Leadership

Bill Gates learned what he needed to start Microsoft in high school

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Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to launch Microsoft but, in a speech he gave at his high school, he implies he could have skipped college altogether and still become a successful billionaire and philanthropist, thanks to the education he got there.

"Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me," Gates says in a 2005 speech at Lakeside School. "One reason I'm so grateful to Lakeside is that I can directly trace the founding of Microsoft back to my earliest days here."

Gates was first introduced to computers at his Seattle private school. There, he taught other students about computers, digitized the school schedule and even hacked his school's scheduling system to be placed in all-girls classes.

Business magnate and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates poses in November 1985 in Bellevue, Washington.
Deborah Feingold | Getty Images

Before enrolling, Gates wasn't sure he would like the school — and he nearly sabotaged his own admission. "When I was in 6th grade, and my mom and dad suggested I go to Lakeside, I wasn't too sure about it," Gates says. "In those days, Lakeside was an all-boys school where you wore a jacket and tie, called your teachers 'master,' and went to chapel every morning. For a while, I even thought about failing the entrance exam."

Luckily, he listened to his parents, and the school gave Gates his earliest experience with computers. Around the same time he started 7th grade in the late 1960s, several faculty members managed to acquire a terminal.

The machinery was new to everyone, students and faculty alike, Gates says. At the time, computers were expensive: The machines cost thousands of dollars, they were slow and they consumed a lot of electricity. "That made computers seem pretty scary to some people here — especially when 13-year-old kids were eager to try their luck next."

"The school could have shut down the terminal, or they could have tightly regulated who got to use it," Gates says. "Instead, they opened it up. Instead of teaching us about computers in the conventional sense, Lakeside just unleashed us."

It was also at Lakeside that he became friends with Paul Allen, his future business partner and co-founder of Microsoft.

"The experience and insight Paul Allen and I gained here gave us the confidence to start a company based on this wild idea that nobody else agreed with — that computer chips were going to become so powerful that computers and software would become a tool that would be on every desk and in every home," Gates says.

As a result of the way his teachers "did everything to make their lessons matter," Gates says he was better able to understand the relevance of computers in the real world.

"They could have hired an outside computer expert to do the scheduling system. Teachers could have insisted that they teach classes on computing, simply because they were the teachers and we were the students," Gates says. "But they didn't."

As a result, he says, "if there had been no Lakeside, there would have been no Microsoft."

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