Electronics industry legend Steve Wozniak held forth on
topics ranging from innovation to creativity to education in a lively
question-and-answer session at the Embedded Systems Conference
Wozniak, best known as the co-founder of Apple Computer Inc.,
was frequently interrupted by applause as he traced his evolution from a
"nerdy" childhood to his days as a young engineer and, finally, to his
development of technologies that would help shape the personal computer
"When you're a nerd, other kids start acting weird around
you," he told an audience of about 1,000 engineers at the San Jose Convention
Center. "You're in your own social realm. I got used to working on my own."
Wozniak recalled getting an amateur radio license in sixth
grade, building crystal sets, learning about AND and NAND gates and then
securing a job as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard when he didn't have a college
degree. He told the audience that he all he ever wanted to be was an engineer
and an inventor.
"I didn't want any credit for starting a company or changing
the world," he said. "I just wanted people to say, ‘I read your code, and it's
Describing his early years when he developed patented
technology for the computer industry, Wozniak said he often worked alone. "It's
best if you're not into partying and you don't have a girlfriend of a wife," he
said with a laugh. "I did my best work late at night, alone."
To foster creativity, Wozniak suggested that today's
high-tech companies allow their engineers to work on their own projects after
the workday is over. He even suggested that companies help with employees'
private projects by offering tools and funding.
Wozniak encouraged engineers at yesterday's "fireside chat"
to develop products that they believe in and products that are personally
important to them. "You've got to be motivated," he said. "You've got to have a
reason for doing something. The best reason is simply to please yourself."
Wozniak currently serves as chief scientist for Fusion-io, a
San Jose-based provider of solid state technology and high-performance I/O
solutions. He spends much of his time involved in the sport of "Segway polo"
(playing polo on Segway transportation vehicles) and has faced teams from New
Zealand, Germany and Barbados. "My total life is on Segways," he said. "I play
every chance I get."
Answering questions about the state of American primary and
secondary education, Wozniak said that good intentions and well-meaning
policies aren't helping. "School is a restrictive force on creativity," he
said. "It's the antithesis of creative thinking."
He suggested that American education might enjoy more
success in an automated setting. "Some day a computer could be a teacher," he
predicted. "I think we're getting very close to it."