Melinda Gates: 'Not every good idea comes in a hoodie'

Gates challenged attendees of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference to commit to helping women get into tech.

Erin Carson
Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
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Melinda Gates spoke about diversity in tech.

Monica Schipper/Getty

The next Bill Gates might not look anything like Bill Gates -- and probably shouldn't.

That was one of Melinda Gates' key messages as she spoke at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, a three-day conference that brings together thousands of students and professionals to hear speakers and attend session both focused on professional development and straightforward tech topics like open source computing and software engineering.

"Not every good idea comes in a hoodie," she told the crowd during Wednesday's opening keynote.

She joked that tech is often seen as a sea of white dudes, and then showed a slide with a grid filled with her husband's face to laughter from the audience.

Gates started working at Microsoft back in 1987. These days she's a high-profile philanthropist. While much of her work is as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, last September, she also launched an independent initiative focused on women in tech. She's been vocal about the importance of things like mentorship for women, and even the impact the gender imbalance in tech could have on developing technologies like artificial intelligence.    

On Wednesday, she put the onus on the attendees, issuing a call for those in the audience to commit to helping 10 women get into or stay in tech. It's going to take opening the floodgates, she said, to create a diverse and dynamic industry.

It's an important time for tech to get more diverse. She talked about the need for having a wide range of people influence the next generation of tech like artificial intelligence . Those systems tend to reflect the people who create them, so the more different perspectives that are fed in, the more effective AI can be.

Gates also talked about the amount of coverage the lack of diversity in tech has gotten in recent times -- it can be demoralizing for girls getting into the industry; she even made a quick reference to ex-Googler James Damore's memo which posited that women are biologically unsuited for tech.

"Who says 'sign me up for that?'" she said.

But sometimes bad news is good news. "We're finally seeing consequences for bad behavior," she said. 

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