Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, enrolled as a computer science major at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1968. And he probably would have earned his degree there if the freshman hadn’t gotten crosswise with a professor.
Yet, had “Woz” stayed, there probably would be no Apple I computer, or the revolutionary Apple II, or the Macintosh and everything else that followed in the Apple lineage, including the iPod, iPad, iTunes, and the transformational iPhone.
“It all started at the University of Colorado,” said Wozniak, who will be the keynote speaker at the Aurora Economic Development Council’s annual A-List event, which takes place Jan. 17 at the newly opened Gaylord Rockies Resort.
Wozniak, in a phone interview, said he took an introduction to computers class in Boulder and got an A+. Looking for a challenge, he took on a tougher graduate-level course and began developing more complex programs.
“I ran a class five times over its computer budget,” Wozniak said. “The professor acted like I was out to get him.”
Although CU lore said he ran pranks, Wozniak insists he was doing serious programming.
Thanks to Wozniak, and the personal computer revolution he helped launch, computational power became cheap and abundant. But back then, it was costly and doled out sparingly.
Wozniak estimates he consumed around $50,000 in computing time, measured in today’s dollars. That was far more than the cost of out-of-state tuition, and his professor was threatening to make him pay up.
“I was scared to even try to go back,” he said of the dust-up.
Wozniak moved back to California and eventually enrolled at the University of California Berkeley. A friend, Bill Fernandez, told him in 1971 he should meet a high schooler who shared his love of technology and playing practical jokes, according to a story from Business Insider.
That younger kid was Steve Jobs. The pair hit it off and started Apple Computer in 1976 using a personal computer design Wozniak had developed. With Wozniak’s hardware smarts and Jobs’ talent in marketing and product design, the two brought computing power to the masses.
Although Wozniak left Apple in 1985, the company he helped launch crossed $1 trillion in market value in August, although it has since dropped to $727 billion.
Wozniak said he holds no grudges against the University of Colorado. Two of his children went there. He funded a scholarship there and has gone back to speak on campus. His daughter calls Colorado Springs her home.
After 10 years at Apple, Wozniak left the company and went back to complete his degree in 1986 at Berkeley under a fake name. In 1989, two decades after he first enrolled, CU Boulder awarded him an honorary degree.
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