Bill Gates on investments in education, visas and public sector R&D

I try not to talk about anything political here but unfortunately, there are political issues that impact my ability to do my job; the availability of talent in the American workforce to meet our hiring needs. I'm not sure where I am going to be in ten years but at the rate we are going, I'm concerned. And everyone else that works for a tech company should be concerned too. Nice light blog post for a Friday, huh?

Bill testified in front of Congress this week regarding our public education system, H-1B visa caps and investments in public sector R&D. What these things have in common is their ability to keep us competitive, individually, as companies, as a society and as a country in the global economy. The world economy marches on, whether or not we have the talent to staff it here in the US.

Bill talks about both long term and short term remediation; about preparing our American students to take on careers in technology AND attracting the best and brightest from overseas. I don't see it as an either/or prospect. If the work goes to other countries, it ain't coming back, yet we force companies to set up operations  in other countries because that is where much of the talent is; talent we aren't allowed to bring to the US. Anyway, enough soapbox shenanigans from me. Here are some quotes from Bill's testimony: 

Our current expectations for what our students should learn in school were set 50 years ago to meet the needs of an economy based on manufacturing and agriculture. We now have an economy based on knowledge and technology. Despite the best efforts of many committed educators and administrators, our high schools have simply failed to adapt to this change. As any parent knows, however, our children have not -- they are fully immersed in digital culture.

As a result, while most students enter high school wanting to succeed, too many end up bored, unchallenged and disengaged from the high school curriculum -- "digital natives" caught up in an industrial-age learning model. Many high school students today either drop out or simply try to get by. For those who graduate, many lack the skills they need to attend college or to find a job that can support a family. Until we transform the American high school for the 21st century, we will continue limiting the lives of millions of Americans each year.


First, we need to encourage the best students from abroad to enroll in our colleges and universities, and to remain in the United States when their studies are completed. Today, we take exactly the opposite approach. Foreign students who apply for a student visa to the United States today must prove that they do not intend to remain here once they receive their degrees. This makes no sense. If we are going to invest in educating foreign students -- which we should and must continue to do -- why drive them away just when this investment starts to pay off for the American economy?

Barring high-skilled immigrants from entry to the U.S., and forcing the ones that are here to leave because they cannot obtain a visa, ultimately forces U.S. employers to shift development work and other critical projects offshore. This can also force U.S. companies to fill related management, design and business positions with foreign workers, thereby causing further lost U.S. job opportunities even in areas where America is strong, allowing other countries to "bootstrap" themselves into these areas, and further weakening our global competitive strength. If we can retain these research projects in the United States, by contrast, we can stimulate domestic job and economic growth. In short, where innovation and innovators go, jobs are soon to follow.


I know these are issues that people feel strongly about; especially people that work in the tech space or want to. I think the challenge for us is to BOTH equip our own workers AND leverage foreign born workers. I'm glad that Bill Gates is making his feelings known.

Comments (16)

  1. Toby Getsch says:


    See also:

    This broad topic is not going away soon.  It is not just about jobs.  And Heather, you are wise to be very aware of it.

  2. KW says:

    I believe Bill Gates and Craig Barrett are the 2 guys who are most vocal abt this issue in the technology industry. I’m happy they are….and I generally support the recommendations that Bill made infront of the congress. But I’m concern this is not going anywhere. sigh!

  3. bert tong says:

    Hi Heather,

    While it’s all well and good to try and pinpoint our universities  (or their domestic products) as underachieving, I don’t think its our education system that is really failing.    

    I’ve long felt that success breeds interest.  Success early in a math or science concepts often encourage future dabbling in that field.  I was introduced to a transistor radio when I was 6.  Is there any surprise that I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering?  

    Bill Gates is right though about the American culture these days.  I’m a digital boy in a digital world.   Most of the families in the neighborhood I grew up in, have not and will not adapt to this reality.  So how can their children gain an appreciation for this globalized economy when MTV keeps stressing the importance of being an individual?  

