Bill Fernandez: Apple’s First Employee and Unlikely Odyssey

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Bill Fernandez was not just the first employee of Apple—he was also its third partner, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Fernandez spent his entire life in Silicon Valley, working at Atari with Wozniak, before eventually being lured away by Jobs to work on what would become Apple. After leaving Apple in 1985, Fernandez would go on to work at Sun Microsystems, before forming his own technology company later in life.

A Boy Inventor

Growing up in Silicon Valley, Bill Fernandez was an inventor. He would spend his time taking apart clocks and radios to see how they worked, which only fueled his curiosity to know more about the world. Eventually he became friends with Steve Jobs when they discovered that their fathers had attended Stanford University together. When the then-18-year-old Jobs had the idea of a personal computer, Bill was one of the first people he showed it to and eventually one of its first employees.

Starting At Atari

Bill was employed at Atari while still a student. When I started at Atari, I was in college and had not yet graduated. When I quit school, I needed to get out of California because there were some relatives who had been badgering me about coming back home to the East Coast. They said it would be much easier for me to get a job there, says Bill.

Stepping Into A Career At Apple

Growing up in Pismo Beach, CA, Fernandez has a difficult time pursuing his education. But this all changes when he spends the summer of 1971 as an unpaid intern at a computer company called Hewlett-Packard, through an arrangement made by his mentor. The following year he is offered a job at HP and attends Palo Alto College where he studies Electrical Engineering.

Making Friends And Influencing People

In 1975, Bill became the first employee of Apple. When he started at the company in April, there were only three people–Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and a member of the engineering staff. Not much more than a month later, John Sculley had been brought on as president. And by that time, Lisa was beginning to show its personality traits.

Leaving The Company He Co-Founded

Just as Bill was making plans to return to Berkeley for his senior year, a position opened up at Hewlett-Packard. Jef Raskin, who was hiring for the newly created hardware department at HP, invited Bill for an interview.

Letting Go Of What Was Most Important To Him

In the late 1970s, Bill Fernandez had a choice to make. He could have continued doing what he loved to do for his lifelong career – designing product circuits for Atari – or he could join Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s nascent computer company as it set out on its first improbable odyssey. Not much of a decision at all, it turned out. At least in retrospect.

Lessons We Can Learn From His Journey

  1. Opportunity is everywhere if you look for it. 2. There are more than enough smart people in the world, but most never get a chance to prove themselves because of circumstances beyond their control. 3. Find the opportunities that lie within your circumstances instead of letting them confine you to your limitations. 4. Technology evolves rapidly and innovators need to adapt with it, but long-term goals shouldn’t be sacrificed because they can’t keep up with short-term trends. 5.


Since the day he started working for Steve Jobs, Bill Fernandez never looked back. I was only 22 years old at the time I left Hewlett-Packard to join him, said Mr. Fernandez. It took a lot of confidence in what he was doing, because it was so risky at that point with everything on chips no one else could use except us. He would go on to serve as president of Macintosh division after Jobs’ departure from Apple and is credited for designing the machine by creating the framework for its operating system as well as many features like icons, windows, menus and more. Fernandez’s long history with the company has made him an ambassador for life.

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