I don’t want to show you the many accomplishments that this revered man has. We all pretty much know who Bill Gates is – a Harvard dropout, the co-founder and CEO of Microsoft, and currently the second richest person in the world. We also know that his success largely came from the domination of Microsoft in the computer software industry during the late 1970′s all the way until the early 21st century – pretty much three decades.
The technology not only allowed Mr. Gates to become a self-made billionaire, but an entrepreneur who had a dream of changing and revolutionizing the age of computers. How this all happened may have started out with some wit, some talent, and yes, even some luck. But it was his sheer obsession that brought it all together. Obsession is what truly drives a person to block out everything and just do, and hopefully we can learn a thing or two about Gate’s journey towards his achievements in life.
This story is a summary from Malcolm Gladwell’s, Outliers. If you haven’t read it yet, you should read it at least once. It’s a pretty good book.
Even though Bill Gate’s parents were already pretty wealthy, that didn’t really matter to him as he was more interested in being able to build a business from himself. When he was in school, he was bored easily, so his parents took him out of it and sent him to a private school. During the second year there, his school started a computer club.
Ever year, the mothers would hold a sale and use the money for good causes such as building a summer program for inner-city kids to come and learn or for the hard working teachers that were already there. This year, the mothers decided to spend the money ($3,000) on a computer terminal.
Gates was lucky to be near this, since most colleges didn’t even have computer clubs in the late 1960’s. The school he attended was one of the few middle schools that allowed people to experience using a computer terminal.
This computer that the students got to use was unique however, because it had a computer-card system which was a time-sharing terminal with a direct link to a mainframe computer that was in downtown Seattle. Time-sharing was only invented in 1965. This allowed Gates to do real time programming as an eighth grader in 1968. With the luxury of having this kind of opportunity at such a young age, he would basically live in the computer room.
When school ended, Gates would take the bus to the C-Cube offices which had the computer and program long into the evening. Because he and a number of others used so much time in the offices, eventually C-Cube went bankrupt. So even though he and his friends were not even in college yet, they would still a way to hang around the computer center that was at a nearby university.
They kept programming, and soon, an outfit called ISI or Information Sciences Inc. offered the students a deal, which was letting them have free computer time in exchange for working on a piece of software that could be used to automate company payrolls.
Gates and his friend agreed, and in one seven-month period, they used up 1,575 hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe. This averaged out to 8 hours per day and 7 days a week – much like a regular full-time job but instead, it was just a hobby for these kids.
“It was my obsession. I skipped athletics. I went there up at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn’t get twenty or thirty hours in.”
One summer, he and his friend Paul Allen got in trouble for stealing a bunch of passwords and crashing the system. They would be kicked out. But it didn’t stop them from their programming obsession. Allen found a computer that was free to use at that nearby university. In the university, they had some machines in the medical center and the physics department. Even though these machines were on a full-day schedule for the university students and staff at the time, there was a period where nothing was scheduled. The only thing was this period was between 3 AM to 6 AM…
But it didn’t matter to him. Gates would leave at night, after his bedtime, and walk or take the bus up to the university so he could program during those hours. His mother later wondered why it was so hard for her son to get up in the morning.
One day, one of the founders of the outfit that Gates and his friend were working at got a call from the technology company that desperately needed some programmers to set up a computer system. Since it was only the beginning of the computer revolution, programmers were hard to find, but the founder knew who to call – those kids who were spending thousands of hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe.
He got Gates to do the job, but he was still only a senior in high school. Being the clever boy that he was, he managed to convince the teachers to let him depart from school in order for him to do “an independent study project.”
This “project” was basically spending the entire winter writing nothing but code. A mentor named John Norton taught him as much as he could on the subject of how to program. So basically from Gates’ eighth grade through the end of high school, he had spent majority of this time programing for 5 straight years.
He was definitely more experienced that most people at a college level. And even though many might think Gates was insane for dropping out of Harvard, they underestimate the time he spent and the experienced he had gained before he decided to drop out. By the time he did drop out of Harvard, which was after his sophomore year, he had been programming nonstop for seven consecutive years. This obsession of his accumulated to more than 10,000 hours of practice, which according to studies, is the amount of hours needed to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert.
Would most people believe Bill Gates as a world-class expert at programming? Well that’s a matter of opinion, but he has helped created the software, Windows – the software that virtually everyone who owns a computer uses that from the 1970’s up until today. And one can only guess how many people in the world who own a computer need that core software program for their work and personal use – lots. That’s how it made Gates one of the wealthiest people today.
But the thing is Bill Gates didn’t start out saying he wanted to become one of the wealthiest people on earth or predict he was going to drop out of Harvard in order to start his own company. He let his obsession take over and go from there.
So my question to you is what is your obsession? Let’s face it. Although it may help tremendously, you don’t need to be one-hundred percent passionate about what you do. You don’t need to be as smart as Bill Gates. And you don’t need to have wealthy parents to make you wealthy. You just need to be obsessed, or at the very least, develop an obsession to whatever it is that you either like or know will help you reach your goal in the future.
Try to live it, breathe it, and dream it every single day. Whatever you’re obsessed with will eventually grow into a priceless talent in the future that surpasses what others are trying to develop through only being mildly interested in. And who knows… Maybe one day, you’re obsession will help you create something that will change and revolutionize the world as well.
“I like my job because it involves learning. I love being around smart people who are trying to figure out new things. I like the fact that if people really try they can figure out how to invent things that actually have an impact.”