First Jobs of the Biggest Tech CEOs

5 min read · 7 years ago


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It’s easy to forget that even the most influential people started their careers in ordinary ways. Some of the world’s biggest technology CEOs started out flipping burgers or working as check-out clerks. Others were already well on the path toward their current positions.

If there is a common element for these successful entrepreneurs, it’s that each started working fairly young and obtained skills that still guide their work today.

SoftwareInsider looked at 11 current tech company CEOs to see how their careers began. Young entrepreneurs can take heart that many of their idols started off in relatively everyday, entry-level jobs.

#1. Tim Cook—Apple

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First job: Newspaper delivery boy

Tim Cook’s succession to the top job at Apple took a somewhat winding road, but ultimately he became the Chief Executive in Cupertino, Calif. After a stint as acting CEO in 2009, Cook stepped back when Steve Jobs reclaimed the role. Two years later, Cook took the job permanently, completing his rise from his first job as a newspaper delivery boy for the Press-Register in his home state of Alabama.

#2. Jeff Bezos—Amazon

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First job: “Burger man” at McDonald’s

Attributing some of his sense of responsibility to his first job as a “burger man” at McDonald’s, Jeff Bezos has built Amazon into the predominant online retailer in the world. He has challenged conventional ways of doing business to the point that many Wall Street analysts use different metrics regarding Amazon’s relative successes and failures. With a market capitalization of over $240 billion, the CEO is driving growth for his shareholders.

#3. Marissa Mayer—Yahoo

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First job: Grocery store clerk

Taking the reins of the once-dominant web portal with a mandate to right the ship, Merissa Mayer says she learned a lot about having a proper work ethic from her time as a grocery store clerk in Wausau, Wisc. Constructing the type of multi-year recovery plan that was needed at Yahoo requires a head for numbers, unwavering belief in your plan and serious, hard work.

#4. Jack Dorsey—Twitter

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First job: Wrote open source code for taxi dispatchers

Having been called a visionary similar to Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey created Twitter and Square. Each company has redefined its respective space and changed the way that people interact.

Dorsey got his start at the age of 14 writing open source code to help taxi dispatchers become more efficient. The ideas behind that work would eventually blossom into Twitter, a company from which he was ousted and then returned.

#5. Mark Zuckerberg—Facebook

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First job: Created music player Synapse

As one of the lowest paid CEOs on the list, receiving just $1 per year to augment his nearly $40 billion in net worth, Mark Zuckerberg’s rise from the dorms at Harvard are well documented. His first job was building a music player called Synapse when he was still in high school. From there, he and his friends would found and grow one of the most influential social media companies in history.

#6. Evan Spiegel—Snapchat

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First job: Unpaid intern for Red Bull

The founder of Snapchat originally pitched the idea as a class project while he was attending Stanford. Evan Spiegel ultimately left Stanford to help build the mobile application company into what it is today. His first job was as an unpaid intern for Red Bull.

#7. Kevin Systrom—Instagram

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First job: Record store clerk

Before the CEO of the iconic photo sharing company cashed in on his idea when Instagram was acquired by Facebook, Kevin Systrom worked as a clerk in a record store in Boston. He would later attend Stanford and receive a B.S. in engineering.

#8. Travis Kalanick—Uber

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First job: Door-to-door salesman

This young serial entrepreneur founded Uber as the last in a series of companies—some that worked better than others. Travis Kalanick became CEO in 2010, relying on his big personality and near-reckless appetite for risk to drive Uber’s growth from a push-button black car service to the mega-success it is today. Kalanick first entered the workforce as a door-to-door salesman selling Cutco knives.

#9. Michael Dell—Dell

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First job: Sold subscriptions to the Houston Post

Perhaps one of the most recognizable names in the tech industry, Michael Dell is the founder and CEO of Dell. Among his many achievements, in 2013, he took his company private for $24.4 billion, making it one of the biggest transactions of its kind in decades. Dell might have learned his work ethic selling subscriptions to the Houston Post during high school summer vacations, but his tech savvy has made him a leader in his field.

#10. Elon Musk – Tesla

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First job: Sold code for video game company Blastard

Elon Musk is a true visionary who has brought to life such companies as PayPal, Space X and Tesla Motors. In addition to his role as CEO of Tesla, he is a Steve Jobs-esque product architect whose imagination seeks to change the world. Musk’s first job was selling code for a BASIC-based video game called Blastard; he was 12 years old.

#11. Marc Benioff—Salesforce

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First job: Founded Liberty Software

The founder and CEO of Salesforce continues to advance his goal of revamping the software business by moving everything to the cloud. A chief proponent of software as a service, Benioff is credited with driving his industry in new directions and changing perceptions. His first job was as the founder of Liberty Software at age 15. The company made games for the Atari 8-bit system.

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