REDMOND—Microsoft Corp. Chair Bill Gates has encouraged minority high school students to be curious about technology in the same way he became interested in computing when he was a teenager.
As part of a company effort to inspire the students to pursue high-tech careers, he also urged them to study math and science.
But he said students shouldn't necessarily follow in his footsteps when it comes to earning a college degree. Gates, the world's richest man, dropped out of Harvard and said he never had time to go back.
"I definitely think people should finish college," he said —with one exception. "If you see a chance to start a company that's going to change the world, that has to be done that minute, that's the special case."
About 170 students came to hear the 50-year-old Gates at the company's Redmond headquarters and another 800 listened to the talk at other Microsoft locations around the country through a Webcast recently.
Gates talked about the role of technology in people's lives, showcased some of Microsoft's newest gadgets and encouraged the students to take the right classes to set a foundation for the many different career opportunities in technology.
"All of those jobs require some understanding — a pretty high level actually — of math and science," Gates said.
Gates said decisions the students make in high school will help them realize their goals.
"The choices you make today about subjects you take, subjects you're serious about, will really affect and perhaps open up possibilities to you," he said.
The talk was the highlight of a day the teens spent touring the company, learning about career opportunities and checking out geeky product demonstrations.
Despite the opportunity to hear from the company's chief software architect, many of the students seemed bored during Gates' 20-minute talk, which at times sounded more like a sales pitch for Microsoft products than an inspirational speech.
Everyone perked up, however, when Gates started up an Xbox 360 and started showing off a car-racing game.
Gates took a try steering a yellow sports car through the game but didn't do nearly as well as Solomon Montgomery, 15, of Seattle, who took over the controls.
LaTasha Green, 17, a senior at Seattle's Garfield High School said she was inspired by Gates' talk. She said she was looking forward to using the free software the students were given for participating in the day's activities, and was interested in math.
While she said she appreciated the opportunity to see Microsoft's campus, it also beat the alternative.
"It's better than a day in school," she said.
— The Associated Press