Danville Express

Newsfront - May 4, 2007

Computer whiz Wozniak delights Rotarians

Passion for innovation led 'electronics geek' to create first personal computers

by Jordan M. Doronila

In his college years, Steve Wozniak told his father that he wanted to buy a 21K General Nova Computer. But, his dad said, it would cost as much as a home.

Wozniak thought for five minutes, then replied: "I'm going to live in an apartment."

A wave of laughter swept through Round Hill Country Club when Wozniak, 56, told his story to more than 200 people last week from Rotary clubs who attended a dinner to hear and see here the wonderful "Wizard of Woz."

Wozniak, co-founder of the billion dollar computer corporation Apple Inc., was guest speaker at a combined Rotaries fundraiser Wednesday evening where he shared his life experiences in technology.

Wozniak told about growing up as an "electronics geek" in Cupertino where he attended Homestead High School, reading tech magazines in his spare time, creating programs and computers, and meeting Steve Jobs to build Apple Computers.

"Know your internal passion and follow your heart," said Wozniak.

He noted he had an affinity for the sciences as a child.

"I knew I was really good in math and science," he said, adding that he had a ham radio license in high school and talked to enthusiasts in other states.

He said he didn't meet many girls because he was focused on his other passions.

"I was one of the nerds," Wozniak said. "I was kind of shy."

At the dinner, he mentioned creating algorithms and programs for computers and other technological devices, although he never took a computer class. He read manuals and articles about computers, he said.

He also talked about his college years at University of Colorado and UC Berkeley and leaving school to work as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard Co. He said in 1973 he started "Dial a Joke," the first in the Bay Area.

He talked about meeting Steve Jobs. Wozniak said he found it fascinating how Jobs would "walk barefoot, eat seeds and smoke weed." Although, he emphatically said, he did not touch illegal substances and walked the "middle road." He added that he and Jobs both enjoyed Bob Dylan.

Nonetheless, he admired Jobs' ability to think differently.

"I don't like thinking like everyone else does," Wozniak said.

Wozniak decided to join Jobs in creating Apple when he realized he could still work as an engineer, instead of handling the business side. After designing and making the Apple II computer, their company stock skyrocketed, and their success boomed.

He said that he and Jobs are friends, but are not that close. Their functions were different in the company. He noted that he spent much of his fortune for philanthropic causes and had spent eight years as a teacher. He still is paid a base salary as an engineer at Apple and has some stock in the company but not as much as before.

He said his passion is creating and making new, innovative technology.

"It's you," he said, about designing a project. "It's part of me. It's how an artist feels."

Seven Rotary clubs - Danville/Sycamore, Danville, Rossmoor, San Ramon, San Ramon Valley, Walnut Creek Sunrise and Alamo - joined together to host the event to benefit Rotary humanitarian projects.

Rotarian Scott Sampson is close friends with Wozniak and invited him to speak.

"He's been my friend for over 40 years," Sampson said. "There was something special about Steve, given that Steve would change the world and start a stage for a technological evolution."

"You can't walk on the streets of San Jose without seeing his impact," Sampson added. "He single-handedly built the first personal computer."

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