Bill Gates' Made Men: The Wild 'n' Crazy Ventures of the Microsoft Millionaires

Creating an organisation bent on world domination takes more than just a maniacal leader with a high, cackling voice. It takes underlings. Henchmen, if you will. But these are no Bond villains. Bill Gates rewarded his geniuses with stock, just as they rewarded him with their hard work and ingenuity—and they wound up very rich. Over 10,000 Microsoft minions have become millionaires through the company's runaway success over the past three decades, and more than a few have dedicated themselves to the kinds of causes and business ventures that only the super-well-heeled can afford. Here are some of Bill's Made Men (and Women).

Name: Paul Allen
Current Job: Owning the World
Years at Microsoft: 8, but stayed on as a senior strategy advisor
Position: Co-Founder
Paul Allen has more money than most countries. He owns, among so many other things, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Seattle Seahawks, the future Seattle Major League Soccer team, most of the South Lake Union neighbourhood of Seattle, the seventh-largest yacht in the world, Charter Communications, a large stake of DreamWorks Animation, and you and your entire extended family. He has donated, as of 2007, roughly US$900 million to charitable organisations. He bought the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. He has a flower fly named after him. This is unconfirmed, but Paul Allen may in fact be a mythological money-making deity. He owns the words I'm writing at this very moment. That one, right there, he owns that.

Name: Stephanie DeVaan
Current Job: Abortion Rights Activist
Years at Microsoft: 5
Position: Software Marketing
Stephanie DeVaan is the founder of the Washington Women for Choice, a Seattle-based PAC working to preserve women's rights with the help of her Microsoft millions. I've got a lot of respect for her group, but I am annoyed there's really nothing funny you can say about abortion.

Name: Raghav Kher
Current Job: Bollywood Empresario
Years at Microsoft: 8
Position: Acquisitions
Seventymm, Raghav Kher's fourth company, is India's answer to Netflix. Kher saw the endless stream of films—totally and offensively indistinguishable to Americans—coming out of India, and jumped at the opportunity to bring online DVD distribution to the country. The Bollywood film industry has yet to burst into spontaneous, colourful song in thanks.

Name: John Sage
Current Job: CEO: Pura Vida Coffee, Hippie
Years at Microsoft: 10
Position: Marketing Executive
Not to be confused with the 14th-century English torturer of the same name, this John Sage took his Microsoft riches and expertise to a number of startups, currently the philanthropic Pura Vida Coffee Company. Pura Vida trades in organic, shade-grown—and fair-trade—Costa Rican coffee, harvested by angels on high and delivered by equitable-wage-earning teddy bears to your local campus coffee shop. Huggable tree not included.

Name: Ric Weiland
Most Recent Job: Board of Directors, Pride Foundation
Years at Microsoft: 13
Position: Lead Programmer, Project Leader
The project leader for Microsoft Works and lead programmer for the BASIC and COBOL language systems, Ric Weiland was described as a "brilliant programmer" and key to Microsoft's success by Paul Allen. Before his untimely passing in 2006, Weiland was one of the nation's most powerful LGBT activists, contributing over $30 million in his lifetime and bequeathing US$65 million more while never seeking the limelight for his work.

Name: Charles Simonyi
Current Job: Space Tourist, Philanthropist
Years at Microsoft: 21
Position: Developer, Project Leader
The Hungarian-born developer Charles Simonyi oversaw the development of two of Microsoft's most profitable products, Word and Excel; started a successful intentional programming firm called Intentional Software; embarked on a ten-day mission to the International Space Station; and donated millions of dollars in grants to Stanford and Oxford Universities as well as the Seattle Symphony and Public Library. More importantly, he has been dating Martha Stewart for over fourteen years. I bet he's got some really beautiful doilies on his unfortunately-named super-yacht, Skat.

Name: Richard Brodie
Current Job: Professional Poker Player
Years at Microsoft: 5
Position: Developer
Richard "Quiet Lion" Brodie was the original author of Microsoft Word, and subsequent creator of that squiggly red underline that makes fun of you when you forget how many Rs there are in "embarrassment." Now a professional poker player who has competed in the World Series of Poker, he was banned in May 2007 from all Harrah's locations in Nevada, California, and Arizona for a string of lucky wins on their video poker machines. The ban was lifted, but his "kind of a badass, at least for a former Microsoft employee and poker player" reputation persists.

