U.S. Markets open in 20 mins

Inside 'the reality distortion field': An early Apple employee told us what it was like having Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as his bosses (AAPL)

Jim Edwards
Apple employees early

Joe Shelton


  • Joe Shelton joined Apple in 1979, when the company had fewer than 100 employees, and his desk was 30 feet from founder Steve Jobs. He was the first product manager for the original Mac.
  • Shelton told us what it was like dealing with Jobs' infamous "reality distortion field." In truth, Shelton says, Jobs' was not the master of mind control that many people made him out to be.
  • And Steve Wozniak, Jobs' cofounder, was like a "big kid" who occasionally hid behind office cubes when he didn't want to get dragged into something.


Joe Shelton joined Apple on April 30, 1979, when the company had fewer than 100 employees. "I stumbled into it" after six years in the US Navy, he told Business Insider.

"They were making something called a 'home computer' and my mother said, 'I don't know why anyone would want a home computer.'" But, "I leaped all over the job because it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun," he said.

He was right. For a few years, Shelton's desk was 30 feet from that of late founder Steve Jobs. He also worked with Steve Wozniak — the other founder of Apple who contributed most of the programming brilliance in the early Apple years.

And, with the two Steves, he also took meetings with a young Bill Gates, whose (then) little-known company Microsoft supplied part of the operating system for early versions of the Apple II computer. They worked together until Jobs and Wozniak left the company in 1985. Shelton left the company in 1992.

Business Insider asked Shelton what it was like dealing with Jobs' infamous "reality distortion field" — his ability to convince colleagues of grand, ambitious projects, even when they didn't make sense, based on the sheer intensity of his personality. In truth, Shelton says, Jobs' was not the master of mind control that many people made him out to be.

Shelton was initially hired as a marketing analyst but soon became the product manager for many of the early versions of Apple's software, such as Apple Writer, the word processing app for the Apple II.

In 1981, not many people were writing software applications for the Apple II. Shelton was worried that the Apple Software Publishing group was promising impossible-to-meet sales numbers at the expense of quality. So Shelton decided to resign. "I’d already written my resignation letter with my opinions on the company’s direction and given it to one of my bosses, the head of the Apple II and III group, and had just given a copy to Mike Markkula — chairman of the board and VP of marketing — when I ran into Steve."

Standing in the hallway at the Cupertino headquarters at Bandley Drive, Jobs asked, "So what are you doing?"

Apple employees with the Mac in the early 1980s.

Joe Shelton

Shelton said, "Actually, I think we're going in the wrong direction and I'm leaving the company."

Jobs replied, "come with me."

The founder took him to Bandley 4 building and showed him what Steve's secret group was working on next: The Mac prototype. It was the first computer to use a point-and-click interface, with a mouse, and pull-down menus for commands and functions.

The machine was revolutionary: It swept away computers that used lines of code text as commands and replaced them with a visual environment that featured folders, icons, and trash cans — things people recognised from real life. The reason your laptop looks the way it does today is because of the Mac.

"Would you like to be the product manager?" Jobs asked. Obviously, Shelton said yes.

Apple joe shelton

Joe Shelton

"Everybody in the Mac group loved Steve," Shelton said, even on the days when Jobs was wrong.

A key feature of the Mac was its 128K capacity. This tiny amount of memory was a big deal in its day. But even during Mac's development stages, it threatened to become a limit. One day, Jobs gathered the Mac team — about 40 people — in the atrium at Bandley, where there was a Bosendorfer piano, a ping-pong table and a 500cc BMW motorcycle. He wanted to address his decision to hardwire a 128K limit into the new Mac. The 128K limit meant that users could not run programs that needed more than 128K of capacity — including the operating system.

Steve Jobs

Joe Shelton

Standing in front of his employees, Jobs told them, "we want developers to write small, efficient code, not Microsoft code." His logic was that would metastasize all over the place. The limit would become Apple's advantage by forcing developers to do more with less headroom.

The staff seemed to like the logic — Jobs' reality distortion field at work — but Shelton wasn't convinced. "I was the only person who wasn't accepting it because I knew how operating systems grow, how software grows." Jobs thought developers would make their apps smaller, "but it wasn't going to go that way," Shelton says. Software code only ever balloons in size.

apple joe shelton

Although Shelton's employee number was 345, due to staff churn there were only about 100 people at Apple when he joined in 1979.

So Shelton visited a colleague in the Mac development group, Andy Hertzfeld, the primary software architect on the Mac. "We can't do that," Shelton told him, referring to the 128K limit. "That's really dumb. We can't design a hard stop on the software."

Hertzfeld replied, "I agree, we won't do that."

But didn't Steve Jobs just insist on a 128K limit?

Hertzfeld told Shelton, "Steve will do what he wants to do. We will do what Steve needs us to do. Except when we need to do what we need to do."