    What must be changed is nothing new.  We’ve known it since the industrial revolution.  It starts with the parents.  Not the education.  Get parents to care again?  Simple concept, but hard to implement. =)  Maybe Mr. Gate’s foundation can think of something.

  4. tod hilton says:

    Not a light subject, but an important one. Whether we like it or not we live in a world dependent on a global economy. Oil and gas prices anyone? I agree with you, it’s not an either/or solution, but both that need to be embraced.

  5. Simone says:

    Most of what he says is true. It’s just common sense if anything. I feel that the highschool years are the most important because that’s when competition rears its head and the best are forged. I went to one of the top five highschools in the nation and have benefited greatly because of it. What type of highschool did you go to Heather?

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Bert – I think you were fortunate to have that exposure to technology early on. Not all kids get that exposure or have the role models to get them really interested, but I get your point. Many parents aren’t equipped to champion tha tin their kids and in those situations the kids will suffer for it. Also, some kinds have very supportive parents but their schools are under-funded. I don’t have any problem with individuality (I suspect that in many eastern cultures, individuality isn’t seen the same as it is here). I thikn individuality is what got Bill Gates where he is. Boy, if someone told me I had tospend more time confirmong, I would be one unhappy worker.

    Simone – I went to a public high school. Certainly not one of the top five in the nation, I am sure.

  7. Pradeep UN says:

    Aah those running shoes from Summer are being used effectively i see Ure a NewBalance gal, arent u? 🙂

    Btw for outdoors try the Adidas Clima – shoes and cross-country suits. u have no idea how useful theyare in our gorgeous rainy weather 🙂

    congrats on keeping at it.

  8. Naveen Jain says:

    Agree or not Bill is master of business,He got some power that move the world.I read his famous quote here

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Nope, I don’t wear New Balance. I still run in Mizunos and still love them.

  10. Bad_Brad says:

    It’s a bit funny, in my mind, that there are so many people in this world who want to throw up walls and keep immigrants out.  A distinction should be made between legal and illegal immigrants, but in my experience, having hired and worked with people who are trying to immigrate legally, it has been made so difficult that I can see why so many opt for the illegal route.

    Bill G is onto something (as usual) – the process needs to be simplified and expanded so that those who want to be in the U.S. (which is a lot of people) can do so in a legal manner such that they become builders of business in the U.S. and payors into the U.S. government’s tax base instead of below-the-table illegals trying to hide from the U.S. government at every step or, worse, completely dependent upon the U.S. government to provide every service imaginable without paying a dime into it via taxes.  That resembles the current model, which is broken and completely unsustainable.

    On education, the real issue is that education, for better or for worse, is still seen as an end unto itself instead of a springboard into a higher paying job.  Why get a BA in Psychology, or Political Science, or Anthropology?  There is nothing occupationally that you can reasonably do with these degrees, unless you are in the small percentage who will pursue a graduate degree and perhaps make a career in education and research.  For the vast majority, these degrees do nothing to prepare you for a technical job.  Not knocking those who have these degrees (I have one myself), but just making a point – there has been a disconnect between what schools teach and what employers need for some time now.

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Great points. I probably would have opted for one of those other degrees myself if I felt I wouldn’t have been disowned had I done so : )

  12. Christine says:

    I agree with Bill Gates on this one–but I think the public school system is so entrenched in union labor policies that changing curricula is incredibly difficult.  The sad part is it’s the kids who really lose.  

    The technology gap in our society is, in my opinion, a real problem.  Educated parents are likely to make darn well sure their children have computer skills–perhaps even pushing for extensive computer training during high school as I had–while less educated parents may not be willing or able to supplement their children’s technological education.  

    A lack of a technical education in our society directly correlates to class and a lot of children are starting off a few steps behind due to lack of resources/education.  You could blame the parents or the school system or both–the parents wouldn’t have to supplement it if the schools taught it, but the schools often teach it when the parents push for it…but in any case, it needs to happen.

