Sinofsky is a great writer, I’ve long enjoyed his posts and the occasional twitter thread. He’s a keen observer, which he’s putting to good use in a serialized book cataloging Microsoft history, from the early, pre-Windows days through their dominance in the 90’s and finishing with the twilight of the PC. It’s not quite from the very beginning but it’s definitely a snapshot of the tech giant’s ascent from a mere software vendor to one of the most dominant and valuable corporations in history.
This story about ignoring a number of recruiting calls from Bill Gates, because he thought he was being pranked by his buddy, is amazing and shows just what a different era it was:
The whiteboard in my graduate school lab read, “Steven, Bill Gates called. Call him back.”
It was super weird to see that written because Microsoft wasn’t on our collective academic radar and most people didn’t know who Bill Gates was. Someone was clearly playing a joke on me. My college friend Brent grew up in the Seattle area and I had mentioned to him that I was interviewing at Microsoft, so it was probably him.
Later that day, I got home to find my PhoneMate microcassette answering machine flashing. There were two messages recorded. The first one was left earlier that morning as I started walking to the Lederle Graduate Research Center at UMass-Amherst where I was a second-year PhD student in computer science. A somewhat squeaky and distracted voice said, “Steven, um, this is Bill Gates calling. Can you call me back at . . . um . . . 206-882-8080?” The second message had been recorded later in the day. “Steven, yeah, this is Bill Gates calling again. I guess I called you at your lab like your message said, but you weren’t there either. When you get a chance call me back.” My outgoing message at home gave the number of the lab since that was the only other place, basically, that I spent time.
Brent’s ploy seemed rather elaborate. He kept it going for a couple of days as I kept getting voicemail messages claiming to be Gates. I did nothing.
I’m only a few chapters in, so far it really is a great story (even if it could use a stronger editing hand). The whole project has a Folklore.org vibe to it, from the other side.