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Bushnell: Steve Jobs 'Has Not Ever Abided Fools Gladly, And I Think That's Okay'

Nolan Bushnell recalls 19 year-old Steve Jobs -- whom Atari ultimately sent on a spiritual journey to India -- and says while the late Apple CEO might have been "prickly," he was a good friend.
Although Steve Jobs' recent passing has brought a wave of praise for his industry-shaping innovation and inimitable creativity, many have often reflected on what's seen as his difficult temperament. Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, who gave Jobs his first big engineering gig at Atari, says that while Jobs could be "prickly," he had always been a great friend. "Steve was a very smart and difficult person," Bushnell said when asked to share memories of the Apple CEO's younger days at the Game Developers Conference Online in Austin this week. Bushnell needed someone to code Breakout, and since no engineers stepped up, he got Jobs to work nights. "Steve was about to get fired because he didn't play well with others, and so I said, 'Well, I'll put you on the engineering night shift...' which, we didn't have that yet," jokes Bushnell. "I always felt that no matter how prickly someone was, it was okay to work around, so that's what we did. Steve and [fellow Atari employee Steve Wozniak] came in on the nightshift and coded up Breakout, and of course it was a massive hit, and great fun." Not only did Bushnell work around what he saw to be challenges for Jobs' personality as an employee, but he indirectly sent Jobs on the spiritual quest that helped lead to him launching Apple. Jobs was sent on a trip to Germany for Atari, "and Steve wanted to go to India to spend some time with an Indian Swami of some sort," Bushnell recalls. Jobs asked if he could fly to India directly from Germany, as it was cheaper. "And so Atari actually paid his way to India, where of course he spent a few months seeing the light... and getting a blood disease," Bushnell said. Jobs had to be med-evaced back to California, where he and Wozniak decided to start Apple Computer. "[They] offered me the chance to be the financial partner and have 1/3 of Apple for $50,000, which I brilliantly said no. And I've actually regretted that a few times," he laughs. "Steve has always been a good friend and a great visionary and actually a really nice man," Bushnell adds. "I've heard people say that he has difficulty with things but the reality is when I say prickly... Steve didn't and... has not ever abided fools gladly. And I think that's okay, because I think we've got way too many fools."

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