Chronicle: A computer builder’s happy childhood

In 1967, when Steven Jobs was 12 years old, he got to see a computer for the first time. A man had moved in with his wife a few houses down the street in Mountain View, California. His name was Larry Lang and he was an engineer at Hewlett Packard. He taught Steve a lot about electronics.

Larry enjoyed building Heathkits. There were products, everything from oscilloscopes to computers, that you bought in kits and built together yourself. In the readable online book Make Something Wonderful recently released, we can read when Steve Jobs talks about Heathkits in his own words:

You actually paid more money for them than if you had just gone and bought the finished product, if it was available. Heathkits came with detailed manuals on how to assemble the gadget and all parts would be laid out in a certain way and color coded. You built this thing all by yourself.

25 years later and 8,652 kilometers from Mountain View, more specifically in southern Botkyrka, I built my first computer. After a few years of tinkering with Atari ST and Amiga, it became a PC with an Intel i486DX2 processor at 66 megahertz. I didn’t have Larry Lang, but my childhood friend Christer Engman, who taught me a thing or two about electronics. A few years later, he graduated as an electrical engineer at KTH.


Steven Wozniak and Steve Jobs, two computer builders.

Just like in 60s California, it would probably have been cheaper to buy a ready-made machine. It would have been less work, too, and a guarantee. But that wasn’t the point. Building it yourself was about so much more. Just as Jobs describes it, it gave an understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked. Perhaps even more important was the feeling that I, all by myself, could actually build most of the things I saw around me.

After building a computer or two, they are no longer a mystery. The same applies to the printer, mobile phone, amplifier or speakers – which were bought from Hifi Kit and assembled at home in the teenager’s room. (I once even came third in a server building contest at the Intel Developer Conference in San Franscisco and won a Segway. But that’s another story.)


Me with my teenage love. Which I built myself.

After building a computer, they are no longer a mystery.

Countless are the times when I have met and seen people with the apparently opposite opinion, that electronic gadgets are incomprehensible and probably created with some kind of magic. They pick up and look at the phone like it’s an alien artifact every time there’s a message (and the ringtone is always loud and always rings at inopportune times).

The computer, also known as the hard driveis some form of devilish contraption with two thousand icons on the desktop that all have in common that it is highly unclear what happens if you click on them. In any case, it is something incomprehensible.

For me, it is impossible to imagine how this feels. As builders, we know how the machine works, we understand the magic. Despite all the differences, I, Steve Jobs and maybe you have this in common: We have gained a great confidence in exploring, learning and understanding apparently very complex things in our technological environment.

Steve tells us that his childhood was very happy in that way.

Mine too.

Source: SweClockers by

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