Bill Gates Explains How To Succeed

Bill Gates Explains How To Succeed

Microsoft founder and mega-philanthropist Bill Gates took part in his third Ask Me Anything session on Reddit earlier today, and shared his thoughts on everything from Microsoft’s new Personal Agent technology to why programming is still a solid career choice. We’ve picked out his most pithy pieces of advice — tips you can use even if you’re not a billionaire.

Picture: Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian

Programming Skills Will Always Be Relevant

Asked whether learning to code was still a “safe” career choice given the increased use of automation, Gates replied:

It is safe for now! It is also a lot of fun and helps shape your thinking on all issues to be more logical. There is a prospect for change in this area for the next generation but that is true for most fields and understanding how to program will always be useful.

Learn A Foreign Language

Asked what his biggest regret was, Gates said it was not learning to speak a second modern language. “I feel pretty stupid that I don’t know any foreign languages,” he wrote. “I took Latin and Greek in High School and got A’s and I guess it helps my vocabulary but I wish I knew French or Arabic or Chinese.”

Technology Doesn’t Make You Stupid

We’re often told than our dependence on technology is reducing our intelligence, but Gates isn’t having a bar of it:

Technology is not making people less intelligent. If you just look at the complexity people like in entertainment you can see a big change over my lifetime. Technology is letting people get their questions answered better so they stay more curious. It makes it easier to know a lot of topics which turns out to be pretty important to contribute to solving complex problems.

Don’t Overspend On Food And Clothes

Does Bill Gates buy house brand products? Possibly. “I am pretty basic when it comes to clothes and food,” he wrote. “My big splurge is having a plane to fly around in.” (Yeah, that’s not an option for most of us.)

He also noted that spending on more expensive gear doesn’t always pay off: “I play tennis so I invest in shoes and racquets to help but they don’t make a big difference.”

Sleep Matters

Asked for a life lesson he “learned the hard way”, Gates offered a scenario most of us can relate to:

Don’t stay up too late even if the book is really exciting. You will regret it in the morning. I am still working on this problem.


  • Steal other people’s ideas, or appear to support them whilst you undermine them (see CPM vs DOS). Treat your customers like criminals, get your products out in rough shape, and promise to fix it later.
    Rinse and repeat.

    • You have such a different view of Bill from me.

      He was a coding nerd who wrote some useful warez which caused the business world to frenzy.

      He spent his life trying to keep up, building Microsoft to keep flicking out warez as best he could, balancing quality against soft deadlines imposed by demand.

      Microsoft grew away from him, so he retired.

      Now he bimbles around the world doing phenomenal works of charity, and occasionally drinking recycled poo to promote technologies intended to help poor people.

      Seriously, if you wouldn’t buy a beer for Bill your standards are very strange.

      • Love how everyone still treats Bill like the world’s worst idea thief, yet worships the ground Steve Jobs walked on.

        Everyone steals ideas, people. Everyone. At least Bill has some original work to his name, and his philanthropic work in his post MS years has been exemplary. I know who’d I’d rather buy a beer for.

        • Yep, I look up to Bill Gates so much more than Jobs. Jobs is no doubt a phenomenal guy but he also sounded like a stone cold douchebag as well.

          • Steve Jobs was a supremely gifted salesman and businessman, without a doubt. I just think his modern status as a technology messiah is a tiny bit misplaced. He took technology and made it accessible, desirable, cool and infinitely profitable. While making more technology accessible and fun is definitely an achievement – he just didn’t come up with much of that technology himself.

            I think Bill Gates just has a generally (not entirely, mind) unfair stigma attached to him.

            And to people saying ‘it’s easy to be philanthropic after you’ve made a mozza’ I don’t think that’s fair either. It shouldn’t lessen his efforts any. All the money is one thing, but devoting the time and effort he does is fantastic. And generally speaking those poo-pooing rich people helping out don’t do much themselves but sit at home and criticise.

        • I’d rather buy a beer for Bill also. Corpses really don’t appreciate a tasty brew anyhow…

      • Its easy to be Philanthropic after you have amassed enormous wealth on the back of destroying others.
        I wouldn’t say that MS really balanced quality against deadlines, they have been incredibly arrogant about releasing crap because most people didn’t have much of a choice.
        I applaud the charity work he does now, but it doesn’t change who he was or how he succeeded.
        I wouldn’t buy Steve Jobs a beer either.

        • “most people didn’t have much of a choice” ? WTF are you talking about? Windows was a consumer product bought by ordinary citizens. No one was forced to buy it. It wasn’t imposed by government legislation or by holding a gun to someone’s head.

          Say what you will. At the end of the day, people voted with their dollars. Windows was/is so much easier to use than Linux. And even today, nothing comes close to the functionality of office and excel in particular.

          Come back and talk a bit more when you manage to build something and release “crap” that billions of people pay money for.

          • People bought it because they bought a computer that came with it, not because they wanted specifically to buy Windows. During the rise of MS’s monopoly in the 90’s there really was no alternative operating systems accessible to the average user, this effect increased by the manufacturer deals that MS made ensuring that virtually all PC’s were being shipped with it pre-installed.

