Speaking on Desert Island Discs Gates said his parents taught him the value of "giving back" to society, a lesson developed into a philanthropic philosophy culminating in he and his wife Melinda setting aside much of their vast fortune to help the world's poor.
The 60 year old also opened up to presenter Kirsty Young on the BBC Radio 4 show about how "fanatical" he was in the early days of Microsoft, and the relationship he had with Apple founder Steve Jobs that was both competitive and mutually supportive.
Talking about his relationship with his parents - his father was a successful lawyer, his mother a teacher who sat on a number of corporate boards - he said: "They set a very good example of being engaged in giving back."
Explaining why they sent him to see a child psychologist when he was 12, he said: "I was a bit disruptive. I started early on questioning were their rules logical and always to be followed, so there was kind of a bit of tension there as I was pushing back."
As a child he devoured books, especially biographies, and considered a future as a lawyer or scientist so he could "work on hard problems".
Computing became and obsession and he would spend five hours a day learning programming, skipping gym classes to further his knowledge.
Gates met Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen at school - the pair managed to rig the school's schedule so Gates could sit near near the "nice girls" in class - and he eventually dropped out of Harvard to set up the company when he was just 19.
By 1979, at 23, Microsoft was grossing 2.5 million dollars a year.
He said: "I was quite fanatical about work. I worked weekends, I didn't really believe in vacations ... I had to be a little careful not to try and apply my standards to how hard they (his employees) worked.
"I knew everybody's licence plate so I could look out in the parking lot and see when did people come in, when were they leaving. Eventually I had to loosen up as the company got to a reasonable size."
Gates also spoke of his relationship with Apple founder Steve Jobs.
He said: "For some periods (we) were complete allies working together - I wrote the original software on Apple 2. Sometimes he would be tough on you, sometimes he would be very encouraging. And he got really great work out of people."
Talking about when he saw Jobs a few months before he died in 2011, Gates said: "I n the early years the intensity had always been about the project, and so when Steve got sick it was far more mellow in terms of talking about our lives and our kids.
"He and I gave a joint interview together and I talked about how I envied his incredible design skills. Steve was an incredible genius and I was more of an engineer than he was.
"It was fun that it was more of a friendship that reflective, although tragically then he couldn't overcome the cancer and died."
Gates also explained how he thinks it's important that "big institutions are criticised", and discussed the foundation he runs with his wife which has spent 34 billion dollars on projects around the world.
He said: "When you see the cost of the diseases or even the malnutrition where the kids who survive don't grow up to achieve their full potential, it does bother you that there's not more generosity or there's not more creativity, that we are not drawing in the best scientists."
Gates picked Under Pressure, by Queen and David Bowie, Willie Nelson's Blue Skies, and The Two Of Us by The Beatles among his tracks.
He also selected copies of the world's great lectures on DVD as his luxury item, and chose to take Steven Pi nker's The Better Angels Of Our Nature as his book.
Desert Island Discs is broadcast on January 31 at 11.15am on BBC Radio 4.