You’ve all heard of Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, one of the richest men in the world, the world’s most prominent philanthropist, having pledged to give away over half of his wealth of over $80billion. 

I wonder what he was like at school.  Well, here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“At 13, he enrolled in the Lakeside School, a private preparatory school.  When he was in the eighth grade, the Mothers Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School’s rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school’s students.  Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer. Gates was fascinated by the machine and how it would always execute software code perfectly. When he reflected back on that moment, he said, “There was just something neat about the machine.”  After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted, he and other students sought time on systems including DEC PDP minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned four Lakeside students – Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans – for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.

At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC’s software in exchange for computer time. Rather than use the system via Teletype, Gates went to CCC’s offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including programs in Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970, when the company went out of business. The following year, Information Sciences, Inc. hired the four Lakeside students to write a payroll program in Cobol, providing them computer time and royalties. After his administrators became aware of his programming abilities, Gates wrote the school’s computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with “a disproportionate number of interesting girls.” He later stated that “it was hard to tear myself away from a machine at which I could so unambiguously demonstrate success.” At age 17, Gates formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor. In early 1973, aged 18, Bill Gates served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

It seems to me, therefore, that he led a school life full of curiosity, mixed with risk taking and individuality.  It must have been not only unusual, but distinctly uncool, in those days to spend your time writing computer code.  He must have been on the receiving end of unkind jokes.  Well, look who had the last laugh.

The reason I mention this is because Bill Gates is supposed to have famously given 11 (or maybe 14, depending on where you look) pieces of advice to school children in a High School speech about 8 years ago.  It is disputed nowadays whether or not he actually GAVE that speech, but nevertheless, some of the pieces of advice are pretty useful, I think.  They are certainly extremely blunt.  The first is simply:

Life is not fair – get used to it! 

A hard message, but also hard to argue with.  Given the rest of his messages, one can only assume that he meant that nobody should ever feel sorry for themselves; you simply have to get on with things.  This is reinforced by his Rule 3:

You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school and you won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.  

I enjoyed Rule number 4:

If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. 

You begin to get the message; you don’t get anything in life just for turning up. 

Rule 5 was similar:

Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity. 

According to some reports, he veered from the message of “you don’t know how lucky you” are with rule 12:

Smoking does not make you look cool. It makes you look moronic. Next time you’re out cruising, watch an 11-year-old with a butt in his mouth. That’s what you look like to anyone over 20.

Something worth considering, I’d say.  However, the rule which gets the most airplay and has become world famous is this one:

Be nice to nerds. The chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Political correctness, rightly, will not like the labelling “nerd” and nor should we.  However, the point is brilliant.  People who love computing have rarely received enough praise and attention when they were young; yet now look at the people who have really been running our world: Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg.  These men are amazingly talented. I wonder whether we have some in our midst?  I suspect strongly that we do; and I know that a number of you, and recent leavers, have already started businesses in the IT world.  My challenge to you all, sportsmen, musicians, actors and academics is to cherish this world and value its uniquely talented people.

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