Bill Gates is an American technologist, software developer, entrepreneur, author and philanthropist. Gates founded the largest software business in the world, Microsoft, with his childhood friend Paul Allen. He is among the richest people in the world.
William Henry Gates III was born October 28, 1955, in Seattle to William H. Gates Sr. and Mary Maxwell. Commonly referred to as Bill, Gates grew up with his sisters Kristianne and Libby. His supportive family encouraged his interest in computers at an early age.
As a child, Gates was a voracious reader who spent many hours focusing on reference books such as the encyclopedia. At the age of 11, his parents started becoming concerned about his reading culture.
Gates was enrolled at Seattle’s Exclusive Preparatory Lakeside School when he turned 13. So when a Seattle firm offered computer time for the Lakeside School students, Gates was entranced with what a computer could do.
In the fall of 1973, Gates enrolled at Harvard University, aspiring to be a lawyer. He spent most of his productive time in the computer laboratory rather than class. Still, he managed to cram for tests and pass examinations. In 1975, Gates dropped out of college to pursue his business, Microsoft, with his partner and friend Allen.
Meeting and Partnering With Paul Allen
Allen was two years Gates’ senior at Lakeside School when they met. They became friends, as they were both computer enthusiasts. While Allen was shy and reserved, Gates was bold and combative. At one point, their school computer privileges were revoked for capitalizing on software glitches to get free computer time.
Gates and Allen went into business together in 1970 when they developed “Traf-o-Data, “earning them $20,000
Just as Gates, Allen dropped out of Washington State University after two years of college.
In 1975, Allen and Gates formed Micro-Soft. This name blended “micro-computer” and “software.” In 1976, they dropped the hyphen and named the company Microsoft. Microsoft was grossing approximately $2.5 million by 1979. At 23, Gates became the head of the company.
Microsoft’s Software for IBM PCs
While the computer industry expanded as companies like IBM, Intel and Apple developed hardware and components; Gates promoted Microsoft software applications. His mother, Mary, helped him as she was well connected with her membership on multiple corporate boards, including IBM’s. She even helped Gates meet IBM’s CEO.
The Road to Being a Billionaire
In November 1980, IBM approached Microsoft to develop software that would operate their upcoming personal computer. Gates bought an operating system (OS), which was developed to run on computers similar to IBM’s personal computers and signed a contract with the software developer. This deal made Microsoft the exclusive licensing agent for the OS and later owner of the software.
Gates adapted the software to work for the IBM personal computers. IBM paid a licensing fee for copies of the OS sold with their PCs, allowing Microsoft to license the software they called MS-DOS to any other PC manufacturer.
Microsoft grew exponentially between 1979 and 1981 as employees increased from 25 to 128. Its revenue increased from $2.5 million to $16 million. Allen and Gates incorporated Microsoft in mid-1981, as Gates became the president and chairperson of the board and Allen the executive vice president. Microsoft went global by 1983, creating offices in the UK and Japan. By then, about 30 percent of the world’s computers ran on Microsoft’s software. Companies that made IBM-compatible personal computers, or clones, also turned to Microsoft for their basic software.
In 1986, Gates became a paper billionaire, making him, by some estimates, the richest man in the world. Still, he kept away from the public as he handled philanthropic works through his foundations. He became a popular figure when he attracted the attention of the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division as Microsoft’s power and reputation grew.
Gates is popular for his charitable work with his ex-wife Melinda. In 1994, they launched the William H. Gates Foundation, which was later renamed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999. This foundation aims to fund global health programs and projects.
Bill and Melinda Gates also funded North American libraries in the 1990s through the Gates Library Foundation. They also raised money for minority study grants through the Gates Millennium Scholars program. The couple did many other charitable works.
In June 2008, Gates relinquished day-to-day oversight of Microsoft but remained board chairman. He devoted his time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates stepped down as the chairman of the board in February 2014 but continued to serve as a board member until 2020.