love and care about. Yet, sometimes when I’m alone, I can’t help myself to wonder - what if. 

My neighbor would’ve never invented the iPod or iPhone, and that has nothing to do with my point about the importance of location. He was and still is a problem-solver, after all. Had he been born somewhere near Silicon Valley, the accounting software wouldn’t have been on his to-invent-and-to-do list, that’s for sure. Maybe he would’ve done something completely different that had nothing to do with the computers and programming.

It takes more than one perfect element to give birth to a magic moment - in our history. Here’s a nice quote. I just wrote and shared it with you for the first time. 

Who am I to say to someone that they shouldn’t admire Steve Jobs because of this or that? And, who are you to tell me that I couldn’t admire my neighbor - Steven Jobsky? I’m using an iPhone. I hate accounting. I love SF. I finished this story. Time to call my neighbor. Time to travel to another galaxy. We are making plans for a spaceship that will use beer warp instead of warp drive. Wish us luck. Cheers!