Why Melinda Gates Almost Left Microsoft In The 1980s
Microsoft Corporation is a technology company based in the United States, worth more than $100 billion and employing over 100,000 people from different countries all over the world. They are responsible for the Windows OS and Microsoft products such as the Surface Pro tablet and Xbox video game console.
The Microsoft Corporation was founded in a garage by Bill Gates and Paul Allen on April 4th, 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It first began with computers running the MS-DOS operation system in the mid-1980s.
Eventually, the company developed the Microsoft Windows OS around the same time. The company grew so valuable in 1986, it is credited with creating three billionaires and about 12,000 millionaires as a result.
Melinda Gates and Her Inspiration
Melinda credits her interest in tech as being inspired by her math teacher, Susan Bauer who taught at the girls’ school she attended in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Bauer, inspired by a demo of the Apple II made it her mission to educate girls in the use of computers. She sought and acquired her master’s degree in computer science and established the school’s first computer science lab.
Life in College
It is a well-known fact that the men to women ratio is disproportionate is most job field, but especially in tech, with higher numbers leaning more towards men. This is something that has been true since 1987 when Melinda Gates (as Melinda French) first joined the company.
During her college career, women being the minority was glaringly obvious for Melinda Gates, driving her to work harder. She stated that many people who began their computer science major alongside her chose to study other subjects.
Why She Almost Left Microsoft
After Melinda left college and began working at Microsoft Corporation, she saw the same thing there she did in college. Men outnumbered women and feeling ‘at home’ within the company proved to be very difficult because of the environment.
It also appeared to Melinda that those who became combative in this environment were also rewarded. The male-dominated culture was so bad, she considered simply quitting to get away.
Thankfully for women everywhere, she stuck to it.
According to Melinda Gates herself, “Computer science is one of the very few professional fields where the proportion of women has actually been going down. In 1985, women made up 37% of computer science graduates, a high-water mark that still fell well short of gender parity. Today that number has been cut almost in half: It’s now just 19%.”
Even with the contributions, women have made in many other fields, computer science seems to be lacking female-driven innovation.
There isn’t one particular reason for the numbers and many may have fed into others. Movies centered on technology and computers usually showed boys and men as the tech geeks, and women as perfect creatures who’d never touch a computer with a manicured nail.
Computer marketing campaigns and the entire video-game industry seemed to all cater to boys and men.
While movies like Weird Science and Revenge of the Nerds may have been ‘cult classics,’ all it did was reinforce “the ideal programmer as a white male geek (and the ideal woman as anything but a programmer.”
Back in 2013, three US states recorded only boys taking the AP computer science exam. 11 different states saw no African-American students take it, and eight in which no Hispanic student took the same test.
Melinda believes that our perception of the tech field is such because we shaped the industry to be dominated by ‘geeky’ white males.
How times are changing
Thanks to the development of online courses and being able to code from home, more and more women are seeking out ways to break into different tech industries. Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are just two organization teaching young girls that they too can be computer programmers and engineers.
It isn’t just about simply garnering interest in the field. Melinda states that it is “only one part of the solution to one part of the problem. We also need to help women stay in the field and make meaningful, successful careers. But addressing the so-called pipeline problem is a critical step forward.”
While Melinda may have been inspired by her math teacher decades ago, not every little girl is going to be afforded the same luxury. The right support system will pave the way for girls to get into computer science on their own interest and motivation in the field.