Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak both dropped out of college to concentrate their efforts on developing a new brand of personal computers. Jobs sold his Volkswagen van and Wozniak sold his HP scientific calculator to raise $1 300, which was the seed capital for what was to become Apple Computers. Their product, the Apple computer, revolutionalised personal computing because it became the first computer to use an operating system that gave the user an interface that enabled operations to be carried out simply by moving icons around. This was achieved by means of a device everybody knows today as a mouse. This was in the 1980s.
Over the years, Apple has introduced a number of highly innovative products, including iPhone, iPod, iPad, iTunes and other really smart products. The touch screen, Jobs’ brainchild, is today standard technology for a wide range of smart phones and pads.
But just in case some readers might begin to misconstrue Jobs and Steve Wozniak as characters that have shown the world that it is not necessary to pursue academics to become successful, I must stress that they were extremely sharp people. Jobs is now deceased, but he died a smart man, albeit prematurely by American life expectancy, having died in 2011 aged 52. Wozniak is alive and his smartness has earned him the nickname “The Wonderful Wizard of Woz”.
Yes, they left college, but they never left their books. Their life outside college was spent in constant pursuit of knowledge.
Those who worked with Jobs testify to his amazing mental sharpness. In turn, Jobs expected a certain level of smartness from his employees. Brett Bilbrey, who once worked for Apple held her breath as she met Jobs for the first time to make a presentation to him.
“The first time we met,” says Brett on the Quora forum, “he walked into the room, looked around, realised that I was new, walked up to me and asked (all in one breath), ‘Are you smart? Do you know what you are talking about? Are you going to waste my time?’”
“Steve [Jobs] was wicked smart,” continues Brett. “I was always amazed at how sharp he was and how quickly he could focus on what was important. I do not know anyone that even comes close to how good he was at being able to do that.”
Let us wind back to the beginning of the 20th century. The two brothers that gave us the ability to fly, Orville and Wilbur Wright never attained university education. They were printers, newspaper publishers and bicycle makers, but developed a lot of interest in aviation. They read extensively around aeronautics to gain the necessary knowledge for the construction of a flying machine.
Some may be tempted to believe that it is possible to drop out from formal education and become an accomplished person without any recourse to pursuit of knowledge. The examples I have given above do not support this view. Our own local example is William Kamkwamba, the boy who was forced to drop out of school because his parents could not afford secondary school fees, used his ample spare time to read books in the school library and ended up constructing a windmill.
Many Malawians are averse to reading. They only read when they have to, in order to fulfil an academic programme, especially. Text books that are not on the school or college curriculum do not sell in Malawi.
I stated elsewhere, and let me repeat it here, that no bit of wholesome knowledge is useless, contrary to what many Malawians believe. Little wonder that we have not produced people of the calibre of Jobs or the Wright brothers in this country.
As we search within ourselves, let us find ways of convincing ourselves and others that seeking knowledge is important whether you are in an academic institution or not.