You think some things will never end...you think your parents will live forever, that a relationship will never fade, that you have all the time in the world. And then reality hits. Today that reality hit for me again when Bill Gates officially ended his 33 year full-time job at Microsoft.
Back in the early 80's my parents bought an IBM PC. I think it had an 8086 processor in it. It had a monochrome monitor, two 5 1/4 drives, a Fujitsu dotmatrix printer, and DOS. The moment my dad powered the computer on and that little A:> prompt came up I was hooked for life. I was too young to really do much with the machine for a while so I watched my parents do work on it. How could they type stuff into it and have it display an answer? I had to find out. I was tinkering with DOS and BASIC and all sorts of other programs, understanding the file system, figuring out how the peripherals worked.
Back then my favorite game was F-15 Strike Eagle. I can't remember if it ran on the 8086 or if we'd upgraded to the 286 by then. It was an awesome game where you flew around in a virtual cockpit and aimed at little triangles as targets. The engine sound was this godawful high screeching sound that came out of the PC speaker. Click here for a screen shot of the game. (We've come a weeee bit since then) We'd collected more programs and even a modem. I was mesmerized by the fact that I could play a game on it one time, my mom could type up a report, and my dad could phone into his computer at the office to work with the mine control software. And I could write little programs to do simple things like calculate data, store it on a drive, print it out, etc. I think it was DOS 4 or DOS 6 that introduced the menu system. I set up the computer so that my family simply had to make easy choices to launch their favorite apps without having to figure out the file system. I loved DOS. I was a master of Edlin and batch files 🙂 It felt powerful to be able to simply life for my family.
When we bought our first copy of Windows I realized where DOS and Windows came from - this company called Microsoft. And that Bill Gates ran it. I became even more fascinated with computing, seeing what plans they had. Dealings with IBM, this new graphical interface that let you manipulate stuff as little pictures, making it easy for my mom to create docs and pictures, eventually OS/2 and Windows 3. This Gates guy seemed so incredibly smart and forward thinking. I remember telling my parents at some point to buy Microsoft stock in the late 80s. They obviously didn't because I'm working :). oh well. But back then I knew that something big was happening, Microsoft was at the center of it, and I wanted to be part of it. My goal in life from that point was to work for Bill. I considered him then, and still do now, a visionary.
Fast forward a decade and a half during which I'd had a few jobs (including an obligatory dot-bomb job were my wife and I both got laid off within four days of each other right after New Years - from separate companies), moved cities, etc. Microsoft released Windows 95, Office, Exchange and SQL Server, Windows NT, and more. Exchange Server eventually became the thing that would get me in the door. After almost two decades of waiting I would finally be able to work with people who'd really revolutionized how we live. I figured I'd spend the next several years in the company with Bill at the helm.
Then came June 2006. Less than a year after I'd been hired - Bill announced he'd retire in two years. Umm. DOH! Just like people expect your parents to always be there, I kind of always expected Bill to be in charge. June 2006 was a pretty big shock but 2008 was still kind of far off, right? Then today strolled by. Cue reality. Up until now, Microsoft was Bill Gates. From today forward, Microsoft is heading out on its own. We have amazing leadership in Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie and others. I'm confident that the next 33 years will be as equally incredible as the last 33. And I hope to be part of the company for that entire time. But still, it'll be just a little different with Bill gone. It really is the end of an era.
Here are a few stories and videos of Bill's time at Microsoft: