Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard two years into his college education to start Microsoft, the business that would make him a millionaire by age 26. Now, over 40 years later, Gates says there is still one thing he regrets about his Harvard years.
“Well, I wish I had been more sociable,” Gates told students at Harvard during a Q&A.
Instead of mingling with his peers, Gates said his college priorities were almost solely academics. “I wish I had gotten to know more people,” he said. “I was just so into being good at the classes and taking lots of classes.”
The sparse social life Gates said he did have was thanks to his classmate and good college friend Steve Ballmer. The two started out as dorm hall neighbors who would go see movies and study together, even though “Ballmer was very different from Gates on the surface,” according to the Harvard Gazette. Unlike Gates, Ballmer was extroverted and involved in a variety of extracurricular activities, including social clubs and campus publications.
In their sophomore year, Ballmer helped Gates make the cut from a pool of over 200 students to join one of Harvard’s exclusive all-male social clubs.
“I was so antisocial, I never would have even known the social clubs existed, but Steve Ballmer decided I needed to have some exposure to, I guess, drinking,” Gates said with a laugh at the Q&A.
“He got me punched through the Fox Club,” Gates added, referring to the selection process. “So I would go to those events, and that was highly educational.”
Ballmer went on to become one of Microsoft’s earliest employees, later succeeding Gates as the company’s CEO in 2000.
To Gates, the Fox Club was fun, but he now wishes he’d found more camaraderie around Harvard.
“I wish I had mixed around a bit more,” he said. “It was a fun time, though, because you had people around you could talk to 24 hours a day.”
At the time, Harvard was also accepting more women into the college, which Gates was pleased about.
“The male-to-female ratio was 1-to-1, which was an unusual thing at the time,” he said. “It didn’t help me, but it was a visual improvement for me.”
Gates also noted he could have done a better job of engaging in the Crimson team spirit.
“I never went to a football game or a basketball game or, you know, whatever other sports teams Harvard might happen to have,” Gates said.
Though Gates went on to launch his multibillion-dollar company and give away billions of dollars through his philanthropy, he still thinks about all of the missed social opportunities.
“You know, it worked out in the end,” Gates said. “But I missed a lot.”