Microsoft founder Bill Gates stopped by the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) campus on Thursday afternoon, where he chatted with some of the same sorts of tech-savvy students that he once was as a Harvard undergrad.
Gates greeted University officials, including President Drew Faust, President-elect Lawrence S. Bacow, and Provost Alan Garber, following a tour of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab and the Harvard Biodesign Lab with SEAS Dean Frank Doyle. There, Gates viewed demonstrations of ongoing cutting-edge research, including robotic bees and soft robots, and met with students, postdocs, and Professors Robert Wood and Conor Walsh, who run those labs, respectively.
“The work here is taking robotics in many dimensions and in different realms,” Gates said later during a relaxed back-and-forth conversation with Doyle and a Q&A session with students at the Science Center. “I saw a variety of robots that are really amazing, and … the collaboration between the various teams was amazing to see.”
Gates also spoke about his storied career building Microsoft after initially spying a home computer ad in the pages of an electronics magazine in his room at Currier House. In addition, he talked about his more recent work leading a private charitable foundation that focuses on global health and education, and he reminisced about his time at the College.
Gates, 62, famously dropped out of the College in 1975 to co-found Microsoft. He received an honorary law degree from the University in 2007, three decades after his class graduated.
Gates said he initially came to Harvard with a great many interests and a voracious appetite for learning but was not very focused in the early days. He said he had a tendency to sign up for classes and then only show up for the final exams, much like a Freudian recurring dream, because he was busy attending other courses instead. “I took all these courses because it was just so amazing!” he marveled.
Asked if he had any regrets from his student days, Gates said he wished he had been “more sociable” and had mixed with a wider array of classmates instead of focusing so intently on his work and on writing computer code. He recalled how his much more outgoing friend Steve Ballmer, who lived down the hall at Currier House and who would join Microsoft in 1980, liked to push him to cut loose every once in a while.