At 13 he enrolled in the Lakeside School, an exclusive preparatory school. When he was in the eighth grade, the Mothers Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School's rummage sale to buy an ASR-33 teletype terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school's students. Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer. Gates was fascinated by the machine and how it would always execute software code perfectly. When he reflected back on that moment, he commented on it and said, "There was just something neat about the machine." After the Mothers Club donation was exhausted, he and other students sought time on systems including DEC PDP minicomputers. One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned four Lakeside students—Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans—for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.
At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC's software in exchange for computer time. Rather than use the system via teletype, Gates went to CCC's offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including programs in FORTRAN, LISP, and machine language. The arrangement with CCC continued until 1970, when the company went out of business. The following year, Information Sciences Inc. hired the four Lakeside students to write a payroll program in COBOL, providing them computer time and royalties. After his administrators became aware of his programming abilities, Gates wrote the school's computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with mostly female students. He later stated that "it was hard to tear myself away from a machine at which I could so unambiguously demonstrate success." At age 17, Gates formed a venture with Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters based on the Intel 8008 processor. In early 1973, Bill Gates served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Gates graduated from Lakeside School in 1973. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT and subsequently enrolled at Harvard College in the fall of 1973.