9 Boring, Normal Jobs Some Of The Biggest Names In Tech Had Before They Became CEOs
HP CEO Meg Whitman was once this guy’s manager. Tech CEOs leading multi-billion dollar companies wield enormous power. But when they were younger, some CEOS took whatever jobs they could find as teenagers to scrape by. Others chased their non-tech related dreams after college before gravitating to tech.
Still others, upon starting their careers, found themselves in positions they wouldn’t have envisioned in a million years.
If there’s a common theme here, it’s that these execs excelled in their early roles, no matter how mundane they might seem now. They wouldn’t be where they are now if they hadn’t.
It’s been said that the road to the top can be meandering, and based on these examples of tech CEOs that had less-than-glamorous beginnings, this maxim rings true.
Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer: assistant product manager for Duncan Hines’ Moist & Easy cakes and brownies
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980 and has been its CEO since 2000.
After graduating from Harvard in 1977, Ballmer spent two years as an assistant product manager at Procter & Gamble.
In 2008, he told AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg about the experience of managing the Coldsnap Freezer Dessert Maker, a product used to make ice cream.
After that, Ballmer was an assistant product manager for Duncan Hines’ Moist & Easy cakes and brownies.
VMware’s Pat Gelsinger: Farm Hand
EMC COO Pat Gelsinger
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger had a huge impact on the chip industry during his 30 years at Intel, which he joined in 1979.
But Gelsinger started out working in a completely different field. In fact, as a teenager growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, Gelsinger was a member of the Future Farmers of America, so he literally worked in a field.
“I was a farm boy from Pennsylvania. As I used to joke at Intel, I knew more about cow chips than computer chips when I started,” Gelsinger said in an August 2012 interview with the EMC+ blog.
Twitter’s Dick Costolo: improv comedian
When Twitter CEO Dick Colstolo graduated from the University of Michigan in 1985 with a degree in computer science, he had three different offers for programming jobs on the table.
But instead of taking one of them, Costolo decided to try his hand at improv comedy in Chicago.
“I decided to make a big bet on myself and took a chance,” Costolo told this year’s graduating class in a commencement speech in May, as reported by Kellie Woodhouse of AnnArbor.com. “I was grinding away for a long time and I had no money.”
“The beauty of improvisation is you’re experiencing it in the moment. If you try to plan what the next lines are going to be, you’re just going to be disappointed,” Costolo told the UM grads.
Tableau Software’s Pat Hanrahan: fireman at a paper mill company
Pat Hanrahan, cofounder, Tableau Software
Hanrahan is co-founder and chief scientist at Tableau, and one of the biggest names in big data.
In a 2010 interview with Drake Martinet of AllThingsD, Hanrahan talked about working in a paper mill while in college.
“I’d be on fire duty, which meant standing around with a hose and doing nothing. That said, if you go a week in a paper mill without a fire, you are doing well. All that dust accumulates and practically becomes explosive,” Hanrahan told AllThingsD
Tableau, which creates charts and graphs from huge volumes of data, just had a pretty solid IPO.
SAP’s Bill McDermott: delicatessen worker-turned-owner
SAP co-ceo Bill McDermott
When McDermott was 16, he worked part-time as a busboy in an Italian restaurant. Then he found a job at a deli near his home in Long Island, New York. He ended up buying it soon after, borrowing $5,500 to make it happen.
Five years later, McDermott sold the deli, netting enough to pay off his student loans for Dowling College and buy a beach house for his parents, according to his alumni page on the Northwestern University Kellogg School Of Management, where he earned an MBA in 1997.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: grill cook at McDonald’s
Here’s what Bezos had to say about the experience in author Cody Teets’ book “Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald’s“:
“My first week on the job, a five-gallon, wall-mounted ketchup dispenser got stuck open in the kitchen and 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 and said, ‘Get going!’
“I was a grill man and never worked the cash registers. The most challenging thing was keeping everything going at the right pace during a rush. The manager at my McDonald’s was excellent. He had a lot of teenagers working for him, and he kept us focused even while we had fun.”
FireEye’s David DeWalt: telemarketer for Oracle
DeWalt, the former McAfee CEO who took the helm at security startup FireEye in 2012, graduated from the University of Delaware in the 1980s with a B.S. in computer science.
His first job wasn’t what you’d call glamorous: DeWalt was a telemarketer for Oracle and his job duties included making some 500 cold calls every week, according to a profile on the University of Delaware website.
DeWalt told us last year he turned down 40 other job offers to become CEO of FireEye, a startup with tech that solves the problem of “zero day” attacks, where hackers uses flaws that vendors aren’t aware of to wreak havoc on corporate networks.
HP’s Meg Whitman, head of global marketing and management at Hasbro
Prior to her 10-year run as CEO of eBay, Whitman worked at Hasbro and ran global management and marketing for the Mr. Potato Head children’s toy.
Whitman is credited with helping to rekindle interest in Mr. Potato Head, which was struggling at the time. In 2011, Readwrite reported that Whitman licensed the Mr. Potato Head brand to television and helped the toy get its own show on Fox.
Dell’s Michael Dell: newspaper subscription sales
Before building his own multi-billion dollar company, Michael Dell sold newspaper subscriptions over the phone when he was 16 years old.
Of course, Dell didn’t just cold-call people. Instead, he threw some strategy at the task and put together lists of people who’d just obtained marriage licenses and mortgages, figuring these folks wouldn’t be moving and would be interested in subscribing.
Dell made $18,000 in his first year in the newspaper subscription sales business, according to Encyclopedia.com.