The budding days of the internet saw many lucrative opportunities for those who knew how to code or otherwise tap into the magic. Not everyone was successful, of course, but the ones who mastered it did far more than simply succeed. Many of the wealthiest, smartest and most educated tech giants owe their billions to the rise of the digital age.
If you ever wondered what makes some of these billionaires so special, here’s your chance to figure it out. From hard knock childhoods to a desire to change the world, many different things have served as inspiration for these creative geniuses.
This list could never be complete without the famous Elon Musk and his net worth of $22.4 billion. That's right, billion. Born in South Africa, Musk's upbringing wasn’t the best. He endured violent bullying in school and had to take up karate and wrestling to learn how to protect himself. As if that wasn’t enough, at 10 years old, his parents divorced.
With a net worth of $38 billion at only 55 years of age, Jack Ma is the poster child of rags to riches stories. He grew up poor in communist China without many opportunities for advancement. When it was time to enter college, Ma actually failed the entrance exam — twice. On the third try, however, he got in and studied to become a teacher.
Most people know this internet mogul's name by now. Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon (among other businesses). His original path in life led him to earn a degree at Princeton and earn some good money on Wall Street, but he left it all behind to try his hand at e-commerce. Bezos is now worth about $109.9 billion.
With a net worth of $6.1 billion, Zhou Qunfei is one of the richest women in the world. She had a bumpy start in life, with a father who was blind and only had four fingers on one hand and a mother who passed away when she was only 5. As a result, she spent her teenage years working in a factory instead of studying in high school.
There's no denying the brainpower of Mark Zuckerberg, one of the youngest billionaires alive. He attended Harvard University for two years, during which he started the immensely popular social network Facebook. He ultimately dropped out to focus fully on expanding and improving the technology.
You can't have a list of tech geniuses without including the founders of Microsoft. Paul Allen grew up in Seattle, Washington, where he met his future business partner, Bill Gates. Eight years after that fateful meeting, the duo launched one of the most widely used software operating systems in existence.
Michael Dell's last name probably sounds familiar. In fact, you might have one of his namesake devices sitting on your desk right now. Dell founded Dell Incorporated, the company behind Dell personal computers. His net worth comes in around $31.6 billion.
Marissa Mayer was born in the small city of Wausau, Wisconsin. She was always interested in artificial intelligence, so she studied computer science in college and then took a job as Google’s 20th employee and first female software engineer. Thanks to Mayer’s expertise, visits to Google’s home page soared from a couple hundred thousand to upwards of a billion!
Michael Bloomberg is many things, including an opportunist. After being let go from a well-paying career with Salomon Brothers, Bloomberg took a chance and invested in the creation of a new company called Bloomberg LP. The company provided fast financial data services that quickly propelled its net worth into the billions.
Sergey Brin has earned a spot on this list for co-founding Google in 1998. Born in Russia to a mathematician dad, he came to the U.S. with his family when he was only 6 to escape Jewish persecution. After graduating from high school, he studied computer science and mathematics at the University of Maryland.
Azim Premji is often called the "Czar of the Indian IT Industry." He didn't get his start in tech, however. He took over his father's consumer goods business selling laundry soaps, toiletries and other essentials. As the internet grew, Premji saw an opportunity to include microcomputers among his products, which began his transition into tech.
Bill Gates — the king of the tech world. Did you think we would forget about him? Gates is sitting on a net worth of $105.8 billion, second only to Amazon's Jeff Bezos. As you probably already know, he’s the co-founder of Microsoft and a revered leader in technology innovation.
Larry Ellison's rise to success was anything but straightforward. In college, he was named "Science Student of the Year," but then he dropped out a year later. Why? His mother passed away. Ellison soon gave college another go, but he dropped out again after a single semester.
Pierre Omidyar took a simple idea and spun it into gold. Using his smarts with computer coding, he created Auction Web in 1995. As the name implies, it was a place where people could bid for items online just as they would in a traditional auction. Sound familiar?
