Today in Apple history: Mac marketing guru Joanna Hoffman is born

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Kate Winslet (left) plays Joanna Hoffman (right) in Steve Jobs.
Kate Winslet (left) played Mac marketing guru Joanna Hoffman in Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs biopic.
Photos: Kate Winslet/Apple

July 27: Today in Apple history: Mac marketing guru Joanna Hoffman birthday July 27, 1955: Joanna Hoffman, who will join the original Macintosh and NeXT teams and become Steve Jobs’ first right-hand woman, is born in Poland.

Six months younger than Jobs, the marketing executive is one of the few people willing and able to stand up to the oftentimes-fierce Apple co-founder during the first part of his career.

Joanna Hoffman: Steve Jobs’ confidante

Hoffman grew up in the Soviet Union before moving to Warsaw, Poland, and then Buffalo, New York. She came from a creative family. Her father, a successful filmmaker, directed Battle of Warsaw 1920, the first Polish 3D feature film.

Hoffman earned a Bachelor of Science in Humanities and Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then she pursued a Ph.D. in archaeology at the University of Chicago. During that time, she attended a talk at Xerox PARC, the legendary Silicon Valley research center where Jobs first saw the graphical user interface he adapted for the Mac.

At the lecture, Hoffman met Jef Raskin. He was working for Apple, writing the documentation for Apple DOS. Hoffman got into a discussion with him.

Raskin subsequently asked Hoffman to interview for a role at Apple, after which she began doing the marketing for the Mac research project. When Jobs took over the Mac project, Hoffman gained a reputation as one of the few people capable of disagreeing with him. She proved immune to his “reality distortion field.”

During a trip to Italy at around the time of the Mac launch, Hoffman threatened to pour hot coffee over Jobs’ lap when he became irate over the lack of vegan food in a restaurant.

Joanna Hoffman’s career after Apple

When Jobs left Apple in the fall of 1985, Hoffman followed him to NeXT. In an early meeting, Hoffman astutely pointed out that Jobs was being unrealistic with his early projections about how quickly the NeXT Computer would be able to ship. (Her prediction proved to be 100 percent right.)

After NeXT, Hoffman worked for promising startup General Magic with other ex-Apple employees. She retired in 1995 to spend more time with her family.

Kate Winslet portrayed Hoffman in Danny Boyle’s 2015 movie Steve Jobs. Hoffman’s role in Jobs’ life wasn’t quite as extensive as was portrayed by Aaron Sorkin’s script. (She had nothing to do with the iMac years, for example). However, she was a crucially important part of the original Macintosh project, and a very important figure in Jobs’ life.

Happy birthday, Joanna!