Apple co-founder Wozniak will talk technology in Fresno

Technology icon Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple Computer in 1976 and designed the landmark Apple II computer, is coming to Fresno in October as part of the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall lecture series.

Wozniak’s Oct. 8 appearance at the William Saroyan Theatre is sponsored by Bitwise Industries, a company that serves as a hub for technology entrepreneurs and businesses in downtown Fresno, and technology nonprofit 59 Days of Code. Wozniak will discuss technology innovation and Fresno’s growing role in the industry, according to Bitwise CEO Jake Soberal, who will serve as the moderator for the presentation.

“This is a watershed moment for the local technology industry,” Soberal said. “It’s another step in the world taking notice of what’s going on in Fresno.”

Wozniak had a lower profile with Apple than his longtime friend, co-founder Steve Jobs. Before his death in 2011, Jobs was credited with guiding Apple, with an eye for design, strong consumer instincts and savvy marketing, through a period of tremendous growth into one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Wozniak is often viewed as the engineering mind behind the early generations of personal computers that catapulted the company into prominence years before anyone imagined an iPhone or iPad.

“It’s really exciting to know that someone who’s a pioneer of modern personal computing is coming to our area and having an impact on people here in the community,” said Derrick Reimer, a board member of Fresno tech nonprofit 59 Days of Code.

“For a lot of people, Jobs was the charismatic, business-leader side of the pair,” Reimer added. “But for some of us who are into coding all the time, Woz is someone we can relate to because he was the brains behind the operation.”

Wozniak, 64, received the National Medal of Technology, the highest honor for leading innovators, from President Ronald Reagan in 1985, and in 2000 he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and received the Heinz Award for Technology.

Before leaving Apple in 1985, Wozniak sponsored two major Southern California music and culture festivals, the 1982 and 1983 US Festivals in San Bernardino. He later sponsored the first joint U.S./USSR stadium rock concert in Moscow in 1987. In addition to various philanthropic enterprises, Wozniak has gained greater pop culture visibility in recent years, competing in the 2009 season of “Dancing With the Stars” and making a guest appearance as himself in a 2010 episode of the television comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” He is the author of a 2006 autobiography, “iWoz — Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It.”

Wozniak now is chief scientist at Primary Data, a data-storage firm in Los Altos, and is popular on the professional speaking circuit making presentations on technology and entrepreneurship.

Brett Taylor, the principal of a new Fresno high school opening next fall with a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, is excited about taking his entire opening-year enrollment of 150 students to Wozniak’s talk in Fresno.

“For Fresno, this is a huge deal,” Taylor said. “He’s coming to talk about potential here. For the technology industry, you can be anywhere to start a business. Starting an app can happen anywhere.”

“Most of our students have never seen a successful innovator at that level,” Taylor added. “When they think about success, they’re not thinking that ‘I could start Apple.’ This will help them see beyond where they are and see what they can become.”

Taylor said that Wozniak toiled in the relative shadow of Jobs’ showmanship. “When you think about innovators, there are people who end up getting credit for things, and there are the people who put in the effort and the work. That’s important,” he said. “We can appreciate a guy like Jobs who does the marketing and has the vision, but here’s a guy who just loved messing around with electronics. ... He wanted to solve problems and make a difference.”