Michael Dell on how he fell in love with computers

p 1 before michael dell built a pc empire he was a teenaged apple ii nerd

Houston was a complete boomtown in the Nineteen Seventies, and buildings have been going up in every single place. Generally, as my household and I have been driving alongside Loop 610, I might look out the window in any respect the shiny new buildings with flagpoles in entrance and assume to myself that at some point I might have an organization and be in cost and have flagpoles in entrance. I didn’t know what the corporate would do, however that is what I dreamed about.

As you may think, I used to be not an athletic child. I collected stamps and baseball playing cards; Hank Aaron was an early hero of mine, however quickly my heroes grew to become businesspeople, particularly entrepreneurs who’d challenged the established order and constructed companies out of nothing— folks like Charles Schwab, Fred Smith (FedEx), Ted Turner, and William McGowan (MCI). Individuals who I used to be studying about in these enterprise magazines, and whose shares I used to be following as they rose meteorically.

By seventh grade I used to be in a sophisticated math class, and adequate on the topic that the trainer, Mrs. Darby, invited me to affix the unique Quantity Sense Membership. And at some point, in the classroom the place the membership met, a brand new sort of machine confirmed up: a computer-teletype terminal. It wasn’t really a pc. However the different children in the membership and I found that you may kind mathematical equations or very fundamental packages on this terminal, ship them off to a mainframe someplace, and a solution would come clicking again. It was the best factor I’d ever seen.


I normally rode my bike to highschool, and midway between my home and faculty was the native RadioShack retailer. For a short second in time, that now-vanished nationwide chain not solely bought police scanners, remote-controlled mannequin planes, and helmets with sirens on them but in addition manufactured and bought extra private computers than every other firm in the world. The TRS 80 was their pioneering machine. On my manner house from college I used to cease on the retailer simply to idiot round with their show mannequin. I’d hang around until they kicked me out.

It was the daybreak of the microprocessor age, and naturally I used to be determined to have my very own pc. In Mrs. Darby’s class I’d discovered about Byte, this journal all about microcomputers and microprocessors. I obtained a subscription, learn each situation cowl to cowl, then learn it once more. One month there was a chunk by the cofounder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, concerning the firm’s upcoming second entry into the non-public pc market, the Apple II. The article that adopted contained an in depth technical description of the Apple II. Not like the TRS 80 (and the Commodore PET 2001, the third main entry in the brand-new private pc market), Apple’s new machine would have a shade monitor. And in contrast to Apple I, Wozniak continued, Apple II would function “extra reminiscence functionality, a read-only reminiscence (ROM) BASIC interpreter, shade video graphics, in addition to level graphics and character graphics, and prolonged methods software program.” To not point out (non-obligatory) recreation paddles.

I needed to have one.

The listing value was a steep $1,298—about $5,000 in as we speak’s cash—however (I reminded my mother and pa) the attractive half was that I may pay for it out of my very own financial savings. I found early that I appreciated to make cash: I assumed it was enjoyable! So I went to work. Early. In the course of the summers, once I wasn’t at camp, I labored in my dad’s orthodontic follow. I might sterilize the devices and assist put together the workplace for all of the sufferers every day. I appreciated going to work with Dad and seeing how many sufferers he helped.

For my fourteenth birthday, I used to be allowed to take nearly $1,300 of my hard-earned financial savings out of the financial institution and order an Apple II. I used to be beside myself with pleasure ready for it to reach—days felt like weeks. Then at some point I obtained a name from UPS saying the pc had arrived, however for some purpose it was held up on the native warehouse. That was unacceptable. I made my father drive me over there to select it up. Once we obtained again house, the automotive had barely stopped shifting in our driveway once I jumped out, carrying the dear cargo fastidiously, took it to my bed room, unboxed the attractive pc—it even smelled stunning—and instantly took it aside to see how it labored.

Phrase obtained round that I knew a factor or two about computers. I quickly started tutoring children in the neighborhood on how to get essentially the most out of their Apple IIs. That grew to become a fairly profitable sideline. I additionally joined HAAUG, the Houston-Space Apple Consumer Group—a whole bunch of techies getting collectively a couple of times a month at an area library to speak upgrades and commerce elements and swap tales. I might hang around with these guys (they have been nearly all guys) and get every kind of concepts about how to change my Apple II. On the group conferences, I met a pc engineer in his 20s or 30s, a extremely sensible technical man. I assumed, OK, I’m going to hold round this man and see what I can study.

And collectively we got here up with one thing fairly cool.


On the time, builders have been writing software program for the Apple II, and the issue was that they’d promote one copy of the software program, then all people would copy it, and the builders would by no means make any cash. All you wanted was two floppy-disk drives: You’d put the software program in one and a clean disk in the opposite, then kind in a “copy” command. Educators have been a few of the worst offenders—they felt like, “Nicely, we’re educators, so we shouldn’t actually must pay for software program.”

So my engineer buddy and I invented a copy-protecting technique. Each floppy disk had a sure variety of tracks—I consider it was 35. We found out a manner of programming the software program in order that it might write some knowledge on a half-track, in between the tracks: While you ran the copy program, it might copy the information that was on the tracks, however not the half-tracks. Consequence: No copy. We went and bought this to a bunch of firms that have been writing training software program. It grew to become just a little enterprise for some time, and we did all proper.

Then I learn that Steve Jobs was coming to Houston to talk to our person group.

It was the spring of 1980. Jobs fascinated me, not simply as a pc pioneer however as an entrepreneur: I’d examine him in the enterprise magazines, with the identical intense admiration that drew me to the tales of Fred Smith and Charles Schwab, Ted Turner and William McGowan. Like these males, Jobs had began with little however an concept and an intense drive to deliver that concept to fruition. And like them, he was succeeding in altering American enterprise. Jobs was simply 25, and the corporate he’d based with Wozniak appeared poised to enter orbit in 1980, on the cusp of its preliminary public providing and the introduction of the Apple III, which promised to be to the Apple II what the Apple II had been to the Apple I.

And Jobs in particular person was much more compelling than he was in print. When he entered the room at our assembly, it was as if the waters parted. He spoke with ardour about how the non-public pc—his private pc—was revolutionizing the world. He spoke in hovering metaphors: “It’s now doable, for the capital funding of a passenger practice, to purchase one thousand Volkswagens,” he stated. “The distinction is that these thousand folks have the liberty to go the place, when, how, and with whom they need to go.” With private computers, he was saying with his private computers—folks would have the capability to perform the unimaginable.

I used to be 15 and riveted. I couldn’t have begun to think about that in 5 years, Jobs and I might be not solely colleagues however pals.

Excerpted from Play Good However Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Chief, printed on October 5, 2021 by Portfolio, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random Home, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Michael Dell.