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Timesharing didn’t exactly bring computing to the masses, but it did introduce some lucky kids to computers. Two of the lucky ones were Paul Allen and Bill Gates, who found their calling in the Teletype room at Lakeside School, Seattle. It had been set up with proceeds from a Mother’s Club bake sale, a single Teletype machine with an old-fashioned modem, a cradle where you’d place a telephone receiver to connect to a General Electric timesharing computer. Allen, Gates, and a few friends monopolized the Teletype room and quickly went through the school’s timeshare budget.

They got a break—perhaps a life-changing break—when the school switched to a new timesharing company called Computer Center Corporation, or C-Cubed. The company invited students from Lakeside to help them debug their new DEC PDP-10 computer. Through this arrangement C-Cubed and DEC were ostensibly getting free system testing, but it was probably the kids who benefited the most. For months Gates and Allen and a few other Lakeside students spent every available minute at C-Cubed, busing down after school and staying until late in the night. And, unlike school, there were plenty of Teletypes to go around. All they had to do was report any bugs they found in the software.

The students generally worked on their own projects, surfacing only to discuss a problem or go out for pizza. Sometimes they explicitly tried to crash the system or breach security. Someone managed to get into the accounting files and may have deleted some billing records. This merited a visit to Lakeside by a company representative, who made it clear that the students’ job was to find bugs, not destroy files.

Surprisingly, the students were not banned from C-Cubed. They returned reformed, or at least intent on not jeopardizing their free computer time. Engineers gave them manuals to read on the PDP-10, on BASIC, on assembly language, anything that was available. The students devoured it all, eager to test their newfound knowledge.

This experience, for many of these teenagers, was their head start into computing. Many of the Lakeside students involved at C-Cubed used the experience and connections to land high-tech jobs or start their own businesses. For Gates and Allen it would lead, step by step, to the founding of Microsoft.

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Related Artifacts & People

image of The ASR-33 Teletype

The ASR-33 Teletype

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image of Bill Gates (b. 1955)

Bill Gates (b. 1955)

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image of Paul Allen (b. 1953)

Paul Allen (b. 1953)

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Related Links

The Accidental Zillionaire
Wired profile of Paul Allen.

Bill Gates Interview
Transcript of 1993 video oral history from the Smithsonian Institution.

The PDP-10
A close look at Columbia University’s PDP-10.