TAMPA, Fla.—Its clear very quickly that Steve Wozniak is the biggest dreamer in the room. Any room.
“The more computers resemble real people,” the Apple co-founder said with uncharacteristic gravitas, “the more attractive they are to people that want to learn and spend time with them doing something that is a bit of a drag. We need to work on that.”
Addressing more than 500 solution providers at the ConnectWise annual partner summit here Sept. 22, Wozniak punctuated his hour-long trip down computer memory lane with a recurring challenge to those in attendance: Keep pushing technology to solve real problems and help consumers. And, when you think youve finally delivered a solution, Wozniak said, step back, rethink it and see if it can be made simpler, faster, better.
“Every time you come up with a solution for someone, dont be in a rush to say Im finished,” Wozniak said. “Take a look at it and say, How could I have made it better? You dont have to go forever. But try to do a better job than the other guy would have done. Thats where excellence comes from. [That] is what makes companies great.”
In an interview after his keynote, Wozniak urged solution providers to value their passion for technology over their business ambition and to surround themselves with energetic multitaskers rather than high-priced tech specialists.
“The best things we ever did at Apple came from lack of resources … and from being very skilled, very smart,” he said. “We were able to figure out how to do something even though we hadnt done it before. And we generally did it better than other people in the world were doing it.
Wozniak continued: “So, dont act like youve got all the money in the world from the start. Hire people who are really good at building new things, who have experience at building new things out of nothing. Try to keep salaries a little on the low side and dont hire a ton of people right away. Try to find people that can do the most tasks possible, somebody who covers a lot of disciplines.”
And above all, he said, “Always be sensitive to where the market is going and be flexible enough to change.”
But make no mistake, he did not come to the Gulf Coast of Florida to dish out business advice for VARs, nor did the ConnectWise partners pack the Marriott Harborside ballroom to hear any such thing. They wanted exactly what Wozniak delivered—and hour of tech war stories chronicling the seminal moments in the PC revolution.
Wozniak not wild about all things Apple. Click here to read more.
Woz may be a little heavier, a little more gray, a little better groomed than the hirsute figure he cut with high school buddy Steve Jobs in 1977 to revolutionize the computer industry with their unlikely Apple II. But the jocular Wozniak clearly relishes his tech guru status and doesnt disappoint as he holds court with a steady mix of anecdotes and prognostications befitting a Silicon Valley legend.
Wozniaks stories, most of which are chronicled in his new book, “iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon,” are delivered without the frenetic music and the stellar graphics that are the hallmarks of a Jobs presentation. Instead, Wozniak dishes from the stock hotel lectern under a single spotlight. He has a penchant for corny jokes, a leftover from his days founding the Bay Areas first Dial-a-Joke line. And his left wrist is obscured by the ultimate symbol of geek cred—a black Nixie tube watch the size of a Mason jar lid.
“Im just a guy who was always fascinated by computers,” he said. “But I also learned early on that the brain power required to come up a method to solve a problem is worth a lot more than the raw power in any computer.”
Apple Guru Dares Solution
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Wozniak shared his career false starts and photo finishes, both professional and personal. Among them:
Homecooking is better. Wozniak said he almost never saw a tech product that he wouldnt rather build than buy. Early VCRs, Pong video games, even ham radio constantly inspired him to tinker, dismantle and create. “Everything I did back then was a direct line toward Apple,” he said. “I was always at this stuff, always interested … and I decided very early in my life that I would rather have a computer than a house.”
Innovation doesnt go by the book. “I had designed all these computers by myself in high school. I taught myself. So Hewlett-Packard brought me in for an interview and offered me a job as an engineer even without a college degree. Thats the way life should be.” Wozniak added that he gravitated toward HPs engineering-centric view of the world because, “I never wanted to be a manager. I had become pretty apolitical in the Vietnam era. I didnt want to deal with anything other than engineering. I really just wanted to work for HP for the rest of my life.”
Necessity is still a mother. Wozniak was once coerced into designing a prototype of the computer game “Breakout” in four days to satisfy a sale Jobs had made. “I ended up coming down with mononucleosis … but I got it done.” Years later, with little software experience, he spent four months developing a Basic language during the Apple garage period. “If youre motivated to do something, you just do it.”
Wozniak received a standing ovation from the ConnectWise crowd even before the question-and-answer session. As a sort of encore, Wozniak touched on the future of technology as seen by a self-confessed gadget addict and chronic early adopter.
“Improvements in chip-based memory that can obviate the need for hard disk drives, that would be a huge change,” he said. “A lot the display materials are getting really flexible, so we might have displays everywhere like wallpaper. Id like to see a display in the shape of a globe for Google Earth.
“I dont think we have the Apple II of robots yet,” he said. “The robotic parts are available, but we need to use artificial intelligence and get some higher level software to allow people to program robots at home. Id like to program a robot to wash my car. I dont care if it takes 12 hours to do it, centimeter by centimeter out there in the driveway, I just want it done.”
And he doesnt shy from technologys controversies.
For one thing, he bristles at the suggestion that the open-source movement includes kindred spirits to Apples founders.
“Theres always a group of people that wants to undo the forces of industry that have given us so much in terms of wealth, and theres always people who want things to be free,” Wozniak said. “The open-source movement starts with those sort of people. But it still has such good points that have nothing to do with whether its free or not. The idea of developing something and then making your solution known. Spread the information so the world can grow from it.”
Times may have changed in IT, but Wozniaks experiences still strike a familiar chord for IT professionals who relate to his passion for technology and his lifelong devotion to computers and everything that makes them tick.
“His clearest message is that if you follow what youre passionate about, you can succeed,” said Nabil Sheikh, general manager of Omega PC Technology, in Glen Burnie, Md. “I think all of us in this business are always working to make our solutions better. Its dynamic. And it depends on many people picking up different parts of every project. They all need to hear [Wozniaks] message. Its encouraging to hear you dont have to invent something to still be improving and succeeding.”
Arnie Bellini, CEO of ConnectWise, said that he has gotten to know Wozniak, and admires that he is passionate about whatever he does.
“Thats how Apple became Apple. For all of the folks gathered here, the bottom line is that Wozniak is us,” Bellini said. “His story resonates because hes a technologist who followed his love and, by accident, found himself in business. And he did it with no formal business training. That describes every solution provider out there.”
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