How an eighth-grade dropout taught himself to success at Apple

James Marcus Bach dropped out of high school, became a engineer-manager at Apple when 20 years old, and went on to teach at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Labs. He says he has been entirely self-taught throughout his life, a “buccaneer scholar”.

The pattern I experienced at Apple would be confirmed almost everywhere I traveled in the computer industry: Most people have put themselves on intellectual autopilot. Most don’t study on their own initiative, but only when they are forced to do so. Even when they study, they choose to study the obvious and conventional subjects. This has the effect of making them more alike instead of more unique. It’s an educational herd mentality.

That last line – becoming more like than unique reminded me of the time when one of my previous employers ran a ‘brand building’ workshop for employees but which turned out to be all about executive presence – how to talk, conduct oneself, handle phone conversations and presentations. I pointed out to management that contrary to making each employee a unique brand, this was about everyone acting, talking and behaving the same way, and my managers all said “well, we want them to represent a certain brand, the company’s brand, and that’s what we’re trying to build”.

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