Bill Gates timeline: From Harvard dropout to world’s richest person to scandal magnet

We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again: “Money can’t buy happiness.” The recent revelation that Bill and Melinda Gates are finally calling it quits reminds us that it doesn’t matter how successful someone is; life can still throw curveballs.

A timeline of Gates’s life shows his early struggles, then massive success, and most recently personal difficulties. While some people wish to switch spots with someone rich and famous, we should be careful what we wish for. The Bill Gates biography is full of life lessons.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
—Bill Gates

Early life and passions (1955 – 1970)

Gates was born on October 28, 1955, in Seattle, Washington. His father was an attorney; his parents pushed him to pursue a career in law. However, Gates loved electronics and wrote his first software program at the age of 13 that allowed a user to play tic-tac-toe against the computer. Looks like electronics beat law.

As curious young boys, Gates and Paul Allen, the other future founder of Microsoft, were banned from the PDP-10 computer system because they were caught using exploits in the system for additional free computer time.

Gates loved the idea of discovering unknown exploits and formed a programmers club to make money and gain additional computer time by offering his services to the Computer Center Corporation. He was 15 years old when The Computer Center Corporation went out of business.

Young adulthood and early career (1971 – 1974)

Gates co-founded Traf-O-Data in 1972 with Paul Allen and Paul Gilbert; they used an Intel processor to make traffic counters. He was 17 years old. After Traf-O-Data, he spent a short time as a congressional page in the House of Representatives.

A year later, he posted an impressive Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score of 1590 (out of 1600). This score helped him gain admission into Harvard College. At the request of his parents, he initially pursued a pre-law major but he combined it with computer science classes.

In 1974 while still a student at Harvard, he joined Paul Allen at Honeywell but quickly saw an opportunity to introduce their own company based on computer software a year later.

Dropping out of Harvard and starting Microsoft (1975 – 1979)

Before completing his studies at Harvard, Gates wanted to focus his attention on starting his own company with Allen. In 1975, he dropped out of Harvard with support from his parents.

Later that year, Allen and Gates started working with Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) to distribute software. Due to the duo’s compatibility, Allen came up with the name “Micro-Soft” to describe their partnership. The name came from combining the term “microcomputer” and “software.”

In 1976, they registered “Microsoft” in New Mexico, and Gates permanently gave up on his Harvard studies. Microsoft cut ties with MITS in 1976 and continued to evolve in the computer programming and software world. In 1979, they moved Microsoft from New Mexico to Washington state.

Creating partnerships with big brands (1980 – 1985)

In 1980, Microsoft partnered with IBM to develop an operating software for a newly developed personal computer. This was their first significant software sale and it netted them $50,000 for the rights to the software. It was also the beginning of MS-DOS software.

In 1983, Allen became ill with Hodgkin lymphoma, which ended the formal partnership leaving Gates at the helm of Microsoft.

Gates and Microsoft introduced the first version of the now infamous Microsoft Windows in 1985. He later produced Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, Vista, and 10.

Marriage, rising net worth, and conspiracies (1987 – 2017)

Gates began dating Melinda Gates, formerly Melinda French, in 1987 after meeting at a Microsoft event. They got married in 1994 and the couple now has three children in their early 20s. The Gates main residence is in Medina, Washington.

When Gates was 31 he became the world’s youngest billionaire.

Microsoft and IBM became subject to a Federal Trade Commission investigation in 1990 for possible collusion to split the operating system market to avoid competition. However, even with ongoing investigations, Microsoft continued to excel, as did Gates’s wealth. In 1995, Gates was worth approximately $12.9 billion and was named the world’s richest man.

In 1998, Microsoft was charged with anticompetitive and exclusionary practices to maintain hold of operating system software exclusivity. Some believed Microsoft used bully-type techniques to force their software to be installed on personal computers.

Gates officially stepped down as the CEO of Microsoft in 2000 but remained heavily involved in the software architectural component of the company. He and Melinda created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that year also, which continues to this day.

The Gateses and Bono were named Time’s Persons of the Year in 2005. This was after the foundation committed $750 million to child immunization access improvements.

In 2007 Gates finally “graduated” from Harvard by receiving an honorary degree. He was asked to provide the commencement speech to encourage other graduates to pursue social change and reduce inequity in the world.

In 2010, in keeping with their passion for philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation vowed to donate $10 billion for vaccine research and implementation over the next ten years.

Sexual indiscretions and accusations (2018 – 2021)

As reported by the New York Times, the year 2018 marked the beginning of the publicly known information of possible sexual indiscretions in Gates’s circle. His longtime money manager was accused of sexual harassment, and Gates attempted to resolve the matter quietly.

Melinda Gates was not happy with the move to settle the matter confidentially and pushed for an independent outside investigation — which was never done. The money manager remains in his current position to this day.

In 2011, Gates met Jeffrey Epstein, who was embroiled in accusations of sex trafficking underage women and soliciting prostitution involving a minor. The relationship between Mr. Gates and Epstein continued throughout the accusations, and Mrs. Gates expressed she was not comfortable with the connection.

The questionable relationship between Gates and Epstein was made public in 2019, and Mrs. Gates started the divorce process by hiring private attorneys.

Also that year, a spokesman for Gates publicly admitted Gates had an affair around the year 2000, near the time he decided to transition off Microsoft’s board, but denied that his stepping down was related to the affair.

A May 2021 Wall Street Journal report revealed that Microsoft board members wanted him to step down from his seat after an internal investigation last year revealed that the alleged affair in 2000 was with a female engineer at the company — while he was married.

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.
—Bill Gates

Several current and former employees have disclosed information about Gates’s advances towards women in the workplace. While none of them considered his advances as predatory, they said his conduct made it an uncomfortable place to work.

The engineer Gates may have had the affair with asked the board to make changes to her job and she wanted Melinda Gates to read her letter, but it is not clear if that ever happened.

The announcement of the breakup between the couple in May 2021 was broadcast via Twitter. It read:

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage. Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”

His future remains uncertain

The career and life of Gates are nothing short of spectacular, and it’s a path many of us envy. However, even the most successful and wealthy individuals are as vulnerable as the next person when it comes to love and life.

Legacy is a stupid thing! I don’t want a legacy.
—Bill Gates

While Gates will undoubtedly be financially set for the remainder of his life, it’s no doubt he would rather have lived out his remaining years without the pain of heartache.