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William H. Gates (1955- ) may be the greatest philanthropist of our time, if the sheer sum of wealth donated to philanthropic causes is the measure. By 2002, Gates had given sixty percent of his wealth to charity and contends that, over his lifetime, the total will be ninety-five percent. He is viewed as the twenty-first century's Rockefeller or Carnegie. He earned his wealth as co-founder (with friend Paul Allen) and chief executive officer of Microsoft (a major software company and one of the largest corporations in the world). Regardless of his monetary value and the profound impact he has had on the technology industry and philanthropic sector, Gates sees himself as a normal person. He drives an affordable mid-size car and goes to work everyday.

To date, Bill Gates has given $24 billion to the private foundation he began with his wife, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Microsoft 2003). The main focus of the Gates' foundation and their public awareness work includes global health and population control programs, increased library technology, minority scholarships, and education reform (Crowley 2000). With his almost urgent attention given, specifically, to the issues of global health and library technology, Bill Gates has made a greater impact than many of the tycoons of the twenty-first century by recognizing the importance of giving assistance now rather than after his death. As one example, Gates educated himself about the measles epidemic that is rampant in many third world countries and determined that a twenty-five cent vaccine is needed now (Byrne et al. 2002).

Historic Roots

William Henry Gates III was born into a family with a history in politics, business and community service. His great-grandfather had been a mayor and father was a prominent lawyer. It was apparent, at an early age, that Gates had inherited many of his family's traits (Mirick 2003). Being a very intelligent individual, his family enrolled him at Lakeside, a private school with an intense learning environment. It was there that he was first introduced to computers.

Computers were quite expensive during this time period and money had to be raised to lease one system. The Computer Center Corporation struck a deal with Lakeside that allowed the students to have computer time. The corporation was based out of Seattle, Washington, and was known for offering computing time at good rates to organizations or schools who could not afford computer systems.

Gates and his friends were inseparable from the new system. They hacked their way past security features and even sabotaged the program that recorded the total amount of computer time being used (Ibid.). Soon after the Computer Center Corporation recognized the students' programming ability, they were offered part-time jobs. One of Gates' first philanthropic moments may have been when he volunteered to find bugs and expose weaknesses in the Corporation's system. Yet, it was not simply altruistic, because he was given free computer time in return.

After the Computer Center Corporation went under, he and his friends found another job where they received free computer use in exchange for creating software for the company. This was with Information Services Inc. (ISI), a local software company in Seattle that sold office-based programs such as the payroll system Gates and Allen created. With this job, Gates was paid royalties for the programs he and his friends created; as a result, they created their own business.

On their way to creating Microsoft, the friends created another company called Traf-O-Data. This was their first big break, the traffic computer that was created under this new company netted the group $20,000. Then, Bill's last big break before going to Harvard was a job at a defense contractor company named TRW.

After Paul Allen talked him into dropping out of college, Gates laid the groundwork for his career at Microsoft. Together, the men created a BASIC program...
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