Jobs thus became one of the first fifty employees at Atari,
working as a technician for $5 an hour. “In retrospect,
it was weird to hire a dropout from Reed,” Alcorn recalled.
“But I saw something in him. He was very intelligent, enthusiastic,
excited about tech.” Alcorn assigned him to work with a straitlaced
engineer named Don Lang. The next day Lang complained,
“This guy’s a goddamn hippie with b.o. Why did you do this to me?
And he’s impossible to deal with.” Jobs clung to the belief that his fruit-heavy
vegetarian diet would prevent not just mucus but also body odor,
even if he didn’t use deodorant or shower regularly. It was a flawed theory.
Lang and others wanted to let Jobs go, but Bushnell worked out a solution.
“The smell and behavior wasn’t an issue with me,” he said. “Steve was prickly,
but I kind of liked him. So I asked him to go on the night shift. It was a way
to save him.” Jobs would come in after Lang and others had left and work through most
of the night. Even thus isolated, he became known for his brashness.
On those occasions when he happened to interact with others, he was prone
to informing them that they were “dumb shits.” In retrospect, he stands
by that judgment. “The only reason I shone was that everyone else was so bad,” Jobs recalled.
Despite his arrogance (or perhaps because of it) he was able to charm Atari’s boss.
“He was more philosophical than the other people I worked with,” Bushnell recalled.
“We used to discuss free will versus determinism. I tended to believe that things
were much more determined, that we were programmed. If we had perfect information,
we could predict people’s actions. Steve felt the opposite.” That outlook accorded
with his faith in the power of the will to bend reality.
Jobs helped improve some of the games by pushing the chips to produce fun designs,
and Bushnell’s inspiring willingness to play by his own rules rubbed off on him.
In addition, he intuitively appreciated the simplicity of Atari’s games. They came
with no manual and needed to be uncomplicated enough that a stoned freshman could
figure them out. The only
instructions for Atari’s Star
Trek game were “1. Insert
quarter. 2. Avoid Klingons.”