Bill Gates: Biography & Career Profile

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Bill Gates is a name known to most of us, but what is the story behind the success? In this lesson we'll look at Bill Gates' life and career, including his work in both computer technology and global philanthropy.

Bill Gates

Let's be honest, who hasn't heard of Bill Gates? As of 2016, he's the richest man in America and only recently lost the title of richest man in the world. Known as one of the people responsible for the modern computer age, Gates has often been upheld as the pinnacle of the self-made success story. But, there's a lot more to Gates than inspirational quotes used at high school graduations. So, let's get to know America's favorite billionaire a bit better. Maybe the secret to success will be in there somewhere.

Bill Gates in 2015
Bill Gates

Early Life

Born Henry H. Gates III in 1955 in Seattle, Gates was the second of three children. His father was an attorney, and there was a strong expectation that Bill would follow his father's footsteps. As the young Gates excelled at school, he developed a particular proclivity for mathematics, which turned towards the emerging science of computer programming. This was a new technology at the time, and Gates and his friends essentially taught themselves how to program, gaining part-time work for Seattle businesses. Gates and his friend Paul Allen kept their interest in programming alive while he was attending Harvard, believing that a personal home computer was the future of the industry. When the magazine Popular Mechanics published a story about a microcomputer being produced in New Mexico, Gates and Allen saw their chance and developed a unique program compatible with this system. Gates left Harvard and the pair moved to Albuquerque to continue their work. In April of 1975, they founded their own company called Microsoft.


The computers produced by Gates and Allen were fascinating to people in the programming world, but that's really as far as their success went at that time. However, in 1980, the major computer technology company IBM realized there was an unlimited and untapped market for personal home computers, and hired Microsoft to program the operating system. Gates' system worked with IBM hardware, but in a moment of foresight he retained the rights to sell his operating system to other companies as well. IBM's personal computer, or PC, became a huge success, and competitors came running to Gates for their own operating systems. Microsoft became the standard operating system of home computers.

Microsoft changed the idea of the home computer

Microsoft had one real competitor, Apple. While Apple only used its own operating system, it did have a very user-friendly interface, something that people with no programming experience could use. Microsoft countered in 1985 with their own program called Windows. Since most home computers except Apple relied on the Microsoft operating system, Gates developed the concept of compatible software applications and soon launched Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Internet Explorer.

Microsoft rose to the top of the industry, with Gates first acquiring the title of world's richest man in 1995. However, getting there wasn't easy. Apple sued at one point over the design of Windows, and Microsoft was even taken to court by the United States government, which couldn't decide if Microsoft's dominance over the market constituted a monopoly. But, the company survived and remains the go-to software for personal computers. Hey, I'm even writing this lesson on Microsoft Word! Microsoft technology redefined what computers meant to the world, making this one of the most substantial developments of modern history.

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