When Melinda Gates entered the tech industry, the world was very different to what it looks like today.
During a talk at Dreamforce, the tech philanthropist shed light on some of the more colourful moments of her journey, including having to give up on her dream college because it thought “computer science was a fad”.
But Gates pursued it anyway and she ended up at one of the world’s most innovative tech companies Microsoft.
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Here are three key lessons from her career to date.
1. Realise the power of one small act
After completing studies in computer science, Gates began interviewing with various companies and she worked closely with a hiring manger at IBM.
When Gates mentioned that she was weighing up all options and would be meeting with Microsoft too, she received a surprising push of encouragement from the IBM employee.
“She said, ‘if you get an offer from that company you should take it [because] if you go there, your chance for advancement as a young woman, if you are as good as I think you are, will be astronomical, versus staying here and going through the runs’,” Gates said.
A single act can like this have huge ripple effects, she said, and no entrepreneur nor business leader should ever take this for granted.
“Everyone in this room has the ability to change somebody’s life,” she said.
“If you put your mind, your shoulder and your energy, your heart into those things, you can change the world and you are changing the world.”
2. Comfort with discomfort forges great strength
Gates was in the first class of MBAs to be recruited by Microsoft, which at the time had barely over ten employees.
“There were nine men and me,” she said.
“We were changing the world, we were creating products that no one had ever seen before [and] thinking what features people want.”
It was a fascinating time for Gates as she quickly worked her way up the ranks.
She said there was an inside joke that you don’t get promoted till you make your first mistake.
“It was a very fast-paced industry, it was just a lot of fun,” she said.
To other women entering the game of computer science, she encourages them to stick at it.
“Learning computer science is like learning a new language you’ve got to keep your self-esteem up in those uncomfortable parts,” she said.
3. Data science has answers for a better world
From very early on in their professional and personal relationship, Gates and her partner Bill Gates bonded over a deep desire to give back to the world.
She said they agreed when the company was “very small” that the vast majority of revenue generated by Microsoft would be directed to these efforts.
The data geeks would identify problems in the world and try and figure out the best and most resourceful solutions.
“What are the most number of lives you could possibly save for $1000?” she said.
Using computer science to their advantage, Gates said they have been able to see real results through initiatives like the vaccine delivery.
“Today, it has saved 7 million children’s lives,” she said.
Gates, who calls herself an “impatient optimist”, said solving problems like these is now their purpose.
“We see all the problems in the world, we see [the] things that we can solve, solve in our lifetime,” she said.
“We will have a cure for malaria in our lifetime. Bill and I dream and believe that we can actually wipe malaria off the map.
“For it to happen, we need the tools to come and the science to catch up and all the pieces we’re working on to come together.”