He's one of the most influential figures in tech, as well as one of the richest.
Bill Gates is well-known for being the world’s richest man, despite the fact his wealth was recently surpassed by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. In the last 24 years of Forbes’ The World’s Billionaires list, the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist has topped the list 18 times, and he’s never far from the top.
Despite the fact his efforts are now largely philanthropic, Bill Gates remains an important figure in the technology industry. As the figurehead of the wealth that can come from great ideas and smart business acumen, and as such a trailblazer for the likes of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, Gates has become hugely influential.
He’s written several books, created the digital programs we use daily, and founded one of the largest charities ever. Even though he keeps a tame public persona (compared to some of his fellow techies), he’s a fascinating man, and his story is one every entrepreneur or tech fan needs to know.
Who is Bill Gates?
Bill Gates was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, but the story of this tech genius really begins when, aged 13, a group of mothers at his school used proceeds from a jumble sale to pay for a group of children to spend some time on General Electrics computers.
Gates began writing software for the computers and, when the jumble sale money ran out, he worked for GE to find bugs in their systems in exchange for more computer time. While practising his coding he wrote a timetabling program for his school, which he claims to have used to place himself in classes with a “disproportionate number of interesting girls”.
After graduating high school, Gates went to Harvard to study law at the behest of his family, but it wasn’t long until he also took on mathematics and computer science classes. When his childhood friend Paul Allen showed him a copy of Popular Electronics featuring the Altair 8800, Gates realised that this was an opportunity to fulfil his dream of starting a computer company. It was this that drove him to take a leave of absence from Harvard – Gates never ended up graduating.
Bill Gates: Microsoft
Microsoft’s history began with a gamble. Gates and Allen contacted MITS, the creators of the Altair 8800, to let them know that they had begun working on a BASIC interpreter for the 8800. They hadn’t.
When MITS agreed to meet them for a demonstration, Gates and Allen had to work night and day for eight weeks to prepare and create their made-up interpreter — and it worked.
After forming Micro-Soft (a name which was quickly amended) the duo slowly built a company by writing software for various computers. Their big break came when Microsoft wrote the IBM Personal Computer’s operating system and retained the copyright for it. This meant they became the only company with access to the programming language and application software for IBM’s computer. Suddenly Microsoft was a major player in the tech world.
In 1985, Microsoft launched its first commercially available operating system – ‘Microsoft Windows’. By the launch of Windows 3.0 in 1990, Windows OS had become Microsoft’s chief moneymaker and, in 1993, was the most popular GUI operating system in the world. Gates’ primary function at Microsoft was directing product strategy and Windows’ popularity is a testament to his work.
Because of Windows’ stratospheric growth under Gates, it came as a surprise to many when, in 2006, Gates announced that he was to be stepping down from his post in the company. Instead of pushing commercial gains, Gates was opting to spend more time on his philanthropic efforts. However, he couldn’t tear himself away so easily and so he remained chairman of Microsoft and has smaller roles in its business and public face since.
Bill Gates: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Set up in 2000 by Gates and his wife, Melinda, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is said to be the wealthiest private foundation in the USA. The Foundation is split into two sides: the Foundation itself, which provides money to those in need, and the Foundation Trust, which manages the investments of the Foundation in order to ensure there ’s enough money to donate.
The Foundation has provided money many causes, including infectious disease control, with funding exceeding $US5.5 million; malaria control, with funding just over $US1.4 million, and STD control, with funding at $US1.3 million. As well as these causes the fund has provided millions to various institutes including the World Health Organisation and Unicef.
In fact, it would be hard to find a cause the Foundation hasn’t donated money to in some shape or form — its estimated $US38 billion in assets are split between many branches, to focus on various causes. The Foundation, and its founders, remain outspoken on world issues.
Bill Gates: personal ventures
As well as having his fingers in the pies of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates often finds time to partake in a variety of personal and political ventures.
One of these is as an author where he’s written two books on technology – The Road Ahead and Business @ the Speed of Thought. These books discuss the future of technology and how the internet will revolutionise computing.
As well as Microsoft, Gates has investments in a variety of other companies. These include Corbis, a digital imaging company he founded in 1989, and Cascade Investments LLC, an investment and holding company that recently funded a smart city in Arizona.
He also signed ‘The Giving Pledge’ alongside Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, which pledged half of his wealth over time to charitable causes.