On Wednesday night, Pitt’s geeks came from far and wide to grasp any bit of knowledge that they could from “the Woz.”
Pitt’s Computing Services and Systems Development hosted “A Conversation with Steve Wozniak,” co-founder of Apple Inc., in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.
Wozniak spent his time on stage in front of roughly 500 Pitt students talking about his life, the origins, successes and failures of Apple, data surveillance and the future of the Internet. Robert Sica, a Pitt sophomore and host of the weekly WPTS Radio show Tech Talk moderated the event.
Wozniak began by discussing his humble beginnings.
“I was such a geek,” he said. “I never had a girlfriend growing up.”
Working as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard, one of the pioneering computer companies still in operation today, he would often come home from work, eat a TV dinner and watch Star Trek.
“I never thought I’d design computers in my life. But I taught myself on pencil and paper,” he said. “I could never afford the parts as a kid. But just like some of you are into crosswords, poetry or whatever, this was my thing.”
As a young adult, Wozniak dreamed of the infinite technological possibilities that would later make his career.
“I told my dad I’d get my own computer someday. He told me it costs as much as the house,” Wozniak said. “I told him I’d live in an apartment.”
His father’s remarks and his innate passion drove Wozniak to co-found Apple Inc. with the late Steve Jobs, former CEO of the company, in 1976. Wozniak said he and Jobs made a “perfect couple.”
Their goal was to create the affordable, perfect personal computer — the same computer he dreamed of having as a kid.
Wozniak said he gained a reputation as “the guy who would design stuff for free and hand it out to people,” and Jobs would market and sell the products. The duo split the profits.
“Jobs saw that we had potential and said, ‘Wow, we should start a company,’” Wozniak said.
They developed Apple Inc. and went on to design computers such as Apple I, II and III, the Lisa and the Macintosh. Other successful products included the iPod, the iPod Touch and the iPhone.
During his talk, Wozniak criticized the film “Jobs,” which was released in 2013. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern, the film starred Ashton Kutcher as Jobs and Josh Gad as Wozniak and portrayed an entertaining outlook on the company’s formation.
Wozniak said the story “Jobs” portrayed differed greatly from Apple’s history.
“If you saw the ‘Jobs’ movie, ignore it. Totally inaccurate,” he said. “Kutcher had the outside mannerisms of Jobs, but not on the inside. I didn’t feel like I got the real meat of it. But hey, that’s just me.”
The movie depicted the early “Apple gang,” including Jobs and Wozniak, working day in and day out from the garage of Jobs’ mother’s home.
“Nothing was done in the garage. The business deals were done in Steve’s bedroom over the phone,” Wozniak said. “But the only thing that happened in the garage was us loading and emptying the car with computer parts that we were buying and selling.”
Wozniak also spoke about the recent controversies within the federal government regarding data surveillance, specifically the National Security Agency’s programs.
“We can’t just go back to the Apple II days where programs are run off of disks and that’s it. No Internet, totally safe,” he said. “All computers can be accessed from afar. Anyone can act like you and get your privileges. It’s dangerous.”
Wozniak explained that he’s not surprised that the National Security Agency collects data on United States citizens but said it disgusts him.
“If you think you’re having a private conversation with a good friend, it should be private,” he said. “I’m very against what the NSA does.
Wozniak’s statement on the NSA resulted in resounding applause from the audience.
“All through school I was taught about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and that the Russians are spying on everyone and throwing everyone in prison,” he said. “And now we’re doing it.”
In addition to discussing his company’s history and the NSA, Wozniak offered job advice to the students in attendance. He told them to look at industries that may grow in the future, such as wearable technology or robotics.
“When companies are forming, it’s easier to get a job if you have some specificity in that job,” he said. “But first and foremost, do what you love.”
Sica, a communications major, described his experience moderating the event as “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“It was scary to be sitting next to the co-founder of my favorite company of all time. He was very personable and very welcoming,” Sica said. “It was awesome to have him here — surreal, absolutely surreal.”
Sica said Wozniak’s influence resonates in the younger generations.
“We have big dreams here at Pitt that we all want to aspire to, but hearing someone talk about real-world experiences like that is imperative. It’s one of the most valuable experiences we can get as students,” he said.
Ryan Snowden, a senior finance and general management major, attended the event donning a pair of Google Glass, Google’s latest wearable computer with a head-mounted display.
Snowden said that the event was valuable because of the messages that Wozniak imparted to the students about Internet security and password protection.
“Even with Internet security, most kids let it go over their heads. They don’t care,” Snowden said. “We’re entering an age where all of that is starting to matter, and I think this opened a lot of eyes among the student body.”
Wozniak closed the event by discussing his hopes regarding the future of the Internet and technology. He said the Internet was missing a feeling of real human guidance.
“Once our computers become more sentient and become our heart and soul, it’ll tell the right jokes, it’ll look at my face and see what I’m feeling,” Wozniak said. “When it goes in that direction, that’ll really be huge. That’s what I’m hoping for.”