Name: Rob Glaser
Current Job: Chairman and CEO of RealNetworks
Years at Microsoft: 10
Position: Vice President of Multimedia
Described during his time at Yale as politically "slightly to the left of Che Guevara," Rob Glaser has used his Microsoft earnings for both business and politics. Politically, he has supported Ralph Nader and Mother Jones, an ultra-liberal/commie/pinko magazine, among others. In the business world, he founded everyone's favourite company, RealNetworks, infuriating music-loving nerds for over a decade. I think that Eagle-Eye Cherry music video I tried to stream back in '98 is STILL buffering.

Name: Andrea Lewis
Current Job: Freelance Writer, Co-Founder of Richard Hugo House
Years at Microsoft: 5
Position: Technical Writer
Andrea Lewis was Microsoft's first technical writer, and one of the illustrious original eleven employees who took part in that deliciously dated and nerdy 1978 company photo below. (We bet Andrea knows how to spell "embarrassment.") She was integral in turning Microsoft's early techspeak into something normal folk could understand, helping the fledgling company get a foothold in the early '80s. Now a freelance fiction writer and journalist, she helped found the Richard Hugo House, a literary centre in Seattle.

Name: Bob Greenberg
Post-Microsoft Job: Doll Magnate
Years at Microsoft: 4
Position: Developer
Though currently he is again working in the software industry, Bob Greenberg took a substantial detour from the tech world to create a pop-culture icon of the 1980s: the rotund, empty-eyed and nightmarish Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. The dolls' official website describes the birthing process: flying bunnies sprinkle cabbages with magic crystals, leading to the birth of these spherical-headed plastic terrors from said leafy vegetation. Normally I'd que stion a story like that, but it's right there, plain as day, on the internet.

Name: Gordon Letwin
Current Job: Environmental Philanthropist
Years at Microsoft: 15
Position: Project Developer
One of the two lead architects of the OS/2 operating system, Gordon Letwin was recognised by Bill Gates as his programming equal. He had the longest tenure of any of the original eleven Microsoft employees, other than Gates himself, and left the company in 1993 to spend time with his family and devote himself to green charitable causes. His other hobbies include making sure that his specific biographical details cannot be found online, as well as infuriating young writers who are just trying to find out which damn charities he's been helping.

Name: Bob Wallace
Most Recent Job: Psychedelics Champion
Years at Microsoft: 5
Position: Production Manager, Software Designer
The builder of Microsoft's first Pascal product and one of the company's original eleven employees, Bob Wallace left Microsoft in 1983 to start his own company, Quicksoft. There, he coined the term 'shareware' and created PC-Write, a popular pre-Word word processor. But Wallace is perhaps best known for his championing of psychedelic substances, funding organisations including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, the Heffter Research Institute, and Erowid. He passed away unexpectedly in 2002, hence the lack of silly drug-related jokes.

Name: Nathan Myhrvold
Current Job: Renaissance Man
Years at Microsoft: 13
Position: Chief Technology Officer
After his company, Dynamical Systems, was bought by Microsoft in 1986, Nathan Myhrvold served as Bill Gates' chief technology officer, heading Microsoft's massive research programs. After leaving the company, Myhrvold began even more thoroughly winning at life. He's a prize-winning nature and wildlife photographer, published in a number of high-profile journals, and is involved with paleontological expeditions. He's also a French-trained master chef, and a winner of the world championship of barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee. He also runs a company called Intellectual Ventures, which manufactures patents for good ideas. The man can just about do anything, which can sometimes give others a sense of inadequacy about their own achievements. If it's any consolation, I hear he is, at best, a mediocre and even uninspired classical bassoonist.

Among this list of luminaries, quite a few were there for that first Microsoft family photo back in 1978:

If you'd like to talk about your favourite Microsoft Millionaires, any that weren't included in this sampling, by all means do it. This isn't a "Top 15" or anything, just a fun roundup of people doing cool things.

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