Entrepreneur. Born William Henry Gates, III, on October 28, 1955, in Seattle, Washington. Gates began to show an interest in computer programming at the age of 13 at the Lakeside School. He pursued his passion through college. Striking out on his own with his friend and business partner Paul Allen, Gates found himself at the right place at the right time. Through technological innovation, keen business strategy, and aggressive competitive tactics he built the world’s largest software business, Microsoft. In the process he became one of the richest men in the world.
Bill Gates grew up in an upper middle-class family with two sisters: Kristianne, who is older, and Libby, who is younger. Their father, William H. Gates, Sr., was a promising, if somewhat shy, law student when he met his future wife, Mary Maxwell. She was an athletic, outgoing student at the University of Washington, actively involved in student affairs and leadership. The Gates family atmosphere was warm and close, and all three children were encouraged to be competitive and strive for excellence. Bill showed early signs of competitiveness when he coordinated family athletic games at their summer house on Puget Sound. He also relished in playing board games (Risk was his favorite) and excelled in Monopoly.
Bill had a very close relationship with his mother, Mary, who after a brief career as a teacher devoted her time to helping raise the children and working on civic affairs and with charities. She also served on several corporate boards, among them First Interstate Bank in Seattle (founded by her grandfather), the United Way, and International Business Machines (IBM). She would often take Bill along on her volunteer work in schools and community organizations.
Bill was a voracious reader as a child, spending many hours pouring over reference books such as the encyclopedia. Around the age of 11 or 12, Bill’s parents began to have concerns about his behavior. He was doing well in school, but he seemed bored and withdrawn at times. His parents worried he might become a loner. Though they were strong believers in public education, when Bill turned 13 they enrolled him in Seattle’s Lakeside School, an exclusive preparatory school. He blossomed in nearly all his subjects, excelling in math and science, but also doing very well in drama and English.
While at Lakeside School, a Seattle computer company offered to provide computer time for the students. The Mother’s Club used proceeds from the school’s rummage sale to purchase a teletype terminal for students to use. Bill Gates became entranced with what a computer could do and spent much of his free time working on the terminal. He wrote a tic-tac-toe program in BASIC computer language that allowed users to play against the computer.
It was at Lakeside School where Bill met Paul Allen, who was two years his senior. The two became fast friends, bonding on their common enthusiasm over computers, even though they were very different. Allen was more reserved and shy. Bill was feisty and at times combative. They both spent much of their free time together working on programs. Occasionally, they disagreed and would clash over who was right or who should run the computer lab. On one occasion, their argument escalated to the point where Allen banned Gates from the computer lab. On another occasion, Gates and Allen had their school computer privileges revoked for taking advantage of software glitches to obtain free computer time from the company that provided the computers. After their probation, they were allowed back in the computer lab when they offered to debug the program. During this time, Gates developed a payroll program for the computer company the boys hacked into, and a scheduling program for the school.
In 1970, at the age of 15, Bill Gates went into business with his pal, Paul Allen. They developed “Traf-o-Data,” a computer program that monitored traffic patterns in Seattle, and netted $20,000 for their efforts. Gates and Allen wanted to start their own company, but Gates’ parents wanted him to finish school and go on to college where they hoped he would work to become a lawyer.
Bill Gates graduated from Lakeside in 1973. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the college SAT test, a feat of intellectual achievement that for several years he boasted about when introducing himself to new people. He enrolled at Harvard University in the fall, originally thinking of a career in law. But his freshman year saw him spend more of his time in the computer lab than in class. Gates did not really have a study regimen. Instead, he could get by on a few hours of sleep, cram for a test, and pass with a reasonable grade.