And there is no question he was a key force in shaping the company that played a major role in shaping the personal computer revolution and Silicon Valley itself. But he is a Renaissance geek, a guy who's sponsored rock festivals, taught fifth-graders and supported the Silicon Valley ballet, the Children's Discovery Museum and any number of valley causes.
Though Silicon Valley is still home, Wozniak is currently the chief scientist for Fusion-io, a Salt Lake City-based storage company that went public last week.
I sat down with Wozniak recently for a conversation in front of about 800 attendees at the Design Automation Conference (DAC 2011), an annual gathering that brings together engineers and others with an interest in chip design. Here are some highlights from our talk, edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be an engineer?
A: Very young I decided, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to be an engineer. I love this math. I love equations." Everything you calculate in engineering works or doesn't work. It's like truth. And truth is the highest good there is. I actually thought engineers are the most perfect, honest people in the world.
Q: Steve Jobs recently announced Apple's new cloud-based services. What are your thoughts about that?
A: I remember back about 15, 16, 17 years ago, at my father's wake, Steve Jobs was there and he said he hooked up a T1 line to his house. Steve said, "Everything is going to be out there. It just sits out there on the Web somewhere -- all your data and everything. And it just comes to you." He was always so intent, this cloud is where everything is going to exist.
Q: When you look at Apple today, do you ever wish you were still involved in the day-to-day operations of the company?
A: I don't often wish I was. I kind of admire the people that are involved in it. I'll go back and watch Steve Jobs, from 10 years back. His brain was 10 years ahead of mine, thinking these forward, visionary thoughts. And I was just very, very good at a particular type of product at a certain time. Both of us really needed each other to start the company. I like startups. I like what Apple was when we started. You sit down with some engineer friends and you go into a lab; and you try to build a little demo. It's kind of like you're inventing stuff.
Q: Steve Jobs sure gets a lot of attention. Do you ever feel left out?
A: I don't want attention. I never did. I was shy. I grew up shy. You know, somebody -- to run a company, to make great products -- has to do a lot of saying no to people. You've got to be able to tell some people: "This is not good enough." "We're looking for higher standards" "We need better people." You've got to be willing to take some of those nasty stands. And a soft guy like me is not running a company.
When we started Apple we had a deal. My deal was, I would just do engineering. I'll do it well. I'm not going to step on anybody else's toes. And Steve Jobs' role was to learn how to run every department of a company and be a CEO. That was defined. We actually said it in words. We were in our young 20s back then. No business experience. No money. Nobody to loan us money. Nothing.
Q: In "iWoz" you write about a time well before Apple when you and Steve Jobs got jobs dressing in costumes at Westgate Mall. What was that all about?
A: I was an engineer, with an engineer's salary, but Steve Jobs needed a ride down to De Anza College to look for job postings. OK, I drove him down during lunchtime and found there is a job to play "Alice in Wonderland" characters, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, in a mall. I said, "Oh my god, I love this idea of somehow being good to kids some way."
We both applied and they gave us both the job. So I took a week of vacation from my engineering job so I could dress up and get paid minimum wage and entertain children. I loved that job. Years later, I mention it to Steve, like this is one of the great things we did together, and he said, "Oh no. That was a lousy job." OK, so we saw it from different angles.
Q: Now we're into the serious stuff. How in the world did you end up on "Dancing with the Stars?"
A: I don't dance. Believe me, I go to a wedding and I stay put in my chair. We turned them down for about a year. The last time I turned them down, a friend of mine said, "Steve, this show needs somebody good like you on it. Somebody with your type of thinking and caring and everything."
And I said, "OK, I'll do it. They teach. They train you." And I didn't realize that friend had never seen the show.
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.
5 THINGS ABOUT STEVE WOZNIAK
1. In the early 1980s, he owned the Mayfair Theater in San Jose. He'd swing by most nights after a day at Apple and get some extra work done on his laptop while movies played.
2. When he was working at HP in the 1970s, Woz started a dial-a-joke service that he ran from home. He'd record the daily joke using a thick, Eastern European accent.
3. He is a notorious prankster. He's pulled too many to pick a favorite, but offers this advice: "Wait for my prank book," which will be released "about the year I finally don't care if they send me to prison."
4. Woz is an ardent player of Segway polo -- polo you play on a Segway. He's a pioneer of the sport and the founder of an international tournament known as the Woz Challenge Cup, which takes place this weekend in Folsom.
5. After bestowing upon civilization a new vision of computing, Woz blessed couch potatoes with an even more revolutionary device: the universal remote control. Woz says his was the first.
Source: "iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon"; Mercury News reporting