Matters Beyond the Keyboard

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2008-06-30 Print this article Print

At Microsoft's TechEd Developer conference in Orlando in early June, Gates gave his last keynote as a full-time Microsoft employee. He also took time to have lunch with 15 "influencers" or developer types who have focused on Microsoft technology. I later learned that technology was barely discussed at the lunch. And I was mad. I was thinking it was a disservice to have a group of techies who viewed Gates as a hero and not talk tech. It was like getting a chance to hang with Michael Jordan and him saying he'd rather not talk about basketball, but about baseball and golf. But I was wrong. I misinterpreted what I'd heard.

Besides, Bill can talk about anything he wants. After all, the influencers hadn't paid to be at the lunch like someone paid to have lunch with Bill's buddy Warren Buffet.

Andrew Brust, who attended the TechEd lunch, said in his blog: "To my surprise (and, from what I can tell, the surprise of everyone there), the questions asked of Bill at lunch were almost entirely focused on education, policy and issues concerning the world's poor. The questions from our group were all quite astute, and I, for one, enjoyed very much being able to talk about matters beyond the keyboard."

Meanwhile, in an interview with eWEEK, Stephen Forte, who also attended the lunch, said: "Bill Gates was the uber geek, the uber developer. He was a hero to my generation of developers. Unfortunately I don't think many developers under 30 understand this. They grew up during the dot-com boom, and to developers under 25 they worship Facebook and Google, who while innovative, were not nearly as innovative as Bill Gates in his heyday. Bill understood that computers were small and would be everywhere at a time where there were just big mainframes and only in big air-conditioned closets. Bill pioneered an industry. That industry may now turn to new pioneers and that is OK, since it is the sign of a mature industry. However, Bill will certainly be missed by my generation."

On local Seattle area radio stations, all manner of folks weighed in to discuss Gates and what he has meant to them. One construction worker thanked Gates for keeping Microsoft's construction contracts for in-state companies. Think globally, act locally.

And Microsoft employees also took their turn.

Tandy Trower, who is fourth in terms of seniority at Microsoft, behind Gates, Steve Ballmer and Jerry Dunietz, said he will celebrate his 27th year with the company in October. Trower leads Microsoft's robotics effort and at TechEd, Trower introduced a University of Massachusetts student who led a "Ballmer Bot" onstage during Gates' keynote. It was the most animated Gates got during the entire event.

Said Trower of Gates:

"Bill's impact on the software industry and on developers is evident in Microsoft's success, but also in how the PC industry itself has evolved and grown over the past 33 years. He was there in the beginning providing both vision and delivery of technologies that helped catalyze its growth and has always been recognized as a significant contributor and influencer in the industry."

Moreover, "now as Bill focuses his time on even greater challenges and greater objectives, I think I speak for many Microsoft employees in saying that his imprint on the company will never diminish," Trower said. "Yet I also feel confident in that he has helped recruit some solid leadership at Microsoft that cannot only sustain Microsoft, but help the company to continue in its passion to deliver great software solutions. Ballmer, [Craig] Mundie, and [Ray] Ozzie are just a few of the examples of the high quality people that can take the company forward."

In addition, Trower said: "Bill and Paul [Allen, Microsoft co-founder] started with an incredible vision to see PC on every desktop and every home. Hard to imagine that they dared to envision the impact that PCs and software would have, long before the industry was well-formed. Without a doubt, Bill has left his mark on the industry that will be felt yet in years to come. And I wish him even greater success with the new challenges he now turns to."

Meanwhile, Bill and Steve said their own goodbyes.

I don't think Joni could have said it any better (even sounds like Seattle):

But it don't snow here

It stays pretty green

I'm going to make a lot of money

Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I wish I had a river so long

I would teach my feet to fly-y-y-y-y

 Fly, Bill, Fly.


Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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