This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Early Hackers


October 28, 1955:  Happy Birthday Bill

On October 28,1955, William Gates III was born in Seattle, WA. Bill Gates, of course, went on to start Microsoft and was CEO of Microsoft until he retired in 2008. In 2000, he started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal

At 13 Gates attended Lakeside School. The Mothers Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School’s rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school’s students. Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer.

Early Gates & Allen

Early Gates & Allen

After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted, he and other students sought time on systems including DEC PDP



minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned the four Lakeside students—Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans—for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.

At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC’s software in exchange for computer time. Gates went to CCC’s offices and studied source code for various Earprograms that ran on the system, including Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970, when the company went out of business.

"Hey now!"

“Hey now!”

The following year, Information Sciences, Inc. hired the four Lakeside students to write a payroll program in Cobol, providing them computer time and royalties. After his administrators became aware of his programming abilities, Gates wrote the school’s computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with “a disproportionate number of interesting girls.”

At age 17, Gates formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor. In early 1973, Bill Gates served as a congressional page in the US House of Representatives.

Graduation from Lakeside

Graduation from Lakeside

Gates graduated from Lakeside School in 1973. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT and enrolled at Harvard College in the autumn of 1973. Gates did not have a definite study plan while a student at Harvard and spent a lot of time using the school’s computers.

Pop Ele

After reading the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics that demonstrated the Altair 8800, Gates and Allen saw this as the opportunity to start their own computer software company. Gates contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), the creators of the new microcomputer, to inform them that he and others were working on a BASIC interpreter for the platform.

In reality, Gates and Allen did not have an Altair and had not written code for it; they merely wanted to gauge MITS’s interest. MITS president Ed Roberts agreed to meet them for a demo, and over the course of a few weeks they developed an Altair emulator that ran on a minicomputer, and then the BASIC interpreter.


The demonstration, held at MITS’s offices in Albuquerque was a success and resulted in a deal with MITS to distribute the interpreter as Altair BASIC. Paul Allen was hired into MITS, and Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with Allen at MITS in Albuquerque in November 1975. They named their partnership “Micro-Soft” and had their first office located in Albuquerque. Within a year, the hyphen was dropped, and on November 26, 1976, the trade name “Microsoft” was registered with the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico.

Bill Gates Holding Microsoft Windows 1.0 Disk

BTW: Gates never returned to Harvard to complete his studies.



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2 thoughts on “Early Hackers

  1. Henri Socha on said:

    The PDP-10 picture you have is of a KL-10 model. They did not exist until 1974.
    You should use a KA-10 picture.
    (BTW: I know this because I also used an ASR-33 connected to a KA-10 in High School, 1968-70. Later I worked for the timesharing Co that provided the service, DataLine Systems Ltd. of Toronto, now defunct)

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