Big Apple

Inside the mind of Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak who reveals the truth about being a computer genius.

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By  Laura Collacott Published  July 10, 2008

Inside the mind of Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak who reveals the truth about being a computer genius.

It is likely that the name ‘Wozniak' will ring bells, even if you have more difficulty placing the man behind it.

The co-founder of global computing giant, Apple, is credited with redesigning the personal computer to make it more cost-effective and accessible. So impressive were these endeavours that they were formally recognised by the American president in 2000 when Wozniak was awarded a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

His somewhat shadowy fame is by design and an accurate reflection of the man himself. Settling down in the plush, upholstered seats of the Ritz-Carlton Doha's high-vaulted meeting rooms, the rotund American immediately endears himself.

So recognised is Steve Wozniak’s aptitude for invention, he gets requests for support or advice from companies across the spectrum.

A few minutes into the interview and it is clear that he has a sharp sense of humour: "I met my first wife through dial-a-joke," he says

Commentators often talk of Wozniak's introverted character but shyness does not seem to be a problem. Besides, not many introverted men can claim to have had three wives. Instead, he is quietly and determinedly individual.

It has always been his way. But while his gregarious personality shines through, he also seems to be holding something back. He has the confidence that seems to come so naturally to Americans but despite routine public appearances, he seems happiest away from the corporate setting.

The success of Apple has landed fellow co-founder Steve Jobs with a personal fortune of US$5.4bn (according to Forbes' 2008 Rich List). So has the company he co-founded set him up with a similarly-sized fortune?

"Well, I would do but I gave most of it away," he answers; "I don't let money and those sort of forces change me."

It is not that he is particularly bashful - on the contrary, he is proud of his achievements and speaks about them on the public circuit often - but, he says he did it less for fame and fortune and more for personal satisfaction. He wanted computers to be accessible to the masses.

"[You do it for] extrinsic and intrinsic rewards," affirms the self-confessed nerd. By intrinsic, he is referring to the sense of pride you get from achieving and exceeding goals you have set yourself. The success of Apple would fall into this category.

He is still involved in the background at Apple but no longer sits on the executive board. His resolve to move away from the hard face of business and pursue a more varied, philanthropic role began way back in 1985 when he left his formal job in the organisation.

Now his time is largely taken up with public appearances for charity and industry (he only manages to be at home for around 50 days of the year, thanks to a gruelling international schedule), alongside taking care of ongoing petitions for support in various ventures; not necessarily related to his field.

So recognised is his aptitude for invention and innovative expertise, he gets requests for support or advice from companies across the spectrum. Where many business people adhere to a cold professionalism to get ahead, Wozniak never diverged from his laid-back, day-to-day philosophy. It has paid dividends.

The resultant dynamic between the Apple business partners was a symbiotic one. Wozniak was the brains behind the scenes. "I wanted to be an engineer for life, not go into management," he says.

The story of how Wozniak became successful is the subject that he has been invited to the Middle East to talk about. For the occasion of the Qatar Science & Technology Park's TechTalk conference, he has donned a suit and taken to the stage to share this story and hopefully inspire entrepreneurs of the future.

A fascination with maths as a child led him to begin exploring and improving electronic engineering, encouraged by his family. In the early days, he says, computers were extremely specialised pieces of equipment - "esoteric, far-out technology", as he puts it - used only by large corporations and governments.

Their development was initially spurred on by the international space race between world superpowers America and Russia as they vied for dominance. But he wanted to transform the science to make it accessible and useful for normal people.

"I wanted to use the technology to improve appliances in everyday life. Machines should take the drudgery of thinking away from humans."

Drinking in all the information he could from specialised journals passed to him by his father (himself an engineer), he developed his knack for streamlining and improving circuitry and software. The expense of building computers and obtaining parts meant that at the early stages, all Wozniak's engineering was hypothetically recorded on paper - not that this put him off. He still has reams of computer code at home.

The aim was to use fewer parts and get the "most out for the least in". It became such an obsession that he solemnly told his father that, when he grew up, he wanted to own a computer instead of a house, the two sharing price parity in those days. What a difference a few years makes.

He defies those who claim that they are limited by a lack of resources, funds or expertise. He himself used to barter odd-jobs for parts down at his local electronics store to feed his engineering habit. He doesn't think that this has been a disadvantage: "We founded Apple in our young 20s with no money and no business experience." He adds: "If you don't have resources, it forces you to think harder.

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