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As co-founder of Apple and lead inventor during the company’s formative years, there’s no dispute over Steve Wozniak’s status as a legend, figurehead, and innovator in the tech industry. His many early accomplishments include creating the Apple I & II computers, aiding the campaign to get the Apple II into schools, and taking a leading role in designing the first Macintosh. He has also accumulated numerous awards and recognitions throughout his lifetime for these achievements.
In 1985, “the Woz” received the National Medal of Technology from US President Ronald Reagan, the highest honor bestowed on America’s leading innovators, in recognition of his contributions to the commercial success of Apple. In the year 2000, Wozniak was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and received the Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment in the following year.
Despite his incredible contributions to early tech, however, it’s been 34 years since he left Apple. Besides those who study the history of tech, younger generations may not be familiar with Steve Wozniak and his role in shaping the world we live in. So, what has Wozniak been up to since parting ways with Apple and why should he be recognized as a prolific figure today?
Since his early split with Apple, The Woz has been anything but dormant, continuing to promote innovation in tech and expanding upon his vision to get technology into the hands of students. In the same year that he left the company he co-founded, Wozniak re-enrolled at UC Berkeley under a pseudonym and finished his degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. And upon graduation, Wozniak did what no one would have expected by becoming a computer teacher for children between 5th and 9th grade.
For a full decade, the Woz taught computer classes as a public school teacher and pursued his passion for education while mostly staying out of the way of the paparazzi. Today, former students of Wozniak still fondly recall his generosity, namely how he bought every student in his class a brand new PowerBook and paid for high-speed internet to be installed at school, which was very expensive at the time. During his time as an educator, Wozniak also took money from his own pocket to help protect the rights of consumers.
In 1990, Wozniak was one of the earliest financial supporters and founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization praised for its dedication to exposing government malfeasance, promoting technologies that protect users rights, fighting to preserve online civil liberties, and even defending individuals in court. The EFF would eventually go on to defeat the now-infamous internet regulation bills SOPA/PIPA in 2012.
Wozniak’s giving spirit doesn’t end with his stint as a school teacher and his role in protecting consumers.
Again, with his own funds, Wozniak founded the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose where kids and their families can come to learn about art and science. He also was a founding sponsor of the Tech Museum and the Silicon Valley Ballet in San Jose, California.
Out of his many philanthropic efforts, his adoption of the Los Gatos School District has had a lasting impact on the lives of students in the United States. Since 1996, Wozniak has provided training to teachers and has helped design tech curriculum in the district, as well as provide internet access, servers, and hundreds of laptops for students and teachers.
As you might expect, Wozniak couldn’t keep his hands out of technology for very long and became involved in a wide variety of cutting-edge projects. Throughout the early 2000s, Wozniak started his own company called “Wheels of Zeus” (WOZ), which created GPS tags to help consumers encounter lost items. He also founded a holding/acquisitions company to grow innovative new tech companies and took on the chief scientist role at Fusion-io and later at Primary Data.
But it wasn’t very long before Wozniak would truly return to his roots and refocus his sights on transforming education and equipping the next generation of learners with the skills they would need to succeed. In 2017, Wozniak founded Woz U—an EdTech solution that’s reprogramming education—with the goal of bridging the ever-widening tech skill gap. Despite starting at a physical campus, Woz U would quickly move into the digital realm and offer customized learning experiences for students via laptop, tablet, and mobile device. Woz U would also partner with traditional universities and expand its offerings to create a full K-to-Career solution, which facilitates the gradual transition from early education to career development.