We are thrilled to feature Cal alum and San Jose native Steve Wozniak ’86. Largely known for designing the Apple I and Apple II computers and co-founding Apple Inc. with Steve Jobs, not many are aware of Steve’s passion for learning and education. Recognized as a Builder of Berkeley and honored as a 2015 Alumnus of the Year - Cal Alumni Association’s most esteemed award, Steve Wozniak has contributed to the University for the past 25 years, making significant investments in technology and innovation at Cal.
His Proudest Moment
When asked what his proudest moment in life is, Steve always replies that it was his graduation day at Cal (receiving the Cal Alumni Association (CAA) 2015 Alumnus of the Year is his second). “Education was important to me,” he tells Dean Sastry of UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering, “the value of the mind in society, the importance of it, I had always thought that’s what’s going to get me somewhere in life…if Apple hadn’t happened, I would have gotten my degree.” Steve’s experience as a Cal student was a unique one. He first attended Cal in 1971 and left after his second year to earn money to continue his education. After founding Apple Inc., he returned to Cal and completed his degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1986. When the Los Angeles Times asked him why a college degree mattered to him, given that he had already made millions of dollars, Steve replied, “I was not thinking in terms of external rewards. If you think in the purer sense, if you learn a lot, you’ll be successful in life.”¹
As a student at Cal, Steve took the need to have fun as seriously as his classes. He lead so many mischievous adventures in his first years at Cal that his college roommate wrote a nine-page paper for English about Steve and his pranks, calling it fiction because no one would believe it (he also received an A). Steve had his own car in college, which he would fill up with friends and drive down to Tijuana to buy firecrackers. One escapade involved pyrotechnics, popcorn, and some 40-pound-test fishing line strung between the seventh-floor lounge of Norton hall and the first-floor lounge of Ida Sproul Hall.² “The carpets at Norton Hall could tell a story” he told Cal graduates at the 2013 commencement.
When Steve returned to Berkeley later on, he focused on academics while still juggling some responsibilities at Apple. He enrolled under the pseudonym Rocky Raccoon Clark to partly keep his identity anonymous and partly to avoid the potential humiliation if he wasn’t getting top grades. As he recounts to Jon Zilber in “Silicon Valley’s Merry Prankster Put His Degree on Hold and Reshaped the World” in California Magazine, “Ten years had passed. I didn’t expect I’d be getting A+’s. People would be saying ‘Hey, how come this guy Steve Wozniak from Apple Computer is only getting B’s?’ So I thought I could ditch out on that if I had a fake name.”³
Steve also recalls how he wanted to attend Berkeley because it was a symbol of intellectual thought. He was attracted to the individuals on campus who were standing up for human values and using reasoning to challenge the Vietnam War. “I wanted to be around these people that had brains that could think better and think carefully about things and lead us into good decisions,” he tells Jon Zilber, “Berkeley meant all of that to me, and it does to this day.”⁴
The social drive and connections he found at Berkeley were also important to the early days of Apple and building his formula for the personal computer. Steve was inspired by the idea of how computers would help humanity and catalyze a social revolution. As he tells Dean Sastry, “…people were going to be able to communicate so fast by typing things into a modem, that a message for like an anti-war march in Oakland, a hundred people could read it in an hour…this was an amazing idea to me…education was going to be so important because students would be given a problem, type an answer, and be told right or wrong instantly.”⁵
Steve even found inspiration in the local hot dog seller, Top Dog, for his computer design. The vendor’s whole numbers pricing structure omits the act of having to dig for change, making the process more efficient for the buyer. “I like to put that simplicity into all of my designs,” he said during Cal’s 2013 commencement.
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1986, Steve followed a life-long interest in teaching fifth grade. He enjoyed it so much that he taught middle and high school students, promoting computer literacy and even ‘adopting’ the Los Gatos School District. He not only was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, the Silicon Valley Ballet, and Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, but also gives back his time by getting involved in a hands-on way, performing in the ballets he supports and judging children’s robotic competitions. At UC Berkeley, Steve’s philanthropy helped build Soda Hall and has advanced teaching and research in many other ways, recognizing him as a Builder of Berkeley. He also serves on the UC Berkeley College of Engineering Advisory Board and is always happy to meet with students. As he tells the Dean Sastry at the CAA Alumnus of the Year celebration, “All the schools, cities, the different places that were a big part of me becoming something, were so important to me. It’s one of the reasons, that with philanthropy, I really wanted to give back to them…and of the top of the list of all the institutions was always Berkeley in my mind.”⁶
Advice to Current Students
At the 2013 UC Berkeley graduation and at the CAA 2015 Alumnus of the Year awards ceremony, Steve advised current Cal students to use this time in their lives to find out who they want to be and to always have fun. Since founding Apple, graduating from Cal, and launching many other startups, Steve has shown he is not afraid to cut loose, playing Segway polo with his team the Silicon Valley Aftershocks, playing himself on an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and even competing on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars (his partner was Karina Smirnoff). “I came up with a formula,” he tells the graduating class of 2013, “H=S-F. Happiness is what life’s about…It doesn’t matter how many yachts you have, what your title is…how much money you make…the day you die if you’ve been running everything tight, but another person is out on the streets, homeless, smiling, telling jokes, having a fun time, who would you rather be when you die?…I decided that I’d rather be the fun person. So, H=S-F, Happiness equals smiles minus frowns. It lead me to formulas in my life to avoid things that would eventually make me frown.”⁷
1. 2015 Alumnus of the Year - Steve Wozniak ‘86, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4YyaPFomN4
2. John Zilber (2015) ‘Silicon Valley’s Merry Prankster Puts His Degree on Hold and Reshaped the World’. California Magazine, Spring 2015, Retrieved from http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2015-dropouts-and-drop-ins/silicon-valley-s-merry-prankster-put-his
3. John Zilber (2015) ‘Silicon Valley’s Merry Prankster Puts His Degree on Hold and Reshaped the World’. California Magazine, Spring 2015, Retrieved from http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2015-dropouts-and-drop-ins/silicon-valley-s-merry-prankster-put-his
4. John Zilber (2015) ‘Silicon Valley’s Merry Prankster Puts His Degree on Hold and Reshaped the World’. California Magazine, Spring 2015, Retrieved from http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2015-dropouts-and-drop-ins/silicon-valley-s-merry-prankster-put-his
5. 2015 Alumnus of the Year - Steve Wozniak ‘86, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4YyaPFomN4
6. 2015 Alumnus of the Year - Steve Wozniak ‘86, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4YyaPFomN4
7. Excerpts taken from Steve Wozniak’s 2013 UC Berkeley Commencement Address