10 high-income skills that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world

high income skills

Bill Gates – Microsoft co-founder, entrepreneur, philanthropist, investor, and the fifth-richest person in the world as of April 2024 according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Despite being one of the world’s richest and smartest men, Gates is also known as one of the world’s most famous college dropout.

While attending Harvard University to pursue a career in law, he worked alongside his childhood friend Paul Allen to develop new software for the original microcomputers.

When the project took off, Gates left Harvard and founded Microsoft with Allen.

Today, Microsoft is the largest company in the world and worth US$3.13 trillion. Gates’s net worth is an estimated US$131.3 billion.

How did he achieve this?

A lifetime’s worth of high-income skills

To Gates, life is not a one-act play. He once thought he would work with Microsoft forever, but he found himself gradually taking a step or two back. In 2008, he left his day-to-day role, and then served as the board’s chairman until 2014. 

In 2020, he stepped down from the board to fully dedicate his time to his philanthropy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It’s now one of the world’s biggest nonprofit organisations, backed by the billions he made from Microsoft. 

The change, while drastic, serves as a reminder that people don’t have to put all their eggs in one basket. 

“What you do tomorrow, or the next 10 years, does not have to be what you do, forever,” says Gates. 

While he still loves working with software, he considers philanthropy his full-time job. With the help of his foundation, he works to create innovations that fight climate change and reduce inequalities around the world—including in health and education.

In his spare time, Gates is a frequent user of LinkedIn, where he shares think pieces and advice for fellow entrepreneurs and business owners. 

Besides LinkedIn, Gates has spent extensive time talking to news portals, podcasts, journalists and more about his life, and how he grew into the man he is today. 

Aside from giving great advice, he often provided insight into important skills he had to hone as a business owner.

Coming from someone who is arguably the world’s most famous billionaire, we call these skills “high-income skills” — and we’ve compiled those most effective for anyone seeking to get richer and smarter in their careers below:

high-income skills

Despite dropping out of Harvard, Gates became one of the richest men in the world — a success many attribute to his mastery of high-income skills. Source: AFP

10 high-income skills to become richer and smarter, according to Bill Gates


Gates always encouraged others to learn, whether it was about their profession, the world around them, or even more about themselves. 

Just last year, he posted a photo on his personal LinkedIn profile. It was a picture of himself as a teenager, attending his graduation ceremony in 1973. 

In his caption, he wrote that he was asked what advice he would give to young people who want to make a positive impact on the world, which prompted him to think a lot about what he would tell his younger self. 

“My advice is simple: Read a lot and discover a skill you enjoy,” he said in his post.

“For some, that means being great at science or a great communicator. There’s so much opportunity to do good in the world.”

Be curious

In 2019, Gates visited his high school in Seattle to speak to students, parents and alumni.

Bernie Noe, Head of School, posed a question to Gates: “What are the skills today’s students need to know to thrive in the world of 2030 and 2040?”

Gates’s answer? Curiosity.

“For the curious learner, these are the best of times because your ability to constantly refresh your knowledge with either podcasts or lectures that are online is better than ever,” he said.

high-income skills

Curiosity is one of the best high-income skills to develop, according to Gates. Source: AFP

Balancing optimism and pessimism

Gates is defined as a rational optimist – a person who has found the perfect balance between optimism and pessimism. 

Rather than being purely positive all the time or thinking that everything is terrible, the sweet spot lies in the middle.

To Gates, both optimism and pessimism are important. You can only be an optimist in the long run if you’re pessimistic enough to survive the short run. 

For example, when he first co-founded Microsoft, he insisted on always having enough cash in the bank to keep the company running for at least 12 months, even with no revenue.

When asked why he kept so much cash on hand, he said that the technology landscape was prone to changing so fast, that next year’s business wasn’t guaranteed.

He constantly worried about the people who worked with him, especially since they had families with children – to him, meeting the payroll was a big responsibility.

Acknowledging problems and setbacks is an important part of the process, but so is knowing that these setbacks won’t prevent eventual progress.

Managing yourself

While hard work undoubtedly brought him success and wealth, Gates admitted that he was somewhat of a nightmare to work with. 

He would work late nights and weekends, demanding the same from his co-workers at Microsoft. Gates even added that he didn’t believe in vacations.

Think it couldn’t get worse? He would memorise everyone’s license plates so that he could look out of the window and note down who used to come into work late or leave before him. 

