To: William Gates

Chairman at Microsoft

Co-Chair at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Dear Mr. Gates,

Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I haven’t yet received my invitation to your LinkedIn Network.  No biggie—-I know you’ve been busy lately—but it’s just that I’m sure we know a lot of the same people…..

Well, o.k., maybe I know OF a lot of the same people whom you know, but same difference, right? 🙂

Anyway, in the meantime, I thought I’d take a crack at the excellent question that you posted on your LinkedIn site:

“How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?”

http://www.linkedin.com/in/billgates
http://blog.linkedin.com/blog/2008/02/linkedin-answ-4.html

http://www.linkedin.com/answers/technology/information-technology/computers-software/TCH_ITS_CMP/179866-21879399?split_page=100&goback=.abq_1_1204199259347_n_o_TCH*4ITS

I thought I’d start out by answering your question with a question:

What  were the things that inspired you and your friend Paul Allen when you were young? And just as importantly, what factors helped you both to become successful in those fields later in life?

You obviously know the answers better than I do, but I can take an educated guess based on your life, and turn it into advice for this new generation of young people:

1) Give them a vision:

Do you remember the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair?

http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=2290

I’d bet a dollar that going to that Fair was a profoundly inspiring experience for you (and for Paul Allen too) when you were children living in the city of Seattle. Remember The World of Science and The World of Tomorrow?  You could walk right into those exhibits and experience the possibilities the future had to offer in a powerful, palpable way. You could stand next to a rocket designed by NASA or ride in a “Spacearium”–a virtual space ship and see the “stars.” You could witness “Space Age Communications” at Bell Telephone’s pavilion, or get a glimpse of how future computers could connect libraries together and make information accessible to everyone.

From p. 20 of the Seattle World’s Fair 1962 official program:

“The experience is vivid. Shafts of color have illuminated another life—an easy, gracious, stimulating future beyond tomorrow’s tomorrow. Time itself has been compressed so that you could stand on the threshold of Century 21.”*1

The World’s Fair offered a profoundly real vision of what the future could be—it’s opportunities and responsibilities—a vision designed to inspire kids to dream big and do great things. And you and Paul Allen and a number of Visionaries took that dream and ran with it, building the real “World of Tomorrow.”

2) Give them access to cutting tools and information.

Remember the Lakeside computer room–the teletype machine that connected to a computer at CCC? Wasn’t it remarkable for kids who were barely into their teens—12 and 14 year olds—to have access to something that was so cutting edge for its time? I wonder how many adults grasped the magnitude of what was being done in that little room; what you were learning and how futuristic it all was? Wasn’t it because you had free reign with that equipment—that you could play with it and explore what you could do with it—at least a part of the reason that you could envision its future potential? Wasn’t it a part of the reason why a few years later you could call up Ed Roberts at a time when few people even owned an Altair, let alone found a use for one, and confidently tell him you could write a language for his pc?

3. Give them exposure to cutting edge mentors:

I know that you had a number of really remarkable teachers at Lakeside and and had several other mentors back in those days, but I’ll mention just one of them as an example. Do you remember Steve Russell, the guy who wrote the first videogame, Spacewar?  He and Dick Gruen had just come to C-Cubed from Stanford’s SAIL  (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab) program, which was involved with a number of research projects including, of course,  artificial intelligence.*2

