For the first time in 30 years, 11 of Microsoft’s 12 original employees got together to re-create a famous photo taken just before the company moved from its Albuquerque birthplace to the Pacific Northwest in 1978.
“Paul doesn’t have his mustache,” quipped Bill Gates at the April photo shoot at Microsoft’s Redmond campus. “Facial hair is on the decline, I guess,” answered Paul Allen.
Reshooting an image known for its young faces (and of course groovy outfits and far-out hair) gave the company’s founders a chance to look back at what Microsoft has accomplished over three tumultuous decades. Everyone was there except Bob Wallace, who passed away in 2002.
Many at the reunion wished they had stayed on longer. All but Gates left the company by the mid-1990s. None of them knew how big Microsoft was going to get, except maybe Gates.
As Allen tells it, thinking big in the early days meant just getting the company off the ground. When he and Gates talked about forming the company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “we thought, wow, God, if we’re successful, maybe we’ll have 30 people.”
Still, it was obvious to everyone that Gates had big plans for Microsoft.
“Right from the start…Bill knew this was going someplace, and we were along for the ride,” said Bob Greenberg, one of Microsoft’s original “hardcore coders.” “I joked with him about lots of different things, but I learned very quickly the one thing you couldn’t joke about was the company itself. You couldn’t touch that ground.” Today, Greenberg manages several investments, is an officer with several Jewish organizations, and is an investor in a start-up company.
Allen added, “Bill was Bill,” driving the company hard and driving himself harder.
“I think Bill tried to set a very high benchmark,” he said. “He wanted to make sure everybody emulated that [work ethic].” Gates said it was in Albuquerque where he laid out his famous vision for Microsoft. “‘A computer on every desk and in every home running Microsoft software’ was the slogan of the company,” he recounted in a roundtable discussion that took place after the photo shoot.
A young Gates wasn’t always taken seriously, though. Just ask Miriam Lubow, who was the original receptionist for the company. (She missed the Albuquerque photo shoot because of a snowstorm.) She was hired by Steve Wood while Gates was away. She is retired and actively involved in many projects, including an autobiography.
“One morning in comes this kid, sneakers and blue jeans and hair disheveled, and I’m thinking this kid doesn’t belong here, what is he doing?” Lubow recounted to many laughs from her old colleagues. “He runs by my office and goes into the computer room that Steve said ‘nobody should go in there; it’s private. Don’t let anybody in there.’”
She quickly went to tell Wood. “I said, look Steve, this kid runs in there, and he’s in that room, and he’s working like he owns this place, and Steve says, ‘Well, you know what, he does. He’s your boss. He’s the president.’”
Once the company started to grow, Gates and Allen found they were having trouble wooing people to New Mexico, so they decided to move home.
“Bill and I used to talk about the fact that a lot of people didn’t even know what state Albuquerque was in,” Allen said.
Aside from Andrea Lewis, “nobody was based in Albuquerque,” Gates said, so there were no real ties there except for the good weather and the difficulties associated with moving everyone.
There was some initial resistance to the move, but everyone decided to make a go of it. It was at that time that Greenberg won a free portrait with a local photographer by correctly guessing the name of an assassinated president on a local radio program.
Perhaps foretelling what would soon become a major moment in Microsoft’s history, he wrote a memo to the team on December 6, 1978, titled “Esprit De Corps.”
“As a suitable culmination of Microsoft’s productive stay in Albuquerque, I have arranged a sitting to make a company-wide portrait,” Greenberg wrote. The photo was to be taken at Royal Frontier Studios with “regular informal attire.”
“Regular informal attire” turned out to be a blend of earth tones, collars, tweed, and just maybe a bit of velvet. Gates and Allen are in the front row with their torsos mostly cut off, making it hard to tell what they are wearing.
When asked about their choice of clothing, the jokes started flying. “We didn’t know of anything else to wear,” one person said. Another said, what’s the big deal, “we were all wearing clothes,” while someone else said “we’re engineers—don’t ask us that.”
The photo has gained a foothold in history for its look but also because “it’s the only photo” from that era, explained Marc McDonald, who left Microsoft in 1984. He returned to work with Design Intelligence in 2000 and still works at the company.
“[The Albuquerque photo] represents our legacy, but it’s not our legacy,” said Gordon Letwin, who, for the record, had to be coaxed to tuck in his shirt during the photo re-take, something he did begrudgingly. “Our legacy is what we’ve done, not a picture.”