  13. John Cass says:

    Heather, not sure about this was Bill asking for a bigger quota on HB-1 visas? If so I am dubious about the request, unless it is tied to allowing such visa holders to change jobs with ease. During the days when I lived in Seattle, many people complained that it was difficult to find people right now today. Yet if they worked at finding people, did the due diligence than any good recruiter would do, you were able to find people. I know I was always able to find someone, though it may take some time. We learned in the bubble that speed and going for growth was not the answer, the successful companies of the early 00’s were profitable and slower to grow. From my experience I still think a lot of the issues about HB-1 visas are about getting lower paid staff, rather than being able to find staff, if the issue of portable visas were addressed I would come to support such increases.

  14. HeatherLeigh says:

    John – I have not shared your experience of hiring with ease : ) I don’t think anybody is expecting to find someone immediately (well, not realistically). Things are very different today than in the dotcom heyday (and things are different for larger companies than smaller, of course) and all companies aren’t trying to hire the same profiles. For example, dotcoms tended to load up on MBAs and at that time, MBAs were motivated to work at dotcoms (could it have had something to do with the opportunity to make millions in stock?). Things are different now. Now consider a company that has been recruiting on a technical position for 6 months when they know full well that the best candidate for the position happens to live in India. Do they wait it out and hope they find a US citizen?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that there’s a lot that can be done to better prepare tech workers that already reside in the US and to create more of them through getting students engaged in technology and tech-related careers. In my mind, it’s about hiring the best people period. So we need to do both.

    As far as allowing for H1B transfers, I’m not sure how tedious of a process it is for the candidate as I have never been through it personally (US citizen here). But my understanding (I am not legal expert) is that an H1B transfer is not a new H1B. So it’s different.

    So anyway, to your point, I think that if a company can find their candidate in their own backyard, they should; that is just common sense. But that situation isn’t a reality in all cases and positions go unfilled because companies can’t find US citizens with the required experience. As for recruiting in the Seattle market, in my experience, the talent we look for is in short supply here so we are more often than not hiring from outside the Seattle area. If I could find who I was looking for in Seattle, I would be thrilled!

    I don’t disagree with your points…I’m just living a different reality : )

  15. Preston says:

    I go to a small liberal arts university and I can relate to what Bill Gates says.  It seems like our school is decades behind the present day technology.  Sometimes I feel like the professors want school to be the way it was back in ancient Greece.  They haven’t realized that the world is different and better than it was back then.  People don’t have time to sit around all day and talk philosophy anymore.  We have to keep up with the world or we’ll get left behind.

    I disagree with his theory that foreign students who study here should stay here everytime.  Sure, it would be nice to have more intelligent workers in the US, but wouldn’t it greatly benefit the student’s native country if he or she returned with an education from a US University?  Shouldn’t our country be concerned about the rest of the world?  If we help educate foreign students then they can return home and improve their economy.  That way down the road we won’t have to intervene with international affairs as much.

    If we claim to have such good educational facilities here, why be selfish?  We have plenty of geniuses here.  I like the policy the way it is.  But, I think Mr. Gates is right on about our schools being stuck in the Industrial Age.  That needs to change.

  16. Brian says:

    I realize that I’m "Johnny-Come-Lately" to this discussion, however it is such a critical dialogue that I feel obligated to toss in a thought or two.

    Bill’s assessment of the dire situation in our high schools is right on the mark. The facts are indisputable and are corroborated by virually every national education survey available. While our educational system has failed to evolve, the role of the parent in helping their children transition from school to work has also changed dramatically. Not so much because parents don’t want to help, but because they don’t know how to help their children prepare for a path in the knowledge-based economy that embraces technology that they themselves can’t totally grasp.

    So what’s the solution?

    With our nation’s aging workforce, it would be economic suicide to bar the doors to educated and qualified labor from overseas. Lest we forget that our entire national infrastructure is based on a free-market economy of supply and demand, I think the answer does lie in education… but not the one-size fits all approach of the past 70 years. By showing our youth (at as early an age as possible) the real connection between education and their life possiblities (checkout for a program that aims to do this), the purpose of education becomes a lot less academic (no pun intended).

    In a society that reveres immediate gratification and visible reward, our answer to "home-growing" the technologically astute workers of tomorrow is to show students the pay-off.

Skip to main content