Monday, April 18, 2011

Working with Bill Gates Was Like 'Being in Hell,' Allen Says

Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen told TV's 60 Minutes that working with Bill Gates was like "being in hell." While Gates' image has mellowed with his charity work, Allen said a young Gates berated his coworkers, and the only response was to "fight back." Allen also said Gates visited when Allen had cancer and "there's a bond there that can't be denied."

Ever wonder what working with Bill Gates might be like? According to fellow Microsoft Relevant Products/Services founder Paul Allen, the experience was like "being in hell."

That quote comes from a piece about Allen on Sunday's 60 Minutes TV series. The occasion of the feature is the publication of Allen's new book, Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-Founder of Microsoft. The program's reporter, Lesley Stahl, notes that Allen's book indicates he was too proud and angry to tell Gates directly, "Some days working with you is like being in hell."

'Fight Back'

Gates' propensity to berate fellow workers is not unknown among Microsoft watchers, although his public image has mellowed since his foundation has undertaken such worthy challenges as curing diseases in third-world countries.

The 60 Minutes story includes footage of a young Gates yelling at his coworkers and treating them with contempt. Allen said on camera, and in the book, that such occurrences were common.

He described Gates as a taskmasker, adding that the only way to deal with him was to "fight back, intensely, to stand your ground." Because Gates would stand his ground as well, Allen said, such confrontations could go on for hours.

At one point, Allen recalled on the program, he thought he was getting marginalized. Walking by an office where Gates was in conversation Relevant Products/Services with Steve Ballmer, who later took Gates' place as Microsoft CEO, Allen said he heard the two men talking about diluting his share Relevant Products/Services down to "nothing." At this time, Allen was in treatment for cancer.

Allen and Gates have known each other since they both attended a private school in Seattle. In the 60 Minutes story, Allen recalled the two of them, in their early teens, diving into dumpsters to retrieve "secret inner codes of the operating systems" of early mainframe computers. He also recalled Gates, at age 13, wondering what it would be like "running a Fortune 500 company."

'A Bond There'

Allen acknowledged Gates is a gifted programmer and a shrewd businessman, and recalled that Gates expected others to devote their life to Microsoft. But, as his book title indicates, Allen sees himself as not only a fellow programmer, but as an idea man.

One of Allen's ideas that Gates didn't completely dismiss was that the two of them could provide programming for the early personal computer, the Altair, that would give the machine some of the versatility of big computers. Allen recalled bringing the Altair to the attention of Gates, who was then a student at Harvard. The two began to develop programming for the machine, an effort that became Microsoft.

When Allen left Microsoft, he owned about one-third of the company and he became a multibillionaire when Microsoft went public. Stahl pointed out that the book is part of an effort by Allen to showcase himself as a "tech visionary," but, she said, there was a danger he could be branded as "a bitter billionaire."

Allen remembered that, when he got cancer a second time in 2009, Gates came to his house "multiple times." Allen said that, between the two Microsoft founders, "there's a bond there that can't be denied."

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