Where Did the Most Successful Nerds Go to School?

Oct 30, 2007

Despite the stereotype that every computer or Internet company was founded by a couple of brilliant geeks with nothing more than high school diplomas and lots of know-how, the majority of computer-industry executives actually have four-year degrees. Read below to find a list of where some of the top-powered CEOs in Silicon Valley went to college.

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The Top IT CEOs' Alma Maters

So, is there a special college you go to in order to become the CEO of an Internet or computer company? Do all the future leaders of software and hardware corporations get a beige-colored letter one day that tells them where to find the fabled CEO University and what password to give the gatekeeper?

As good a story as that might make, the answer is no. The leaders of corporations like AOL, Apple, and Mozilla are real people who (mostly) went to real colleges and universities. Below is a list of some of the biggest computer-industry companies and their CEOs' alma maters. Surprisingly, just as many of them have degrees in business as in computer science or electrical engineering - driving home the point that the rules of business are the same, no matter what you're selling.

1. Google

The penultimate Silicon Valley success story, Google has wrapped up the market on search engines so effectively that its name has officially become a verb. Its CEO, Dr. Eric Schmidt, holds enough degrees to make some mere mortals quiver with fear, including a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Princeton, a master's degree in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. from the same Berkeley department. When he's not admiring his diplomas, Dr. Schmidt works to build on Google's unprecedented global dominion...er, corporate success.

2. Yahoo!

The only corporation in the Fortune 500 that includes an exclamation point in its official name, Yahoo! is also the creator of the world's self-proclaimed most-visited website. The new CEO, Jerry Yang, has only been on the job since June of 2007, but he's been with the company since it was founded in 1994...come to think of it, he was one of the founders. His educational resume is only slightly less impressive than Dr. Schmidt's: bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford, as well as an unfinished Ph.D. that he plans to eventually complete at the same university, assuming he can drag himself away from making incredible amounts of money long enough to write a dissertation.

3. AOL

Formerly known as America Online, AOL once provided Internet service for more than 30 million customers but now seems to be confused as to whether it will become a television station or a museum piece. Currently, it is still in the midst of massive transition following a merger with Time Warner in 2001. The gentleman with the unenviable task of guiding AOL's ontological transformation is named Randy Falco. Falco holds bachelor's, master's and honorary Ph.D. degrees from Iona College in New York State. He also has a very cool last name.

4. IBM

The oldest company on this list, IBM was founded in the late 19th century, but only got into the computer game after computers were invented. It quickly became a major player, and by 2006 IBM had revenue of more than $91 billion, which, for comparison, is almost as much as the entire GDP of New Zealand. IBM's CEO is Samuel J. Palmisano, an alumnus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he received his B.A. in history.

5. Cisco Systems

This multinational communications and network technology manufacturer is headed up by one John T. Chambers, proud holder of both a bachelor's degree in business and a J.D. from West Virginia University. Chambers also received an MBA in finance and management from Indiana University in 1975. After that, he went on to make a tremendous amount of money. Not bad for someone from West Virginia.

6. Apple

Okay, so sometimes the 'nerd-drops-out-from-college-and-makes-it-big' formula holds true. Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, is known as one of the biggest egos in Silicon Valley and has had a well-publicized history of falling out with business partners, leaving Apple, coming back again and generally being an unpredictable genius. Following high school, Jobs dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, after only one semester. Later, he received real-life education by backpacking around India and working for Atari, makers of the world's favorite late-70s video game, Asteroids.

7. eBay

Meg Whitman, one of the world's wealthiest women, heads up this Internet auction giant. After earning her B.A. in business at Princeton University in 1977 and her MBA at Harvard Business School in 1979, Whitman went on to work for the Disney Corporation and Proctor and Gamble before coming to eBay just in time to get noticed by Time Magazine, which ranked her as one of the world's most influential people in both 2004 and 2005. Fortune Magazine, too, has labeled her among the most powerful women in American business. Definitely not a person you want on your enemies list.

8. Mozilla

The second female CEO on the list, Mitchell Baker is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, where she earned a B.A. in Asian Studies in 1979. Later, she earned a J.D. from that same university's Boalt School of Law. Now, she's the head of the nonprofit organization that produces the wildly popular Firefox web browser, generally considered to be the best alternative to the disturbingly ubiquitous Internet Explorer. On a site note, she has also somehow become the proud owner of the wickedest nickname in Silicon Valley: 'Chief Lizard Wrangler.'

9. Sun Microsystems

Jonathan I. Schwartz, Sun's CEO, attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh from 1983 to 1984. Apparently, however, the Steel City didn't quite suit his constitution, because he quickly transferred to Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics and math in 1987. The design company he founded, Lighthouse Design, was gobbled up by Sun Microsystems in 1996. Instead of crying about it, though, Schwartz did what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do: he rose through the ranks to take the reins of the purchasing corporation and bow it to his will. Bwaa-ha-ha-ha!

10. Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard's head honcho is a fellow by the name of Mark V. Hurd, which is a funny name, but of course we would never tell him that in person. Hurd received his bachelor's degree in business administration in 1979 from Baylor University, where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Other famous members of this illustrious Greek organization have included Lou Gehrig, Frank Lloyd Wright and astronaut Neil Armstrong. And yes, sometimes they all get together in Hurd's imagination and party.

11.Dell

Another addition to the rich, nerdy dropout list, Michael Dell, the founder and current CEO of Dell, left the University of Texas at Austin at age 19 and took a loan from his grandparents to make his fortune in the booming computer industry. Later, he joined the ranks of the college-educated, sort of, when the University of Limerick in Ireland awarded him an honorary doctorate in economic science. This and other IT-industry CEOs' stories amply demonstrate one of Silicon Valley's greatest lessons: although it helps to be educated, it's not necessarily having a great college degree that gets you places. What really opens the doors is so simple it's counterintuitive -- being unafraid to be a geek and go where your interests take you. Even if they take you into, say, the garage.

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