Sometimes it can feel like tech giants were always destined to be on top of the world.
We have this vision that because many of them seem otherworldly in their IQ levels, they all must have had jobs fixing security systems for Fortune 500 companies when they were 12 years old — or perhaps spent their time hacking those companies.
For some startup founders and CEOs this might have been the case, but others come from much more humble professional beginnings. But for every teenage Sean Parker founding Napster in his bedroom, there is another tech luminary who had a far less “cool” first job — and who knows, maybe it taught them about in business through a different lens.
Here are 13 of the goofiest, crappiest, and most unglamorous early jobs of big shot tech executives, from McDonald’s team member to vacuum salesman.
Job: Grocery Store Clerk
When she was 16, Marissa Mayer took a summer job as a grocery store clerk at County Market in Wausau, WI. You may imagine this was a fairly laid-back job, but Mayer says her bosses were hard on the metrics, measuring her performance at an items-per-minute rate.
Mayer says the job taught her a lot about family economics and the trade-offs people have to make in daily life. She saw people making decisions on one of the most fundamental things in life: how they were going to eat.
And she picked up one strange tick at the store. To this day, it annoys Mayer when all the bills in her wallet aren't facing the same way, since as a grocery clerk she had to quickly count all the cash at the end of her shift.
Job: McDonald's Team Member
Working at McDonald's is actually a Bezos family tradition of sorts, as both Jeff and his dad worked there. Bezos became a McDonald's employee as a teenager because he needed a summer job, and it wasn't pretty.
'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,' Bezos told author Cody Teets for the book Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald's. '
Since I was the new guy, they handed me the cleaning solution and said, 'Get going!''
Bezos was a grill man through and through, and never worked at the cash register. He says the hardest thing was keeping pace during rush periods, though if Amazon's delivery track record is any indication, he probably was a champion at it.
Job: Floor Sweeper
Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, is a rags-to-riches story in the purest sense. When Koum signed the $US19 billion deal to sell WhatsApp to Facebook, he drove to a spot across the street from the former North County Social Services where he used to get food stamps to do it.
Born in a small village in Ukraine, Koum immigrated to Mountain View, California when he was 16. He swept the floor of a local grocery store to help his mother with their expenses.
Job: Dishwasher and Busboy
When he was a kid, Michael Dell was obsessed with stamps, so obsessed that he took a job washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant to get cash to buy more stamps. He was an impressive worker, even at such a young age, and was eventually promoted to busboy. However, in a move familiar to anyone in Silicon Valley, he was poached by a nearby Mexican restaurant, who offered to pay him more.
Job: Egg Seller
Tony Fadell is a master at getting new, innovative products to market. At Apple, Fadell helped create the iPod before moving on to start his own company, Nest, a smart connected home startup that was acquired by Google in 2014 for $US3.2 billion.
But when Fadell was a kid, he took to hawking a very ancient product. He had his first job at eight years old, selling eggs. Who knows, perhaps it factored into his decision to call his startup 'Nest?'
Job: Vacuum Cleaner Salesman
Reed Hastings knows about building a business from the ground up, turning his small DVD operation into a media juggernaut that is making cable companies shiver. But you may be surprised to know that Hastings worked at one of the most iconic American jobs before he became an entrepreneur: salesman.
Hastings worked as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, which he calls a 'fantastic introduction to selling.' Of course, he did also get a master's degree in computer science from Stanford afterwards.
Job: Garbage Bag Salesman
Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur extraordinaire Mark Cuban's first job began with a question: he asked his dad if he could get a new pair of expensive sneakers. His dad told him if he wanted new sneakers, he could go get a job.
Cuban was 12 at the time, and asked his dad how he was supposed to find a job. That's when one of his dad's friends stepped in. He said he had some garbage bags he needed to sell, so Cuban went door-to-door.
'Hi, does your family use garbage bags?' he would ask -- smart kid. He sold them for six bucks, when they cost him three. That's three dollars profit per box.
Job: Restaurant Hostess
Wojcicki has been with Google since the very beginning, famously renting her garage to Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. She has grown professionally as Google has, and now sits in the position of CEO of YouTube.
But before all that, her first paying job was something much more ordinary. Though she grew up around Stanford and had a father who was a physics professor, at age of 14, Wojcicki worked as a restaurant hostess.
Job: Retail Clerk
Sheryl Sandberg is not an easy person to get to work for you. The creator of the 'Lean In' ethos actually turned down Mark Zuckerberg's first job offer in 2007, though she's now a billionaire due to Facebook shares.
When she was younger, however, Sandberg wasn't so picky. She names her worst job experience as an early one working as a retail clerk for a clothing store in a mall. She maintains the store was 'terribly-run.'
Job: Parking Lot Attendant
Michael Bloomberg likely has a driver to take him anywhere now, but as a college student, he used to park other people's cars. The three-term New York City mayor helped pay his tuition for Johns Hopkins University by working as a parking lot attendant during the summer. And he's proud of this fact, even displaying it on the top of his LinkedIn profile.
Job: Night Shift at a Mental Hospital
Bill Watkins, the former CEO of hard drive powerhouse Seagate Technology, isn't one to shy away from a fight. Watkins was allegedly fired after an expletive-filled spat with the board, but now serves as the CEO of Imergy Power Systems, which sells batteries that will be used for green energy.
So it might not surprise you that one of Watkins' early jobs was confrontational in nature. He worked the night shift at a mental hospital, restraining people who got out of control.
Carly Fiorina broke the gender barrier in a substantial way when she served as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard in the early 2000s. Since then she has tried her hand at politics for the Republican party, most recently announcing her run for the presidency of the United States in 2016.
But before she became a corporate superstar, Fiorina began her professional career as a secretary at a financial services company. She had recently graduated Stanford with a degree in medieval history and philosophy -- which turned out not to be the most practical degrees for the business world.