Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple Computers - and the engineering brains behind the Apple I and II - came to Dayton tonight to answer questions about his life's work, ideas, and what's next for tech. I made sure I arrived armed with notebook and pen so I could capture (and share!) some of my favorite bits.
Knowing Your Market
Steve pointed out that when he and Steve Jobs were working on the Apple 1, established computer manufacturers saw this fledging company as little, if any, competition. But, this conclusion was based on flawed market research. These companies surveyed people (companies, really) that already owned the machines - instead of those who did not, but might wish to own one. Apple took into consideration small business owners who might want to simply use a spreadsheet to calculate inventory levels or run sales projection numbers. He thought about hobbyists who may want to code or play simple games. Apple computers did what 'bigger' computers couldn't do. It filled a niche that those original companies didn't realize was there.
Confidence and Hustle
Steve has a lot of confidence - he had no problem talking about how he was, in the days of Apple 1 and 2, "the best" and "doing things no one had thought of" (both very true things). These types of assertions/acknowledgements of our own strengths can grate against Midwestern ears (be modest and humble, my corn-fed friends!), but seem to be a thread that binds a good many successful people. Steve believed that he had a revolutionary product that the world needed. That goes hand in hand with hustle. Woz mentioned that Steve Jobs had that element of success down. He wanted it. He wanted to succeed and he worked tirelessly toward that end. This brings me to a little side point Woz made: surround yourself with people that can help you succeed. He mentioned being an introvert, just wanting to "make computers". Conversely, Steve Jobs was brilliant at the hustle, the marketing - but he didn't make computers. They needed each other. It's rare to be (or find) someone who is truly skilled at all of the necessary things to bring a great project to fruition. Seek out partners who will help you do what you do best.
Something else he mentioned? Not looking back. He said it wouldn't be fair to his past self. He worked hard then, and he didn't want to judge his mind and actions then based on what he is capable of today. A great point, I think.
Education is Important
Fun fact: Steve actually returned to Berkeley to finish his last year of undergrad after successfully launching two Apple products. He also taught for eight years. So, it's not surprising that he places a high value on education. Even if you didn't end up an engineer, or a writer, or an artist, or a software developer, he said, you spent time "learning how to learn", working on long projects, building patience, the ability to look ahead, concrete skills. He brought up a great point about the way we are (and for many generations have been) taught: to just find the right answer. And everyone finds that single right answer. So, he said, you're not finding your answer - you're finding the answer. I felt this way often when I was in school (Why can't I finish my spelling workbook in two days if I'm able? Why must I wait?), so this really struck me. I thought it was a great way to simply phrase a complicated issue.
Future Tech and the Internet of Things
The Woz had a lot of things to say about the future of computing, AI, and technology in general. One of my takeaways was that he envisions computers becoming more human-like. He gave the examples of Siri and the ability of a user to simply speak into their phone and then be able to text, find directions, call a friend. Technology will continue in that vein, he predicts, building on the familiar and becoming more and more like a conversation, an interaction. He points to the example of the original Apple desktop, which was essentially a TV screen and a keyboard - something people were already familiar with. I would have loved to hear him speak a little (okay, a lot) more on AI and it's role in future tech. He did say that he knows it's coming, and the minds of our time need to explore the ethics alongside the possibilities.
One of the last things Steve spoke about was the Internet of Things - how he'd like for all of our smart gadgets to be able to communicate not only with us, but with each other. His wish is for someone to come up with a (programming) language to allow for this possibility. Maybe that'll be on my to-do list for this year. Just kidding - I don't have Woz-level confidence yet! But, who knows? Maybe someone in the audience tonight will be the one to create that wished-for language. It's certainly exciting to think about.
Photo courtesy Al Luckow