Published April 30, 2015
The 2014-15 UB Distinguished Speaker Series came to a close last night. But not without a bang.
Silicon Valley legend Steve Wozniak concluded the series with a candid discussion of his early days at Apple, the future of technology and his passion for education.
Wozniak’s accomplishments are endless: co-founder of Apple, a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, creator of the personal computer and universal television remote, pioneer in GPS technology and notorious prankster.
But despite amassing enough wealth and fame to land an invitation to participate on the televised competition “Dancing with the Stars,” Wozniak remains grounded and places the advancement of society at the center of his life.
“I’ve never sought success in terms of money, wealth or power,” Wozniak told a packed house in Alumni Arena. “I just wanted to be a nice person.”
Keeping his talk brief, Wozniak chose to spend most of the evening answering questions from the audience.
Through candid responses, the rapid-speaking Wozniak discussed everything from artificial intelligence and wearable technology to cyber-crime and, of course, the early days of Apple Computer.
For Wozniak, his start in technology began at home as a child, where he was inspired to follow the path of his father, an electrical engineer.
As early as the sixth grade, Wozniak was designing gizmos and contraptions. However, he mostly used them to cause chaos at school.
His most infamous pranks: planting a metronome in a locker that landed him in trouble when the principal mistook it for a bomb; mailing a notice to the entire school on higher custodial education; and creating a jammer that disrupted the signal on his college dorm’s only color television, leading to other students practicing various rituals — such as standing on a chair and holding the antenna for hours — to get the signal back.
Outside of his pranks, Wozniak enjoyed building computers.
By the end of high school, he could design any computer in the world in two days. And while taking graduate-level computer courses as a college freshman, Wozniak created so many programs that he ran the department five times over budget.
Those years, he said, laid the foundation for the start of Apple Computer. In his spare time from designing the first scientific calculator for Hewlett-Packard (HP), he built the Apple I.
“There was nothing hard about building a computer,” Wozniak said. “The Apple II computer may have taken two weeks total, from concept to building it.”
With some persuasion from fellow Silicon Valley legend Steve Job, Wozniak left his position at HP and took the Apple I to market. And later they, together, released Apple’s original flagship product, the Apple II computer.
“We started the company with a product that was so unbelievably ahead of its time,” Wozniak said, referring to the Apple II. “It was all of Apple’s revenue and profits for the first 10 years.”
Not one for politics and management, Wozniak eventually stepped down from his position as Apple’s vice president to focus on his passions for technology and education.
“In the sixth grade, I told my dad I want to be an electrical engineer. And second, I want to be a fifth-grade teacher,” Wozniak said. “Even after all of the Apple success, it’s still a core value of mine. I always wanted to be a teacher.”
And leaving an up-and-coming technology company — and now, arguably, the most successful company in American history — Wozniak returned to the classroom.
He finished his bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and then became a full-time teacher for eight years, sharing his wisdom with middle school students and teachers.
“Technology, innovation, creativity — that’s the future,” says Wozniak. “Some of us have to be explorers. We have to experiment with what the future can be. I care about people growing up and being creative and being able to make things that didn’t exist before.”
Before concluding for the night, Wozniak did share what it takes to build another startup like Apple.
His advice: Pull together a team with three core members: an individual who is business-savvy, an engineer with proven success and the ideal customer of the product who can help mold its creation.