If Bill Gates was not into computers what would he be doing? Find out…

Bill Gates, co-founder and technology advisor at Microsoft Corporation and co-chair at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation took to the popular social news website Reddit for his second AMA (ask me anything). Users responded with all type of questions. Gates posted a video before the start of the AMA to dispel three myths: one of them was about whether he will pick up a $100 bill if he saw one lying around (read the background here). Bill’s answer? He would. Here are 20 interesting questions and answers from the AMA.

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1) What is different about Bill Gates age 20 years and today, except for the time?

20 years ago I would stay in the office for days at a time and not think twice about it – so I had energy and naivete on my side. Now hopefully I am a bit more mellow but with a little extra wisdom.

2) Hey Bill, have you made any plans to artificially prolong your life?

No I don’t. Other people think about that but I wouldn’t want to extend my last few years unless that is happening for most people.

3) I’d just like to know, what is something you enjoy doing that you think no one would expect from you?

Playing Bridge is a pretty old fashioned thing in a way that I really like. I was watching my daughter ride horses this weekend and that is also a bit old fashioned but fun. I do the dishes every night – other people volunteer but I like the way I do it.

4) Who is your role model?

People who devote their lives to working in poor countries are doing amazing work with very little visibility. I have gotten to meet some of them.

5) Hey Bill, if you didn’t go into computers and later found Microsoft, what do you think you would be doing?

I considered law and math. My Dad was a lawyer. I think though I would have ended up in physics if I didn’t end up in computer science.

6) If you were a current computer science student what area would you start studying heavily?

If you feel like expanding on that, why do you think this area deserves the attention and how do you see it changing the technology game in the next 10 years?

Yes – the terms are a little confusing. Learning can mean a low level thing which all machine learning algorithms do or the high level idea of reading a book and understanding what it means.

The ultimate is computers that learn. So called deep learning which started at Microsoft and is now being used by many researchers looks like a real advance that may finally learn. It has already made a big difference in video and audio recognition – more progress in the last 3 years than ever before.

7) Can you describe your new role at Microsoft?

I make sure we pick ambitious scenarios and that we have a strong architecture to deliver on them. I encourage good work (hopefully).

I am excited about how the cloud and new devices can help us communicate and collaborate in new ways. The OS won’t just be on one device and the information won’t just be files – it will be your history including being able to review memories of things like kids growing up. I was thrilled Satya asked me to pitch in to make sure Microsoft is ambitious with its innovation. Even in Office there is a lot more than can be done.

8) What is the biggest obstacle the developed world needs to overcome, in order to help the developing world?

The greatest tragedy is kids who die or never get enough food to develop physically or mentally to achieve their potential. We need vaccines and nutrition to solve this. We are making progress but not fast enough. Cynicism is the biggest barrier – talks about this.

9) Any advice on how entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow should go about balancing business and philanthropy… or do they have to succeed first in order to give later?

Just creating an innovative company is a huge contribution to the world. During my 20’s and 30’s that was all I focused on. Ideally people can start to mix in some philanthropy like Mark Zuckerberg has early in his career. I have enjoyed talking to some of the Valley entrepreneurs about this and I am impressed and how early they are thinking about giving back – much earlier than I did.

10) Besides improving the education system in the U.S., what do you believe is the next big issue that we need to address domestically?

Education would be the top issue since it is key to individual opportunity and to the country as a whole and we are not doing as well as other countries. After that I would say immigration since the injustice of the current system is incredible.

11) How close are you to wiping out polio worldwide?

We are very close. India just went 3 years with no cases. Pakistan is our toughest location right now because some parts of the Taliban have not allowed vaccinators to come in and have even attacked vaccinators. We are hopeful this will get resolved since no one wants their kid to be paralyzed. I spend a lot of time making sure the polio campaign is doing the best it can. We have great computer models that help guide our activities.

12) What is your most expensive guilty pleasure purchase?

Owning a plane is a guilty pleasure. Warren Buffett called his the Indefensible. I do get to a lot of places for Foundation work I wouldn’t be able to go to without it.

13) Dear Mr. Gates…can you still do this?

No I cannot. I can still jump but not over a full sized garbage can like I used to be able to. Be careful – it can hurt if you don’t succeed. Yes. A small enough chair I can still jump over.

14) Are you a fan of Video Games? If so, What is your favourite Video Game?

Edit: PC Master race reigns supreme

I am not a huge gamer. My son knows a LOT more than I do about what is cool on Xbox. I played Halo but the sports games that the whole family can use are the things I use the most. I threw the javelin very very far!

15) What is your best personal financial advice for people who make under $100,000 per year?

Invest in your education.

16) I’m actually an intern at Microsoft right now. How will your time be divided up between the foundation and Microsoft now that the CEO has asked you to step up. Also, could you host a talk for the interns. We’d love to hear about your work at the foundation and your thoughts on the future of tech.

My time will be about 2/3 Foundation and 1/3 Microsoft. I will focus on product work mostly.

17) I love your book lists. What are you currently reading, or plan to read next, that you suggest Reddit pick up?

Thanks for doing another one of these, your first one was great.

Well Smil keeps writing great books like Made in the USA and Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization. Paul Farmer has 3 books recently – to Repair the World is very accessible. In the Company of the Poor is a harder read but also good. tracks my reading closely. (

18) First of all, thanks for doing the AMA. And congrats to you on your spanking-new CEO.

