Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has urged primary school-aged children to get into building web pages, editing video or “maker” projects if they have an interest in technology.
Speaking at SAP’s SapphireNow conference, Wozniak recalled some of his earliest pet projects from sixth grade, when he built ham radio kits and early computers.
“What inspired me was a book I read where ham radio operators were the heroes,” Wozniak said.
“They could send messages to each other in another city, in another state, in another country – and at the end of the book it said, ‘Here’s where you can order your materials to learn to be a ham radio operator’.”
Wozniak recalled “the most incredible Christmas of my life” later that year when he received two kits of parts and assembly instructions.
“That was a great experience,” he said.
“But I was building other larger projects then on my own anyway, not just radio stuff.
“That was the same year I built a project with 100s of transistors and diodes and resistors that would make decisions about the game of tic tac toe and would never lose a game.”
Though ham radio kits are no longer in vogue, Wozniak believed they’d simply been superseded, and that there were similar, more current ways for young kids to hone their interest in technological tinkering.
“There are things that exist today like building your own web pages in sixth grade, or becoming an expert at shooting and editing videos, or little Raspberry Pi or maker projects,” he said.
Wozniak was aided by his father – an electrical engineer. “When I learned electronics and when I had questions he helped teach me,” he said.
“We didn’t have any courses in school on this kind of stuff – how do electrons flow through certain materials and what changes them? And he taught me that stuff and I just thought it was a normal fun thing.”
It’s perhaps part of the reason Wozniak is an advocate for education and its intersection with technology.
“I decided early on that education was really important,” he said.
“I told my dad in sixth grade that when I grow up I’m going to be an electrical engineer like you but second I’m going to be a fifth grade teacher because the importance of teachers and the value of education was so deep in my heart, which is why eventually I did teach for eight years of my life.
“Later, whenever I took psychology courses I paid attention to how the mind develops in stages sort of like building up computers – from raw materials up to more complicated parts to combining them and making bigger and bigger things.”
By the time he was ready to leave school, Wozniak was already a technologist.
“Out of high school I would never have to worry about a job, I could design any computer I saw in two days in my bedroom,” he said.
“I kind of had it made technically so I had a great job as an engineer without a college degree, designing the hottest product of its time - the Hewlett-Packard scientific calculators. What a dream job.
“But I always cared about education and the application of any products that we built to school.”