But once the company gradually grew and he became a father, Gates realised there was more to life than work. He grew to learn how to manage himself and the people around him better, allowing himself (and others!) to take more time off.

To Gates, managing oneself is a skill. A person can only grow if they manage themselves well and connect with the people around them. 


Gates admitted that delegating tasks wasn’t an easy thing for him, especially in the early days of Microsoft. But as Microsoft grew, so did his management responsibilities, and he had to grow out of becoming a micromanager. 

That’s when he realised that, at its core, delegating duties came with trust. He had to surrender and learn to trust the people he worked with.

By taking a step back and reviewing the people side of his business, he eventually learned how to delegate his weaknesses to others with strengths in that area.

In return, he focused on helping those who were lacking in areas that he was proficient at. 

As a result, he facilitated success, trust and engagement within Microsoft. 


“Telling the story of the work we do is a big part of my job,” said Gates in an episode of the podcast Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. 

In his younger years, he had to find engaging ways to talk about personal computing and the magic of software, especially when pitching ideas to others.

Now at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he tells a story that’s not too different, but with the same effects – to partner and elicit support from others.

Even as one of the richest and most resourceful men in the world, the work at his foundation is prohibitively expensive.

Therefore, he has to partner with governments who have aid budgets, and convince them to work together with him.

As Gates and Bollywood-Hollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra show, the power of good storytelling can make or break a pitch. 

high-income skills

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given away more than US$59 billion to cure disease, save lives, and help the world’s neediest. Source: AFP

Asking for feedback

When he started Microsoft, Gates wasn’t alone – he had Allen by his side.

The pair were famous for their tumultuous partnership and friendship, but one thing always remained clear – they always asked each other for feedback.

Now as Gates travels the world, he occasionally delivers speeches or appears as a guest on podcasts or shows. Before and after each appearance, Gates would ask his staff for feedback.

To Gates, the biggest indicator of someone’s leadership skill is their willingness to ask for feedback.

It’s important to acknowledge that while you may be an expert in your field, there’s still a pretty good chance that someone else will have information that would be helpful to you. 

Attention to detail 

Ben Fathi, former Corporate Vice President of the Security Technology Unit at Microsoft, learned an important lesson from Gates: if you pay enough attention, everything is interesting. 

In Microsoft’s early years, Gates used to personally review every line of code the company shipped, often rewriting it himself when he deemed necessary. 

The man had impressive mental capacity when it came to work.

In Microsoft, he would sit through hours and hours of non-stop meetings with different teams, covering topics as divergent as operating systems, the Internet, email, browsers, applications and more.

And in all those meetings, he could drill each team down into the details of each project. 

Be vision-oriented

In Microsoft, Gates was particularly skilled at creating long-term strategies by analysing the market and predicting upcoming changes.

When the Internet was first introduced, Gates was already prepared – he rolled out Internet software for Microsoft machines.

While his competitors were scrambling to get things afloat, Gates was already reaping the rewards of his foresight.

Playing catch-up with other big tech companies was the key to tackling “the internet tidal wave”, as Gates referred to it.

He had a big vision for Microsoft to dominate the market, predicting that developments on the Internet would set the course of the industry for a long time to come. 

With the help of that vision, Microsoft has become what it is today – a tech giant worth trillions.

high-income skills

Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi (C) confers the country’s second highest civilian award, Hilal-e-Pakistan to Bill Gates in recognition of his services for the eradication of polio and the betterment of the people of Pakistan. Source: AFP

Take risks

Gates has taken many massive risks in his life, and it all started with his biggest one – dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft. 

He then took another risk later on when he left Microsoft to work full-time at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2013, his foundation contributed to a US$5.5 billion initiative to eradicate polio. Today, polio is still a problem in certain parts of the world, but there have been significant improvements, such as the development of effective vaccinations, thanks to Gates’s involvement.

Those big bets have paid off, proving that taking big risks and achieving great success can go hand-in-hand. The key is determining which risks are worth taking and which aren’t.

To Gates, the secret is being comfortable with uncertainty. No matter how much forecasting or research is done, there is never a 100% certainty of an ideal outcome. 

“Ultimately, no matter how much analysis we do, I have to be comfortable with a lot of uncertainty,” says Gates in a blog post. “We are tackling problems where progress is measured not just in years but often decades—where your end goal doesn’t change, but your path to get there might have to.”