That was a pretty cutting edge concept for its time. And although I heard that those guys never spoon-fed you any information (Paul Andrews called them “Zen Masters” because in response to your questions they would hand you and Paul Allen another manual so you could figure it out for yourselves 🙂 ),* 3  I imagine that working side by side with people who understood an area that most people had no clue even existed—guys who were dabbling on the cutting edge of technology—had an influence on you and Paul Allen, didn’t it?

~~~~~~~~

So how do you give large numbers of young people access to creative tools and mentors?

Via the Internet, of course!

I have it on good authority that if you or Paul Allen or Steve Ballmer or Bono (or pretty much anyone from the X-Box team 🙂 ) were to offer a few insights via Youtube or live webcast etc., young people would be there in a heartbeat—watching and listening, eagerly absorbing what you have to say. 

The communication options out there today via the Internet offer a myriad of mentoring opportunities and an easy way to reach out to young people and impart new ideas, provide virtual communities, make contacts or share information.

And as far as creative tools go, maybe on a widespread level you could impart basic information—do a video on how to write a simple program, for example. On a more individualized level, one idea might be to pose a problem and then offer resources to the kids who present the best ideas and want to work on solutions to solve it—sort of an X-Prize-like contest where acceptance into the contest is competitive, but once accepted there are sponsors who can help the entrants to bring those ideas to fruition.

Then of course there are the science clubs, bowls, fairs and other kinds of contests already in place that you could support—not even necessarily financially, but through finding ways to keep everyone connected and facilitating connections to mentors in the various scientific fields.

4) Reward Goodness:

“Of course, not all challenges spring from technology. Many of the toughest problems we face today; hunger, the environment, population growth and violence desperately need people who want to attack these problems and make a difference in the lives of others.”*4

That quote was from Paul Allen in a speech he made to the WSU graduating class of 1999. And you have echoed the same sentiment—that we need people who can address the urgent problems that our world is facing today such as poverty, disease, food and energy shortages and environmental issues.*5

See… Bill Gates’ Speech at the World Economic Forum on Creative Capitalism
http://gaia.world-television.com/wef/worldeconomicforum%5Fannualmeeting2008/default.aspx?sn=24144&lang=en

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/MediaCenter/Speeches/Co-ChairSpeeches/BillgSpeeches/BGSpeechHarvard-070607.htm

As you said, the world of today is better than in years past. The leaders of today include a number of tech wizards and visionaries whose creative ideas and efforts have made the world a better place. And as you know, the youth of today are our world’s greatest resource and its best hope for the future.  Nurture those young people who share a vision of a better world and who come up with new ideas that address some of its challenges.

Inspire everyone, but focus your resources and mentoring efforts on them. If your vision of creative capitalism is truly to become a widespread business ethic, it is the youth of today who will embrace it and the next generation who will bring it to fruition. Seek out the kind of young people who share your vision, whom you want to be tomorrow’s leaders, and help them to get there through scholarships, internships, small business loans, other financial rewards, and of course, recognition.

5) Above all, don’t underestimate them just because they’re young.

As you know from experience, young people can accomplish a great deal!

Another Lakeside story…..

Do you remember Frank Peep from C-Cubed and ISI in your Lakeside days?* 6  A few years ago I asked him if he was surprised that kids as young as you and Paul Allen were could have accomplished so much. His response? A definite “No.” On the contrary, he was not at all surprised.

“Kids are fearless,” he said.

When the adults looked at those computers, they saw some really expensive equipment. When you kids looked at them, you saw a playground—a game, a challenge.  You wanted to play around with the system, test it out, explore its capabilities—which was exactly what you were supposed to do—you were hired to find the bugs in the system so those problems could be fixed. 

You guys weren’t afraid of anything, so you took risks and crossed boundaries and did things that the higher-ups—the adults—said could never be done. It was because of your youth, not just in spite of it, that you were able to accomplish so much.

Kids are too young to be afraid, too naive to know that something is impossible and too inexperienced to believe that the way it’s always been done is the only way to do it.

As you said, “Young people aren’t as constrained by traditional ways of thinking. They haven’t yet completely absorbed the “right” way to do things, so they are free to pursue ideas that seem impossible to those of us with more experience.”
http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_8302277 ,
With the Right Skills, Young People will Create More Innovations

So challenge them, give them a few creative tools and see what they come up with. You never know what could happen…..

So there you go…..answer #4 gazillion to your Linked In question—hope it helps!

…..And about that Linked In invite—no hurry or anything.  I’ll just be sitting here, waiting by my computer……. :-)*

*….actually, my computer will be sitting here in my pocket, waiting by me. I just bought a Flipstart—Yeah!! 🙂 But that’s another story for another time….. 🙂

____________________________________________

Footnotes:

1 Seattle World’s Fair 1962 Official Souvenir Program, 1961 ACME Publications

2. “Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented An Industry—and Made Himself the Richest Man in America.” by Paul Andrews and Stephen Manes. 1994;   p. 32

http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:X–0e8B2JaUJ:www.stanford.edu/~learnest/net.htm+steve+russell+dick+gruen+SAIL&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Russell

http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa090198.htm

http://www.computerhistory.org/events/lectures/games_05072002/russell/

http://infolab.stanford.edu/pub/voy/museum/pictures/AIlab/SailFarewell.html

3) “Gates” Ibid. at p. 30

http://books.google.com/books?id=Qoho6AIXTksC&dq=bill+gates+paul+allen&pg=PA13

4) Paul Allen’s WSU Speech to 1999 graduating class upon receiving the Regent’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.   http://regents.wsu.edu/distinguished-alumni/recipients/

The WSU site used to have an audio of the entire speech, which was originally aired via satellite uplink from the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. (Paul Allen’s Trail Blazers were in the NBA Finals at the time.)

Also—I heard that Paul Allen just attended the TED conference:

See.. http://www.ted.com/index.php/pages/view/id/21

and

http://www.peterme.com/?p=634 

so these very issues have been on his mind too lately. He has also tried to inspire young people in a number of ways in the past; for example, check out these links:

http://www.empsfm.org/education/index.asp

http://www.paulallen.com/Template2.aspx?contentId=49

5)  http://gaia.world-television.com/wef/worldeconomicforum%5Fannualmeeting2008/default.aspx?sn=24144&lang=en

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/MediaCenter/Speeches/Co-ChairSpeeches/BillgSpeeches/BGSpeechWEF-080124.htm

6) “Gates” Ibid. p. 40; Interview with Frank Peep, winter of 2004.

Advertisements