Tag Archives: bill gates

Science is Real. Measurement is Real. Improvement Is Real

Bill Gates, the co-founder of the company I work for and a personal hero of mine, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “My plan to fight the world’s biggest problems.” It’s an exciting piece because it ties together several of my recent posts very well.

Science allows us to predict, control, and improve variation in the world. In order to actually make progress to these goals, it’s important to establish exemplars of great work. This is enabled through operational definitions that allow concepts to be measured. The quest for progress in science collapses when measurement becomes too difficult tor too expensive.

But the reverse is also true: progress in science begins when measurement becomes accessible.

Bill Gates’ op-ed is so awesome because he brings us back to the real world. When someone says “science,” others thinks of some cartoon view of men in white coats in a laboratory. When someone says that goal of science is the prediction, improvement, and control of variation, someone else will say that such is a “very narrow definition of science, downgrading as it does understanding and explanation.”

But the person who writes you write like Bill Gates does — who never even bother with the word “science” and hammers in that improvements are real:

Such measuring tools, Mr. Rosen writes, allowed inventors to see if their incremental design changes led to the improvements—such as higher power and less coal consumption—needed to build better engines. There’s a larger lesson here: Without feedback from precise measurement, Mr. Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.” With it, invention becomes “commonplace.”

In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal—in a feedback loop similar to the one Mr. Rosen describes.

This may seem basic, but it is amazing how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right. Historically, foreign aid has been measured in terms of the total amount of money invested—and during the Cold War, by whether a country stayed on our side—but not by how well it performed in actually helping people. Closer to home, despite innovation in measuring teacher performance world-wide, more than 90% of educators in the U.S. still get zero feedback on how to improve.

An innovation—whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed—can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. We need innovations in measurement to find new, effective ways to deliver those tools and services to the clinics, family farms and classrooms that need them.

… that’s the sort of person who can make a difference. The theory of science, measurement, and improvement are all left below the surface. What is left is a how-to guide to build a better world.

I write this blog for selfish reasons, I enjoy learning about the world. Bill Gates does what he’s doing to change the world.

Steve Jobs: Teachers Unions Cripple American Education

Everyone seems to recognize that the public education system in the United States is a joke, and that teachers unions are a major part of the problem. That “everyone” included Steve Jobs:

[Steve] Jobs also criticized America’s education system, saying it was “crippled by union work rules,” noted Isaacson. “Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform.” Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year.

Jobs’ specific idea about increasing the quantity of school time will be good for students from dysfunctional (“low socio-economic status”) families. For everyone else, just moving past a point where we trust teachers and principals to set education policy will be a big improvement.

Steve Jobs was a liberal, and that he (and Bill Gates, another liberal) are convinced that American education is broken in part because of unions shows how only a few knee-jerk bloggers even care about the teachers unions any more. One member of the knee-jerk crew writes at Daily Kos

If you were into the whole Steve Jobs cult of personality, hey, that’s great. But let’s lay off the hagiography for a second. Steve Jobs was just another wealthy douchebag who fancied himself an expert on education, just like his wealthy douchebag buddy Bill Gates:

Stay classy!

Related: The U.S. Economy and Public Education, by Bill Gates

Bill Gates Right on Immigration

Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates combines mastery of details and persuasive logic to argue in favor of increased skilled immigration to the United States.  Pay attention to the bit about the current calendar for transitioning from a student (F-1 OPT) to a skilled work (H-1B) visa:

Gates to Congress: Microsoft needs more H-1B visas
Disputing claims that skilled immigrants would cost American jobs, Gates argued that Microsoft hires four Americans for supporting roles for every high-skilled H-1B visa holder it hires. He also cited a study by a Virginia-based group that found a similar pattern held in other American high-tech companies.

Gates singled out the timing of the H-1B process for particular criticism. Visas for the coming year become available each April, and immigrants are permitted to begin work in October. Because a college degree is required before a worker can apply for an H-1B visa, foreign students who graduate from an American university in May are forced to wait until October of the following year to begin work at an American company. Not surprisingly, many highly skilled workers choose to take jobs outside of the US rather than wait for 18 months for the opportunity to take a job in the US.

Finally, Gates urged changes that would dramatically increase the number of skilled workers who could achieve permanent residency status in the US. In addition to the H-1B visa increase, he advocated an easier process for highly skilled immigrant workers to become permanent residents, and the elimination of country-based quotas for the issuance of green cards.

Let’s hope Congress listens to Bill Gates, and a pro-immigration candidate is elected this November.

