Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It is refreshing, to me at least, to find someone who acknowledges that, even in America, not everyone has an equal chance at success. To some this may sound like heresy, but this has been the great untold story of our history. The tales of Horatio Alger are not typical, if they ever happen. The other side of the story, the story that Gladwell tells here, is that it is important for us to support public institutions, including public education, that help level the playing field.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell most memorably tells the story of great advantages that Bill Gates had, helping to make him the wealthiest of the computer tycoons. In an interview, Bill Gates told Gladwell, “I was very lucky” (55).

Gates was born in a year, 1955, that put him in his early 20’s when the computer revolution was taking off. Before that, though, his parents were wealthy enough to transfer him to a private school, Lakeside in Seattle, when he started junior high. In 1968, the school purchased access to a computer terminal tied to a main frame computer in downtown Seattle.

Gladwell notes this was likely the only school in the country to have a computer at that time. Later, when the school ran out of money for the computer, Gates discovered that the University of Washington, within walking distance of his house, had a computer that was unused from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.

While still in high school, he happened to have the connections to get a paid internship as a computer programmer at a power plant. All of this contributed to Gates having well over the magical 10,000 hours of experience (see the book!) needed to become an expert computer programmer by the time he dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft.

I highly recommend this book!

Read Alike--Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School

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