Where Tech CEOs Went To College: Musk, Bezos, Gates & More

Written by Beth Hering
Published on January 20, 2023 · Updated on January 20, 2023

Where Tech CEOs Went To College: Musk, Bezos, Gates & More

Written by Beth Hering
Published on January 20, 2023 · Updated on January 20, 2023

Ever wonder where the nation’s top tech industry execs went to school? Did they grace the hallowed halls of the Ivy League or attend a public college in their home state? Did they earn multiple degrees or drop out before even finishing their first? Let’s take a look:

  1. Elon Musk – CEO of Tesla

College: University of Pennsylvania, 1997

Degrees: Bachelor’s Degrees in Physics and Economics

Elon Musk Wikipedia Headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Some people would give an arm and a leg to be accepted into a doctoral program at Stanford University. Musk decided to leave the prestigious institution two days into his PhD, studies because he felt that the Internet had much more potential to change society than work in physics.

Charting his own course is a constant thread in the life of South Africa-born Musk. At age 17, he moved to Canada in part to avoid compulsory military service in the apartheid-era army. He briefly attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, before transferring to UPenn.

An entrepreneur since age 12 when he created a video game and sold it to a computer magazine, Musk has gone on to increasingly successful ventures – including founding the online financial services company X.com, which later became PayPal. Bloomberg Billionaires Index puts Musk’s net worth at $130 billion. Today, he is best known for these business ventures:

  • Chief executive of Tesla, which sells electric vehicles and home solar batteries
  • Chief executive of the rocket manufacturer SpaceX
  • Owner of the social networking company Twitter
  1. Jeff Bezos – former CEO of Amazon

College: Princeton University, 1986

Degrees: Bachelor’s Degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 

Jeff Bezos Wikipedia headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Eight years after college, this summa cum laude once again had books on his mind – selling them, that is. With the range of products offered by the retailer today, it is hard to remember back to 1994 when Bezos began Amazon as a place to sell books online.

Not that Bezos had a clear plan from the moment he journeyed from his Ivy League alma mater. Like many new graduates, he did some job hopping. Eventually, he joined the New York investment bank D.C. Shaw & Co. in 1990. Bezos soon became the firm’s youngest senior vice president. His main duty: examining the investment possibilities of the Internet.

Though he stepped down as CEO of Amazon in 2021, Bezos still owns about 10% of the retail giant. He also owns the space exploration company Blue Origin and the Washington Post newspaper. His net worth is $110 billion, per Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

  1. Bill Gates – former CEO of Microsoft

College: Attended Harvard University but did not graduate

Degrees: N/A

Bill Gates Wikipedia Headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

When telling your parents you are leaving Harvard University two semesters shy of graduating, you better present a very good reason. Building the basis for what would eventually become Microsoft might qualify.

With a 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs, others already knew Gates was quite bright. (Princeton and Yale had accepted him too.) And his penchant for computers should not have come as a surprise, as he wrote his first software program at age 13 while a student at the elite Lakeside School in Seattle. A buddy from there, Paul Allen, convinced Gates – a pre-law student fascinated with applied math – to help him develop software for the first microcomputers. One success led to another.

Today, Gates has a total net worth of $109 billion per Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He stepped down as Microsoft’s CEO in 2000 in order to focus on global philanthropy, and he is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perhaps equally important, Gates received an honorary degree from Harvard, beginning his acceptance speech with the words, “I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree.”

  1. Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook)

College: Attended Harvard University but did not graduate

Degrees: N/A

Mark Zuckerberg Wikipedia Headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Most college students see their dorm room as a place to study and sleep. Zuckerberg used his as the starting point for developing the world’s largest social network.

Zuckerberg entered Harvard already having created Zucknet – a family messaging system – while in high school at the elite boarding school Phillips Exeter Academy. With the help of three Harvard friends, Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com in 2004. Within two weeks, half of the student body had signed up. The site soon spread to other universities, and Zuckerberg left Cambridge, Mass., for Silicon Valley. With funding from various venture firms, Facebook thrived. By year’s end, membership approached a million users. Today, the site has some 2.9 billion active monthly users.

Zuckerberg has a total net worth of $51 billion per Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and he has pledged to donate the majority of his fortune to charity. In 2017, like Gates, he returned to Harvard to accept an honorary degree. Zuckerberg’s commencement address to students included the memorable observation, “There is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in ten years when millions of students can't afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business.”

  1. Michael Dell – CEO of Dell Technologies

College: Attended the University of Texas at Austin but did not graduate

Degrees: N/A

Michael Dell Wikipedia Headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

When the computer business you operate from your freshman dorm generates $80,000 in sales in less than a year, dropping the thought of becoming a doctor to enter the business world doesn’t seem like a bad idea. That’s exactly what Dell did – leaving biology studies behind at age 19 to run his upgraded personal computers company full-time.

Dell practiced a business philosophy of cutting costs, reducing delivery time, and providing excellent customer service. His company, which went public in 1988, eventually expanded to more than personal computers. Nowadays, Dell has a net worth of $49.1 billion per Bloomberg Billionaires Index. 

