Gates and Jobs: the Early Lives of Computer Billionaires

Gates and Jobs: the early lives of computer billionaires

Just 20 years ago, the idea of the personal computer was nothing more than science fiction – computers were enormous, box-like machines unintelligible to anyone outside the technical community – but fast-forward to today and PCs and Macs are central to almost every household and business in the developed world.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, are responsible for the software that shaped computers into the essential lifestyle tools they are today. However, many people know surprisingly little about the early lives of these technical geniuses. Read on to discover how two college drop-outs from relatively humble roots became some of the most influential people in the history of computer software.

Bill Gates

William Henry ‘Bill’ Gates III was born in 1955 in Seattle, Washington, to a lawyer father and banker mother. With a succession of lawyers in the family, it was expected that he would follow the same career path.

However, everything changed for Bill in the 8th grade when his teachers used the proceeds from a school rummage sale to purchase computer time for the students. Bill was instantly fascinated by the technology and, showing a natural aptitude for programming, was allowed to skip maths classes to pursue his interests. He quickly programmed a tic-tac-toe game which the user could play against the computer.

When his school’s computer time with General Electric ran out, Bill and his friends explored other systems, exploiting bugs in order to gain free access. They were caught and briefly banned by the Computer Centre Corporation (CCC) but later, once the ban had expired, Bill and his friends worked with the company, searching for bugs in their software in exchange for computer time.

As his reputation grew, Bill received similar offers, and went on to programme payrolls for small businesses as well as his school’s class schedule (where he would timetable himself into classes with as many girls as possible!).

Dropping only 10 marks out of a possible 1,600 in his SAT exams, Bill easily gained a place at Harvard University. However, his childhood friend and fellow computer enthusiast Paul Gardner Allen persuaded Bill to drop out of Harvard in order to follow their dream of starting a company together. And so Microsoft was born.

Steve Jobs

When you consider the awe-inspiring achievements of the late Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011), it is easy to assume that he came from a privileged background. In fact, as a baby, Jobs was given up by his parents, who were (at that time) unmarried college students, and adopted by a couple he would later acknowledge as his ‘real’ parents. Perhaps surprisingly, Jobs was not raised in an environment of academia: neither of his parents by adoption graduated from college; his father by adoption did not graduate from high school. However, it was them who ignited Jobs’ early interest in electronics, and he would often spend afternoons with his father in the garage taking apart radios and televisions and putting them back together again.

Jobs was an overachiever (albeit with a reputation as a prankster) whose adoptive mother taught him to read before he even went to school. He was invited to skip two grades in high school, but on his parents’ advice skipped just one. During this time he helped his friends Bill Fernandez and Steve Wozniak to build a computer board, which furthered his interest in electronics.

Jobs gained a place at Reed College, but left without completing the course. In his free time, he pursued his creative interests by dropping in on lectures, including calligraphy, which later inspired the typeface and font spacing of the Mac system. Money was tight, and during this time Jobs slept on friends’ couches and visited his local Hare Krishna temple for food.

After this, Jobs spent 7 months travelling around India with a college friend, searching for spiritual enlightenment. He became a devoted follower of the Zen Buddhist teachings, and cited his spirituality as central to his way of thinking.

Jobs worked in a variety of roles, including as a technician for Atari arcade video games, selling clandestine digital ‘blueboxes’, and helping to put one of the first commercially-available laser jet printers to market.

But in 1976, he and Wozniak founded the ‘Apple Computer Company’, named after a blissful summer they had spent apple-picking – and the rest is history.

The early lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two of the most influential people in the history of computer software, prove that you do not need a privileged background or a college degree to have a successful career in technology.

[author ]Vikki is a freelance writer who works alongside TSR (, the IT recruitment specialists. When she’s not writing technology articles, she enjoys following the latest trends in graphic and web design, and running her personal blog.[/author]

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