Paul Allen, the Quiet Billionaire with Fingerprints All Over Seattle, Shows the Hometown Crowd a Bit of Himself

4/25/11Follow @curtwoodward

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given the development in the 1970s of cheaper microprocessors, software languages and kit computers. But he did emphasize the idea part of the equation, which is where he sees his own strength.

“The first thing you start with is the idea,” Allen said. “To get to the idea, my approach has always been—this may seem a little random, but it’s just to stuff your brain with as much information … as your brain can stand. And then I’m just lucky enough to, once in a while, see a connection between two things like microchips and software. And in this case, the BASIC language, which is what Microsoft’s first product was.”

Allen said he doesn’t delve into programming anymore, but still finds ways to seek out the creative elements that he enjoyed from that work in music, investments, philanthropy, or even writing the autobiography.

“Do I miss it a little bit? Sometimes. But just doing the book, it brought me back to that craftsmanship, that wordsmithing and everything. There’s a real singular reward and joy. Are there any programmers here?” Allen asked the crowd. When a few hands shot up, he let out an enthusiastic “Hey!”

“It’s a lot of fun. And when it’s three in the morning, and you’re bleary-eyed, and you finally find that damn bug that’s been screwing everything up for months, with your manager breathing down your neck—or your partner. Just kidding, just kidding—It’s really rewarding.”

Asked what kind of advice he’d have for Microsoft today, Allen offered a line of thought that critics of the Redmond, WA-based behemoth have mentioned many times.

“The PC was a new platform. So when these new platforms come into existence … you have to recognize those and jump on the opportunity and be competitive as fast as you can. And I think Microsoft is trying its best to address those now, but they are trying to creep up and match the competition that’s already got a very strong presence in the iPhone and Google’s Android,” Allen said. “These new platforms are key, and you have to have the agility. You can’t miss the opportunity and let others own that opportunity. I think Microsoft is pulling out all the stops now, as far as I understand from talking to people there, to try to recapture those opportunities.”

Asked about his yachts, Allen jokingly said: “They’re too big and there are too many of them. Do I need to say anything else?” He then described something most people won’t ever experience: … Next Page »

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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