That was the moment Shelton realised the Jobs reality distortion field had holes in it. The Mac was not, ultimately, hardwired into a 128K limit although many believed it was. It had capacity beyond that, although Jobs' people did not initially inform their boss that the Mac was more powerful than the company was officially saying.

"Steve figured it out eventually," Shelton said.

Wozniak was almost the opposite of Jobs, Shelton says. Jobs regarded himself as the company's North Star, a leader who would get up in front of the entire Mac group staff and announce a difficult decision. But Wozniak — who preferred building and coding — sometimes ducked management responsibility.

Shelton remembers one time trying to get Wozniak's input on a decision as Wozniak walked through the office. Wozniak wasn't the tallest person in the room but he has distinctive bushy hair, which Shelton could see bobbing between the cubes that separated each desk.

"Hey Woz," Shelton yelled at him.

"His head would disappear when he ducked down [behind the cube walls] because he didn't want to deal with you."

Apple went public in 1980, making Woz a wealthy man. "The minute he got money Woz was mentally out of it," Shelton says. He had a child-like enthusiasm for new toys and gadgets. He bought a single-engine airplane with his new wealth (which he crashed in 1981). "Woz loved his stuff," Shelton says. "Woz was, and still is, a kid at heart [and] there are not enough adult kids in the world."

Apple t shirt

Joe Shelton

Mackintosh

Joe Shelton

NOW WATCH: 5 easy ways to protect yourself from hackers

See Also:

SEE ALSO: Early photos of life at Apple with Steve Jobs, from the company's first few employees

  • Walmart is aggressively shifting away from its most legendary shopping format
    Finance
    Yahoo Finance

    Walmart is aggressively shifting away from its most legendary shopping format

    Walmart (WMT) continues to kill off the American shopping creation it’s most known for, the massive supercenter that sells everything under one roof. With the U.S. market already having more than 3,500 Walmart supercenters and a focus by CEO Doug McMillon to increase spending on eCommerce and India, Walmart said Tuesday it will open a mere 10 supercenters in 2019. The company has reduced emphasis on the store format pioneered by founder Sam Walton – which could average a gargantuan 178,000 square feet – in recent years.

  • Finance
    CNBC

    Morgan Stanley: The stock sell-off is going to get worse

    The stock market is in the middle of a rolling bear market, says Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson. "It's being caused by a drain in liquidity and peaking growth," Wilson says. The stock market sell-off is only going to get worse, predicts Morgan Stanley's chief U.S. equity strategist, Mike Wilson.

  • Here's the Average Social Security Benefit for 2019
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Here's the Average Social Security Benefit for 2019

    Millions of seniors collect Social Security, and without it, they'd be underwater on their bills. At present, the average retiree gets $1,422 a month in Social Security benefits. There's a world of misinformation surrounding Social Security, and perhaps one of the most detrimental myths out there is the notion that the program is enough to sustain seniors by itself.

  • 3 Top Large-Cap Stocks to Buy in October
    Business
    Motley Fool

    3 Top Large-Cap Stocks to Buy in October

    If you're looking for high-quality large-cap stocks to add to your portfolio this month, three of our Motley Fool contributors have some ideas. Here's why you should consider Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.B), Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO), and AT&T (NYSE: T). Tyler Crowe (Berkshire Hathaway): Perhaps one of the most ridiculous investment takes out there right now is that Berkshire Hathaway's immense cash pile isn't a good thing.

  • Brits Are All Making the Same Joke About the New Royal Baby
    News
    Time

    Brits Are All Making the Same Joke About the New Royal Baby

    Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is expecting her first child with Prince Harry. The news, announced Monday morning by Kensington Palace, has already been greeted by hundreds of messages of congratulations for the royal couple on social media. The U.K. is set to leave the European Union on March 29, exactly two years after Prime Minister Theresa May started the formal process for doing so by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

  • Why New Age Beverage Corp. Stock Popped Today
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Why New Age Beverage Corp. Stock Popped Today

    Shares of New Age Beverage Corp. (NASDAQ: NBEV) were climbing again today, riding a surge on marijuana stocks as growers like Tilray, Cronos Group, and Canopy Growth all jumped by double digits. Along with the bullish sentiment in the industry, a number of other factors seemed to be driving New Age shares higher, including the recent hiring of a new CFO, the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada on Wednesday, and the market's reaction to its launch last week of a new line of beverages infused with cannabidiol (CBD). On Friday, New Age named Gregory Gould as its new CFO, a notable move as Gould brings experience from the pharmaceutical industry, which should help the beverage company as it moves into CBD products.

  • Jamal Khashoggi was accidentally killed during interrogation: report
    World
    Fox Business Videos

    Jamal Khashoggi was accidentally killed during interrogation: report

    Fox Business foreign policy analyst Walid Phares on the report that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was accidentally killed.

