Steve Wozniak's love of engineering appears to be as bright today as it was when he built Apple's first systems.
"Young engineers mean the most to me in the world," said Wozniak, who appeared at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo. The Apple co-founder said he loves to appear before young crowds at high schools and universities, and it may be because the students remind him of his own drive to learn.
Wozniak, who totally engaged his audience with his rapid fire, expansive and sometimes over-the-top observations (Google Glass wearers: "You look like those people who have earrings in their tongue, that sort of thing"), explained how he taught himself.
As a student, Wozniak said he would buy books a few days before a class started and be halfway through them -- with the questions answered -- when the class began. "Because it was computers, it was in my heart," he said.
"You shouldn't be regulated to a speed that's taught in a university," said Wozniak.
One thing that makes engineering different from other disciplines is that you have to prove your idea, he said. "If you have a clever idea, that's totally a different approach, the question is: Does it work? For engineering, everything has to work -- that's the answer," said Wozniak.
Another speaker at the conference, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, billionaire investor and author, made a similar point.
The opposite of education is engineering, said Thiel. University presidents will typically say that "it doesn't matter what you learn in particular, you're just learning how to learn things." But that doesn't work for engineering if you've been tasked to build a bridge, he said.
Wozniak's advice to the audience, many of them senior IT leaders, was to make sure that their engineers are part of the idea-generation process.
"We have ideas for companies, ideas for revenues and products," said Wozniak, of engineers. "Don't forget to include the engineers -- they are trained to solve problems. That's what they're really good at."
But don't expect engineers to offer ideas at one-hour meetings, Wozniak said. He recalled how some of his ideas came to him -- often late at night, in dreams.
"Let everybody go home and sleep on it ... and you will have a much better set of ideas (later on), he said.
As for that comment about Google Glass, ring tongue comment aside, Wozniak said: "I actually like Google Glass."