IDF: Woz on Woz

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Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, has told delegates at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco of the joys of engineering and his theory of what makes for a happy life..

The essence of good engineering is to be excellent at maths and have total attention to detail, according to Wozniak.

He also said that successful computer design should always be performed in small teams with a clear leader showing the way.

"The best ideas come within small groups. That means you can be better than large corporations with huge numbers of employees," he said.

"I was lucky. I did not have a bunch of inputs vying for their thing to go into the Apple."

Wozniak said that his father had been pivotal in his development by teaching him electronics from the ground up, starting with atoms and electrons.

By 10 he was designing electronic tic-tac-toe games, and at the age of 16 he started designing computers inspired by a handbook for the PDP 1 microcomputer.

"I had time on my hands, no hope of a girlfriend and it was so intense, the sort of thinking to make code work on 4-bit processors," he said.

"Even when I was designing the first Apple at the Homebrew Computer Club I never raised my hand and never spoke. Shyness helps when it comes with a streak of rebellion; it means you don't have to go along with everyone."

Wozniak explained that he and his friends would drive up to Stanford at the weekends and break in to read computer manuals and magazines.

No breaking and entering was required, he said, because Stanford was "full of smart people and smart people are always forgetting to lock doors".

He praised Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, saying that he had been pivotal to Apple's initial and current success.

Wozniak described Jobs as disloyal for leaving the company in 1985, but is glad that he is back and making world-changing devices.

"A lot of times you become what you want to be and I wanted to be an engineer," he said.

"Steve had dreams of being a great person, like Shakespeare and Einstein, who are well known throughout the centuries.

"Every time I would make a computer he would want to sell it, and the fourth one was the Apple II."

The two started selling computers, buying parts on 30-day credit and taking payment for the products in cash since they had no start-up funds.

Eventually they did find an 'angel' to fund them, Mike Markkula, but the company nearly did not exist because Wozniak did not want to leave his job at HP and initially turned down the opportunity.

Wozniak said that Jobs then got his family and friends to call him to persuade him to change his mind, and one friend convinced him that it would be possible to form a company and not manage people so Wozniak could still remain an engineer.

He took plans for computers to his bosses at HP five times but was turned down on every occasion.

"I have been at the bottom of the org chart ever since Apple started," he told delegates.

"I was employee number one. I sometimes go into an Apple store, occasionally ask for the employee discount and they ask 'What's your number?' I tell them it's 'one'."

Wozniak also wished to clarify that he did not cut in line while waiting to buy an iPhone, despite press reports to the contrary, and that he never asks for products for free.

He also countered other press stories suggesting that he was upset at Apple's move to Intel chips.

"I was fine with Intel chips in Apple, as the low-power Intel architecture fitted our products," he said.

"It was the right decision. There were a lot of people very upset but IBM got swayed by the Sony gaming machine and we didn't matter so much."

Because funds were so tight, Wozniak wrote out the operating system for the Apple II in longhand and inputted it manually. He said that having so little cash forced them to think creatively and do things better.

In 1981 Wozniak was involved in a plane crash and suffered amnesia for some time. He then decided to go back to university to finish his degree course so that he could tell his children that their father had a degree.

He re-enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley under the name Rocky Raccoon Clark and completed his degree in electrical engineering and computer sciences.

In 1987 he semi-retired from Apple and went into teaching, something he said he had intended to do ever since he was 16.

Wozniak taught computer science for eight years, saying that as a voluntary teacher he had a lot of freedom and would teach the children a wide spectrum of subjects, such as how to design their homework to make it pleasing to teachers.

He also made a number of appearances on the Kathy Griffin reality show. He denied that they had ever dated, but said that she was a good friend and he had agreed to go on to help her sell the show.

Wozniak now spends his time in a variety of pursuits, including Segway polo. He said he had taught a number of chief executives to ride Segways and had even sold a few of them to users.

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