My questions:

1) How does Mr. Nadella’s vision differ from yours and Mr Ballmer’s?

2) A couple of articles I read recently mentioned that the board is going to be putting pressure on the new CEO to exit the devices business and focus more sharply on enterprise customers. Your thoughts on that? If it means anything, I am a huge fan of the Surface. Can’t afford one, but I have used the first one . Hugely impressed.

3) Also, this is pertinent to where I live — India. A few people have a somewhat negative impression of the work that the B&MGF is doing; specifically, they claim it has an agenda to push products manufactured by American drug companies. Would you like to respond to that?

4) Can I have a tour of your home if I am ever in the area?

Satya is taking a fresh view of where Microsoft is – strengths and weaknesses. A new person gets to step back and change the focus in some ways. He is off to a great start.

In terms of the Foundation we fund vaccines that save childrens lives. The majority of those are made in India. In fact ironically India makes a lot of vaccines that are used in other countries but not in India. The Foundation is not trying to help anyone make money – simply to reduce the number of children who die from things like diarrhea and pneumonia.

19) Hi Bill! What is your favorite project you have ever worked on at Microsoft?

The Windows project which required a lot of patience was great. Office was also great. Together they defined the big success of the 1990s for Microsoft. Office connected to the cloud has a LOT of potential and we are off to a good start. Cloud Storage needs to be a lot richer though.

20) What is the worst case that you know of where your philanthropy backfired?

A lot of our failures have been backing science that didn’t work out. One thing that is tough is when you think the government will take over something you start but they don’t–we had that with a school lunch program. It might have been better if we hadn’t done it.

Read the whole transcript here, and go here for last year’s AMA.

About the author

Journalist with a keen interest in all things social entrepreneurship.

16 thoughts on “If Bill Gates was not into computers what would he be doing? Find out…

  1. Jayesh Hannurkar Actually, that doesn't say anything at all, buddy. I've seen the whole D5 video and a whole lot of others where Jobs and Gates feature together. What's your point? Jobs was far more articulate. So?

  2. Jayesh Hannurkar Someone is more presentable does not mean he is a better person. The analogy that you mentioned doesn't even make sense in this context. You cannot even afford 80% of Apple's products and you ride with the tide of Steve revolutionizing the industry. Had it been Steve instead of Bill Gates in the 1990s, you would not be able to even look at this post. I bet you are using Windows right now. There you go – Bill made it possible for everyone in the world to have access to software and PCs, not Steve. Agreed that Apple makes great products, but that doesnt change the fact the Microsoft has been driving the entire world with its innovations and not just a few of us who can afford to have an iPhone.

  3. Pulkit Gupta To start with, I hate the Windows OS and I am not using it on my PC. But, that is a completely different thing in itself and I do not want to enter into that debate right now.
    Secondly, I do not believe that Windows has been "changing the world with its innovation". Woz and Jobs(and not Gates) made it possible for the whole world to have access to softwares and PCs. Woz still has the patent for that. It was Steve Jobs who had the vision to see the power of a personal computer and launch it for the common people, the others have just followed his footsteps. I agree that most of the apple products are pretty costly but this does not change the fact that Apple was the one that had brought these things in the market. The others are just making cheap imitations of the same.

  4. Jayesh Hannurkar Your hating Windows OS does not mean the world hates it. (See the market share of Windows vs Mac). The data itself says how Windows has reached so many people Mac cannot even think of penetrating. And that was because the company Microsoft decided to. The company's mission and vision was accessibility to all the people in the world and these was not some stripped down versions of the actual OS. So 'cheap' and 'imitating' does not apply here. (In my opinion, it applies to Samsung) One thing – Steve himself said 'We have been shameless about stealing great ideas' when asked about the GUI copying from Xerox. Bill followed the same ideology. He stole Steve's OS idea and made it accessible to the entire world. Glamorizing Steve and condemning Bill when their deeds are the same sounds stupid.

    Another thing – your facts are wrong. ONLY Steve DID NOT had the vision of a PC for common people . Bill and his colleagues had long thought of the power of software and how it could revolutionize the common people via PCs and they were building an operating system for computers on every desk. Another flaw in your argument is that patenting does not imply changing the world. You just cant patent things and let them stay and say that they have changed the world. It takes a 'doer' to change the world. Microsoft did that. That is pretty evident so to say. You grew up with a Windows PC and not a Mac. Even if we assume that your argument is true, I dont think Mac had the potential to change the world, otherwise it would have done right? Windows was there long before Mac ACTUALLY became something, but Apple was late because the industry had already been revolutionized by Windows PCs.

    People say Steve is a genius. I say, with just Windows and Office, Bill became the richest man in the world. Now isn't he a genius? Sure. both are excellent leaders and have done a lot towards the tech industry, but just because you in the 'Reality Distortion Field' of Apple does not mean other companies have done nothing. It is actually pretty stupid.

  5. why didn't somebody ask about CP/M and Gary Kindall ?
    Did Tim Paterson copied the whole CP/M and made QDOS or NOT????

    Still a big question since 1980 . If Gary Kindall would've accepted the deal with IBM at first, we would have never seen Bill Gates in entire life. LUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!YOU HAVE

  6. Before praising Gates, try to go back to 1980 and know about Gary kindall.
    I am sure you will never like gates again, and steve jobs? he is far more behind than Gary.

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