For two people who revolutionized the same industry, worked together for many years, and became famous for similar accomplishments, it's hard to imagine two public figures more unlike each other than Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. For years, I've assumed that was a matter of personality, or the fundamental difference between geeks and suits I helped explore in The Geek Gap.
But now I've lived in Western Washington for more than 18 months. I've also lived briefly in California and spent a lot of time there over the years. Suddenly it hit me: The real difference between the two is geographic. Each man is or was a perfect reflection of the state where he was born and raised.
Here's why I think that. Tell me if you disagree:
1. Bill Gates is data-driven. Steve Jobs was intuitive.
Before high-tech firms came to dominate both states, the most visible industry in Washington was aviation -- Boeing is the Seattle area's biggest employer, with 80,000 jobs. And although California's biggest industry has always been agriculture, its most high-profile industry is entertainment -- "Hollywood" has been a synonym for big-studio movies since time immemorial.
So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Gates is methodical, engineering-driven, and depends on data to help with his decision-making. Whereas Jobs famously shunned focus groups and market research, instead relying on his own artistic instincts and star power to create products his customers would love.
2. Steve Jobs was flamboyant. Bill Gates is mild-mannered.
Steve Jobs' presentations and product introductions were legendary feats of theater, beginning with the day the very first Macintosh computer spoke to the audience in its own voice. On the other hand, despite spending decades in the public eye and giving multiple TED Talks, Bill Gates remains a lackluster presenter. Having spent time in both states, I can tell you that Washingtonians are generally laid-back, quiet, and slow to call attention to themselves, whereas Californians tend to be outgoing and showy, whether in Hollywood or not.
3. Steve Jobs was a "fruitarian." Bill Gates eats burgers.
Steve Jobs was famously vegetarian and often vegan, known for following what he called a "fruitarian" diet. Less is known about Bill Gates' dietary habits but one thing we do know is that he loves a hamburger. He particularly favors Burgermaster and Dick's Drive-In in Seattle, according to GeekWire.
Where I live in small-town Washington, vegetarians are rare: There's only one in our circle of friends. Even Seattle, despite its reputation as a youthful, left-leaning town, only ranked seventh in GrubHub's list of most vegetarian-ordering cities. Whereas three California cities, San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles grabbed the third, fifth, and sixth spots.
4. Bill Gates is agnostic. Steve Jobs was a Buddhist.
California has a reputation as a center for non-Judeo-Christian religions in the United States, and San Jose is known for having more Buddhists per capita than any other U.S. city. Jobs famously traveled India as a young man and returned to Atari a confirmed Buddhist.
In Washington only 55 percent of residents say they believe in God, making it one of the least religious states in the nation. So maybe it's not surprising that Gates seems to be agnostic. At least, he told Rolling Stone that while he and his wife were raising their children to attend a Catholic church, he himself is more concerned with the moral value of making the world a better place. "I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don't know," he added.
5. Bill Gates is a famed philanthropist. Steve Jobs apparently did little charitable giving.
Not only is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the largest private foundation in the world, Gates, along with Warren Buffett, launched the Giving Pledge, asking billionaires to commit to giving or bequeathing at least half their wealth to charity. Although Apple, like all major corporations, has engaged in corporate philanthropy, little is known about Steve Jobs' charitable giving, likely because there wasn't all that much of it. Or if there was, it certainly paled alongside Gates' efforts. (Jobs never signed the Giving Pledge, for example.)
Here again, the two men perfectly reflect the states they come from. Washington ranks eighth in WalletHub's ranking of states by charitable donation and volunteerism per capita. California ranks 48th, ahead of only Louisiana and Rhode Island.
6. Steve Jobs had a keen esthetic sense. Bill Gates, not so much.
You could figure this out just by looking at some of the products each created, but also by looking at the men themselves. Years ago, Jobs settled on a black turtleneck and jeans, but not just any black turtleneck and jeans. His black turtleneck was designed just for him by Japanese fashion legend Issey Miyake, who supplied him with hundreds of them. Whereas Bill Gates, as Gizmodo notes, is loyal to the sweater and what appears to be a $7 haircut.
Los Angeles and San Francisco regularly appear in lists of the top three most fashionable U.S. cities. Seattle? It ranks 12th or lower.