The struggle between parents’ authority and children’s autonomy is nothing new, but the Gates parents were more willing than most to give him a significant amount of independence. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, they enrolled Bill in a private school known to give their students unusual amounts of freedom. It was at this school that Bill discovered computers.
By the age of 13, Bill’s parents permitted him to visit the University of Washington at night to use their computers. They also allowed him to leave home for chunks of time, like to go to Olympia, where he was a page at the state legislature, and Washington, D.C. to work as a Congressional page. He also took a break from school his senior year of high school to work as a programmer at a power plant in southern Washington. All this was before he dropped out of Harvard University to move to New Mexico to found Microsoft.
“Mary and I were both concerned about it — I think she a bit more than I,” Bill Sr. told the Wall Street Journal. “Her expectations and mine were very ordinary expectations of people who have kids in college — that they get a degree.” But ultimately they were supportive of their son, who eventually moved the company closer to home in Seattle.