As Silicon Valley icon Steve Wozniak walked into Huntsman Hall, more than 300 people pulled out their iPhones to snap photos of the man without whom their gadgets would not exist.
Wozniak was the keynote speaker at the fifth annual Wharton Web Conference, which took place on Tuesday. The event drew designers, project managers, programmers and other IT professionals from all over the nation to Penn.
The co-founder of Apple, who launched the company with Steve Jobs more than 35 years ago, sat down before a packed audience with Wharton professor Kevin Werbach to discuss topics ranging from education to artificial intelligence.
Wozniak began the speech by examining the changes in today’s technological world. “We were geeks back then, but today everyone’s using all these apps on smartphones,” he said.
He added that when he and Jobs started out, they had no money or business experience. But they did not let that hinder their innovation. “Having no money actually forces you to innovate ways to create affordable devices,” he said.
Wozniak explained he was driven by a personal desire to “just make little devices that are fun for me to play with” and had not intended to join the ranks with the existing “big companies.”
“We wanted to be that special company that was different from everyone else. We stood for freedom and liberty,” Wozniak added. “We were the rebels challenging the big companies.”
Throughout the talk, Wozniak addressed different aspects of education, including his own experience of withdrawing from University of California Berkeley in 1971 and returning more than 10 years later to finish his degree.
He questioned modern school systems, stating that “schools always teach you that the books have all the answers” without encouraging creativity and experience.
Wharton MBA student Ani Vemprala found Wozniak “very inspiring and extremely accomplished,” citing him as one of the main reasons he registered for the conference. Vemprala was “fascinated” by “how money was not a priority for Jobs and Wozniak.” Their work was “very pioneering — a lot of what they did was out of necessity,” he said.
Audience members including Vemprala also enjoyed Wozniak’s anecdote in which he recalled writing the original code for the Apple 2 on paper.
“The Woz” concluded the talk with a focus on the youth’s potential. He expressed worry that “schools may be suppressing innovative thought” through large class sizes and less one-on-one time for students.
“You can never fail one-on-one, which is why we try to make the computer or the phone into a nice, friendly person,” he said.
Wozniak encouraged the audience members to take advantage of their youth. “When you’re young, you can find your internal passions, for they are far more powerful than extrinsic rewards.”
Werbach asked him to predict “the next wave of technology,” to which Wozniak stated that “natural language recognition is the big wave of the future.”
Following Wozniak’s speech, the conference offered several sessions for technical and IT staff, addressing topics like cloud computing, website design and project management.
Conference organizer and Wharton Computing project leader Ben Adams explained the conference is geared toward people involved in improving Penn websites and registration.
Wharton Computing employee Courtney Wilburn, who has attended the conference every year since its founding, was “happy with the diversity of topics available at the conference.”
Conference organizers Tim Allen, Erin Mullaney and David Brubaker were pleased with this year’s turnout, reaching their goal number. “The conference has been growing in many ways each year,” Mullaney said.
Sally Vassalotti, creative director at Voice Systems Engineering, agreed. “It’s by far the best local web conference — to get this quality of speakers and information you usually have to travel,” she said.