Bill Gates refuses to give up barista job

gatesBill Gates may be rich these days, but he’s not yet ready to quit his part-time job working the evening shift as a barista at Sue’s Coffee ‘n’ Munchies, in downtown Redmond.

“I feel more secure keeping my connection at the coffee shop,” says Gates, smiling his trademark little-boy smile, “Sue, the manager, says I can come back full time whenever I like. Sure, I’m making plenty from software right now, but you never know how things will change.”

He pushes forward a tall, dark brown drink, topped off with a mountain of foam and an Italian wafer. “Try it,” he says. “Now that is how you make a mochaccino.”

The job is a perfect fit for Gates. His company, Microsoft, has operated out of the same building above Sue’s Coffee shop for the past 30 years, and he gets “an awesome deal” on rent from Sue and her husband Colin.

While software may pay his bills, Gates has always seen himself as a barista first, and a programmer second.

“For me, software is about having fun,” he says. “I’ll give myself challenges, like, write the new Excel upgrade by midnight. Then I just do it. It’s like a game.”

It may be a game to Gates, but his programs have also become big business. From Microsoft Office to Vista to the upcoming Windows 7, his software now runs on more 90% of the world’s computers, earning literally thousands of dollars in revenues.

And Gates’ computer work doesn’t end there. Sometimes he takes on freelance jobs for other companies. “I wrote the operating system for the Macintosh,” says Gates. “That was a fun one. I also wrote an operating system called Linux, which is really cool and old-school, kind of like MS-DOS on steroids. Oh, and I did Google – although Larry Page and Sergey Brin designed the logo.”

But Microsoft is still Gates’ cash cow, and has experienced tremendous growth, and the size of the office has expanded with it.

“We used to be in the little room at the end of the hallway,” laughs Gates. “Now we have the whole floor. I use the original office to keep my old computers, and my collection of comic books.”

Does Gates ever feel the weight of his new role. “Sure,” he admits. “When I started, it was just me and a keyboard. I never dreamed it would grow the way it has. Now, I have Tim, our salesman, Millis, our receptionist, and Glenn, who helps out with the programming. All of them depend on me for their livelihood. It’s a big responsibility. Especially when I also have to clean out the gunk from the coffee grinder.”

The employees aren’t Gates’s only responsibilities these days. He interrupts the interview to take a support call. A Microsoft Word 2007 user is having problems with a file. It takes Gates only a few question to diagnose the problem – a bug in the program. A few deft strokes on the keyboard are all it takes for him to fix it. “That’ll be included in the next release at the end of 2009,” he tells the relieved user.

After hanging up, he reconsiders. “Actually, it’ll probably be the second quarter of 2010, after I’m done with Windows 7.”

Many visitors are surprised that Gates doesn’t use Windows on his desktop machine, preferring to stick with his beige 1980s era Commodore 64.

“It’s the only way to go,” he explains. “There’s no point using a PC. You can’t program Windows while it’s running. It just crashes. It’s like trying to fix a car engine while you’re driving down the highway.”

The method has its problems. A few months ago, Microsoft’s operations ground to a halt when Gates’s Commodore 64 stopped working.

“It was the cassette recorder attachment which records the programs,” he explains. “The cable thing was all frayed. I had to use my old VIC-20 instead, and it’s not as fast. Even with the Super Expander cartridge, it only has 12K of memory.”

It took Gates a month to get a new tape drive from eBay, but now his 64 is up and running again, and Microsoft is back in business. And not a day too soon – Gates is juggling dozens of projects, and finding time for each is sometimes difficult.

“I’m trying to decide between two new ideas right now,” he says. “One is called Glisten. It will be a 21st century update to Windows, which responds to hand and facial movements, allowing users to interact and run applications in a real-time virtual environment. The other is a space game called Zeeg’s Revenge. You have to shoot at 128 waves of aliens ships, which rain down laser beams at your ship. The colors of the ships change with every level, so it looks awesome.”

Gates can’t wait to get started – but for now, the programming will have to wait.

“The steamer wand has broken on the capp machine,” he explains. “I have to drive across town and pick up a new one.”

Bookmark and Share