Wozniak: I Wanted to be an Engineer for Life

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-08-21 Print this article Print

At the 2008 Intel Developer Forum, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak took the main stage to talk about his love of engineering and science, the process behind developing the Apple II personal computer, and what it's like to be "Employee No. 1" at Apple. Wozniak also spoke of the impact Steve Jobs still has on Apple and its slew of successful products, from the iPod to the iPhone.

SAN FRANCISCO ?ö?ç?? If Steve Wozniak had his wish, he would have remained an engineer for life at Hewlett-Packard.

Instead, Steve Jobs encouraged Wozniak to leave the safe confines of HP and venture out into a new company-Apple-where the two would work to bring the Apple II personal computer into every household, school and business.

With some reluctance, Wozniak left HP and became-and still remains-"Employee No. 1" at Apple. In his partnership with Jobs, Wozniak would remain the engineer, and Jobs would sell what Wozniak would invent.

"A lot of times you become what you want to be in life, and I wanted to be an engineer," said Wozniak at the conclusion of the Intel Developer Forum here.

"I never wanted to run a company. I didn't want to worry about money. I didn't want to move up the management chain," Wozniak said. "I wanted to be an engineer for life, and I wanted to stay at Hewlett-Packard. Steve [Jobs] had this dream to be one of the great people that wanted to create companies and make products that would change the world and be one of those people like Shakespeare and Einstein, who become well known. He wanted to be in that group. So, every time I designed something great, from the time we were very young, he would say, 'Let's sell it.'"

The story of Jobs, Wozniak, and the incredible rise of Apple and the personal computer market have been told numerous times, but Wozniak sat down with Moira Gunn of National Public Radio's "Tech Nation" on the last day of IDF to trace his personal contributions to technology and what became the worldwide PC market.

During the 45-minute interview, Wozniak detailed his efforts at building more and more complex machines from the time he was a young teen-ager to the time he left college to work as an engineer at HP and then moved on to co-found Apple with Jobs.

Along the way, Wozniak used what he learned from early computer manuals to create his own designs. A lack of money and his shyness actually helped him see through complicated problems with building some of the world's first PCs.

"I had very different approaches to things, and I was mostly self-taught," said Wozniak. "I would usually show my circuits and my code to people, and it was a little different at first. Once they got it, it was so compacted, it was easy to understand, and they appreciated it."

When he began working on his own computers, Wozniak said he was very interested in the type of microprocessor that Intel had begun to create. This processor had fewer pins, which meant less wiring complexity. The problem was it was expensive at the time, but Jobs had Intel ship Apple a few samples to experiment with in its PCs.

While Wozniak's role in creating the Apple II is undeniable, he told the audience that it was the floppy disk drive and the creation of the VisiCalc spreadsheet program-the "first killer app"-that really brought the PC out of labs and into the hands of small business owners.

Wozniak credits Jobs with keeping Apple ahead of many of the other PC vendors out there today. He described Jobs' role as pushing cutting edge technologies, such as the iPod and iPhone, while cutting out products that don't work. "Steve has got one mind when it comes to controlling products, and I think that's what makes them so good," Wozniak said.

While Wozniak retains a limited role at Apple these days, he is still innovating and tinkering with different devices. On bigger issues, Wozniak said he was interested in the type of silicon photonics that Intel had been developing during the last several years and was also interested in how processing power has changed the graphics of today's PCs.

Even with his special access, Wozniak said he still waited in line for his first and then second iPhone. It's always a funny moment when he gives out his employee number for discounts at Apple stores, he said. However, his place within the Apple hierarchy is exactly where he wishes to remain, and his role as the company's first engineer is secure.

"I've been at the bottom of the Apple org chart since day one," he said.


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