Paul graduated from Lakeside and went on to attend Washington State University while Bill, two years younger, finished his time at Lakeside, then enrolled at Harvard. Paul dropped out of WSU to take a job as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston where he and Bill continued to work together on side projects. That all changed in December of 1974 when an issue of Popular Electronics highlighted a new computer called the Altair 8800. Paul knew the time to act was at hand — the first affordable personal computer was about to arrive. But what it needed was an operating system, so Bill and Paul nervously contacted the machine’s manufacturer, Ed Roberts.
Although they hadn’t written a line of code, they bluffed and told him they’d gotten the BASIC programming language to run on the Altair and wanted to demo it for him. Roberts agreed and, after eight weeks of programming, when their BASIC interpreter was complete, Paul flew to Albuquerque to meet with Roberts. The flight was uneventful until, right before landing, Paul realized he’d forgotten to write the bootstrap loader, so he grabbed a steno pad and hurriedly scribbled it in longhand. When it finally came time to demo the software, Paul began typing while Roberts and his partner, Bill Yates, looked on anxiously. As he hit “run” the printer jumped to life. Roberts and Yates were flabbergasted. Then Paul typed “PRINT 2+2” and the machine responded by printing out the number 4. Never had the printing of one digit been so monumental; from that moment on, Paul and Bill’s lives would never be the same. They started Microsoft together, on April 4, 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Roberts’ and Yates’ company, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), was their first customer.