Bill Gates on Technology and Strategy

Over the past few days, I had the great pleasure to savor a 1989 speech by Bill Gates to the Computer Science Club of the University of Waterloo. My previous exposure to Bill Gates’ thought had been rather disappointing — Business @ The Speed of Thought has to be one of the emptiest collections of cliches ever written — so I tuned in mainly for the nostalgia.

Little did I know that I was in for 93 minutes of brilliance.

Bill Gates speech in 1989 reveals two things: he is an expert at technology and an expert at strategy, both theoretical and applied. Except for the parts of his speech which deals with the specific environment of the late 1980s, most of Gates’ technological statements are timeless. Listening him to talk about his vision for programming I kept having to tell myself that .Net wouldn’t be released for another 14 years. Likewise, listening him to how he structures teams at Microsoft, and how he forms goals and sets release schedules, I kept being reminded of Chet Richards’ Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business.

The grand view of Gates’ ability is emphasized through his repitition of a near-disasterous decision. At the time, Microsoft and IBM were collaborating on a new operating system called (with typical IBM finesse) OS/2 (short of Operating System / 2). The relationship would collapse the very next year. IBM and Microsoft have very different operating philosophies, and Microsoft assisting in building and promoting IBM’s “successor” to Windows was in retrospect unimaginably dangerous. It was as if Queen Elizabeth I had supplied timber and workers to build the Spanish Armada.

Of course, like in that war, it didn’t matter.

IBM’s islamic, top-down, one-true-way philosophy was outclassed by Microsoft’s theory of embrace and extend. Just as the British defeated the Armada, not because of luck but because of the Spanish inability to change in respond to changing events, Microsoft defeated IBM because of International Business Machine’s inability to change in respond to changing event. On paper IBM had the advantages

  • Man power
  • Hordes of cash
  • Business Contacts
  • Experience (IBM had previously been outmaneuvred by Microsoft in the release of DOS)

But Microsoft had a unity of purpose, iterative design, and flexibility. IBM had none of these.

Within half a decade, the war was essentially over. IBM released the last commercial version of OS/2 in 1996. The overwhelming power & success of Microsoft Windows, by contrast, needs no elaboration.

Competitive Liberalization of People Movement

Microsoft Wants No Limit On Hiring Foreigners,” Associated Press, 27 April 2005, http://www.thekcrachannel.com/technology/4423402/detail.html (from Democratic Underground).

Canada is wooing Mexican immigrants,” by Chris Hawley, Arizona Republic, 3 May 2005, http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0503canada03.html.

While Microsoft founder Bill Gates is asking for more open immigration rules in the United States

Bill Gates is urging an end to federal limits on foreign engineers who can be hired by U.S. companies.

In some rare personal lobbying of the Bush administration and Congress, the Microsoft mogul said it doesn’t make sense to put limits on the number of “smart people” who can come into the country.

Currently, no more than 65,000 overseas engineers, scientists, architects and doctors are allowed to take such jobs in the U.S.

U.S. labor groups and out-of-work computer engineers argue otherwise, but Gates and other technology executives say they need a larger labor pool.

It’s a sensitive issue with Americans watching jobs moving overseas.

Canada is already doing just that

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Canada’s Immigration Policies Hasten the Harmonizatoin of North America

As the United States fortifies its border with Mexico, Canadian companies are reaching out to immigrants who are frustrated by U.S. restrictions and tempted by dreams of a better life in Canada.

The Canadian government has been relaxing its immigration rules in an effort to attract students and skilled workers from all over the world. That, and the push by companies promising jobs and visas, is attracting Mexican professionals turned off by the Minuteman Project, new border walls, tougher U.S. entry requirements and laws like Proposition 200 in Arizona.

“Live in Canada!” says a Mexico City newspaper ad placed by a Canadian labor recruiter, as a photo of the Toronto skyline beckons. “Voted the No. 1 country in the world for living four years in a row,” an immigration counseling company boasts on its Web site.
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Canada has its arms open to immigrants, and the United States has its arms closed. It’s as simple as that,” accountant Marcos Ramírez Posadas said as he stood in line with other visa applicants outside the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.

I like competitive liberalization. While Canada’s unilateral policies often cause trouble, I hope the US and Canada compete to attract foreign workers. Gates’ words are signs that similar openness may soon be coming to the United States.

My only criticism of these immigration plans such as H1-B is that they rarely provide a pathway to citizenship. My friends at USD’s CompSci program have a lot of hassles to go through because of American immigration rules, and they are not guaranteed citizenship at the end of their work. This is wrong. My friends Ilknur, Preaad, Tenuun, Ramana, Shujin, Xingming, &c work hard in America. My friends should be able to become Americans.

Post Script: A DU poster notes the “coincidence” of Gates’ personal lobbying and this. Hmmm…