Spolsky on Bill Gates’ Departure

By Deane Barker on June 16, 2006

My First BillG Review: Here’s a funny recollection from Spolsky about the day Bill Gates reviewed his spec for a Microsoft Excel programming language. During these reviews, someone was present to count the number of times Bill swore.

“Four,” announced the f* counter [when Bill left], and everyone said, “wow, that’s the lowest I can remember. Bill is getting mellow in his old age.” He was, you know, 36.

Later I had it explained to me. “Bill doesn’t really want to review your spec, he just wants to make sure you’ve got it under control. His standard M.O. is to ask harder and harder questions until you admit that you don’t know, and then he can yell at you for being unprepared. Nobody was really sure what happens if you answer the hardest question he can come up with because it’s never happened before.”

And here’s why Spolsky believes Microsoft has a problem when Bill leaves:

Bill Gates was amazingly technical. He understood Variants, and COM objects, and IDispatch and why Automation is different than vtables and why this might lead to dual interfaces. He worried about date functions. He didn’t meddle in software if he trusted the people who were working on it, but you couldn’t bullshit him for a minute because he was a programmer. A real, actual, programmer.

Watching non-programmers trying to run software companies is like watching someone who doesn’t know how to surf trying to surf.

Steve Ballmer is every inch a Harvard-educated businessman.