Family and Early Childhood
First computing Experience
In the Spring of 1968, the Lakeside prep school decided that it should acquaint the student body with the world of computers [Teamgates.com, 9/29/96]. Computers were still too large and costly for the school to purchase its own. Instead, the school had a fund raiser and bought computer time on a DEC PDP-10 owned by General Electric. A few thousand dollars were raised which the school figured would buy more than enough time to last into the next school year. However, Lakeside had drastically underestimated the allure this machine would have for a hand full of young students.
Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and a few other Lakeside students (many of whom were the first programmers hired at Microsoft) immediately became inseparable from the computer. They would stay in the computer room all day and night, writing programs, reading computer literature and anything else they could to learn about computing. Soon Gates and the others started running into problems with the faculty. Their homework was being turned in late (if at all), they were skipping classes to be in the computer room and worst of all, they had used up all of the schools computer time in just a few weeks. [Wallace, 1992, p. 24]
In the fall of 1968, Computer Center Corporation opened for business in Seattle. It was offering computing time at good rates, and one of the chief programmers working for the corporation had a child attending Lakeside. A deal was struck between Lakeside Prep School and the Computer Center Corporation that allowed the school to continue providing it's students with computer time. [Wallace, 1992, p. 27] Gates and his comrades immediately began exploring the contents of this new machine. It was not long before the young hackers started causing problems. They caused the system to crash several times and broke the computers security system. They even altered the files that recorded the amount of computer time they were using. They were caught and the Computer Center Corporation banned them from the system for several weeks.
Bill Gates, Paul Allen and, two other hackers from Lakeside formed the Lakeside Programmers Group in late 1968. They were determined to find a way to apply their computer skills in the real world. The first opportunity to do this was a direct result of their mischievous activity with the school's computer time. The Computer Center Corporation's business was beginning to suffer due to the systems weak security and the frequency that it crashed. Impressed with Gates and the other Lakeside computer addicts' previous assaults on their computer, the Computer Center Corporation decided to hire the students to find bugs and expose weaknesses in the computer system. In return for the Lakeside Programming Group's help, the Computer Center Corporation would give them unlimited computer time [Wallace, 1992, p. 27]. The boys could not refuse. Gates is quoted as saying "It was when we got free time at C-cubed (Computer Center Corporation) that we really got into computers. I mean, then I became hardcore. It was day and night" [Wallace, 1992, p. 30]. Although the group was hired just to find bugs, they also read any computer related material that the day shift had left behind. The young hackers would even pick employees for new information. It was here that Gates and Allen really began to develop the talents that would lead to the formation of Microsoft seven years later.
Roots of Business Career
Computer Center Corporation began to experience financial problems late in 1969. The company finally went out of business in March of 1970. The Lakeside Programmers Group had to find a new way to get computer time. Eventually they found a few computers on the University of Washington's campus where Allen's dad worked. The Lakeside Programmers Group began searching for new chances to apply their computer skills. Their first opportunity came early the next year when Information Sciences Inc. hired them to program a payroll program. Once again the group was given free computer time and for the first time, a source of income. ISI had agreed to give them royalties whenever it made money from any of the groups programs. As a result of the business deal signed with Information Sciences Inc., the group also had to become a legal business [Wallace, 1992, p. 42-43]. Gates and Allen's next project involved starting another company entirely on their own, Traf-O-Data. They produced a small computer which was used to help measure traffic flow. From the project they grossed around $20,000. The Traf-O-Data company lasted until Gates left for college. During Bill Gates' junior year at Lakeside, the administration offered him a job computerizing the school's scheduling system. Gates asked Allen to help with the project. He agreed and the following summer, they wrote the program. In his senior year, Gates and Allen continued looking for opportunities to use their skills and make some money. It was not long until they found this opportunity. The defense contractor TRW was having trouble with a bug infested computer similar to the one at Computer Center Corporation. TRW had learned of the experience the two had working on the Computer Center Corporation's system and offered Gates and Allen jobs. However thing would be different at TRW they would not be finding the bugs they would be in charge of fixing them. "It was at TRW that Gates began to develop as a serious programer," and it was there that Allen and Gates first started talking seriously about forming their own software company [Wallace, 1992, p. 49-51].
In the fall of 1973, Bill Gates left home for Harvard University [Teamgates.com, 9/29/96]. He had no idea what he wanted to study, so he enrolled as prelaw. Gates took the standard freshman courses with the exception of signing up for one of Harvard's toughest math courses. He did well but just as in high school, his heart was not in his studies. After locating the school's computer center, he lost himself in the world of computers once again. Gates would spend many long nights in front of the school's computer and the next days asleep in class. Paul Allen and Gates remained in close contact even with Bill away at school. They would often discuss ideas for future projects and the possibility of one day starting a business. At the end of Gates's first year at Harvard, the two decided that Allen should move closer to him so that they may be able to follow up on some of their ideas. That summer they both got jobs working for Honeywell [Wallace, 1992, p. 59]. As the summer dragged on, Allen began to push Bill harder with the idea that they should open a software company. Gates was still not sure enough to drop out of school. The following year, however, that would all change.