Touching Gatesness

Customer Evidence Team and Bill Gates in MGX 2002
Customer Evidence Team and Bill Gates in MGX 2002

“He is coming!” whisper-yells my colleague. The year is 2002. I’m standing in front of our Global Customer Evidence Booth in New Orleans and I’m about to meet Bill Gates. My life changes today. I’m 30 years old, it’s my birthday week and I am about to start my journey into the world of technology and tradeshows.

It is July in NOLA. Even with the A/C blasting, the city heaves its sultry, sweaty breath onto every movement. We are all glistening and it is so hot. I am not happy with what I am wearing. And I’m probably at the heaviest I’ve ever been. I’m excited but feeling a bit self-conscious, which I hide with my gregarious personality per usual. Our program was just announced to all of Microsoft and we are now about to “go on” for the boss.

I turn to the demo machine. The voice inside my head starts in “Do you remember what to say? “Do not call him Bill. or Uncle Bill. Remember its Mr. Gates.  Mr. Gates.” “How’s my hair?” “Do I do that presenter trick and imagine him in his underwear?” Why is everyone’s inner voice such a jerk?

In my head I think, “Alright get it together, turn it on, you were a theatre major, you’ve got this. Breathe.” I feel my team staring at me from behind. I make sure we are on the right screen for the demo. I turn back to them, wipe my brow and say “let’s do this, where is he?”

The enormous expo hall has just opened its doors. A massive sea of t-shirted dudes with giant backpacks swarm the booths filled with giveaway squeezy balls, brochures and pens.

I see him from a far, coming up our aisle. He is wearing glasses, khaki pants and a blue button down shirt. To see him he looks like a normal guy, walking through an expo hall. He approaches. He has no entourage, nothing fancy. Each of my teammates will give a section of our demo and I am last. We are all trying desperately to literally keep our cool. My colleague starts us off.

When it’s my turn I say “Hello Mr. Gates,” he smiles at me and says “Hi, so show me what you’re doing.” I say “sure thing.” He stands right next to me - we are as close as if we are sitting and watching a movie together at a movie house.

I turn to our screen, grab the mouse and proceed to click around our site. I explain to him the backend technology piece of our program. I turn towards him and I use my hands as I’m talking. I’m clicking around with one hand and then gesturing with my other. I’m rocking it, feeling confident and happy. I go on talking and clicking and talking and clicking then the voice inside my head screams…

“Heather Newman stop touching BILL GATES – WHAT the heck are you doing?” I realize I am touching and have touched THE WEATHIEST MAN ON EARTH at least three times on the arm, pretty emphatically. I am mortified.

I turn to him and say “Mr Gates, um, I’m sorry that I keep touching you, I’m really excited and nervous and well, I’m just sorry.” He stops, looks at me for a second (a long second, cheeky fellow) and smiles and says “Happens all the time, but watch out for the fella behind you.” I looked over my shoulder and his bodyguard looks at me, gives a nod but does not smile. My colleagues giggle.

I laugh and He laughs a little too and says “Ok, let’s wrap it up.” I finish my part of the demo and he continues to be gracious. He takes photos with us. He shakes our hands and says “Thank you, great job.” He heads off to his next appointment. The four of us wait till he is out of site and silently scream YAY at each other. I’m not sure my feet touched the ground the rest of the conference.

Demoing to Bill Gates at MGX led to fourteen years of my traveling all over the world, starting the SharePoint Conference and producing thousands of events, parties, and meetings for Microsoft.

Since 2002 I have usually been away from home attending or producing the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference during my birthday week, this week. This year, I have been home instead of being otherwise engaged and off somewhere in the world.  Having a little time to reflect, I wanted to share this story this first magical moment with Microsoft and of my beginnings in tech.

I also want to say thank you to Mr. Bill Gates for treating a excited young gal with grace, levity and for opening up a world to all of us that I am proud to be involved with on a daily basis.  So many moments during this week over the years have truly changed the course of my life. It’s a magical one for me.  So, thank you, I am very grateful.

Heather Newman and Bill Gates
Heather Newman and Bill Gates