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Who Were the First Five Employees at Microsoft?
The earliest employees at Microsoft were part of a group now affectionately known as the "Albuquerque Eleven."
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6 minute read

Bill Gates and Paul Allen are known for co-founding the biggest computer software company in the world. The two high school friends successfully invented microprocesses and software for early computers in the early ‘70s and expanded into everything from operating systems, gaming and virtual reality.

The two founders went on to become billionaires, business tycoons and philanthropists in their own right. But before the technology company sold its first computer software to IBM in 1980, a small group of employees were working out of a nondescript office building in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Microsoft's Albuquerque Eleven

Known as the ‘Albuquerque Eleven,’ 11 early Microsoft employees pose for a portrait in their founding town of Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1978. The company moved its headquarters to Seattle a year later. Credit: Microsoft.

The now famous photograph of 11 of the earliest Microsoft employees has made its way around the internet for years with the caption: Would you invest? Implying that the long-haired, plain-clothed clad group would seemingly not go on to create one of the world’s most successful companies.

Check out who some of these early employees were, when they started working for Microsoft and what instrumental roles they all played in making their company a tech giant.

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1. Bill Gates and Paul Allen - Co-founders

Neither of the two founders are still active day-to-day at Microsoft. Gates handed over the CEO reins to Steve Ballmer, an early Microsoft employee, in 2000, and stepped into a technology advisor role himself. Gates served as chairman until 2014, and currently is heavily involved in the foundation he and his former wife, Melinda also started in 2000.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given away $60 billion since its founding to causes tied to eradicating diseases and reducing poverty and inequity around the world.

Paul Allen resigned as Microsoft’s chief technologist after being diagnosed with Hodgkin disease in 1983. He went on to start several different ventures, including another software company, a music museum and a brain research institute. He also was the owner of two American sports teams: the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers. Diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Allen passed away on October 15, 2018.

2. Marc McDonald - Systems Software Designer

Marc McDonald is generally identified as Microsoft’s first-ever employee (after its founders). McDonald was hired in 1976 as a systems software designer. He is credited for creating a computer file system that adapted to BASIC (an early computer programming language) and Microsoft’s earliest operating system—Windows.

He left the company in 1984 to join a company Paul Allen went on to start, Aysemtrix. McDonald found himself back at Microsoft in 1993 when it acquired Design Intelligence, the Seattle-based software company where he was then working.

3. Ric Weiland - Computer Programmer

Ric Weiland is credited as the second Microsoft employee, joining the team a year after McDonald in 1977 as a computer programmer. A high school friend of both Gates and Allen, Weiland, the trio started the Lakeside Programming Group together at their high school in 1969. Weiland ended up postponing his last undergraduate year at Stanford to join his old classmates to build Microsoft. He eventually became lead programmer at the company, until he left in 1988.

Outside of Microsoft, Weiland was a strong advocate for LBGTQ rights and HIV awareness— living with a positive diagnosis himself. After he left Microsoft, Weiland turned his attention to philanthropy, donating nearly $21.5 million in his lifetime to fund medical advancements in HIV/AIDs research, and to aid legal, social and educational change for LGBTQ groups. He died by suicide in June 2006 at the age of 53.

4. Bob Greenberg - Computer Programmer - 1977

Bob Greenberg was hired in 1977 as a computer programmer. Greenberg was the one to arrange the now iconic photograph of the 11 early Microsoft employees. He won the portrait through a radio call-in contest in Albuquerque, where they were originally based. He left Microsoft in 1981, after helping build a new version of the computer programming language BASIC.

Interestingly enough, Greenberg went on to help his family’s company, Coelco, develop the Cabbage Patch Kid doll, another successful business venture.

5. Andrea Lewis - Technical Writer

One of Microsoft’s earliest hires was Andrea Lewis, a technical writer from Albuquerque. Her job was to write documents explaining how to use Microsoft’s software. She left Microsoft in 1983 to work as a freelance journalist and a fiction writer. She went on to co-found Hugo House, a literary community center in Seattle that’s been operating as a hub for writers since 1996.

Others

While the order is not confirmed for when the rest of the group was hired, there were several early employees pictured that were instrumental in the early success of Microsoft.

Bob O’Rear was employee number seven and also one of the oldest employees working at Microsoft at the time. O’Rear spent most of his career at NASA, and was even at mission control during the moon landing. He joined Gates and Allen as its chief mathematician, and is credited with reworking code in DOS and getting it into IBM personal computers. O’Rear eventually left the company in 1993 and moved back to his home state of Texas to become a cattle rancher.

Steve Wood worked as a programmer and his wife Maria also worked for the company as a bookkeeper. The two left the company on sour terms. Maria was the first employee to leave, just two years after she was hired in 1980, and sued the company for sex discrimination. Microsoft eventually settled the case with her.

Jim Lane, Bob Wallace and Gordon Letwin all worked together as a trio of programmers.

While not pictured, office manager Miriam Lubow was also a key player in keeping all office administration up to date in the early years at Microsoft. She was hired by Steve Wood once while Gates was away, and even joined her fellow colleagues in a reunion picture of the iconic 1978 photo that she missed because of a snowstorm in 2000, when Gates stepped away from a daily role at Microsoft.

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