I’ve never been to Albuquerque, but I feel like I’ve been there after watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad. It seems like a lovely city and a nice place to live. As of 2022, the Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area (“MSA”) is about 900,000 people, making it the 61st largest MSA in the US. Back in 1975 when Microsoft was founded in Albuquerque, it was less than 300,000 people.
Wait! What? Microsoft was founded in Albuquerque?
Yes. Bill Gates and Paul Allen lived there because that’s where a company named Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (or “MITS”) was located. MITS created the first personal computer (it was very primitive) and Gates and Allen wanted to write a programming language for it so they moved there. They legally created Micro-Soft (the hyphen was later dropped) on April 4, 1975, with a filing with the New Mexico Secretary of State.
Microsoft moved to the Seattle area in 1979 due to a lack of financing opportunities in Albuquerque. “The first president of the Santa Fe Institute, George Cowan, notes that Albuquerque bankers rejected a loan application from a young Bill Gates during the early years of the company that eventually became Microsoft. Gates received an alternative loan from his father, contingent on him returning to Seattle.” Source.
Can you imagine how Albuquerque and Seattle would be different if Microsoft had stayed in New Mexico? Microsoft’s Seattle campus has 53,000 employees. Over the past 42 years, Microsoft has been a major driver of growth in Seattle as the conglomeration of technical talent at Microsoft has attracted all sorts of other companies to the Seattle area. Microsoft being in Seattle has been a primary factor in Seattle’s status as a tech hub city. And the 53,000 Microsoft employees create jobs for other people with their need for houses, cars, food, clothing, restaurants, etc.
Albuquerque’s big miss in keeping Microsoft is a reminder that small events — two dudes in their 20s getting a loan or not — can have a big impact on hundreds of thousands or even millions of other people. This is an example of why it’s so hard to predict the future; we just don’t know which small events will have outsized future effects. The role of chance in life cannot be overstated.
And who knows — maybe if it had stayed in Albuquerque Microsoft wouldn’t have grown the way it had and some other company would be the primary provider of PC operating systems. Or maybe if it were in Albuquerque, the proximity to the Los Alamos National Laboratory might have led it in a different direction that might have been amazing — maybe we’d have quantum computers by now.
Always a very interesting what if. And maybe Albuquerque would have turned into dumpster fire of a city that Seattle has become if MS stayed there, and Seattle would have retained it’s original nature. Not sure who the winner is. Living in Colorado, we selfishly wish people would stop moving here.
“The role of chance in life cannot be overstated.”
The butterfly effect