  • Many U.S. mall owners say good riddance to Sears
    Finance
    Reuters

    Many U.S. mall owners say good riddance to Sears

    The real estate investment trusts that own the malls and shopping centers where many Sears stores are anchor tenants have waited years for the retailer's demise to renovate the sites and boost rent, although redevelopment costs may strain some plans. Most large U.S. malls are controlled by REITs. In recent years, the REITs have cut their exposure to Sears Holdings Corp, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday.

  • These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about
    News
    MarketWatch

    These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about

    For all the glamour of living an early retirement lifestyle, there are plenty of negatives I’ve come to discover since I permanently left my job in 2012. As a result, you’re repeatedly forced to will yourself into action.

  • Gauging Analysts’ Views of Sarepta Stock in October
    Business
    Market Realist

    Gauging Analysts’ Views of Sarepta Stock in October

    An Investor's Overview of Sarepta Therapeutics (Continued from Prior Part) Analysts’ recommendations Of the 23 analysts covering Sarepta Therapeutics (SRPT) in October, eight analysts gave the stock a “strong buy” rating, 14 analysts gave it a “

  • USAF quiet on delivery schedule for Boeing KC-46 tanker to Wichita
    Business
    American City Business Journals

    USAF quiet on delivery schedule for Boeing KC-46 tanker to Wichita

    With the month now half over, it appears less and less likely that McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita will receive its first KC-46 tanker from the Boeing Co. in October as previously hoped.  Boeing (NYSE: BA) last week deferred direct comment on the delivery schedule for the first tanker’s arrival to McConnell to the U.S. Air Force, as the aircraft is now involved in testing for its military type certificate.   A spokesperson for the service told the WBJ that it did not have any updates on the certification timeline or first delivery schedule at this time.  That leaves just two weeks for the tanker to still obtain its needed military type certificate and arrive in Wichita to meet the October goal. Boeing had reiterated that goal as recently as early last month when it was announced that the aircraft had completed its needed Federal Aviation Administration certifications.

  • Saudi Arabia Breaks 45-Year Taboo With Veiled Threat to Use Oil as a Weapon
    Business
    Bloomberg

    Saudi Arabia Breaks 45-Year Taboo With Veiled Threat to Use Oil as a Weapon

    While few think that Saudi Arabia is prepared to follow through, even the suggestion of using oil as a weapon undermines Riyadh’s long-standing effort to project itself as a force for economic stability. The anxieties were exacerbated by an opinion piece penned by Turki Al Dakhil, who heads the state-owned Arabiya news network and is close to the Royal Court, in which he openly talked about using oil as a weapon.

  • Why Occidental Petroleum, Nutrisystem, and Carvana Slumped Today
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Why Occidental Petroleum, Nutrisystem, and Carvana Slumped Today

    Monday saw a disappointing session on Wall Street, as most popular stock indexes lost ground to begin the week. Despite a nice bounce on Friday, investors still seem to be worried about the big declines that came in the middle of last week, and skittishness among market participants has heightened awareness of any imperfection among key companies. Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY), Nutrisystem (NASDAQ: NTRI), and Carvana (NYSE: CVNA) were among the worst performers on the day.

  • Why Marijuana Stocks Cronos Group, Canopy Growth, and Tilray Jumped Today
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Why Marijuana Stocks Cronos Group, Canopy Growth, and Tilray Jumped Today

    The stock market pulled back on Monday, with major benchmarks failing to build on the positive momentum from last Friday. Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON), Canopy Growth (NYSE: CGC), and Tilray (NASDAQ: TLRY) were among the best performers. All three of these stocks have something in common: They all stand to benefit from Wednesday's effective date for legal sales of recreational cannabis product in Canada.

  • Warren Buffett predicted the fall of Eddie Lampert and Sears over 10 years ago (SHLD, BRK.A, BRK.B)
    Finance
    Business Insider

    Warren Buffett predicted the fall of Eddie Lampert and Sears over 10 years ago (SHLD, BRK.A, BRK.B)

    Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early Monday, the culmination of a downward spiral. CEO Eddie Lampert, once called the "next Warren Buffett," will also step down. Incidentally, Buffett predicted the retailer's and Lampert's downfall in 2005.

  • Is This High-Flying Marijuana Stock the Next Tilray?
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Is This High-Flying Marijuana Stock the Next Tilray?

    Since then, Tilray's share price has skyrocketed to well over six times its opening-day level. At one point, Tilray was up a whopping 856% -- in just two months of trading. Now there's another marijuana stock that is beginning to turn heads.

  • Goldman Sachs and Raymond James cut Netflix price target ahead of earnings
    Business
    Yahoo Finance Video

    Goldman Sachs and Raymond James cut Netflix price target ahead of earnings

    Netflix getting its price target slashed by both Goldman Sachs and Raymond James ahead of its highly expected earnings report tomorrow. Both firms are concerned that rising interest rates could pinch the company’s valuation.

