It is always interesting to learn about some of the early days—and the very early days—of famous entrepreneurs. Some of the stories and experiences have a way of inspiring and teaching us, along with making us laugh at some of the ironies. This is no less true for Bill Gates.
In a recent interview, Gates describes how he stumbled into his first real technology job. Bonneville Power Administration contracted with TRW to computerize the power grid in the Northwest. The programming team was at risk of missing its deadline. Therefore, it scoured the nation for anyone with certain programming skills. Because their search was so thorough, they picked up Bill Gates’ name in spite of the fact that he was only 16 at the time. Here is how Gates tells the rest of the story (James Bennet “Interview [with Bill Gates].” The Atlantic. November 2015, pp. 56–64):
“So I go down for this interview—and I did not look 16 when I was 16; I looked 12 when I was 16. My parents drove me down. I didn’t have my driver’s license. And so they were like, . . . ‘we are really in desperate straits. We are hiring children.’ It was a seminal experience for me, because TRW had brought its very best programmers to the program there. So I came in and got assigned this stuff, and people saw that I was willing to work 18 hours a day and do hard stuff. So I would write code and these super-smart guys would look it over and tell me, ‘Hey, this isn’t very good, this isn’t very good,’ so my whole programming skill during the year I was there went a whole notch up. And they were so nice to me. I mean, they got a kick out of my energy. The only problem was, they got it into my head that I should skip undergraduate and go straight to graduate school, which my parents vetoed.” (p. 58)
Those were most definitely the very early days!