Q: I've just finished my study of computer science. Now, at the age of 25, I have to decide whether to apply for a job in a big firm or in a small company. As a beginner, I want to get as many experiences as possible.
What's your advice?
A: You're likely to get broader experiences with a big firm, but there are many exceptions to this rule. It depends on the manager you work for and what problem you are assigned. Small companies can be exciting in terms of the hands-on experience they provide. Big ones are better in terms of the training they offer.
If your interest is in helping a company manage its internal computer issues, a big company is likely to expose you to a broader range of challenges.
On the other hand, if you're super-confident and competent, maybe you could become the key person doing a wide range of work for a small firm.
Big or small? I can only say 'It depends'. But I'd lean towards getting experience in a big firm first.
Q: How long do you think it will take for the average individual to feel comfortable offering personal identification for online transactions?
For example, how long will it be before people visit an airline's web site and purchase a ticket with a credit card and feel perfectly comfortable?
A: In the next five years, virtually everybody who uses the internet regularly will feel entirely comfortable using credit cards to make online purchases. There's no particular reason to feel uncomfortable now. It's just a matter of trying it a few times. It's very difficult for credit-card information to be intercepted while on the internet. The main security vulnerabilities are at the two ends of an internet transmission - with you and the company you're doing business with. To keep your end secure, you want to make sure nobody knows or can easily guess your passwords or otherwise pretend to be you. To keep its end secure, a company doing business on the internet needs to manage and monitor the computer that stores credit-card information about consumers. I have no hesitation about doing business on the internet, provided I'm dealing with a reputable company.
Q: How do you continue at the pace you do and not get burned out?
A: Burnout generally comes if you force somebody to do a job that's not much fun or you're overworking them. It's worth avoiding at almost any cost. I don't feel any sense of burnout - the industry is changing quickly and there's nothing I'm doing that's particularly repetitious. In solving new problems and working with smart people, my job has a lot of variety.
For years I've felt anxious about people's expectations: will Microsoft keep growing at the same rate? Will its stock keep going up? Some people have expectations of me that can't be fulfilled and that concerns me, but burnout is not an issue. I'm not overworked, at least by my standards.
I reserve time for my family and friends. I take vacations for fun, and to renew my energy. People who fear burnout should stimulate themselves by tackling new frontiers and looking at problems in new ways. It may take some effort, but it's worth it.
Next month a new column by Esther Dyson replaces Bill Gates.