  • Marijuana stocks to watch: Canopy Growth is the cannabis business’s $4 billion gorilla
    Business
    MarketWatch

    Marijuana stocks to watch: Canopy Growth is the cannabis business’s $4 billion gorilla

    The following article is part of a package of stories that MarketWatch is publishing to mark the start of full legalization of cannabis for adult use in Canada on Wednesday. Smith Falls, Ontario–based Canopy Growth Corp. made headlines and drove cannabis stocks to new heights over the summer when it announced that Corona brewer Constellation Brands Inc. was going to invest an additional $4 billion in the company. Billed by both companies as a strategic partnership, the additional $4 billion investment adds to the 9.9% stake that Constellation bought in October of last year and sets the company up to either be bought outright by Constellation — via warrants that could increase its stake to more than 50% — or continue to work with the beverage company to create a range of consumer-focused cannabis products that may one day appear in markets in dozens of countries.

  • As Cannabis D-Day Approaches, Winners and Losers Set to Emerge
    Finance
    Bloomberg

    As Cannabis D-Day Approaches, Winners and Losers Set to Emerge

    After Canada legalizes recreational marijuana on Oct. 17, it will only take a quarter or two for clear winners and losers to emerge, according to investors and analysts who follow the sector. “These have all been concept stocks and they’re going to actually have to be real companies in another few months, which I think a lot of guys are terrified about,” said Greg Taylor, who manages the Purpose Marijuana Opportunities Fund. Taylor prefers CannTrust Holdings Inc., Hexo Corp. and Organigram Holdings Inc., which he says trade at a “more realistic valuation” than some of their bigger peers.

  • Better Marijuana Stock: Aurora Cannabis vs. Auxly Cannabis Group
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Better Marijuana Stock: Aurora Cannabis vs. Auxly Cannabis Group

    One is market cap: Aurora's market cap is nearly 18 times bigger than Auxly's. Then there's stock performance. Here's how Aurora Cannabis and Auxly Cannabis Group stack up against each other in the areas that do matter.

  • Finance
    Bloomberg

    Tesla Skeptic Surprised by How Much He Enjoyed the Model 3

    In a broader note about positive electric-car momentum, Jonas said he observed workers at Tesla’s lone auto plant in Fremont, California, who were “extremely busy cranking out Model 3s” for delivery in the U.S. He also drove the dual-motor performance version of the vehicle, which he sees as having better value-for-performance than the Model S sedan. “Frankly, our enjoyment of the high-spec version of the Model 3 took us by surprise,” Jonas said, adding that it’s “hard to say how much this matters.

  • Business
    American City Business Journals

    Best Buy, Target could win in Sears bankruptcy — unless they're right next door

    Sears Holdings Corp., which filed for bankruptcy early Monday morning, wasn't a big competitive threat to either Best Buy Co. or Target Corp. But the Minnesota retailers could be among the biggest beneficiaries if Sears goes away. Bloomberg has an early take on the possible winners and losers in a Sears bankruptcy, and counts Richfield-based Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) firmly in the "win" camp. Sears, even as its sales dwindled, remained a pretty popular place for consumers to shop for things like washing machines and stoves, and Best Buy is among the chains with a chance of capturing that business.

  • 3 Reasons 62-Year-Olds Should Take Social Security Now
    News
    Motley Fool

    3 Reasons 62-Year-Olds Should Take Social Security Now

    As people approach retirement, it's natural to want to claim Social Security as soon as possible. Even though waiting beyond the earliest claiming age of 62 for retirement benefits can give you larger monthly checks, you still have to make it through

  • Bankruptcy judge approves financing to keep Sears open
    Business
    Reuters

    Bankruptcy judge approves financing to keep Sears open

    Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in White Plains, New York earlier on Monday with a plan to close about 142 of its 700 stores by year-end and sell its best-performing stores in an auction in January to a buyer that will keep them operational. The bankruptcy filing by the parent of Sears, Roebuck and Co and Kmart Corp follows a decade of revenue declines, hundreds of store closures, and years of deals by billionaire Eddie Lampert in an attempt to turn around the company he acquired in 2005 for $11 billion. Lampert, who stepped down as Sears CEO on Monday but will remain chairman, had pledged to restore Sears to its glory days, when it owned the tallest building in the world and companies that included a radio station and Allstate insurance.

  • Business
    TheStreet.com

    Canopy Growth Is Poised to Explode to the Upside

    Shares of Canopy have soared 68% over the past three months. In this daily bar chart of CGC, below, we can see that prices are up five-fold over the past 12 months. CGC was trading at $10 back last October and now is trading around $50 with spikes above $55 last month.