Monday, June 9, 2008

Bill Gates says "sh**"

060308 TechEd  2008 Influencer Roundtable - Group No, this isn't the beginning of a joke. Bill Gates really uses the word "sh**".

I know I still owe an overall posting about TechEd, but I really wanted to get this typed out before I forget.

I didn't post this before because I wasn't free to talk about it publicly (although a few of you already knew).

This past Tuesday I was able to have lunch with Bill Gates. Well, not just me, but me and 14 other people. But that's still a very small group. For a geek, this is an amazing dream come true.

The basic agenda was this - group photo before the lunch, and then lunch as just an open discussion.

I showed up with just enough time to spare to catch my breath (more on that later), and was presented with this huge crystal plaque thanking me for attending the lunch and being an "influencer". The frustrating part (and, no, I didn't say anything then) was that the plaque had the name Chris (not my real name). It also would have been cool if it would have said I had lunch with Bill Gates, but I'm not going to complain.

We were then asked to take to the steps you see above and then take a couple of group photos sans Bill. After doing that, Bill arrived. No fanfare. No guards. Just simply Bill walking up, saying "hi" and taking his place in front. He took his place, we took a couple more pictures, and then went back for lunch.

This was in the Orange County Conference Center, where the rest of the population attending was enjoying(?) a buffet lunch. We were in a little conference room with a circular table made out of rectangular tables enjoying a very nice lunch served by two of the OCCC's best. (For anyone who's interested, the meal was a wedge salad, followed by grilled chicken breast with assorted root veggies, and key lime pie to finish.)

The conversation was completely free form. It was basically someone asking a question (usually about a minute or so in length, although a few people went longer) and Bill talking for a good 10-15 minutes on the topic. It was during one of his answers that Bill used the magic word mentioned above.

The conversation on the whole was about education (here and abroad) and how to help less fortunate in the world. It started with a quick question about what Bill was going to do with his "free time" and went from there. It was very fascinating to hear what Bill had to say.

Hindsight being what it is, I wish I would have done this posting earlier, but here is the big points as best as I can remember them. Being involved in some way with education, that's what I remember the most.

One of the most interesting things he mentioned was that teachers who are in the top 25% consistently stay there while teachers in the bottom 25% consistently stay there. He mentioned that one thing that could be done to improve this would be to record teachers who are successful at something (teaching a particular topic, dealing with difficult students, etc.) and allowing teachers who wanted to improve to watch them. He then went on to mention that there are many teachers' unions who don't want such a concept as it would require marking certain teachers as good (and then the inference for the rest).

It also became clear his disdain for teachers' unions in general. He brought up the fact that many school boards are populated by teachers who are then responsible for negotiating with the teachers' union, meaning there's nobody in the middle representing either the parents or the students.

He also talked about working with a couple of school systems here in the US, one in San Diego (I need to find out which one) and one in Colorado. The one in San Diego started at about 500 students and was gutted and recreated as 4 separate, focused schools. The teaching staff was forced to re-interview, and 30% of them were not retained. The school turned out to be an amazing success. In Colorado they attempted the same thing and the school board and union prevented them from doing a complete rehire of the teaching staff. The project was such a failure they abandoned it. He then went on to say they won't work with areas that won't give them complete control over reworking the school.

He also talked about education and people learning in general. He said that textbooks as we know them are dead. He talked about his daughter who attends a school that simply gives out tablet PC's to the students and on there is the textbooks. All notes, etc., are done through the PC's.

In his opinion, the concept of the normal classroom for late HS and college are completely out of date. He talked about the concept of simply showing classrooms videos of teachers who teach a particular topic the best. He mentioned a study done at HP(?) where some employees attended training physically and others watched videos of the training, pausing after every topic to discuss what was just covered. As it turned out, the latter group learned more than the former because it allowed them to clarify each topic before moving on to the next rather than simply forging on.

He talked about some of the recent disasters that have occurred and that the time to give money is before a disaster occurs to build infrastructure. He brought up the case of the Red Cross after Katrina where they started spending the money on other things than specifically Katrina and how they were pressured to direct the money back to the area most recently impacted rather than building towards the future.

This was not the only area of bureaucracy brought up, as Bill mentioned the UN and their different programs. He joked that every time he thought he knew all the programs the UN sponsors a new one pops up.

I wish I could remember more, but that's all that's still in my head.

What I also found interesting was that Bill had no less than 4 handlers there, including one taking notes (I'm assuming so that should one of us go to the media and talk about something they could clarify anything if needed). He also didn't eat much of anything during his lunch, saying he'd get something later. No word on wether the limo went through a drive-through on the way back to the airport.

But either way, it was a completely unforgettable lunch.

And the coolest (to me) part - Bill was sitting one person off to my right. It was me, S. Somasegar, and then Bill Gates. (And if you'd like to read S. Somesagar's blog posting, you can find it here.)

An amazing lunch.


Joebob sh** said...

that is so freaking incredible.. I am going to sh** my pants...

hehehehe... I am so happy for you.. and so jealous... congratulations, my friend... congratulations.....

Rebecca said...

Lunch with Bill Gates?? That is fantastic! He says the "s" word?? Even better! :-) And as a unionized public school teacher, I'll agree with Bill Gates on at least one point (to start... I could go on and on...): Textbooks as we know them are dead. At no time during the day are my students more rapt with attention than when I'm teaching via my SmartBoard or when they're in front of their iBooks. (sorry...) ;-)

Jeremy L. Smith said...

I am jealous too man! Right on and very cool Chris!

Jeremy Smith