            These days, there are (with very few exceptions, and I don’t believe Excel is one of them) several viable alternatives, and as a result MS is continuing to lose market share – and most of what they retain is still due solely to their manufacturer deals and pre-installation.

            If the industry was forced to offer users a choice of OS at time of purchasing a new PC, I don’t believe MS would survive (unless it is able to reinvent itself being solely supported by x-box sales).

          • “If the industry was forced to offer users a choice of OS at time of purchasing”. Complete bollocks. No one forced anyone to do anything. The market decided. The fact that it came pre installed with a machine was a convenience that consumers (i.e market) was happy with. It let them use the computer as an appliance like they wanted to. If people wanted something else, the manufacturers would be more than happy to sell them that. Or new manufacturers would pop up to sell Linux boxes. and Mac was always an option through out the 90s.

            “…there really was no alternative operating systems accessible to the average user” That is not really Microsoft’s problem. They built the best product for their time and people were happy to buy it. Either directly or indirectly. If they wanted to buy something else, they had every freedom to do so. Every corner store computer shop in the 90s was selling parts and assembly service. Several of my uni friends even made a business out of this.

            All the anti microsoft whiners sound like fan bois saying how they were wronged because “dumb” ordinary people didn’t understand the beauty and perfection that their favorite system could have been. Oh those “idiot” users in the 90s, who bought their first computer, plugged it in, opened up word/excel and started actually using it to do real work. If only those morons took the time to read up on monolithic kernels learned some basics of x server commands to open up a gui and started using Vi, emacs or Latex to do their word processing, we would be living in a glorious non-MS paradise.

            They made the best system of their time and rose to glory. If others now are starting to catch up and are offering alternatives that are better and cheaper, then so be it. MS either has to innovate again or die out. That is the ruthless calculus of free market capitalism.

  • I wouldn’t buy either Jobs or Gates a beer.

    Gates not only stole ideas, but in the case of DOS, code as well. He created a climate of building shoddy, tick-box driven software, and where deadlines are far more important than quality. The end result of which is an industry where bloated software being sold that doesn’t even work, is considered the norm (hey, we can always fix it with a patch later). You also end up with a draconian DRM on your operating system that doesn’t allow you to upgrade your hardware and reinstall the OS without MS checking up on you and you having to beg for the right to keep using the software you paid for. The upside is that home computing ended up with almost a single platform, and became more affordable.

    Jobs was a control freak, and a perfectionist, and pretty paranoid. He was a tyrant in many ways, and I certainly wouldn’t buy him a beer.The upside was he was fiercely focused on quality, didn’t always achieve it, but lifted the bar across the industry that was otherwise a race to the bottom.
    They were both ruthless and destructive to people around them, the way Gates underhandedly took out CPM pretty much destroyed the life of Gary Kildall, one of the truly best software pioneers.
    I’d buy Gary a beer any day.

    • 1: Often deadlines *are* more important than quality.

      2: You don’t like tick boxes?

      3: You just claimed that most new software ‘doesn’t even work’…

      4: Gary destroyed Gary, his negotiations with IBM were wildly unprofessional. Gary never sued IBM over CPM because his evidence was too weak for court, despite this, IBM agreed to include CPM as an option on the PC because they (correctly) expected it to fail.

      5: For much of Gary’s life it would have been immoral to buy him a beer, and of course now he’s dead it would be ineffective.

  • For every person like poita above there are ten thousand people using Steve and Bill’s products. They made the decisions that eventually led their target consumers to work on/use a single platform, remarkably improving world wide productivity.

    You can’t unify China, for the benefit of the people, without taking a few of those peoples heads. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

    On a large scale, or small, we can’t all live the (insert nation here) dream – You are more successful financially than others either by taking their money (consumers) or taking away their products (companies).

    I would shake Bill Gates hand for the software MS has delivered to me over the years, same goes for Steve Jobs. I’d then sit them down and explain that Windows and Mac OS need to be able to understand each others file formatting systems as a basic consumer entitlement.

    It’s just plain BS that these days a new iMac won’t recognise a windows formatted portable hard drive without additional bridging software. Though take this criticism lightly, I haven’t tested this for about 2 years.

    • Apple has a net positive impact, and Steve was Apple, so he did fine.
      I don’t have to like someone to appreciate a positive impact.

      On the question of formatting, I believe we also need ‘nix and Android in that club, the whole point of disk formats is storage and retrieval, and limiting the format to platforms is simply counterproductive.

  • eeality check: bill gates stole most of his founding ip. He was very clever, but most of it was nothing but boot legging.
    Many of the people in Pirates of Silicon Valley (including Bill Gates) said it’s basically true.
    Bill Gates and Ballmer walked into Apple and walked away with a prototype Macintosh. Bill took it and secretly copied it and undersold the competing “windows” PC.
    Yes, jobs was an arrogant did, but he did not steal. He cherry picked snippets and created more than the parts. He also paid royalties for the XPARC design.
    The comments above are a combination of ignorance (I don’t want to know the truth) and popularity contests (I prefer Bill to Steve). How about some research folks… R e s e a r c h!!

    And this bit from a great movie,

    Truth will out

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