UC Berkeley alumnus, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak speaks at Berkeley startup institute

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Timothy Dawson/Staff

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UC Berkeley alumnus and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak returned to Berkeley on Monday to speak of his personal philosophies as an engineer, a startup founder and a liberal.

During the event, Wozniak met with more than 300 students, hackers and entrepreneurs at The House, a startup institute located across the street from campus on Bancroft Way, which aims to support students by turning their ideas into businesses through funding and work space.

“(Wozniak) has been incredibly generous with his time tonight. … He really wanted to come back because it’s Berkeley,” said Cameron Baradar, co-founder of The House, at the event. “It’s people like Woz and other Cal alums who … help the next generation, which is all of us here, be successful.”

Despite The House’s mission, though, Wozniak said he had decided early on in life never to be a founder, as he was not fond of commanding others. He noted, however, that he was lucky and privileged to achieve a level of excellence in designing computers — something he hadn’t thought he would have a job in.

“Me, I just want to be recognized by engineers as doing things so clever that no other engineers did them that way,” Wozniak said at the event.

He cited in particular an anecdote of a TV disruption device he had built during his college years in order to trick fellow students into fixing a dormitory television as he alternately jammed the TV signal.

“Fun, fun, fun — always incorporate fun with work was my big model,” Wozniak said at the event.

To aspiring startup founders, Wozniak said instead of trying to understand what “people out there” want in a product, they should create products that are perfect for themselves. The Tesla automobile and iPhone are examples of products that have succeeded using this philosophy, he said. While ideas occur everywhere in the world, Wozniak emphasized that a successful startup consists of those who actually sit down and turn ideas into reality.

Wozniak also spoke of his endorsement of liberalism, saying he loves UC Berkeley as a liberal-minded campus where thinking is free and unlimited.

According to Wozniak, he had been a self-proclaimed liberal at the time Apple first went public. Against “anything money,” he had opposed the pooling of wealth around the company’s three co-founders.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, we were founders but there’s all these little guys … giving me encouragement at a computer club before Steve Jobs even knew computers existed,’ ” Wozniak said at the event. “Why aren’t they called founders? Because they didn’t get their names on a certain piece of paper.”

Wozniak, as a result, claimed he had given away $20 million worth of stocks in today’s value to five people and another $20 million to 80 people at Apple so that they can each get a house out of the deal.”

Campus freshman Fei Wade said she relates with Wozniak’s innovative thinking. As an environmental economics and policy major, she said the only way to move forward in creating more sustainable business practices is to adopt this kind of innovative thinking.

Similarly, campus sophomore Amit Talreja said he, like Wozniak, aspires to create for the sake of creation — just to explore and learn new things.

“(Designing computers) was my love in life,” Wozniak said at the event. “Something you do when you don’t get anything for it.”

Contact Charlene Jin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharleneJin0327.

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  • Edward

    I knew The Woz when he was a teenager and we were members of The Homebrew Computer Club. This does *not* mean that he knew me. I don’t think that anyone who ever dealt with him thought there was a mean bone in his body. Your essential good guy. And then there is his engineering skills. There is a saying that a good engineer can do for a dollar what any damn fool can do for two. He could do it for 49 cents by using chips in ways they were never intended for.