Q. How does somebody impress you at a job interview?
A. I don't do many job interviews. When I do, my approach is to find a business-related topic the candidate says he or she cares passionately about, and then try to gauge whether the person has gone out of their way to learn about it and think of it in new ways. I want to know if a candidate has formed a complete model of how a project or company works. How does he or she engage? Talking about a subject a person cares a great deal about allows me to really explore the lengths to which he or she might go on a project we assign. My general advice to job applicants is to find out as much as possible about a company in advance. Perhaps the most efficient way to do this today is by studying the company's site on the internet. On a web site you can learn not only about employment opportunities, but about the needs and challenges the company faces. In fact, you can often learn more about a company on the web than you would by actually spending a day at the company. A demonstration of deep corporate knowledge on the part of a job applicant impresses me - and almost any other prospective employer.
Q. What is more important to your success, raw intelligence or hard work?
A. Hard work, without a doubt. But not just my hard work. What really matters is the hard work of people who come to work with me. Raw intelligence weighs most heavily in a little contest like a math puzzle. But over a period of years, when you're in business building complex projects and working with customers, success is much more a result of dedication and persistence than brilliance. I don't mean to discount intelligence. I value it highly, and it is essential to many kinds of success. But even when intelligence appears to be the reason for a success, hard work probably had a lot to do with it, too.
Q. I have developed software that may be patentable. Naturally, I hope to profit from my idea. What is the best way for a software inventor to market his or her product, or present it to an established software company for development and marketing?
A. If the idea really is patentable, you should probably patent it so that you can disclose it to people without the anxiety that somebody might take it. Obtaining a patent isn't cheap, but its protection can be invaluable.
Microsoft sometimes buys patented technologies. We even buy a whole company, when it owns a product or technology that we think has strategic value.
We get a massive number of suggestions from customers, for everything from feature improvements to new products. Microsoft pays close attention to these ideas because they help us understand what customers want. But when somebody has an unpatented idea that they want to profit from, companies such as Microsoft and IBM just can't let themselves look at it or evaluate it at all. We might already be working on the same idea or we might come up with something similar on our own. So we tell people who approach us with a proprietary idea that they want to protect that there's nothing we can do to co-operate with them. The same policy is in place at most if not all large software companies, I'm afraid.
Ask Bill Gates questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.