Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Computer Whiz Wozniak Visits Philadelphia

Steve Wozniak and Bill RingleLast Saturday, September 30, Steve Wozniak visited Philadelphia and shared his perspectives with several hundred business owners, students, and computer enthusiasts.

I had the good fortune to meet Woz and connect around our mutual passion for tecchnology and pranks.

Woz is a wonderful story teller because he balances his love of detail with his enthusiasm for surprises and lessons learned along the way.

Here is my synopsis of his engaging talk:

  1. Woz never wanted to be an entrepreneur. He was happy being an HP engineer working on calculator designs because it's what he loved doing and HP was a great company to work for at the time. Electronics was a way to play pranks, and that fueled so much of his passion. He always was the one to take a prank "one step further."

  2. Even though he's shy, Woz likes being first at things. He's very proud of building and operating the first "dial-a-joke" service in the Bay area. Sometimes he would answer the line instead of his device and practice telling jokes to over come his shyness. It paid off -- that's how he met his wife.

  3. When you think of resourceful people showing their gifts at a young age, you ought to think of Steve Wozniak. As a teenager, he figured out a way to get access to technical specs on chips that were available. He and a friend would go to the Stanford Linear Accelerator research center and read the magazines in their tech libraries on weekends. Then he'd send in the reader response cards in the magazines and journals to get component catalogs, technical manuals, and complimentary subscriptions.

  4. Steve Jobs met Woz in high school and they did start their company in a garage. Jobs picked the name Apple Computer. Woz thinks it had to do with the orchard picking work Jobs had done as a teenager.

  5. As Jobs saw opportunities to work together in the early days, he'd make promises, then come back and tell Woz about it. For instance, Jobs had heard Woz talk about being able to build a "pong" arcade game, so he got a contract to do it. Woz was excited to hear that they would be paid to do something he's wanted to do for months; he figured in 4-5 weeks, he's be able to put something really elegant together. Oops, Jobs promised a prototype the next week, so Woz pulled 4 consecutive all-nighters to deliver. And he did!

  6. The Homebrew Computer Club was an organization in Silicon Valley to have an open exchange with others interested in home computers at a time when few people were thinking about having a computer in their home. The closest people came to to a computer at home before dedicated mainframe terminals and acoustic couplers became popular was having gigantic IBM punch card machines. At the Homebrew Club, hobbyists from all ages and industries came together to openly share what they were working on and how they figured it out. It was a very open community, much the way the Open Source community operates on a global scale today.

  7. To know Woz is to realize he's all about optimization. He's known for creating the Apple II and it had "half as many parts and twice the capability" of any other low-cost computer on the market at the time. Before that, he honed his skills as designing circuits in high school, than later for HP. He would spend days designing and redesigning circuits to save a chip here or there by changing the order or doing something tricky. It was his passion and an outlet for his enormous creativity and energy.

  8. When the Apple started, Woz was reluctant to take any kind of leadership position, even as an engineering manager. He said, "I really wouldn't know how to tell someone that his work was crummy. It would just be easier to do it right myself." After an airplane crash, Woz went back and finished his degree at Stanford under a pseudonym to avoid notoriety.

  9. When Steve and Woz started Apple, they needed to raise $1,000 to invest in components. Woz sold his prized HP calculator to raise his $400. (It was a three-way, 400/400/200 investment with a third partner who soon cashed out after the company was formed.) But Woz didn't part with the calculator capriciously -- as an HP employee, he knew that the next model was coming out in a month for even less money!

  10. While Woz works with former Apple executives Gil Amelio, and Ellen Hancock at Acquicor his heart is still in helping people of all ages use technology to enrich their lives and do cool things. He boasted to have bought every iPod model that Apple has produced. He's still a gadget guy to the core.

Afterwards, he stayed around and signed copies of his book.

When you connect with others who are passionate about their work, it can't help but rub off in your own work as you build a stronger business.

Special thanks to Jason O'Grady, editor of PowerPage.com, for recording this talk and publishing it to iTunes. Enjoy!

No comments: