February 9, 2010

Woz

They call him "Woz."  He titled his 2007 memiors iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon:  How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. (Pun intended since Woz was a huge part of Apple and is not any longer.)  His personal website is woz.org and everyone is welcome. 

Steve Wozniak lives in Los Gatos California and is a member of a Segway Polo Team. His favorite video game is Tetris.  Many things are known and written about Woz, but what is most powerful and interesting to me is that Woz believes in kids, in their abilities and in their minds.

After becoming one of the most accomplished engineers in the world, co-founding Apple, Woz decides not to grow up (conform) and become the business manager that Apple needed. He walked away, with a fortune, to teach school. Woz spent nearly a decade teaching computer science -- unpaid -- for the Los Gatos Unified School District.  He wanted to give students a fundamental understanding of computers from the inside out and develop their imaginative abilities to use technology as a tool. Woz offered weekend and summer school classes in the garage of his hilltop mansion for future tech geeks like him. Of course the classes had to be in a garage - that's lucky! Each student got a $5,000 Mac PowerBook.

The Teens in Tech 2010 Conference captured Woz on video hanging around with a few kids, signing some Macbooks, and encourging them to think big.  Why not? They will be in charge soon enough and there are big challenges ahead.

See that clip:

Teens In Tech Conference 2010 from ReadWriteWeb on Vimeo.

The most important thing to learn from Woz and his experience, I think, is that invention takes deconstruction and iteration.  We need to learn to take ideas and programs apart to their individual bits, like Woz did the computer board until he was able to create the simple elegant design of the Macintosh. Then, we need to learn to put things together again in new and different ways that meet the needs of the time. We need to reconstruct with an eye to the current environment, the current and future customers.  Woz learned by doing and redoing, over and over again, happily, with intense curiosity into what might become. He would experiement, learn from the feedback at hand, and reiterate.  With each iteration, the hope is to make new mistakes, discover them, learn from them, collaborate with others from their perspective and building a complete working knowledge and understanding your chosen domain which you infuse with passion and curiosity and energy that is boundless.  Very few learning environments celebrate mistakes, much less allow us to learn from them.

The second most important thing to learn from Woz is to understand his vision of the child. He thinks they are cool and capable and worth our attention. He thinks we as adults can learn from them. He respects them. He revers them. He remembers what it was like to be one of them. His actions, therefore, are born of empathy and understanding.  He wants to help them learn and discover and live to their fullest potential. I could only imagine how engaged and excited students were in his classroom. I would imagine the focus was learning, not teaching. I would imagine there was a lot of student-generated ideas and directions.

The last important think that Woz can illustrate for us is a dedication born from curiosity and passion. He discovered his knack for tinkering when he was a child and his dad, a Lockheed engineer, would bring home spare parts that Woz used, combining them with parts from other devices he dismantled like radios and televisions, to invent things. Woz invested his 10,000 hours early in a field that captivated him and it has defined his life. There would be more happy and fulfilled people if we could all find this earlier in life, and just think of the solutions that would come from this applied passion, curiosity and dedication.

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