Born in 1955, Gates attended public elementary school, and enrolled in the private Lakeside School at age 12. The following year, Gates wrote his first computer program, at a time when computers were still room-sized machines run by scientists in white coats. Soon afterwards, he and his friend Paul Allen wrote a scheduling program for the schoolwhich coincidentally placed the two in the same classes as the prettiest girls in school. Still in high school, Gates and Allen founded a company called Traf-O-Data, which analyzed city traffic data.
Gates set off for Harvard University intending to become a lawyer like his father. Still shy and awkward, he rarely ventured out to parties unless dragged by his friend Steve Ballmer, whom he later repaid by naming him president of Microsoft.
One day in December 1974, Allen, who was working at Honeywell outside of Boston, showed Gates a Popular Mechanics cover featuring the Altair 8800, a $397 computer from M.I.T.S. computing that any hobbyist could build. The only thing the computer lacked, besides a keyboard and monitor, was software. Gates and Allen contacted the head of M.I.T.S. and said they could provide a version of BASIC for the Altair.
After a successful demonstration at the company's Albuquerque headquarters, M.I.T.S. contracted with Gates and Allen for programming languages. The pair moved to New Mexico and started Micro-soft (they dropped the hypen later). Although the company's first five clients went bankrupt, the company struggled on, moving to Seattle in...