Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, had two goals in life — to be an electrical engineer and to be a 5th-grade teacher.
The combination of the two help explain why he was awarded the 2016 Alltech Humanitarian Award at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference in Rupp Arena on Tuesday. Wozniak was honored for his “dedication to inspiring innovation through education and creating one of the world’s most peaceful revolutions.”
“You probably changed our lives way more than anybody else,” Alltech founder Pearse Lyons said as he welcomed Wozniak on stage.
In 1976, Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple using Wozniak’s Apple 1 personal computer . “Here was a machine that could do like no other in the world,” Wozniak told the crowd.
The award highlighted his involvement with business and philanthropic ventures, which have focused on encouraging creativity in students. Those include his adoption of the Los Gatos, Calif., School District and his donation of state-of-the-art technology to the district.
In his talk, “One Idea that Changed the World: Apple,” Wozniak revisited the history of Apple, his relationship with Steve Jobs and the role he played moving the company to where it is today.
Later, in an interview with Herald-Leader contributing columnist Tom Martin, Wozniak said he takes great interest in helping young people become successful. “Motivation is sometimes more important than knowledge,” he said.
He also said he originally didn’t think social media would have much impact on the world. “I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal,” he said. “I was wrong. I can be wrong about technology, too.”
In Rupp, Wozniak said he’s still struck by the profound impact Apple computers continue to have.
“I go back now and look at what I did and said, ‘How did you think of doing these things that made things possible that nobody ever expected?’” he said.
He said he never thought about what computers might end up being good for, but professors at his computer club pushed him to focus on social aspects of computers, such as messaging several people or having enough space to store music.
He recalled sitting in the back of this computer club meeting thinking that in a few years, the other students there would all be smarter than him, and he would be out of business.
“I felt the geeks are going to be more important than anyone,” Wozniak said.
As for his focus on education, he said an elementary school teacher sparked his interest in engineering and coding. She would roll a computer into the classroom to show her students what a computer was like, and he wanted to give her the first Apple 1 computer. He said Jobs, however, had reservations.
“He wouldn’t go for it, so he made me buy it for 300 bucks, and I did and I gave it to her,” he said.
Lyons asked Wozniak what it was like working with Jobs. Wozniak said there was a “Steve Jobs one” and a “Steve Jobs two” that were largely known to the public, but he knew “Steve Jobs zero.” For him, Steve Jobs zero existed roughly five years before Apple’s creation when the two would carry out pranks and engage in other shenanigans.
“I always go back in my head, even near his death, to those fun times,” he said.
In closing, Lyons asked him what two messages he wanted to send to young people in the audience. Wozniak encouraged young people to stay humble like he and Jobs were when they founded Apple. He also advocated for working on small, fun things that won’t make money but will allow young people to develop their mental skills.
Second, he said a small start-up should have people with three main qualities: desire that the product succeed; marketing talent; and engineering talent.
“Find a good engineer. Not an engineer that has academic credentials, and did this or that in school — an engineer who has actually created things in their life, whether it be in business or for themselves, but is a maker,” Wozniak said.
Listen to a podcast as Herald-Leader contributing columnist Tom Martin interviews Steve Wozniak at the Alltech ONE conference.