The ‘Woz’ had arrived.
The flashing lights and booming duff-duff of a heavy bassline more befitted a DJ at one of Beirut’s infamous clubs than an awkward engineer-at-heart.
Steve Wozniak was the headliner at Lebanon’s BDL Accelerate tech conference overshadowing, at least in celebrity, other big names like Microsoft’s Steven Bathiche and iPod creator Tony Fadell.
He’s well known on the speaker trail but this was his first taste of Lebanon, and his speech on the second day of the conference was standing room only; BDL attracted 11,000 people from around the region on the first day and Wozniak’s speech was expected to bring in even more.
If Wozniak’s presence achieved one thing at BDL, it’s that it attracted Lebanese from Beirut and even the countryside, various ages and industries to a conference that would otherwise have been tech attended by the usual techies, bankers, and handful of entrepreneurs like last year.
Wozniak was not puppy eyed about his former company Apple or his late cofounder Steve Jobs. Here are the top five ideas, reminiscences, and anecdotes from his hour long speech and Q&A.
1. Lessons for entrepreneurs
“A lot of what you do in life boils down less to knowledge and skills and more to motivation,” he reiterated through his speech.
Wozniak, the son of a California-based engineer, said his success was largely due to his love for invention and engineering since his youth.
“I told my father I wanted to be a 5th grade teacher and an electric engineer. These were my two goals. Later on, without books to teach you how computers were made … I knew I wanted to be an engineer that made lives easier, to give us more time,” he said.
And it was self-education in his free time that gave him the skills that built Apple’s first computer.
“I looked at college as a holding spot while I developed my own talents,” he said. “When I worked at Hewlett Packard (HP), I was doing side projects left and right. Because I did it for fun. HP was a holding place, designing calculators that paid for my apartment. I was too much a geek so at night, I would work on my own products that turned into magical things.”
2. Steve Jobs and Apple
Wozniak said meeting Steve Jobs in college was an opportunity to turn his own creations into money making products. Jobs had the strong will and motivation to sell computers, but Wozniak noted he had negative sides too.
“I wish Apple [now] was more open. At first, we were totally open,” Wozniak said.
But it was Job’s baby, the iPod, that he said jumpstarted Apple’s rise as a company. The App Store that one he said was most influential his life.
“We opened the world up for people who developed apps.”
3. Data for sale
Wozniak said he tried to avoid social networks. And although he appreciated Google’s work on artificial intelligence, he didn’t trust the mega company as it made money off collecting personal data. On Facebook, he refused to give a concrete opinion.
“I have 5000 facebook friends and I don’t know them. If they said [something] nice I accepted them as friends. I kinda like Facebook. I like some aspects of Google. I just wish I wasn't being inspected.”
Wozniak added that he had great admiration for Tesla.
4. “I’m not an investor”
Just because a number of Wozniak’s colleagues went on to make star-studded tech investments, doesn’t mean it comes naturally to every engineer in successful Silicon Valley companies.
“I grew up anti-big money and never wanted it. I turned down big investment for Apple. I was gonna be an engineer for life with HP. But eventually changed my mind when I could be an engineer for life at Apple and never manage,” he said.
The combination of giving away his Apple proceeds and “a few” divorces meant that several years ago he found himself in debt. It was the international speaking circuit that had helped him rebuild.
Wozniak said he regularly watched only two shows: Dancing with the Stars and The Big Bang Theory.
He’s been on both, but it was Dancing with the Stars that was the most stressful - it took him a year to accept the offer after they first called and was happy when he was voted off the show.
And his favourite drink? Certainly not apple juice - it's unsweetened iced tea.
Feature image via Rami Deeb.