"A Word with Woz"

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

An exclusive interview with Apple Co-founder, Steve Wozniak

The first encounter with the Co-Founder of Apple was remarkable to say the least. After introducing himself to the welcoming committee at Bryant University, Steve Wozniak proceeded to hand everyone around him his business card. But what was so special about the card, besides the fact that it divulged his personal information? The card was stainless steel. “It makes for a handy tool on airplanes when I need to cut food, especially steak!” Steve Wozniak, for those who don’t know, was the Co-Founder of Apple. He was the engineer who originally built the Apple I and II computers and helped launch the company with Steve Jobs. Along the way, Wozniak has also been a programmer, engineer, entrepreneur, businessperson, inventor, computer scientist, scientist, actor, film producer, and writer.

The larger than life man, with a big smile and bright neon sneakers, blessed the stage with charisma and intelligence. He was accompanied by President Machtley, who served as the mediator of the conversation, and one of the original Apple I computers, which was brought by an audience member. Wozniak talked about many things on stage, from the beginning of Apple, his time at Berkeley under the name “Rocky Raccoon Clark”, the early downfall of the company, and the lessons he learned along the way. One of the important lessons that Wozniak learned was, “you don’t have to win arguments with others, only arguments with yourself.” He also said that you should never do business with your friends, because it can hurt relationships, as it did in his case with  Steve Jobs. Woz also discussed how his father had a large impact on his life and how it was important to return back to school to get a degree. Not for the knowledge, but for the satisfaction and to show his kids that they can do it too.One  memorable quote from Woz’s time at Bryant was “Happiness equals Smiles minus Frowns.” Woz wasn’t in it for the fame or the money, in fact, he stated “I only wanted to make computers, I was nerdy back then.”

Thanks  to Provost Glenn Sulmasy, Will Tondo, The Editor-in-Chief of The Archway, was able to speak with the Woz and ask him some questions that weren’t addressed on stage.

Will Tondo: What is one myth about the early days of Apple you want to debunk?

Woz: There’s a bunch. The main one is Steve Jobs’ role. Steve Jobs is the overall, leader, contender and all that is a big myth. Also that there were two of us that started Apple. We started twice, it was three people that had equal share of the company. You hear about two Steve’s, not the adult who really ran the whole company and really made Apple. We didn’t really have a company in the garage. Yes, you need to use your home when you’re humble. We had no savings account, nothing. We used our home, but we didn’t have a company there. No, we hardly used the garage. About once a week we’d have to drive a few computer boards somewhere else. We would drive them to the garage, hook them up, test them, find the errors, fix them, then drive them to a store where we got paid cash. When you have no money, the parts are on credit. That’s how we made our first $10,000 of earning.

WT: What can universities do to develop students to become people like yourself? And what advice would you have for the next Steve Wozniak of our generation?

WOZ: One thing is be aware that the innovative, creative, “out of the box” thinking in people is generally part of your personality. It’s something that stays with you for your whole life. Were you born with it? No. Some people discover different things about themselves, that’s what got me to be creative. It adds meaning to me that I’m special. Your personality settles between 18 and 23. Okay? College years. That’s who you’re going to be. Take advantage of trying different fields. Maybe it’s formulas and math, or maybe it’s building little devices like an engineer, if you have the luck to do that you may become one of those builders, an innovator, or an inventor. These people have ideas, it’s nothing they’ve done before but they can go in and do it. But that’ll settle at one point in your life, and you don’t really change much after that. Now the world needs both types of people. A company making a big product, like even a phone, needs engineers who can get all the little codings done and everything, but you also need the guys who think of an idea that nobody will try because nobody thinks it will go. It may turn out to be an Uber.

WT: Knowing what you know now, if you were starting your career in information technology today, what field would you go into? Or what would you do?

WOZ: This is a tough one because I covered a lot of disciplines in electronics down at a lower level, not hundreds of lines of code or affecting hundreds of millions of people. So it’s a different time now. I would still explore doing things a little bit different. Just doing apps wasn’t really my thing. I would want to do some whole thing that all fits together, probably internet of things devices. Robotics is very important. High schools have first robotics where they have a contests and it’s in dozens of regionals, what you need to do to build that robot in six weeks… you’re just in high school! You have mentors, but you have to know mechanics and knows how to put things together with arms that move and do certain things. You’ve got to have motors. What voltage to have, how to protect from errors, how to hook microprocessors together, how to put together sensors that can sense light, vision, and things like that so they know how to move around. The robots applies a lot what’s called materials handling. It gets down to how you move materials from here to there. If you study what applies to materials handling, you’ll find company after company that has hundreds of requisitions. They want new employees right out of college. That’s a real fruitful job for having freedom to build and having a great job.

