Valve co-founder Gabe Newell has been highly critical of Microsoft in the past year, famously calling Windows 8 "this giant sadness," but he clearly still has a lot of respect for his former employer – or at least his former co-workers.
In an interview with students through Google Hangouts provided by Code.org, Newell said the amount he learned at Microsoft far exceeded what he learned pursuing an undegraduate degree at Harvard. Newell was responding to a question asking what educational experience best prepared him for his current job, and he quickly told the following story about getting his start at Microsoft:
The most valuable educational experience for me was sort of the nontraditional one. I was going to university and went out to visit my brother – he just started at this new software company, which was the third-largest software company on the east side of Lake Washington, and I was going out to visit him, and all of a sudden he was working all the time. So rather than hanging out with me and seeing the Space Needle, I was just hanging out with him at work.
Steve Ballmer, who's currently the president, got mad that I was distracting him and said, 'Well, if you're going to be spending all your time hanging out here, you need to do something useful.'
Those first three months when I was working with people like Tom Corbett and Neil Konzen and Steve Wood, was probably the most intense and valuable educational experience I've ever had. They sort of showed me how to be a professional software developer, you know, [so] it was an incredibly vast and really significant set of lessons that I learned.
Newell went on to say that replicating his experience would be hard, but he added that actually doing tasks associated with a desired job is the best way of preparing for a career. The most important aspect, he said, was working under people who are already "really, really good at it."
At the end of his response, Newell said he didn't want to make Harvard seem bad but noted he "learned more in three months with those guys at Microsoft than I did the entire time I was at Harvard." He added, "In Harvard, I learned how to drink beer while doing a handstand in the snow. Which, ya know, is a useful skill – but not nearly as useful as how to actually develop software."
Newell went on to drop out of Harvard and work on Windows at Microsoft for 13 years before co-founding Valve, best known as the developer behind the Half-Life franchise and Steam digital distribution service. Valve will soon take on Microsoft's Xbox One console with its own Steam Machine line of consoles. Instead of using Windows, the OS he once helped develop, the consoles will use Valve's Linux variant, SteamOS.