Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers

'I was shy and a social outcast'

Steve Wozniak, 56, founded the Apple Computer company, (which, now as Apple, has just unveiled its iPhone) with Steve Jobs, and designed the Apple I and II. He became a voluntary teacher and now runs his own company. His book, iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It came out at the end of last year.

I wear "geek" proudly but "nerd" is a better word for me. "Geek" applies to a technological person, but the kids at school weren't aware of the electronics I was doing at home with my friends. "Nerd" means someone who isn't good at talking socially.

I grew up in Sunnyvale, California, right in the heart of what everyone now calls Silicon Valley. I have very happy memories of cycling through fruit orchards to get to Serra School. It was a brand-new school and I was the first person to be sent home, ostensibly for throwing a rock at some girls; in fact, they threw dirt at me and I threw some back. I like to be first at doing things!

My teacher in fourth and fifth grades - when I was nine and 10 years old - told me that I was the brightest student and, at this stage, my self-image was very high as a result. At home I played with a lot of kids who had engineers for parents and we learnt how to connect microphones, speakers, buzzer alarms and flashing lights for house-to-house intercoms. We "electronics kids" would sneak out at two in the morning and put toilet paper on trees in people's yards.

At not quite 13 I went to Cupertino Junior High. I was, by this time, shy and a social outcast. I was building incredible computer projects. I built a 10-bit "adder-subtractor" with hundreds of transistors which was so advanced that it won an award at the Bay Area Science Fair; all the other winners were 17.

At Homestead High School the shyness remained. I was the top student in maths and known as an electronics genius. A teacher found an outlet for me, Sylvania, a company where an engineer made time for me on one of their computers. Every weekend I designed computers - on paper. I would design computers that existed but I would do it with fewer parts. I kept trying to come up with tricks that no other human being had ever done.

In the US, we had virtually no college courses in computers for undergraduates. At 18 I enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder and took a graduate-level course. I wrote long programmes which ran my class five times over its annual budget for computer time - many times my tuition money. I was afraid they would charge me and, as my parents had told me they would only pay for one year at Boulder, I didn't try to go back. I lived for a year with my parents, attending De Anza Community College, then headed off to my third year of college, at Berkeley, which was excellent and a lot cheaper than Colorado. Even though I was only a junior, I took graduate courses in computer software and hardware. I was still very shy. I didn't think I would have a girlfriend or get married but would more or less have fun with my electronics.

I started working to earn money for my fourth [final] year and didn't go back to Berkeley, but got an important job as a designer of calculator chips at Hewlett Packard and started Apple with Steve Jobs.

After nine years I was in a plane crash and was out of the Apple office for five weeks. I realised it had been 10 years since my third year of college and that if I didn't go back now, I probably never would. I left Apple and went back to Berkeley. They have a procedure for people who are well-known and want to use a different name: I was Rocky Raccoon Clark. I got married and we bought a castle of a house - with the house number of 21435. I liked that number mathematically because it had the first five digits appear exactly once.

jonty@jonathansale.com

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