Steve Wozniak, Genius of Apple Still Fathering the Computer Revolution
By: John Shepler
Steve Wozniak whips out a sheet of $2 bills, watching for
the response of the counter clerk from the corner of his eye.
As he cuts out a few to pay his bill, he casually remarks "I
bought these from a guy wearing a blue mumu for $1.35 each. I
don't know how he does it but I'm sure they're legal."
More than once, this antic has brought in the police. But
Steve doesn't care. He's a kidder, just a kid at heart really.
It's a characteristic that makes him an excellent 5 th grade
teacher, but would you also guess that Steve Wozniak was also
one of the founding fathers of the personal computer revolution
and a millionaire a hundred times over?
He's been called the Wizard of Woz. It was he
who single-handedly designed an entire personal computer, the
Apple I. It was he who designed the Apple II and wrote the software
to make it run. It wasn't the money he was after. There was no
big money in personal computers in the mid-70's. That came later.
Steve designed his computer from passion, a passion to see how
well he could do it. He went around handing out copies of the
schematic diagram for free. Today he goes around handing out
laptop computers for free.
His passion now is to light the fires of excitement in 5 th
through 8 th graders and their teachers in his hometown of Los
Gatos, California. He gives them computers, Internet accounts,
lessons on how to program...and pranks.
Pranks? One of his favorites was the time he promised his
students he'd give them their own Macs if they did well on a
test. The students eyed the Macintosh computers set up on the
desks and gave Steve their rapt attention. He told them that
as they finished, they could go to the next room and select their
Macs. With mouths watering, each ran next door to find that Steve
had set up a collection of Macs...but they were Big Macs from
McDonalds, not computers from Apple.
"You should always get your teacher first," he tells
them. But, and this is the big BUT, his rule is that any pranks
must be nondestructive and easily undone. This fuels the playful
energy that gets creative juices flowing without degenerating
into the mean-spirited creation of viruses and other destructive
Wozniak has taken himself off the corporate fast-track for a
life devoted to his six kids, philanthropic efforts and just
plain fun. He can pretty much do as he pleases at age 48 because
he aspires to a happy life rather than the pursuit of more and
more power and wealth, but also because he made it early. Yes,
he was in the right place at the right time in the heart of Silicon
Valley as the personal computer was being born. But so were thousands
upon thousands of others. What made the difference for Woz?
Perhaps part of the answer lies in the philosophy behind his
first computer design, the Apple I. His overriding belief as
a design engineer, with Hewlett Packard at that time, was that
simpler and cheaper is better. He started with the cheapest chips
he could find on the surplus markets to build a computer terminal,
and then picked a $20 microprocessor for the brain. Elegance
of design meant finding ways to eliminate every chip, every wire
and every connection possible. In other words, not being satisfied
with the first design he came up with. Instead, he'd think and
think, rearranging the circuitry in his mind, until he thought
of a simpler way to get the same result. In the end, his Apple
I schematic, the one he handed out for free, fit on a single
sheet of paper. Its successor was the Apple II, the computer
that made Apple a household name. That one had sound, color and
could use a home TV as a monitor. It was easier to use and did
more than anything else on the market...and cost just $250 to
Another philosophy, one that he tries to impart to his kids
and the ones in his class, is that the time to really make it
is when you're just getting started in a career. That's the time
to put in the endless hours, take risks, pursue perfection and
make a name for yourself in your chosen profession. He says to
do it while you're in college and first entering the workforce,
rather than just getting by at the same pace as everyone else.
By focusing your energies, you'll have "made it" by
the time you start acquiring a mortgage and raising a family.
That gives you more options later in life to do as you wish.
Steve Wozniak's life has followed his passion of doing incredible
things, but it hasn't been free of challenges. In February of
1981, taking off from Scotts Valley airport, his Beechcraft Bonanza
crashed, leaving him with with facial injuries, a missing tooth
and no new memories. He'd almost died at age 30. He heard people
talking about a plane crash and asked his fiancee to tell him
if it was him they were talking about or if it was all just a
Five weeks later the memories returned, but his passions became
more about people than technology. He organized two Woodstock-like
music festivals in San Bernardino, California. In 1987 he sponsored
the first joint US/USSR rock concert in Moscow and then sponsored
computers for schools in the former Soviet Union. Since then,
a major part of his life has been devoted to providing computers
for kids and getting them excited about what they can do with
the technology. In a different way, Steve Wozniak is still fathering
the computer revolution.
Apple, The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business
Blunders by Jim Carltonand Guy Kawasaki. Apple Computer,
founded as a garage start-up by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
in 1976, was once a shining example of the American success story.
The company launched the personal-computer revolution in 1978
with the first all-purpose desktop PC, the Apple II. In 1980,
long before technology stocks were popular, Apple's initial public
offering was one of the most highly awaited events in Wall Street
history. Jobs at twenty-five and "the Woz" at thirty
became instant millionaires. Within five years, Apple, with sales
of $300 million, catapulted itself into the ranks of the Fortune
500 and became the darling of the national business press. Then
came the Macintosh computer, so easy to use, it had a ten-year
jump on the industry. Sales peaked at $11 billion in 1995. But
by that time, Apple had become a troubled company. This book,
written by a Wall Street Journal technology reporter, is the
most detailed study to date of the past decade of Apple's turbulent
history. Jim Carlton walks us down company corridors, into the
boardroom, and through barriers to research laboratories, and
reveals a seething cauldron of petty infighting and buried secrets.
Through exhaustive interviews with more than 160 former Apple
employees, industry experts, and competitors - including Bill
Gates, Sculley, and Amelio - Carlton discovers confidential memos,
late-night rendezvous, and fateful decisions that forever changed
the company's path. He portrays a company very different from
the glamorous technology leader that designed computers for "the
rest of us" and illuminates what might have been and what
really happened to this once-great icon of American business.
Accidental Empires Revisited: How the Boys of Silicon Valley
Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition and Still Can't
Get Date by Robert X. Cringely. An updated version of the
classic book on the history and unlikely heros of the personal
computer revolution. Includes the stories of Steve Jobs, Steve
Wozniak, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and others who made the personal
Steve Wozniak; A Wizard Called Woz by Rebecca Gold.
Lots of pictures about the workings of computers make this an
excellent book for kids. It is part of the Achiever series of
books and tells the story of the legendary Woz from his childhood
to his creative days at Apple and his more recent activities.