While all of the world’s top 10 richest tech billionaires attended university or college at some point, many of them never completed a degree. Although a tertiary qualification is often regarded as a tool to greatly increase a candidate’s ability to find a job – particularly one with a good starting salary – this is not always the rule for those ambitious enough to build their own companies in the technology industry.
Many may think this field generally requires a higher level of education than most, but there are plenty of anecdotal tales of brilliant tech-inclined minds who quit their jobs or dropped out while studying to eventually become incredibly successful entrepreneurs.
One clear-cut example of this is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has been called “Harvard’s most successful dropout”. Despite performing well during his studies, Gates left university to build what would become the world’s biggest computer-based operating system.
However, it is evident that several of the world’s leading tech businesspeople also benefitted from their tertiary education. Below are what the world’s current top 10 tech billionaires studied and which degrees they completed. The net worth values used are taken from the Forbes Real-Time Billionaire’s List as of 30 November 2020.
1. Jeff Bezos – Amazon
- Net worth: $186.5 billion
- Qualifications: BEng Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
The planet’s richest man graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University with a degree in BEng Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. This was after he initially enrolled with Physics as his major. In 1994, eight years after completing his degree, Bezos founded what would become the world’s greatest ecommerce platform – Amazon.com.
2. Elon Musk – Tesla and SpaceX
- Net worth: $132.1 billion
- Qualifications: BSc. Economics and BA in Physics
The South African-born founder and CEO of SpaceX, who also owns and heads the world’s most valuable vehicle manufacturer – Tesla – holds two degrees.
After moving to Canada with his mother at the age of 17, Musk headed to the US to study a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, and also completed a Bachelor of Arts in Physics at the University of Pennsylvania.
He pursued a PhD in Energy Physics at Stanford University, but dropped out right at the time when the big Internet boom was happening. The next few years would see Musk start several Internet-focused companies, including Zip2 and PayPal, both of which he sold to forward his more ambitious plans for electric vehicles and private space exploration.
Musk himself has said he does not believe that acquiring a degree or even a high school diploma proves that someone is intelligent. “I think college is basically for fun and to prove that you can do your chores, but they’re not for learning,” Musk said at the Satellite 2020 conference.
3. Bill Gates – Microsoft
- Net worth: $119.3 billion
- Qualifications: Studied pre-law and mathematics, dropped out.
The founder of the world’s most popular computer operating system does not hold any college or university degree. Two years after enrolling at Harvard College to study pre-law and mathematics, Gates left to start his own software company with long-time friend Paul Allen, having noticed the rapid development of computer technology in the ’70s. While his academic performance would allow him to resume his studies, the success of Microsoft meant Gates never looked back.
4. Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook
- Net worth: $102.0 billion
- Qualifications: Studied Computer Science, dropped out of university.
While studying for a degree in Computer Science at Harvard University, Zuckerberg developed a reputation as a talented computer programmer. During this time, he built two programs called CourseMatch and FaceMash, after which he partnered with several friends to create a social networking site that allowed Harvard students to connect with each other.
The site – called The Facebook – was launched in June 2004, and later allowed students from other schools to join. Zuckerberg dropped out of university during his second year of studies to focus full time on growing Facebook.
5. Larry Ellison – Oracle
- Net worth: $78.9 billion
- Qualifications: Studied Physics and Mathematics, dropped out of university.
After dropping out at two universities, the founder of software giant Oracle began developing an interest in computers and programming. He learned more about these fields through his reading of specialised literature and by attending various clubs and events.
After working at Amdahl Corporation and Amtex in the early 1970s, Ellison ventured into database development after being influenced by Edgar F. Codd’s research on relational database design. In 1977, he created adatabase called Oracle for the CIA. He then founded Software Development Laboratories (SDL) with two partners in 1977 with a a total starting investment of $2,000.
Two years later, the company was renamed to Relational Software Inc., after which it officially became Oracle Systems Corporation in 1983 with its flagship product being the Oracle Database.
6. Larry Page – Google
- Net worth: $78.7 billion
- Qualifications: MSc degree in Computer Engineering from Stanford.
Larry Page, co-founder and CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Engineering from Stanford. This is where he met Sergey Brin, the man with whom he would co-found what would become the world’s biggest Internet search engine – Google.
7. Sergey Brin – Google
- Net worth: $76.5 billion
- Qualifications: BSc Mathematics and Computer Science, Master’s Degree in Computer Science
Brin completed his BSc degree in Mathematics and Computer Science with honours at the University of Maryland at College Park. He later pursued a Master’s Degree at Stanford University, where he and Larry Page began working on a search engine called Backrub that would eventually become Google.
8. Mukesh Ambani – Reliance Industries
- Net worth: $73.6 billion
- Qualifications: BEng Chemical Engineering
Mukesh Ambani acquired his Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Mumbai, after which he enrolled for an MBA at Stanford University. However, he withdrew to assist his father to grow Reliance Industries – where he started by running a yarn manufacturing project.
This multi-national conglomerate now owns companies across a wide range of industries – including energy, natural resources, petrochemicals, textiles, retail, and telecommunications. Ambani’s Jio cellular network has spurred massive growth in mobile ownership in India.
9. Steve Ballmer – Microsoft
- Net worth: $73.2 billion
- Qualifications: BA Applied Mathematics and Economics
The former long-time CEO of Microsoft graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Mathematics and Economics. His studies were followed by stints as a football manager, journalist, product manager, and screenplay writer before Bill Gates hired Ballmer to work for Microsoft in 1980. He was appointed Microsoft CEO from 2000 to 2014, a period during which he helped the company triple its sales and double profits.
10. Jack Ma – Ali Baba
- Net worth: $62.8 billion
- Qualifications: BA English
Ma claims that long before he helped introduce China to the realm of the Internet and created business to business marketplace Alibaba, he applied to study at Harvard Business School 10 times.
Although the eccentric Chinese billionaire has been awarded an honorary doctoral degree by Hong Kong University, he has only ever completed a Bachelor of Arts in English at Hangzhou Normal University. It should be noted, however, that he also has an acting credit in a kung fu movie and a live concert performance under his belt.