Stephen Gary Wozniak was born on 11th August 1950 in California, but it wasn’t until 1976 that he became a Silicon Valley icon when he founded Apple Computers (now Apple Inc.), a company he started along with Steve Jobs and the less known Ronald Wayne. Not as big in popular culture as Steve Jobs or even Bill Gates (although he did once guest start in the popular TV show ‘The Big Bang Theory’), he is certainly an influential figure and a key individual in evolution of personal computing.
Steve’s dad, Jerry Wozniak, worked at Lockheed Martin, a security and aerospace company. It was his dad that first inspired his interest in electronics and he would build small devices using the parts his dad would bring home from Lockheed Martin.
In his late teens he worked at Hewlett-Packard as an engineer and studied at the University of California. It was at Hewlett-Packard that he met Steve Jobs through mutual friends. Together they worked on something they called the ‘little blue box’. It was an illegal device that could hack telephone lines and make all calls free. He is quoted as once using the device to call the Vatican and demand he speak to The Pope. Steve and Steve sold this ‘little blue box’ to other students for $150, already a couple of smart business men. He did not finish his first year at the University of California; instead he dropped out to work full time.
Where Steve really excelled was in designing and producing circuit boards. A short famous story is Wozniak and Jobs first paid work together. While Wozniak worked at HP, Jobs was working at computer game company Atari. Atari wanted to make a game influenced by Pong, known as Breakout. Steve Jobs was tasked with designing the prototype game and arcade cabinet. Jobs knew that Wozniak would be great at this and asked him to work with him on the promise of splitting Jobs wage. Wozniak designed the game in just 4 days and also designed a small functional chipboard too. Atari couldn’t use his design though as it was difficult to manufacture. Instead they used one that had more than double the components he had used. A little interesting fact about that story is that Jobs never actually split the full amount of his pay with Wozniak although it was Wozniak that had done most of the work. Wozniak found this out years later and it resulted in a breakdown of their friendship.
While still working at HP Wozniak was allowed to develop his own ideas out of office hours. It was there that he developed his own personal computer. His design philosophy was that it must be simple, easy to program and affordable. It was when Jobs seen this that he convinced Wozniak to set up Apple and sell his computer. They didn’t have an office; instead they worked from Jobs garage. The computer the designed was called the Apple I. At first they tried to sell it to the companies they had worked for, HP and Atari, but neither company was interested. After weeks of hard work though, and help from a local computer shop, they eventually orders to the total of $50k. It was at this point that Ronald Wayne left Apple as he thought the company would go no further. He was very wrong.
The Apple I had started their business for them but it was the Apple II that would revolutionise home computing. Wozniak still worked at HP and during out of office hours continued on improving the Apple I. Apple II created a market for itself. It was for everyman, where the Apple I had only really been for computer experts. It was simple and easy to use, much like Apple’s modern day products. Wozniak was the creative force behind the computer, he designed its interface and made it function, Jobs on the other hand just worked out how to market it. If it wasn’t for Wozniak we may not have the Apple we know today or personal computers anything like we do now. He pushed the ideas of hardware design and user interaction to new areas.
Apple grew and grew from here. Wozniak developed a way to connect Apple computers to printers, making it more useful and more helping the average person use computers. He did end up leaving Apple in 1985 because he felt the company was no longer the Apple he had started and was moving in the wrong direction. Since then he has gone on to set up other companies but they have not been as successful as Apple. Although he was only at Apple for 9 years he managed to create a market that at the time no one knew existed and almost single handily changed what was thought possible with home computers.