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iWoz, the story of an engineer

March 26, 2007

I’ve been reading Apple books recently, such as Jim Carlton’s “Apple” or iCon. Both of them, as well as much of the other literature available for Apple, talk about Steve Jobs and the general history and business on Apple. Much less is available about Steve Wozniak who actually built the original products responsible for Apple’s taking off and current success.

So I thought I’d balance things out a bit and also read about Wozniak. And iWoz is the book that tells you about him. Or rather, he talks about himself.

I haven’t really read any “I” publications (meaning written in first person) from/by Jobs. He has published things like Thoughts on Music, but I’m not really sure how much of that is his original writing or words. These things from both Jobs and leaders from other companies are often products of PR. They’re necessary for business but you don’t really get to experience the person behind them.

iWoz is different. It’s done in first person, I understand as a result of a series of interviews that Woz did with the co-author Gina Smith. It reads and feels fairly personal and genuine and close to the truth. And it passes my smart writing test, there are fairly few exclamation marks.

It tells the story of a great engineer. Arguably Woz is one of the most brilliant engineers on the planet and this book tells in great depth how he got originally interested in electronics and atoms and bits and chips, and how that led to designing and eventually building computers, and everything that came after that.

I really liked that story and I identify with it very strongly. Even though I’m not half a percent as smart as Woz was (otherwise I’d be as rich as he was by my age :P ), I believe the same as he did – that in order to build high-level systems, you need to have at least some level of understanding about how the lower level beneath them works, or you’ll end up with nonsense.

Also, recently I’ve started to think about aesthetics. Engineers and beauty don’t necessarily match in the public mind, but Woz talks a lot about beauty and elegance in the engineering sense – for example, building things with as few chips as possible. I’m sure this thinking has had at least some level of impact on Apple’s product line and its beauty both internally and externally also today. Aesthetics and elegance are not only nice things to have, but are very directly connected to things like efficiency and power consumption. If you shoot for a design that has as few chips as possible (and then still manage to cut out a few more), a nice by-product of that is that your thing will consume less power and be less hot and have a longer battery life, as the power source will have “fewer mouths to feed”.

I didn’t know about some of Woz’s other ventures like organizing and funding a rock concert that featured video links to USSR and their spacecraft, or him being a teacher. It also attempts to debunk some myths around Jobs and Apple, like did Jobs quit Apple in 1985 or was he fired (the former, Woz says), or how he was misquoted in the press about his reasons for leaving Apple, and others like that. And it has looks into his family life and teaching career.

Highly recommended to anyone who’s interested in learning more about how Apple and its products actually came about and their original engineer.