How many of you carry around a Samsung cell phone every day? Well, you've got Lee Kun-hee to thank for that handful of technology. Kun-hee is chairman of Samsung Group and the son of Samsung's founder, Lee Byung-Chul. The company doesn’t just sell electronics — theme parks, fashion and more add to the bottom line.
Steve Ballmer is a man with a more traditional trajectory in life. He excelled at school, eventually attending Harvard University to study mathematics and economics. After earning his degree, he went to Stanford University Graduate School of Business and ended up working for the tech king himself: Bill Gates.
Larry Page is the counterpart of that other Alphabet tech genius, Sergey Brin. Together, they founded Google, the most-used search engine (and so much more!) in the world. Page's interest in computers wasn’t random. Both his parents were tech experts, and their love of computers rubbed off on Page, who studied computer engineering in graduate school.
This tech billionaire endured bullies throwing rocks at him in grade school, all because he was Korean and living in Japan. The trauma didn't stop Masayoshi Son from becoming Japan's second-richest individual. After attending school in the U.S., he founded SoftBank, an investment firm and telecommunications company.
Andrew Grove's upbringing was far from a normal tech giant's childhood. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, and lived through Nazi occupation and several communist regimes. Despite those challenges, Grove earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and joined the burgeoning company Intel in 1968.
If Google is the search engine of America, Baidu is the search engine of China. Robin Li is the co-founder of Baidu and now serves as CEO, making him one of China's richest people at only 50 years old. The most impressive part? Li’s parents were factory workers, and nothing in his life was handed to him.
Shiv Nadar (pictured on the right) is another one of India's richest entrepreneurs. He founded Hindustan Computers Limited in the 1970's, a company that began with only six employees but eventually grew to make billions. The company’s big break came when IBM left India, and Nadar saw the opportunity to fill the void.
Another female powerhouse on the list, Meg Whitman claims a net worth of $3.6 billion. This wealth largely comes from her time as CEO of eBay, where she spent 10 years improving sales. To put that in perspective, under her direction, eBay went from millions in sales to billions in sales.
Carlos Slim Helu
This 79-year-old man is the richest person in Mexico. He grew up with a father who succeeded in real estate, and he studied engineering in college. When an economic crash hit Mexico, Helu took advantage of the situation and invested in several different companies.
You may not have heard of this young billionaire, but you've heard of his co-creating counterpart, Mark Zuckerberg. That's right, Dustin Moskovitz co-founded Facebook and had a role as lead programmer. In fact, he was essential to Facebook's creation, which is part of why he's now worth$11.6 billion. He decided to leave the company in 2008 to pursue other endeavors.
Dietmar Hopp is a German-born graduate of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology who got his start as a software developer at IBM. In 1972, Hopp and four other colleagues decided to ditch IBM and pursue their own venture: Systems, Applications, Products (SAP). He was co-CEO for 10 years and managed to acquire a net worth of $15.6 billion.
As it turns out, quite a few people have made billions off the success of Google. Eric Schmidt is one of them. Schmidt has been CEO at other companies throughout his career, but his 10 years with Google earned him the most cash.
Hasso Plattner was one of Dietmar Hopp's colleagues who accompanied him in leaving IBM and founding SAP. Plattner served as CEO until 2003 and has a current net worth of $15.6 billion. Imagine what would have happened if he hadn't left his job?
You can't run Facebook without a Chief Operating Officer, and you would be foolish to want anyone other than Sheryl Sandberg for the job. She managed to turn the social network's $52 million loss into profits of $22.1 billion. What has this otherworldly feat gotten her? A net worth of $1.8 billion, for starters.
Oh, look! There’s another Facebook billionaire. Eduardo Saverin is yet another co-founder of Facebook, filling the roles of business manager and chief financial officer during its startup. These days, he focuses mainly on his many investments.
Liu Qiangdong was born in China and is the founder of Jingdong Mall, a popular e-commerce site. Thanks to this business, his net worth is an estimated $12.7 billion. Things didn't always go so smoothly for Qiangdong, and he made some ill-advised investments during college that landed him in serious debt.