Career Advice

By Dennis Callaghan  |  Posted 2004-02-27 Print this article Print

Another student asked Gates what he would do today if he were a 19-year-old MIT student and Microsoft already existed. Would he stay in school or leave to pursue another business venture, just as he left Harvard early to start Microsoft? Gates joked that he didnt drop out of Harvard, he only went on leave from it and was "still on leave." But he told MIT students hed do it all over again for the right opportunity and they shouldnt be afraid to look for those opportunities, even if it meant setting aside their studies.
"If I were a student today, I would look for paradigm shifts, something like artificial intelligence or computational biology," said Gates. "Anyone who has in mind a real paradigm shift should take that risk."
When asked who his "personal hero" was, Gates mentioned Warren Buffet. Another student asked him if he thought the U.S. patent system was flawed for software. Gates described the current system as "imperfect," but said it has worked "amazingly well." When a student asked how Microsoft fit into a software industry where innovation was becoming increasingly commoditized, Gates pointed out that Microsoft lived off one-time license revenues and had to keep innovating to get customers to buy upgrades. Another student asked Gates if the Windows "monoculture," its virtual monopoly on desktop operating systems, made the companys software more vulnerable to hackers. Gates dismissed most Windows hackers as "people who want fame that like to attack the most popular system," and said Microsoft is more concerned about stopping "somebody who wants to steal information." Gates said Microsoft is working on improving firewall technologies to safeguard information security. He said more operating systems would just increase system overhead, not security. "We need less operating systems," he said. Finally, Gates was asked how he could justify holding his companys ever-expanding cash horde, which currently totals nearly $53 billion. The company generates more than $2 billion a year in interest and investment income alone. "We do need to evaluate that," conceded Gates, who said a stock buyback or dividend increase is possible. Gates agreed that Microsofts balance sheet needs to be made more "pure." "Were all about one thing and thats developing software," he said. "We shouldnt be about holding investments. We should be about, Is there opportunity in software and are we the company thats seizing it?"


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