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Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates and CEO Satya Nadella in Vancouver, B.C. (Microsoft Photo)
Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates and CEO Satya Nadella in Vancouver, B.C. (Microsoft Photo)

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and co-founder Bill Gates are making a rare joint appearance Tuesday at the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference, an event designed to create stronger ties between the Washington state and British Columbia tech and business communities.

Nadella was named Microsoft’s CEO in February 2014, succeeding Steve Ballmer in the role, as Gates stepped down as chairman to take on a role as special adviser. Nadella has overseen a major cultural shift at the company, making Microsoft more open to partnerships with competing technologies, and focusing on the cloud and intelligent apps, while shifting away from the company’s hardware investments.

Gates and Nadella are scheduled to start speaking at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time in Vancouver, and you can follow along with our live blog below for highlights. Also see our earlier coverage for more from the event, including comments by tech leaders from Seattle and Vancouver about joining forces to create a more formidable rival to Silicon Valley for tech talent and funding.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:30 pm

Welcome everybody! GeekWire reporter Nat Levy is in Vancouver B.C. for the event, and I’ll be chiming in here from GeekWire HQ in Seattle.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:38 pm

The talk is scheduled to start shortly in Vancouver — Nat has spotted Satya Nadella. We’re also trying to work up a Facebook Live video feed, but the status is TBD. Thanks for tuning in.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:49 pm

OK, it’s starting now, and you can also watch the Facebook Live stream here.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:49 pm

Microsoft president Brad Smith kicks it off, asking about roots of innovation.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:50 pm

Gates cites education, government funding for basic research, citing “very generous” funding by government as very key, and also policies that encourage startups — risk taking.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:51 pm

That leads to locations where there’s an “explosion of activity” that can be self-sustaining, Bill Gates says.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:52 pm

Nadella addresses the topic from an organizational standpoint, talking about experience inside Microsoft.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:53 pm

Key tech trends — Gates cites health, and the tools that are being generated that can detect patterns in genomics and other areas. “We’re seeing this incredible set of breakthroughs in biology.” 

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:54 pm

Gates: Energy is one where it’s less easy to prove that something is happening, but the importance of clean energy is key. Basic research will be important. Robotics, as well, he says.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:56 pm

Smith asks Nadella about changing Microsoft’s culture. Nadella talks about creating an “ideal learning organization,” citing his now common refrain about fostering a “learn-it-all” culture and not a “know it all” culture.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:57 pm

Smith asks if public fully appreciates the role that universities are playing in fostering innovation. Gates: It’s been tough to maintain the level of commitment to the state universities. I think BC has done better at that than most of the states in the United States.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:58 pm

Universities are “part of a virtuous cycle” of innovation that goes out into industry with benefits back to schools, Gates says.

Todd Bishop 09/20/201612:59 pm

Nadella cites the importance of early speech recognition work at Microsoft Research in collaborations with universities, leading to breakthroughs such as Skype Translator.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:00 pm

“That level of commitment to core research and partnerships with universities is very important,” says Nadella, citing Microsoft’s work on cancer research with the University of Cambridge, and DNA data storage with the University of Washington.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:00 pm

“That long view is what’s needed,” Nadella said.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:01 pm

Smith points out that many other companies have not invested in basic research in the same way. Asks Gates why he wanted to make that bet early on.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:02 pm

Gates said Microsoft benefitted early on from work by other research organizations, and decided as it grew that it needed to contribute to body of research and work with universities, as well. 

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:03 pm

“That Microsoft Research investment has paid off very strongly,” Gates says.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:05 pm

Not everyone needs to become a coder, but computational thinking is important in every walk of life, Nadella says, on the topic of STEM education.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:05 pm

One of the biggest challenges is finding enough qualified teachers, Nadella says, pointing to initiatives including Microsoft’s TEALS program.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:06 pm

“Every government leader and every industry leader … we need the skills and we have to take a long view and make sure the skills are being developed at a very early age,” says Nadella.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:07 pm

“The tools that are out there for the motivated learner today are dramatically better than what’s ever been out there before. If you have a motivated student, it’s an unbelievable time.” But that motivation is the key, Gates says. 

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:08 pm

Gates cites proportional decline of women in computer science in recent years. More in this GeekWire special report.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:10 pm

Nadella: “I wouldn’t be here as CEO of Microsoft if it was not for the democratizing force of Microsoft technology reaching me where I was growing up” in India.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:14 pm

Talking about politics, Gates cites importance of global markets. Both Microsoft and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation depend on cooperation among countries and governments, Gates says.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:15 pm

Nadella cites work in Microsoft’s Vancouver office on HoloLens, Skype, games. Says he wants to build with the University of BC the same type of cooperation that MSFT has with University of Washington.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:17 pm

Gates says not just Vancouver but Canada as a whole can be an exemplar of the kinds of values and investments that will drive innovation and benefit society.

Todd Bishop 09/20/20161:19 pm

Smith thanks the conference supporters, and that’s a wrap. Thanks for tuning in everyone, and check back soon for coverage from the talk.

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