Bill Gates was born in Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1955. He is the son of William H. Gates Sr. (1925–2020) and Mary Maxwell Gates (1929–1994). His ancestry includes English, German, and Irish/Scots-Irish. His father was a prominent lawyer, and his mother served on the board of directors for First Interstate BancSystem and the United Way of America. Gates's maternal grandfather was J. W. Maxwell, a national bank president. Gates has an older sister Kristi (Kristianne) and a younger sister Libby. He is the fourth of his name in his family but is known as William Gates III or "Trey" (i.e., three) because his father had the "II" suffix. The family lived in the Sand Point area of Seattle in a home that was damaged by a rare tornado when Gates was seven years old.
Early in his life, Gates observed that his parents wanted him to pursue a law career. When he was young, his family regularly attended a church of the Congregational Christian Churches, a Protestant Reformed denomination. Gates was small for his age and was bullied as a child. The family encouraged competition; one visitor reported that "it didn't matter whether it was hearts or pickleball or swimming to the dock; there was always a reward for winning and there was always a penalty for losing".
Gates (right) with Paul Allen at Lakeside School in 1970
At 13, he enrolled in the private Lakeside prep school, where he wrote his first software program. When he was in the eighth grade, the Mothers' Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School's rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the students. Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and he was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine, an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer. Gates was fascinated by the machine and how it would always execute software code perfectly. After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted, Gates and other students sought time on systems including DEC PDP minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC) which banned for the summer Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Gates's best friend and first business partner Kent Evans, after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.
The four students formed the Lakeside Programmers Club to make money. At the end of the ban, they offered to find bugs in CCC's software in exchange for extra computer time. Rather than use the system remotely via Teletype, Gates went to CCC's offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970 when the company went out of business.
The following year, a Lakeside teacher enlisted Gates and Evans to automate the school's class-scheduling system, providing them computer time and royalties in return. The duo worked diligently in order to have the program ready for their senior year. Towards the end of their junior year, Evans was killed in a mountain climbing accident, which Gates has described as one of the saddest days of his life. Gates then turned to Allen who helped him finish the system for Lakeside.
At 17, Gates formed a venture with Allen called Traf-O-Data to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor. In 1972, he served as a congressional page in the House of Representatives. He was a National Merit Scholar when he graduated from Lakeside School in 1973. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) and enrolled at Harvard College in the autumn of 1973. He chose a pre-law major but took mathematics and graduate level computer science courses. While at Harvard, he met fellow student Steve Ballmer. Gates left Harvard after two years while Ballmer stayed and graduated magna cum laude. Years later, Ballmer succeeded Gates as Microsoft's CEO and maintained that position from 2000 until his resignation in 2014.
Gates devised an algorithm for pancake sorting as a solution to one of a series of unsolved problems presented in a combinatorics class by professor Harry Lewis. His solution held the record as the fastest version for over 30 years, and its successor is faster by only 2%. His solution was formalized and published in collaboration with Harvard computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou.
Gates remained in contact with Paul Allen and joined him at Honeywell during the summer of 1974. In 1975, the MITS Altair 8800 was released based on the Intel 8080 CPU, and Gates and Allen saw the opportunity to start their own computer software company. Gates dropped out of Harvard that same year.
His parents were supportive of him after seeing how much he wanted to start his own company. He explained his decision to leave Harvard: "if things hadn't worked out, I could always go back to school. I was officially on leave."
Main articles: History of Microsoft and Microsoft § History
MITS Altair 8800 Computer with 8-inch (200 mm) floppy disk system, of which the first programming language for the machine was Microsoft's founding product, the Altair BASIC
Gates read the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics which demonstrated the Altair 8800, and he contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) to inform them that he and others were working on a BASIC interpreter for the platform. In reality, Gates and Allen did not have an Altair and had not written code for it; they merely wanted to gauge MITS's interest. MITS president Ed Roberts agreed to meet them for a demonstration, and over the course of a few weeks they developed an Altair emulator that ran on a minicomputer, and then the BASIC interpreter. The demonstration was held at MITS's offices in Albuquerque, New Mexico; it was a success and resulted in a deal with MITS to distribute the interpreter as Altair BASIC. MITS hired Allen, and Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with him at MITS in November 1975. Allen named their partnership "Micro-Soft", a combination of "microcomputer" and "software", and their first office was in Albuquerque. The first employee Gates and Allen hired was their high school collaborator Ric Weiland. They dropped the hyphen within a year and officially registered the trade name "Microsoft" with the Secretary of the State of New Mexico on November 26, 1976. Gates never returned to Harvard to complete his studies.
Microsoft's Altair BASIC was popular with computer hobbyists, but Gates discovered that a pre-market copy had leaked out and was being widely copied and distributed. In February 1976, he wrote an Open Letter to Hobbyists in the MITS newsletter in which he asserted that more than 90% of the users of Microsoft Altair BASIC had not paid Microsoft for it and the Altair "hobby market" was in danger of eliminating the incentive for any professional developers to produce, distribute, and maintain high-quality software. This letter was unpopular with many computer hobbyists, but Gates persisted in his belief that software developers should be able to demand payment. Microsoft became independent of MITS in late 1976, and it continued to develop programming language software for various systems. The company moved from Albuquerque to Bellevue, Washington on January 1, 1979.
Gates said he personally reviewed and often rewrote every line of code that the company produced in its first five years. As the company grew he transitioned into a manager role, then an executive.
DONKEY.BAS, is a computer game written in 1981 and included with early versions of the PC DOS operating system distributed with the original IBM PC. It is a driving game in which the player must avoid hitting donkeys. The game was written by Gates and Neil Konzen.
Too be continued...