A friend once told me there are two reasons why people don't retire, and both are tragic: they either want to retire but can't, or they have no other interests but their work.
In July, Bill Gates will cease to be a full-time Microsoft employee. While he will remain the software giant's chairman, philanthropy will be the world's most famous geek's new full-time job.
With super-rich high-tech executives like Dell, Ellison, and Jobs still gainfully employed, who pegged Gates to opt out on the "other interests" clause? Not me; I thought he'd work at Microsoft until he keeled over. And philanthropy? That was doubly unexpected.
Why was I so surprised? Well, 17 years ago I worked for a software company, Stac Electronics. Gates and Microsoft effectively destroyed the company by stealing its technology. That's not my opinion; a $120 million judgment in federal court said so.
Suffice to say I didn't have a very good impression of the man then.
I wonder what changed him. Was it Dallas-born Melinda, who he married in 1994? The perspective of having children? Rockefeller? Buffet? Bono? Who knows?
The bottom line is this: the once arrogant, ruthless, abusive executive has apparently changed. He's grown up. Gates has become a role model for wealthy executives-turned-philanthropists everywhere. Not only is he giving back to society in a big way, he's inspiring others to do the same.
That, more than anything in recent years, makes me proud to be a part of the high-tech industry. And that pride comes from a most unexpected source. It's shocking, really.