iWoz A Geek: The Early Years of Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak

He might not be as well known as the ‘other' Steve, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, but Steve Wozniak had just as much impact on the computer industry as we know it today. From designing over 50 mini-computers on paper in school, to founding Apple I and Apple II in the mid-1970s, Wozniak's passion for the technology has forever changed the way the world does business. Stephen Gary ‘Woz' Wozniak was born on August 11, 1950 in San Jose, California. From an early age, he had a keen interest in computers. He poured over manuals in hopes of learning how to create computers for as little as possible. He built, he rebuilt, and he learned along the way. Looking back, Wozniak now admits that having little money actually gave him the impetus to be as creative as possible, and to build a computer that ran on as few parts as possible.

Wozniak's father, Jerry, was an engineer for Lockheed. Together, the two spent much time playing with electronics. By the time he was 11 years old, Wozniak had already gotten his ham-radio license. He did not have many friends, but nor did he have much time for them in between his studies and his own experimenting. "I was all alone," he says.

On top of that was the additional challenge of access - computers simply were not available to many people, let alone to high school students, leaving Wozniak without much material to practice with. Once, he told his father that when he was older, he planned to have his own computer. "Well Steve," said his father, "they cost as much as a house." To that, Wozniak replied, "Well, I'll live in an apartment."

In high school, Wozniak drew computers on paper - almost 50 of them. He then started to build some of his designs, borrowing parts from friends who worked at engineering companies. The manuals were old and torn, and the parts might have been broken, but Wozniak found ways to make them work.

"I wanted to be an engineer and design things that work like radios and TV's," he recalls. "I didn't express scientific ideals, only technical ones and I didn't fit the Cal Tech model. My counselor gave me a bad review also because I had done a lot of pranks at the school even though they had only officially caught me for one of them (when the cop tricked me with a lie)."

In between pranks and studies, Wozniak continued with building his computers. "What are the rewards?" he asks. "We didn't have computers back then. You don't get to use it, you don't get a job, you don't get any money. You don't get any acknowledgment. You don't get a title. The rewards are intrinsic. They're in your own mind."

But Wozniak caught a lucky break when he picked Silicon Valley's Homestead High for a school. It was near the top engineering companies in the U.S., and it had a well-equipped lab. Four years after Wozniak's graduation, in fact, Homestead would graduate another intelligent entrepreneur in the making, and Wozniak's future business partner, Steve Jobs. Thanks to a small computer club at the school, Jobs and Wozniak became best friends.

It was a friendship that would not only change the two men's lives forever, but also the computer industry as a whole, and the way people around the world interact with each other.

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