How Steve Jobs Influenced Mortgage Technology

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As I emerged from the depths of the subway tunnel, it took my eyes a second to adjust to the flashes of light emanating from Times Square. Try as I might, I haven’t worked in Manhattan long enough to have the sort of disdain for the area the way “real” New Yorkers do.

My evening commute took me past the “Crossroads of the World” along West 40th Street; a song by The Beatles resonated from the white earphones that have become ubiquitous with the iPhone.

But the ring of breaking news alerts jolted me from my daily routine. News apps from AP, CNN, even ESPN, all with the same brief, but powerful message—Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has died.

While not unexpected, it still left a jolt. For so many of us, Jobs’ genius and the products Apple created under his leadership have impacted our lives tremendously. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a time where computers were a regular staple in the classroom. In elementary school, computer labs filled with rows of Macintosh computers supplemented the one or two machines each classroom had at its disposal. Games like Oregon Trail, Mavis Beacon and countless others were an instrumental part of how the Millennial Generation not only learned computer skills, but also many of the fundamentals of the elementary school curriculum.

The mortgage tech industry is full of its own entrepreneurs and visionaries—Steve Fraser, John Walsh, Scott Cooley, Harry Gardner and countless others. While Jobs had little direct influence in the mortgage technology space, his passing has prompted many industry professionals to reflect on how Jobs influenced and inspired their own contributions to technology.

Walsh, president of DataQuick, had an internship at Apple between his first and second years of graduate school. On a Monday morning in 1985, Walsh was among a dozen students sitting in a conference room waiting for their orientation to begin.

“There were three or four HR representatives milling around, introducing themselves and just chatting before the presentation was scheduled to start. About five minutes before we were going to start, all of the Apple employees disappeared,” Walsh recalled. “They didn't come back for about an hour. In the interim we found out that Jobs' termination had been announced that morning and that the company was going to immediately set out on a cost-cutting/restructuring program.”

The interns’ initial fear was that their program was going to be eliminated. Walsh said fortunately it wasn’t, and he spent the summer at the company, but one that had changed overnight by Jobs’ departure.

“I remember being struck by the reaction of the regular Apple employees to Jobs' termination. The company definitely had an unusually strong and unique sense of team,” he said. “Now the team's coach/MVP had been fired. Most of them realized they still had a team, but they also realized something had changed, they just weren't sure what it meant.”

That experience has influenced Walsh in his career, which included time as president of loan origination system provider Del Mar Database.

“I think that sense of teamwork, of ownership, was both interesting and important. It’s something that I've tried to replicate on a smaller scale throughout my career,” Walsh continued. “I think outside of Jobs' contribution to technology he made a larger, longer lasting contribution to how we look at work, companies, employees and employers.”

Cooley built the mortgage industry’s first loan origination system on an Apple II computer. Contour Software, the company he started in 1982, sold both the hardware and the software to lenders.

“We always marveled at what they built and were very involved with the Apple II,” Cooley said. “I knew that computer inside and out and that was the computer that launched the loan origination system industry.”

“Our industry was mostly small businesses. Even if it’s as branch of a big company, it’s still small offices,” Cooley continued. “Steve Jobs was responsible for building a machine that was usable to those-sized businesses.”

As the software development in the mortgage industry took off, the technology migrated to run on IBM’s hardware. But Jobs and Apple brought a focus to the user experience that Cooley said is still a driving force in mortgage technology.

“Steve Jobs’ forte was to take complicated technology and make it as simple and easy to use as it could be,” Cooley said. “When we first started writing an LOS, the user interface was an afterthought it was a means to an end.

“The idea of a graphic oriented user interface was unheard of back then and Steve Jobs brought that to us,” he added.

Don Kracl, president of Mortech, agrees.

“He taught us that it's not really about the software or even about the hardware,” he said. “It's about providing tools that let us live and work the way we want to.”

Apple will never be the same company it was with Jobs at the helm. And it will be some time before observers, and Apple itself, will see whether it can carry on Jobs’ vision and innovative spirit.

Harry Gardner, president of SigniaDocs, believes the mortgage technology sector can also apply those same principles that made Jobs and Apple so successful.

“He did not try to build what people thought or said they needed, but rather created his own vision of how things should work better,” Gardner said. “No doubt we can and should apply that lesson to the still-nascent e-mortgage landscape.

“I’ve always said we should be sure that we don’t just ‘pave the cow path’ in the transition from paper to ‘e,’ but create true solutions that perform the process in a more streamlined, effective way,” Gardner said.

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