Bill Gates has led a heck of a life — from Harvard dropout, to Microsoft billionaire, to globetrotting philanthropist.
In that time, he’s developed a reputation as a strict manager, a brilliant thinker and a guy who takes simple pleasure in doing the dishes.
Here are the absolute best stories we’ve ever heard about Bill Gates, sourced from books, the web and all the interviews with former colleagues Business Insider has performed over the years.
In high school, a young Bill Gates was tasked by administration to use its computers and create a class schedule. Gates used the opportunity to fill his classes with all of the girls he was interested in.
At Harvard, Bill Gates never actually went to any of the classes he signed up for, instead showing up for whatever other courses struck his fancy. And yet, thanks to the magic of cramming, he always did well enough on his final exams to pull A’s.
At Harvard, a 20-year-old Bill Gates came up with an impressive solution to the so-called “pancake sorting” problem in math that stood for 30 years. But when his professor called to tell Gates that his solution would be published in an academic paper, he didn’t care — he had already gone off to found Microsoft.
“Two years later, I called to tell him our paper had been accepted to a fine math journal. He sounded eminently disinterested. He had moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to run a small company writing code for microprocessors, of all things. I remember thinking: “Such a brilliant kid. What a waste,” former Harvard professor Christos Papadimitriou wrote.
Bill Gates used to drive crazily around the Albuquerque desert, near Microsoft’s first offices. One time he borrowed a Porsche 928 supercar from a friend…and wrecked it, bottoming out the car. Repairs took a year.
Bill Gates got three speeding tickets, two from the same cop, while driving his Porsche 911 from Albuquerque up to his new home in Seattle.
Bill Gates used to memorize Microsoft employees’ license plate numbers to track their comings and goings.
“I had to be a little careful not to try and apply my standards to how hard they worked,” Gates said, according to The Telegraph. “You know, I knew everyone’s license plates so I could look out in the parking lot and see when did people come in, when were they leaving. Eventually I had to loosen up, as the company got to a reasonable size.”
Bill Gates was such a huge fan of Minesweeper, the classic Windows game, that he had to uninstall it from his office PC to stay productive.
When a Microsoft employee wrote a computer script that beat Gates’ score at Minesweeper, Gates sent out an e-mail: “When machines can do things faster than people, how can we retain our human dignity?”
By 1990, Microsoft was very much on the rise. But company policy held that employees had to fly coach on business travel. And Bill Gates, too, flew coach for a long time.
Wrote Brad Silverberg, formerly a Microsoft SVP of many years:
Shortly after I had joined Microsoft in 1990, Bill, I, and a few others on the Windows team were flying to NY from Seattle for some customer meetings. This was shortly after the launch of Windows 3.0. Though this was almost 25 years ago, Microsoft was a public, prosperous company. Yet, company policy was that everyone flew coach. And there was Bill, sitting in coach, in a middle seat. It didn’t matter to him; he spent the whole flight reading. He wasn’t as universally recognized then so it wasn’t such an issue for him to fly commercial.
It made a big impression on me, a new Microsoft employee, seeing Bill lead by example.
Since then, he’s bought himself a private jet.
You could measure how Bill Gates felt about an idea by measuring how many times he said “f**k” while reading the proposal.
“In those days we used to have these things called BillG reviews. Basically every major important feature got reviewed by Bill Gates. ….
In my BillG review meeting … a person who came along from my team whose whole job during the meeting was to keep an accurate count of how many times Bill said the F word. The lower the f***-count, the better.
“Four,” announced the f*** counter, and everyone said, “wow, that’s the lowest I can remember. Bill is getting mellow in his old age.” He was, you know, 36.
Later I had it explained to me. “Bill doesn’t really want to review your spec, he just wants to make sure you’ve got it under control. His standard M.O. is to ask harder and harder questions until you admit that you don’t know, and then he can yell at you for being unprepared. Nobody was really sure what happens if you answer the hardest question he can come up with because it’s never happened before.
… It was a good point. Bill Gates was amazingly technical. … He didn’t meddle in software if he trusted the people who were working on it, but you couldn’t bullsh** him for a minute because he was a programmer. A real, actual, programmer.
When Microsoft first licensed out the DOS operating system to IBM, it wanted Gates and company to provide some games to go with it. Gates and Neil Konzen stayed up until 4am coding “DONKEY.BAS,” a silly game about avoiding donkeys with a car.
When the Apple Macintosh team got its first look at the IBM PC, they singled out “DONKEY.BAS” as an embarrassment that they couldn’t believe Gates would sign his name to.
“[We] were amazed that such a thoroughly bad game could be coauthored by Microsoft’s cofounder, and that he would actually want to take credit for it in the comments,” wrote early Apple employee Andy Hertzfeld.
Bill Gates likes to wash the dinner dishes himself and does so most nights. “Other people volunteer but I like the way I do it,” he explains.
Bill Gates once locked himself in a bathroom during an interview and refused to come out until the reporter apologized for needling him.
Long-time Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley told this story on This Week In Tech:
“It’s a funny story. I was doing an interview at him at Comdex [a huge computer conference back in the day] with a couple of other journalists, we were working together from PC Week. John Dodge was there, too. John’s interview style is very different from mine. He’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had but his style is to egg people on. He was really needling Gates. It was about something stupid, like the definition of a market.
Gates was getting madder and madder. He got up, went into the bathroom and wouldn’t come out. He said, ‘I’m not coming out until John apologizes.’ So John went to the door and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ Then he came out.
… There was a different Bill Gates back then. Bill Gates really changed once he had kids. He used to be a typical bold, tech personality. Then he became human. So when I tell people these stories about him in the old days, people are like, ‘Bill Gates? Really?’”
But Bill Gates’ most infamous interview would come in 1994, where he stormed out of an interview with CBS’ Connie Chung after she grilled him on the antitrust investigation into Microsoft…