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The Startup Jobs of Some of the Biggest Executives in Tech Industry Today


Some of the biggest figures in the tech world had very relatable first jobs. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos got his start flipping burgers at McDonald’s, while Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered newspapers. Read on to learn about the first jobs of 6 of the biggest names in tech today. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, may be the world’s richest man, but he may just have the most relatable first job.  He flipped burgers for McDonald’s.  For other tech executives, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, electronics played a large part in their lives from early on, making their role in some of the most prominent companies a little, well, obvious. 

Either way, first jobs tend to always make an impression, good or bad one that sticks with you as you age, an experience to take along wherever you end up. For example, Bill Gates remembers working 18 hours a day at his first gig as a programmer when he was 16. His coworkers even tried to convince him to “skip undergraduate and go straight to graduate school.” As we know now, Gates ended up dropping out just two years into college to start Microsoft and go on to make billions . For some tech execs, the billions came quickly, but for others, notoriety took some time.

Here are the first jobs held by some of today’s biggest names in tech.

  • Like millions of other Americans, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos got his flipping burgers at McDonald’s

It may come as a surprise to know today’s richest man in the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, earned his first dollar flipping burgers at McDonald’s as a teenager in the ’80s. During his first week, Bezos told author Cody Teets, “A five-gallon, wall-mounted ketchup dispenser dumped a prodigious quantity of ketchup into every hard-to-reach kitchen crevice. Since I was the new guy, they handed me the cleaning solution.” The salary for a fry cook at McDonald’s back in 1980 was $2.69. His first job in the professional world after graduating from Princeton with a computer science degree was at an international trade startup called Fitel. Bezos currently has a net worth of $131 billion.

  • As a teenager, Mark Zuckerberg designed a music recommendation app and turned down $1 Million for it.

Bezos may have been the man on the grill for his first gig, but Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, was the man on campus: Before even coming to Harvard, Zuckerberg was offered $1 million for “music recommendation” software called Synapse he invented before he turned 18, somewhat like that of Pandora or Spotify. He didn’t take the cash, instead making it free for people to use.  Today, Zuckerberg has a net worth of $76 billion, thanks mainly to Facebook (also free to use), and other various investments. 

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella started out as a software engineer,and when he was interviewing for the job, got a question he wasn’t prepared for.

Before becoming CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella was a software engineer, which, according to CNBC, is one of the most common first jobs of current CEOs. He first interviewed for a job at Microsoft in 1992. He remembered the interview as tedious, with one question completely catching him off guard because it had nothing to do with the line of code he was writing on the whiteboard.  The interviewer asked him what he would do if he saw a baby fall. “I thought about it for a while. This was a computer science question I had not prepped for. So, I said I’d run to the closest phone booth and call 911,” he told Chicago Booth Magazine. He later said the interviewer was looking to see if Nadella had empathy. Today, Nadella makes over $25 million a year, 154 times more than the median pay of his employees.

  • Elon Musk earned $500 writing code for for a video game when he was 12 years old

Like Zuckerberg, Tesla Founder Elon Musk had an early fascination with technology. His obsession with writing code earned him $500 at the age of 12, where he contributed lines for a space-themed video game in 1983.  Musk’s involvement with space didn’t stop then either: He is also the founder of Space X, an aerospace manufacturing company. His net worth is nearly $20 billion — 40 million times more than his first ever paycheck.

  • Steve Jobs’ first job was developing video games for Atari.

Steve Jobs had a passion for technology from an early age. His father would show him how to take apart electronics in the garage of their Mountain View home. So naturally, after dropping out of college, his first job was as a video game developer at Atari. In 1976, at the age of 21, he and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computers the company that would ultimately define his life.  Jobs is largely credited with introducing a new era at Apple, with the introduction of Macintosh, iPod, and iPhone. He died from a unique form of pancreatic cancer in Oct. 2011. Today, Apple’s market cap is close to $675 billion and is one of the most valuable companies in the world.

  • Bill Gates’ first job was as a computer programmer for a Michigan automotive company

There seems to be a trend among tech execs: if you like technology, even from an early age, you tend to stick with it. This goes for Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, too. His first gig at 16 was as a computer programmer for TRW, an automotive company based in Michigan, when he was in high school. In The Atlantic, Gates remembered his first job fondly: “I was sort of infamous as a boy wonder of a certain type of programming[…] I was willing to work 18 hours a day and do hard stuff.”  Today, Gates has since taken himself out of the programming side of tech, but is instead has dedicated the rest of his life to philanthropy with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation a family foundation created to help people live “healthy, productive lives” The foundation is the largest private foundation in the world, and Gates has a net worth of $100 billion.

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