A notable philanthropist, Dell and his family have contributed to causes ranging from health and safety to youth development and early childhood care. In 2006, his foundation donated $50 million to the University of Texas at Austin.

  1. Satya Nadella – CEO of Microsoft

Colleges: Attended Mangalore University (1988), University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (1990), and University of Chicago (1997)

Degrees: 

Satya Nadella Wikipedia Headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

What does Nadella have that original Microsoft CEO Bill Gates does not? Three college degrees! 

Indian-born Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992 and worked on the development of Windows NT. Moving up the ranks over time, he became the executive vice president in charge of the company’s cloud computing platform, which provided the infrastructure for Xbox Live, the search engine Bing, and the Office 365 subscription-based services. He became CEO in 2014 and is known for overseeing the company’s acquisition of Nokia Corp.’s mobile-device business and the social network LinkedIn.

Nadella’s net worth is estimated to be at least $808 million. In addition to his Microsoft responsibilities, Nadella serves on the board of trustees at the University of Chicago and on the board of directors at Starbucks.

  1. Tim Cook - CEO of Apple

Colleges: Attended Auburn University (1982) and Duke University (1988)

Degrees: 

Tim Cook Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Getting accepted into Duke’s Fuqua School of Business is an accomplishment in and of itself. Being awarded the title of Fuqua Scholar – an honor given only to students at the business school who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class – is a whole new level of achievement. Cook, a guy from the small town of Robertsdale, Alabama, did both, and he also now serves on the university’s board of trustees.

Cook spent his early career holding various positions at IBM and Compaq. He joined Apple in 1998, a time before the company developed revolutionary products such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Within a year of his debut as senior vice president of worldwide operations, Apple went from a net loss of $1 billion the prior fiscal year to reporting profits.

Cook took over as CEO in 2011 and continued his emphasis on an efficient supply chain and quick inventory turnover. Apple’s financial reports show Cook’s net worth going over the $1 billion mark in 2021.

  1. Jack Dorsey – former CEO of Twitter

College: Attended New York University but did not graduate

Degrees: N/A

Jack Dorsey Wikipedia Headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Picture this: A 17-year-old from St. Louis with a fascination for maps teaches himself programming to build computer-based maps of New York City emergency vehicles from public dispatch data. He then hacks the website of the Manhattan-based dispatch company, emails the chairman to alert him to security weaknesses, and offers his services as a dispatch software maker. The result: A job offer in the Big Apple for Dorsey.

Dorsey’s experience with the principles of dispatch software led him to think about how using text and instant messaging could be a way of keeping in touch with friends. On March 21, 2006, Dorsey posted the first Twitter message – and the rest is history.

Dorsey went on to co-found and serve as CEO of Square, a mobile-payments venture offering devices and software to facilitate credit card transactions. The company is known today as Block, and Dorsey’s title is Block Head. Bloomberg estimates Dorsey’s net worth as $5.5 billion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dorsey was very active in funding relief efforts.

  1. Susan Wojcicki – CEO of YouTube

Colleges: Attended Harvard University (1990), University of California - Santa Cruz (1993), and University of California - Los Angeles (1998)

Degrees: 

Susan Wojcicki Wikipedia Headshot

Photo credit: Wikipedia

When you grow up with a father who is a Stanford University physics professor and a mother who is a teacher, odds are high that you’ll respect the value of education. Wojcicki certainly did that. But it was something that the honors graduate of Harvard did years later that ultimately changed the course of her life and the world – she rented out her garage to two Stanford PhD students who needed space to work on their fledgling internet company, Google.

While Wojcicki worked in the marketing department at Intel at the time, she left the next year to become Google’s first marketing manager. Tasked with finding ways of generating revenue from the company’s search engine, she was important to the development of AdWords, the clickable text-only advertisements that appear on Google search pages.

In 2014, Wojcicki switched from her role as senior vice president at Google over to CEO of YouTube. Forbes estimates her net worth as $765 million.

  1.  Reed Hastings – CEO of Netflix

Colleges: Attended Bowdoin College (1983) and Stanford University (1988)

Degrees: 

Reed Hastings Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Anyone old enough to remember the days of renting video cassettes can sympathize with the large late charge Hastings incurred after failing to return a movie to the store. Consider the fee money well spent, though. The incident sparked the idea for a subscription-based movie-rental service. In 1997, Netflix was born.

Netflix first achieved success as a rent-by-mail service where subscribers paid a set monthly fee to rent an unlimited number of DVDs one at a time (the next title being sent whenever the loaned DVD was returned). It eventually became a streaming service and produced its own content in addition to offering mainstream titles. Today, Hastings has a net worth of roughly $3.7 billion.

A constant for Hastings over the years is his passion for education. After college, he taught math in Swaziland as part of the Peace Corps. From 2000 to 2004, he served as president of the California State Board of Education. A noted philanthropist with a particular interest in educational reform, he created a $100 million fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in 2016 and has donated $120 million to fund scholarships at two historically Black colleges.

 

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