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EN | Personajes ilustres – Wozniak

Wozniak, Steve (1950- )

Dozniak is a computer designer, who built the Apple I computer, which inspired the personal computer revolution, and founded in partnership with Steve Jobs the Apple Computers company.

Steve Wozniak (Woz to his friends) was born on 11 August 1950. His father, a Lockheed engineer, initiated him into electronics. He grew up in the neighbourhood of the Santa Clara Valley in California, known as Silicon Valley.

From a very early age, he showed a great ability for and interest in mathematics, sciences and electronics, winning several prizes at school science fairs. Although he was a brilliant student, school bored him.

In his early years, he particularly enjoyed building home electronics kits. With time, this hobby was to turn into a passion for building computers. They were like puzzles for him, and he was always trying to improve his designs. If he managed to get one to work with 200 chips, he tried to build another using just a hundred.

In 1971, after dropping out of his computer engineering degree course at the University of Colorado, he entered the University of California, but again failed to complete his degree. After dropping out of university, he started to work at HP as a calculator designer and, through a common friend, made the acquaintance of Steve Jobs, with whom he immediately struck up a friendship driven by their passion for electronics.

Wozniak and Jobs were members of the Homebrew Computer Club, one of the many amateur computer user and video game lover groups that sprang up in the Silicon Valley area in the early 1970s. Young people were just starting to take an interest in computers at a time when major companies, like IBM and HP, looked down on the small products built using microprocessors. Woz took his designs to the club, where he was admired and treated as a new technologies guru.

The first personal computer kit, the 8080 microprocessor-based Altair 8800, was announced in 1975. Although there was a flood of orders, the kit was not easy to put together: a lot of connections were required between components, components had to be soldered, and it was easy to make mistakes. And despite all the work it took to put it together, it did not have many features. Amateur computer users and even engineers preferred to buy ready assembled computers rather than put them together themselves. Thus, many small businesses started up around Silicon Valley that assembled computer kits and then put them on sale.

In 1976 Wozniak decided to build his own computer, among other reasons because he did not have the money to buy an Altair. His machine was to be easy to use, useful for problem solving and good for video games. His computer was based on the 6502 microprocessor to which he added a typewriter keyboard and a connection to the TV screen, resulting in a computer on a single circuit board that was cheaper, more compact and had more features than the Altair 8800. This was Apple I. Wozniak and Jobs decided to assemble several such machines and sell them to their friends and members of the Homebrew Club. Jobs took responsibility for sales and Woz for improving the design.

In 1977 Wozniak completed his prototype Apple II, left his job at HP and, together with his friend Steve Jobs, founded Apple Computers. Three people were responsible for the initial success of the company: Jobs had the idea of selling assembled computers, Mike Makkula provided the capital, credibility and business experience, although he never worked at the company, and Wozniak was the design engineer.

In 1980 Apple Computers was valued at 117 million dollars on the stock exchange. Its value had soared to 985 millions by 1983. Wozniak and Jobs became two very rich people in a very short time.

In 1981 Wozniak had a fateful accident with an aeroplane that he himself was piloting. He suffered several injuries and amnesia, from which it took him two years to recover.

In 1983 he rejoined Apple and at the same time organized New Age music festivals in California. He funded meetings between North American and Russian young people to forge friendship between the two countries.

In 1985 he retired from Apple, and he and Steve Jobs received the National Medal of Technology, the top prize for technological innovation in the United States, from President Ronald Reagan.

In 1987 he received a BA in Computer Engineering from the University of Berkeley, California. In the same year, he organized the first rock concert in Moscow with North American and Russian groups.

Since 1996 he funds, teaches and advises on topics related to computers at schools in the Los Gatos district of California, through the WOZ (Wheels of Zeus organization. At the same time, he is a member of the board of directors of several technological companies.

He also set up the Electronic Frontier foundation, is an advisor and funder of the San José Museum of Technology and provides financial support for the Silicon Valley ballet.

In the year 2000, he was awarded the prestigious Heinz technology prize and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.