Early Bill Gates, and Bill’s Last Email

From Bill Gates’s final email today to “All at Microsoft”:

 

As Microsoft has grown, one of the most exciting and fulfilling things for me has been to watch new leaders develop. I am thrilled to have Ray and Craig playing key roles in guiding the company’s strategy… For over a decade I had hoped that we could convince Ray to join Microsoft — and in the three years he has been here, he has made a huge difference in helping us focus on the challenge and opportunity of software plus services. I have worked with Craig for more than 15 years. His ability to anticipate the future direction of technology is a key asset, as is his deep interest in and understanding of emerging markets.

Of course, I’ll continue to be involved in the work of the company as part-time Chairman. As part of this I will help with a handful of projects that Steve, Ray, and Craig select.”  

That last part is definitely good news, because my Institute reports to Craig and I’m looking forward to working on spectacular, transformative projects – the kind Bill likes.  What is Craig like? He’s the kind of guy who would spend two hours earlier this week sitting down with a couple of us from the Institute for Advanced Technologies in Government, discussing a project that might be revolutionary, or might be lunacy – an astounding investment of his time in the very week when he & Ray Ozzie are taking over from Bill.

The first time I met Bill Gates:  In 1987, when I was leaving grad school in Palo Alto, I surprised most people in my Political Science Department by heading down the road to the true center of the universe, going to work in San Jose, the freshly-proclaimed “capital of Silicon Valley.”  Working for the dynamic young mayor, Tom McEnery, I had innumerable great adventures, projects, and lots of fun in that big city – now surprisingly the 10th biggest city in America by population.

One day, McEnery got an invitation to attend “The Computer Bowl,” a downtown quiz-show fundraising event hosted by the group behind the fledgling Tech Museum of Innovation, now headquartered in downtown San Jose but at the time just an idea on paper.  Tom didn’t want to go, but I did.  Remember, this was in the days before the World Wide Web, before most people had email, and before “tech billionaire” became a common title.

So I went over to the old San Jose Civic Center, with my girlfriend of the time (now wife) who must have thought “what a geek,” and wound up having a very entertaining time. We watched a young Bill Gates in hyper-competitive mode, matching wits against other pioneers like Andy Grove, Gordon Bell, Jean-Louis Gassee, and Mitch Kapor.

Questioner Andy Grove, the Intel CEO, asks the players to multiply 11 by 11 – in base 89. Kapor takes the bait, struggling for a moment, and answers: “It’s going to be one, and whatever stands for 22.” The judges say “No” and the crowd breaks up, but Kapor’s wide-eyed shrug seems to say, “You do it, then.” Gates can’t resist: He buzzes. He gropes. “132.”

Host Stewart Cheifet explains, “That’s not the correct answer either. The correct answer is 121 because it’s always 121 except for base 2.”

Oh, yeah, right, murmurs the crowd.

Grove smirks. “Obvious,” he intones, shaking his head.

Gates, however, successfully guessed the annual cost of the electricity required to run all the world’s personal computers each year – $4.6 billion. His math apparently gets better when he works with really big numbers.

“Nerd Games,” WIRED Magazine story on Computer Bowl, issue 2.09

Afterwards there was a light-hearted reception in the sunny courtyard, not unlike the Stanford grad-school parties I had recently been attending – a low-key gathering of the Valley’s super-intelligent class, most of them unprepossessing and very down to earth.

My wife recalls me standing at one point chatting in small talk with Bill Gates, who was at the time an My old penny loafersunmarried guy wearing the kind of thrown-together off-the-rack clothes which most unmarried guys wear.  I looked down at his shoes, and at my shoes – we were both wearing identical penny loafers, somewhat shabby.  I snickered in pointing this out to my wife, and then nudged Bill to look down.  He did, and laughed as well.  I believe I pointed out that the only difference was that he was wearing socks :-) 

The impression I gained of Bill Gates in that conversation has remained constant for two decades, reinforced now as he leaves his day-to-day role.  He’s a regular guy, only about twice as smart and three times as focused as the rest of us.  But he’s a fine human being who can laugh at himself and the world around him.

He’ll continue changing the world.  This afternoon I received, along with 89,000 other Microsoft employees, Bill’s final email to “All.”  In it he writes:

As I make the transition to focus more of my time and energy on the Gates Foundation, I am looking forward to applying the lessons I’ve learned — and in some cases, the technologies that we have developed — to help address some of the critical issues that people around the world face in education , economic development, and health.

That’s very good news for the world.

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3 Responses

  1. Good luck, Bill. You had a great run, and hope your life continues to be good.

  2. Talk about walking in someone else’s shoes!

  3. plz contect me

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