WT: Going off of that, what are your thoughts on artificial intelligence?

WOZ: I’ve been thinking about it my whole life. Basically, negative, we could never come close to the brain and that’s scary because one step at a time they’re understanding our writing, then our voice, just like a human being. Then there’s fear that what if the robots become smarter than us? And with robots walking around, why do you need a human? They’re cheaper, and I believed that for a long time but we haven’t talked about it yet, maybe we’ll get there, but can a robot think, how can I train myself to play a game? We have learning robots now. They never say “what should I do?” only a human with the intuition says that. We say, what needs solving? I think I’ll do that. No they don’t have that high level and we’ve never spoken about artificial intelligence going there. We do not know how the brain is structured. We’re getting closer with neurons in electronics. Simulated intelligence is what they called it. When I was young, I would go up to Samford Artificial Intelligence Research, one of the earliest places in the country. I’d ride my bike up there, watch these machines pick up a yellow ball and put it in a yellow holder. They call that artificial intelligence? But now, with the assistant app, it’s getting impressive. We used to live in a structured world. Everything works a certain way, it’s structured. But now I have a certain thought and I want to just express it. Voice is easy, or type it into google calendar, I just want to be in that unstructured world where I have a thought, I speak it, and it happens. I had Siri before the iPhone had it- it was an app on the app store. The iPhone didn’t change my life it was the app store! With all of the amazing things, what would I have done without these apps? Woah. These computers are starting to understand us better than ever.

WT: You mentioned in your book that women have unusual talents in technology. Can you explain?

WOZ: I taught classes. I told my father in 6th grade I wanted to be an electrical engineer and a 5th grade teacher. I wound up teaching 5th through 9th graders for nine years. No press allowed, didn’t want them near it. I remember in the classes, especially the science classes, the girls were on top of it. They could understand where the data was flowing in a computer and answer all the questions. But starting in 7th grade, when the girls knew the answer they were hesitant to raise their hands. So there’s something in the culture that’s very deep. I also noticed that when I went to finish of my degree at Berkeley under a fake name (Rocky Raccoon Clark), because I was famous by then. I was there taking computer science courses and there were brainiacs from all different countries like India, Korea, and Japan and they were 50:50 gender wise, So it’s something deep in the culture. It’s just what you want to do with your life. I’m glad that many companies are putting money towards sponsoring classes in programming for women. The thing is- it’s a little class that’s for a few days or hours, it doesn’t mean anything really. You can discover you’re interested in something but you need to keep working and building towards it, you need to decide that this is what you really like and what you like is what you’re good at, and if you’re good at something you’ll do it for the rest of your life. I know a lot of incredibly qualified women engineers and women thinkers that hang around in the greatest thinking centers- thinking about technology and humans. Apple is the first technology company to reach equal pay by gender.

WT: My last question, what have you learned from your failures?

WOZ: It’s funny. I’m the worst example of this because people will say we had our successes and failures, what I saw it as was “engineer only.” When I ran a company I wouldn’t get into the politics of it, and I don’t know why, but if you ever read my book it was just an unequal history of going up the ladder of one after another of design products and I never had a failure. Everything I ever tried, especially for apple, came out as an A+ product. I look back at my own designs and say how could a human being ever have thought to do it that way? So, I never had any failures except for maybe later in life I had a startup. I had some goals for a product that would be so great if it were a certain size and battery usage, but I couldn’t meet the engineering goals on those things. Along my way from elementary school on up, every little project that I did that wasn’t worth money, my mind got educated because I would try to make them with fewer parts than anyone else in the world would think of, and I learned tricks and they weren’t failures. Even the Apple 2 computer, which was all of Apple’s revenues for the first ten years of apple, I was trying to build the product for fun, to show the world what I could do. I wasn’t trying to bring personal computers to the world or start a company I wanted engineers to look at my designs and say woah.

We would like to give a huge thank you to the office of the provost at Bryant University and specifically Provost Glenn Sulmasy and President Ronald Machtley for giving us the opportunity to meet and interview the legend himself. This was a huge treat for not only the newspaper, but for the entire campus, and we are thankful for this opportunity!