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Apple Computer Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Says Schools, Not Money, Are Key To Growing IT Sector


WATCH: RFE/RL's Armenian Service interviews Steve Wozniak.

By RFE/RL

YEREVAN -- The death on October 5 of Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs reverberated around the world.

Some of the coverage of his life, however, overlooked the two men with whom he co-founded the revolutionary computer company: Ronald Wayne and Steve "The Woz" Wozniak.

Indeed, Wozniak is credited with inventing the Apple 1 and Apple 2 computers in the mid-1970s, which kicked off the personal computer revolution.

Wozniak left Apple in 1987, after 12 years with the company.

In the years since, besides becoming a prominent philanthropist, he has also invented the first programmable universal remote control, helped create the first wireless Global Positioning System, and nurtured the development of several technology start-ups.

Steve Wozniak (left) autographs an Apple iPad during a meeting with students in Yerevan.

Steve Wozniak (left) autographs an Apple iPad during a meeting with students in Yerevan.

He is now the chief scientist for Fusion-io, a data storage and server company.

RFE/RL's Armenian Service (Radio Azatutyun) interviewed Wozniak on November 10 during his visit to Yerevan, where he met with senior government officials, IT company executives, and university students. On November 11, Wozniak will receive a state award from President Serzh Sarkisian in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to humanity.”

'Not Great' For Creativity

In a wide-ranging interview, RFE/RL asked Wozniak what the country could do to encourage the growth of its information technology (IT) sector, which Yerevan has identified as a strategic priority.

The answer isn't investment, Wozniak said, but rather "inspiring creativity in the schools where kids are very young." Unfortunately, he added, "traditional methods are not really that great for encouraging creativity."

"We teach the same subjects, on the same days, and the same weeks to the entire class, and then test them, that's the problem," he said. "No matter what you do, if you stick with that formula, you are not going to improve things very much."

Creative, unconventional types often turn out to be the "real innovators."
According to Wozniak, however, encouraging older students to pursue IT careers can also be a route to development, especially in technical universities.

Wozniak cited America's own hotbed of technological innovation in California's Silicon Valley as a top destination for engineers and scientists after they graduate.

Many of the schools they come from have established partnerships with IT companies, so the new graduates already have a connection to the industry, Wozniak said. "It's also good, if you have a lot of young people in universities, that universities have a lot of equipment from local companies that contributed them, and a lot of tools so that [students] can sit down in the freedom to build things for themselves."

Encouraging Employee Innovation

Wozniak also thinks companies should encourage innovation among their employees and grant them the freedom to work on their own projects -- even personal projects that aren't aimed at creating sales -- while at work.

Every once in a while, someone, somewhere, is "going to hit on something so exciting and new and great" that the company will end up benefitting from the discovery, he said.

And yet, as someone who dropped out of university, like his Apple co-founder Steve Jobs also did, Wozniak stressed that employers shouldn't close the door on young people who have great talent and imagination, but no college degree or educational certificate.

It's these creative, unconventional types who often turn out to be the "real innovators," he said.

Wozniak's Apple I helped kick-start the personal computer revolution in the 1970s.

Wozniak's Apple I helped kick-start the personal computer revolution in the 1970s.

In 2002, the World Bank created the Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF) in Armenia, which is now one of the largest technology business incubators and consulting companies in the region.

The Yerevan-based project's mission is to "support the development of [the] information and communication technology sector in Armenia through creating a productive environment for innovation, technological advancement, and company growth," according to its website.

Armenia 'Economically More Competitive' Than United States

Wozniak said Armenia has a "very favorable" climate for the manufacturing side of the IT industry, because it is economically more competitive than western countries like the United States.

Attracting foreign IT investment and companies poses a greater challenge, he said, because so many Middle Eastern countries are after the same thing.

Wozniak named Qatar as an example of one such country that uses its wealth to woo top companies and open campuses of American universities, which helps encourage investment.

As for the future of Apple Computer in the post-Steve Jobs era, Wozniak said the products Jobs created will continue to influence people's lives and inspire companies around the world. But if Apple begins to drift from the aesthetic Jobs created, its customers will also drift away, he predicts.

"Apple customers want things to be beautiful, sparkling, to convey an image to the eye that tells you what's in the product, to be very simple and easy to use," he said. "They will react negatively if Apple fails to continue to produce the types of products that came out under Steve Jobs."

written by Heather Maher, based on an interview conducted by Sargis Harutyunyan from RFE/RL's Armenian Service

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