Innovator to Innovator: Apple CEO Tim Cook Interviewed by High School Senior Rebecca Kahn
Inspired by the upcoming 2018 AiC Award celebrations, Apple and NCWIT present a new series of personal essays and stories of innovation, as told by NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Community members by way of conversations with Apple executives. Below is the inaugural edition of “Innovator to Innovator,” where NCWIT AiC Community members have the opportunity to talk with Apple executives about their personal philosophies, past experiences, and pivotal influencers — and to discuss their shared mission to increase the meaningful participation of women in computing.
Who knew that Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, and I would be on a first-name basis?
Sure, many have seen him in high-profile interviews on television and magazines or keynote presentations, but to have the incredible opportunity of speaking with him was both exciting and scary. The process began when my computer class teacher at Porter-Gaud challenged us to interview a person of interest in technology and present what we learned.
Trips to the Apple Store with Dad Fostered a Love for Technology
Ever since I was a little girl, my Dad and I would share our love of technology by visiting the Apple Store downtown from when it first opened in Charleston, South Carolina to play around with the latest technology and products. My Father would tell me the stories about the company that started in a garage by a college dropout who had the determination, passion, and vision to make technology accessible by not letting it get in the way of the person using it. I began coding in lower school. As the years increased, the number of girls in computer class decreased.
Two Innovators Connect
It was my senior year, and I wanted to interview not just a real leader in technology, but one whose philosophy and ideas about life were motivating as well. As soon as the assignment was announced, one name immediately came to mind: Apple CEO Tim Cook. He is not just in charge of the world’s largest tech company, but he personally advocates and stands up for things he believes are right. He travels the world and meets with political and innovative leaders. What was the likelihood of him even responding to me?
Amazingly, Tim Cook actually read my email, asking for a few moments of his time to complete my computer project. When the interview actually took place, I was surprised to hear his southern personality and mannerisms when I first heard him say “Hello, Rebecca.” He immediately put me at ease: “Call me Tim -- Mr. Cook is my father’s name.”
Tim’s Thoughts on Increasing Diversity in Tech
Tim considers diversity of ideas and viewpoints critical not just for business, but also for society to grow and thrive. I wanted to know what leaders in the technology industry could do to motivate more women to pursue courses and careers in computer science:
Tim believes kids should start learning code as young as in lower school.
As an advocate for more women in leadership roles, he pushes for companies to acknowledge the importance of women and to allow flexibility when leaving the workplace for family matters.
He believes society and companies can improve when “everybody is treated with dignity and respect.”
Following Your North Star
Tim’s “objective in life is to work for some higher purpose,” and make it “your North Star.” His ‘North Star’ analogy and inspirational idea makes me look past current struggles by focusing on the future ahead. His personal philosophy of focusing on more significant ideas and goals is evident in the way he approaches running the company. Apple is “all about doing just a few things, but the few things that we do, we want to make the very best in the world. Because we believe those make a much larger difference in the world than if we were to focus on just making the most."
While he openly admits to his failures, Tim also optimistically regards them as lessons to avoid repeating. Whenever he feels discouraged, he tells himself to “keep your eye on your North Star, and keep moving” because the “worst thing to do would be to fail and quit. Failure is just temporary, but quitting lasts forever.” The lesson is valuable: don’t try to do and worry about every little opportunity. Instead, set a few big goals and consistently take steps towards reaching them.
Role Models: From Yesterday to Today
Tim also expressed genuine admiration for various women. He considers Angela Merkel a “phenomenal leader not only for Germany but the world.” He recently met with Lori Robinson, a four-star general in the Air Force, who struck him as an incredible and courageous woman who combines rare “unbelievable leadership in humanity and humility.” As a southerner, Tim thought Rosa Parks was “quite the hero” who “accelerated the civil rights act by years” with her courage. Coincidently, Tim and I were able to connect over our admiration for Rosa Parks as I recently wrote about her incredible bravery in my Stanford college application.
Tim also enthusiastically admires and compliments the younger generation of people because he imagines that “this generation, more than any other in history, wants to improve everyone’s lives.” He attributes their “greater purpose” as not being as focused on increasing wealth and making money, but rather “on doing good.”
Throughout the interview, I was struck with his philosophy of taking proactive steps tomake the world a more thriving, enjoyable, and philanthropic place. As amazing as it made me feel to have had the chance to personally learn from him, I consider him to be not just a technology groundbreaker, but an influential world leader.
About Rebecca and AiC
Rebecca Kahn’s computing skills and aspirations overlap with her passion for medicine. She programmed an open heart surgery simulation using the Kinect camera for high school students who wanted to find out if they had what it took to become a doctor. For the past two summers, Rebecca has volunteered at the MUSC hospital and has conducted a patient flow analysis with her fellow volunteers. One of her goals is to create a program that closes the gap between patients and doctors and figure out a way to prevent unnecessary wait times in the hospital. In college, Rebecca hopes to bring together her love of computer science and biochemistry, and in the future, she plans on becoming a doctor where she can apply her problem solving skills to use technology to help patients.
Rebecca is a 2017 NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC) national honorable mention, a 2016 South Carolina Affiliate Award for AiC winner, and a member of the NCWIT AiC Community -- an expansive network of more than 10,000 technical women who receive engagement, visibility, and encouragement for their computing-related interests and achievements from peers, volunteers, and NCWIT Alliance member organizations.
AiC is supported by Apple’s lifetime partnership and commitment to change the public perception of who creates technology.