Bill Gates urged the smartest minds on Canadian campuses to work in computer science and consider a job at Microsoft Corp., promising them that the information technology revolution has only just begun.
The co-founder and chairman of the world's largest software company said Thursday that his industry will have a near insatiable appetite for talent as it brings new products to market that change the way people live.
"Software is the place where the action is. It's an area that will continue to generate jobs," he told students at the University of Waterloo.
"The digital lifestyle is happening at full bore and one thing that will make it happen is software."
Mr. Gates' visit was part of a three-day tour to six universities in North America to try to get students excited about the technology sector, which has seen a decline in enrolment in computer science and engineering programs.
The University of Waterloo, a prime recruiting ground for Microsoft, was his only Canadian stop. About 600 attended his speech and scores more watched him on monitors outside.
"We just want to make sure that we get the best and the brightest. We don't want all the smart people to go and work on hedge funds," he said in an interview with reporters after his presentation.
Microsoft executives have admitted in the past year that they are losing out on talent to rivals such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.
Recently, it engaged in a very public legal battle with Google over the hiring of one of Microsoft's executives to run a development centre for Google in China.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has also eliminated stock options for its employees, the currency of choice at many technology startup firms.
"What will be most fun for me is to see how your generation comes in and takes software to a whole new level," Mr. Gates told the students.
He promised them that their work will help form a cornerstone for other industries, including life sciences, astronomy and biology, and will have a higher purpose of helping eliminate many of the world's social and economic inequalities.
The students welcomed the world's most famous programmer warmly and fixated on his presentation, which included a demonstration of Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console due for release next month.
Mr. Gates used video clips to help sell the company as a dynamic work environment to students who weren't even born when he created it with Paul Allen in 1975.
The first clip included Waterloo alumni employees praising the company. About 360 Waterloo graduates and 1,160 co-op students have been hired by Microsoft, and some years the company has hired more people from Waterloo than any other university in the world, Mr. Gates said.
The second clip featured Jon Heder, the star of the film Napoleon Dynamite, playing his role as the listless teenager who turns to Mr. Gates for computer help.
Microsoft will make more software in the next 10 years than it made during the past three decades, as technology finally emerges to allow the creation of more ambitious products, Mr. Gates said.
Today's hardware boasts memory and storage capabilities that are a million-fold larger than that of the earliest machines. At the same time, high-speed data network access is affordable and accessible for most households. "Today, it allows us to be more ambitious with what software does."
The future will see software that performs voice and image recognition as well as automatic language translation. Software will also eventually act as a personal agent that determines a user's location and availability, directing phone calls, e-mails and instant messages to a device, he said. "We'll laugh at the days we had phone numbers and multiple e-mail addresses."
Mr. Gates stressed that the company must keep hiring the smartest people it can find to keep growing.
"When someone buys a copy of Office or Windows, they get to use it for the rest of their life. It doesn't wear out and they don't pay us any extra money," he said. "So, all our revenue is based on a breakthrough. No one pays us another dime unless we make a breakthrough and they say: 'Wow, it's worth learning it, licensing it and installing it.'"
Asked by students about his passions and personal attributes, he admitted to being both lucky and hard-working. "I simply didn't expect the kind of success I had."
Today, he said, he remains motivated to improve the simplicity and security of computers. "The PC Paul Allen and I dreamt up 30 years ago still does not exist today."