As a child–and as an adult as well–Bill was untidy. It has been said that in order to break of this habit, his mother Mary drew up weekly clothing plans for him. On Mondays he might go to school in blue, on Tuesdays in green, on Wednesdays in brown, on Thursdays in black, and so on. He never did his own laundry. Weekend meal schedules were also planned in detail, lest he should starve.
Dinner table discussions in the Gate’s family were always lively and educational. “It was a rich environment in which to learn,” Bill remembered.
At four, Bill was able to do some simple calculations, such as subtracting and multiplying numbers. Bill’s contemporaries, even at the age, recognized that he was a genius. Every year, he and his friends would go to summer camp. Bill especially liked swimming and other sports. One of his summer camp friends recalled, “He was never the kind of kid you didn’t want your team to have. We all knew Bill was smarter than us. Even back then, when he was nine or ten years old, he talked like an adult and could express himself in ways that none of us understood.”
Bill distinguished himself as a boy who had the marvelous faculty to learn things quickly. He strictly followed the honor code. He was also well ahead of his peers in mathematics and science. He enjoyed debating new ideas and fresh concepts with his classmates. He derived much pleasure from studies. His father, a retired officer, was convinced that he needed to go to a school that challenged him, then his parents sent him to Lakeside–an all-boys’ private school for exceptional students. It was Seattle’s most exclusive secondary school with a great reputation and was noted for its rigorous academic demands and discipline, a place where “even the dumb kids were smart”.
Lakeside allowed students to pursue their own interests, to whatever extent they wished. The school enjoyed a fine reputation and prided itself in furnishing conditions and facilities that would enable all its students to reach their full potential. It was the ideal environment to stimulate the growth of someone like Bill Gates, whose academic performance exceeded his tutors and parents’ wildest expectations.
In 1968, the school made a decision that had changed thirteen-year-old Bill Gates’ life–and that of many of others, too.
Funds were raised, mainly by parents, that enabled the school to gain access to a computer–a Program Data Processor(PDP)–through a teletype machine.
Type in a few instructions on the teletype machine and a few seconds later the PDP would type back its response. Bill Gates immediately liked it–so did his best friend at the time, Kent Evans, and another student, Paul Allen, who was two years older than Bill.
Whenever they had free time, and sometimes when they didn’t, they would dash over to the computer room to use the machine. The students became so single-minded that they soon overtook their teachers in knowledge about computing and got into a lot of trouble because of their strong interest in computers. They were neglecting their other studies–every piece of work was handed in late. Classes were cut. Computer time was also proving to be very expensive. Within months, the whole budget that had been set aside for the year had been used up.
At fourteen, Bill, in conjunction with his friends, was already writing short programs for the computer to perform. Early game programs such as Tic-Tac-Toe, or Noughts and Crosse, and Lunar Landing were written in what was to become Bill’s second language, BASIC.
One of the reasons Bill was so good at programming is because it is mathematical and logical. During his time at Lakeside, Bill scored a perfect eight hundred on a mathematics test. It was extremely important to him to get this grade–he had to take the test more than once in order to do it.
If Bill Gates was going to be good at something, it was essential to be the best.
Bill’s and Paul’s keen interest in computers and the business world meant that they read a great deal. Paul enjoyed magazines like Popular Electronics whereas Bill liked reading business publications. Computer time was expensive and, because both boys were desperate to get more time and because Bill already had an insight into what they could achieve financially, the two of them decided to set themselves up as a company The Lakeside Programmers Group to sell copyrighted softwares of international standards. “Let’s call the real world and try to sell something to it!” Bill announced.