Steve Wozniak is many things: electronics enthusiast, author of iWoz, former fifth-grade teacher, plane-crash survivor, ex-reality-TV-boyfriend of D-list comedian Kathy Griffin, and, oh yeah, co-founder of a company called Apple. You might have heard of it.
Today, he put on the hat of former engineer as he spoke to a room of techies at the Intel Developer Forum. The message for them: be true to yourself and don't give up on your dreams - even if the people around you can't comprehend them. A guy who was tinkering with circuitry at age 10 and mapping out 1s and 0s on paper as a young adult, he said he could have worked as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard - a job he landed while in college - for the rest of his life.
But his engineering design of the personal home computer - a concept that was unheard of back in his day - and the pressure from friends (as well as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs) prompted him to move forward with the launch of Apple. The biggest problem for him: he had no desire to run a company. He wanted to be an engineer - and that's what he continued to do while Jobs, his counterpart, hustled to sell the product and drum up more business.
"I've been at the bottom of the org chart since we started," he said, joking that he is Apple Employee No. 1. "Sometimes, I'll walk into an Apple store and tell someone that I'm an employee and they'll ask me for my employee number."
He smirked and the audience at IDF erupted into laughter. His morning session was less a keynote speech as much as it was a peek into the life of Wozniak.
A shy kid, Woz said he wasn't one to speak up much or ask questions. He just did stuff to see what would happen, tinkering with circuitry, reading computer books and manuals and experimenting with a "I wonder what will happen if..." sort of attitude. Back then, he mostly hung out with other electronics enthusiasts so his group of friends understood his interests. Others did not.
Some of most innovative technologies are born from small groups. That was his experience, as well, though much of his work was done solo. Could he do that sort of work now? No way, he said. He no longer has hour upon hour of down time to dive into computer code the way he once did. And the stress that comes from being a meticulous techie is something that he probably couldn't deal with today.
But he said he has no regrets of how things turned out. And he encouraged the developers, engineers and other techies to pursue their dreams and visions, as well. It's how life-altering products - something like the personal computer - are created.
The Intel Developer Forum concludes today.
Gallery: Candid photos from IDF.