Hanging Out With Bill Gates

On June 28th, I (and 265 other interns) had the privilege of going to one of the four annual intern BBQs hosted by Bill Gates at his house in Medina, WA (on the Lake Washington shore). If you haven’t seen Bill’s house, Live Maps has a good view of it here.

This visit was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life.

We left from MS campus around 5:30 in buses heading out to Bill’s. Of course, it being around 5:00 on a weekday, we had to brave the traffic on 520. We made the 8 mile journey to the security checkpoint closest to Bill’s in about 45 minutes. After getting screened airport-style for anything we weren’t supposed to bring (cameras, cell-phones, pens, etc.) we boarded smaller shuttles to make the quick journey down to the actual house.

Going down Bill’s driveway is like arriving at Jurassic Park. The driveway is long, windy, goes steeply down, and is just covered in plant life. We passed a 15-20 car garage on the way down. I’m not sure if it was Bill’s private one or not as I didn’t see any really cool cars in it. At the end of the driveway stands the entrance to Bill’s house.

We got off the bus, grabbed our nametags, and headed in. We headed down this 5-ish story staircase to the main reception area outside. While walking down, we all took in as much of the house as we could. It’s really just crazy. The whole house is built out of this beautiful orangey wood. We passed his movie theater (complete with Now Showing posters) and a room that looked to be completely filled with couches and pillows. It’s all really nice.

We finally made it outside, and took in his back yard. The landscaping is just insane. There’s grass that looks like someone went at it with scissors and there are tons of plants arranged and taken care of perfectly. We were pretty much given free roam of the place, so we checked out his dock, his beach (with sand imported from Hawaii), hot tub, and boat. He’s also got this area of his house where a stream runs down from under the house into Lake Washington. One of the employees said it’s probably man-made, but it’s really cool. We also saw the indoor / outdoor pool that has an underwater grate that allows you to swim between the two sections.

After checking the place out, we decided to grab some food. Burgers, chicken, salmon, and some hors d'oeuvres were available. After eating and chatting for a bit, I found a friend who had just arrived and showed him around the place. Just as we finished the tour and walked out of the forest, Bill came strolling down the stairs right next to us. We just happened to be right where he was walking in, so we were among the first few to say hi, and shake hands with him. Shortly thereafter, more and more interns began to realize that Bill had arrived, and formed a donut around us.

So there I stood, about a foot away from Bill for about an hour. Bill answered an unending barrage of questions from us. It started off light, with a question about if Bill was going to see Die Hard and Transformers. I asked if the movies got beamed directly to his house, but my question was overpowered by something completely unrelated. Topics ranged from issues in Latin America, Microsoft’s stances and reactions to current technology issues, strategies with current and upcoming products, how Bill manages his personal life, would he get an iPhone, and so on. At one point, one of Bill’s daughters came down and braved the donut. She got asked if she liked any Xbox games. Apparently she and Bill like to play some of the Xbox Live Arcade games together, especially Zuma. After an hour or so, Bill got the signal that it was time to give a little speech, so the crowd dissipated, and Bill took the mike.

Bill gave a quick talk about Microsoft and his vision for the company and his foundation, and thanked the interns for all their hard work and whatnot. After that, the donut reformed. I decided to talk to some of the other executives at the event though. I ended up chatting for about half an hour with Corporate VP Enrique Rodriguez and GM Mark Russell, who own MSTV which is now known as Microsoft Mediaroom. It’s a really cool device, which is essentially a really advanced cable box with lots of interactive multimedia functions. Enrique and Mark were really nice guys, and seemed genuinely interested in the stuff we were working on.

Before we knew it, we got the word that it was last call for the buses back to MS campus. My first reaction was, “Last call? There was a first call?” So, we headed back through the house (man those stairs are a long way up) and back home.

The whole experience was just really, really, cool.

- Robert