Looking back – on work-life balance and choosing between cost and UX

I came across two nostalgic reminiscences recently that offer a lot to think about and learn from.

The first one was by none other than Bill Gates. At an event recently hosted for founders by the venture firm Village Global, one of its prominent investors, Bill Gates, spoke with Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz about the experience of founding a company and the tough decisions that go with it.

When Julia asked him about work-life balance, Gates was categorical: “I think you could over worship and mythologize the idea of working extremely hard. For my particular makeup — and it really is true that I didn’t believe in weekends; I didn’t believe in vacations; I mean, I knew everybody’s license plate so I could tell you over the last month when their card had come and gone from the parking lot — so I don’t recommend it and I don’t think most people would enjoy it.

I have a fairly hardcore view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those, those early years.

You know, in the software world, in particular for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So, you know, the greatest mistake ever is the whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is, [meaning] Android is the standard non-Apple phone form platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.

It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G [Google] to company M [Microsoft]”.

Gates actually quantifies, in dollar value, the price of not being obsessed over your work, in the initial years, though I’m sure it’d vary wildly from industry to industry.

Here’s the full video:

The other looking-back was also in the technology industry, by an Indian origin person!

Ajay Bhatt led the team at Intel that created the USB — a connection interface that allows users to plug devices into a computer. One of the most persistent rants about USBs is that when you try to plug it in, you get it only 50% of the times correctly.

This has led to countless jokes about the annoyance that accompanies plugging in USB devices. Interestingly, Ajay is cognizant of all those rants and jokes but offers a really interesting take on it.

A USB that could plug in correctly both ways (like the USB-C that we have come to use now) would have required double the wires and circuits, which would have then doubled the cost. Bhatt’s team at Intel chose to prioritize cost (affordability) over user experience! The success of their project was based on persuading all the major computer companies to adopt the USB model as the default!

They knew they had won (we all know that in hindsight, now) when Steve Jobs launched the very first iMac with USB ports and not Apple’s own proprietary rival to USB, called FireWire. It was a solid nod that the cheaper cost of USB had helped it conquer the market – almost a similar winner-takes-all that Gates was talking about in a different context!

But just imagine the kind of decision one needs to make – ease of use vs. cost! These days, when UX is on top of mind for everyone, the decision seems obvious, but back in the mid-90s, before the broader adoption of basic technologies in the computing world, the priorities were very different!