Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talks to Jacqueline Blondell about creativity, innovation and getting – and giving – a good education
When Apple Computer was about to go public in 1980 an investor approached co-founder Steve Wozniak and asked to buy 10 per cent of his shares. Wozniak was tempted but thought about his employees. “Apple had just started, everyone at the bottom had zero and a few people had huge amounts of stock and I just didn’t think it was how I wanted the world to work.” So he came up with the Wozplan that involved selling shares to employees at a very low price.
With anecdotes like this it’s understandable why the inventor of the original Apple computer is known simply as the nicest man in Silicon Valley.
As a young engineer he worked on the handheld scientific calculator, the device that would consign the slide rule to oblivion. “It was the iPhone4 of its day,” he recalls. Then the recession of the 1970s loomed and many companies were laying off staff. Hewlett Packard tried something different. “We had one day off every two weeks, which was great for a young engineer,” says Wozniak. In fact it was while Wozniak was employed at HP that he developed the first Apple computer on the side.
Bringing colour to computers
Putting something that was useful — and fun — in the hands of the average person is what has always driven Wozniak. Fun was just what he had in mind when he figured out how to bring colour to personal computers, which culminated in the incredibly successful Apple II computer that made his name and fortune.
“When you come upon an innovation like that you don’t know if it’s possible. When I built it and Steve Jobs and I could actually type numbers into the computer and see colours on a screen — we knew we had something big. I’m proud I brought that aspect of computing to the world.”
Wozniak and Jobs are sometimes called the Lennon and McCartney of the computing world, with Wozniak the technical brains and Jobs the showman. That’s not necessarily the whole truth — Jobs was no technical slouch and Wozniak could spin a product launch with a good prank or two.
He also credits Jobs for his ability to package the product and bring it to market. “Steve Jobs always looked for the best resources, the best engineers, the best designers and the best new technologies to apply. I just happened to be the best engineer at the time.”
“Steve Jobs recognised that you’ve got to have one controlling mind that crosses all the boundaries of creating the product and he sought to be that.”
Wozniak didn’t just want to be an engineer or an entrepreneur. While still an Apple employee and working on a new venture, he thought about an earlier ambition. “I told my Dad when I was very young that I wanted to be an engineer first and an elementary school teacher.” He started out teaching six kids how to use computers. “The class over a summer went so well that by the next school year I was taking on 22, which meant I was teaching every student in the fifth grade at a little local public school in the Santa Cruz mountains, and I continued that for eight years.”
About Steve Wozniak
As the co-founder (with Steve Jobs) of Apple Computer in 1976, Wozniak single-handedly designed the Apple II — the machine on which the company was built — and heavily influenced the popular Macintosh.
A programmer, engineer and philanthropist for more than three decades, he is also the recipient of the US National Medal of Technology and a member of the Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1981, after co-founding Apple, he went back to university to finish his computer science degree at the University of California (Berkeley). In 2006 his autobiography, iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon, was published.