Here’s what the world’s most influential tech CEOs studied in college

bill gates harvard commencement

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For new college students, choosing a major can feel like a decision that shapes one’s life trajectory. But a degree in computer science is no guarantee that you’ll create the next billion-dollar startup, and a philosophy degree won’t necessarily keep you from starting a business. 

The best and brightest CEOs in tech come from a wide-range of educational backgrounds.

Some of their chosen majors link up perfectly with what they ended up accomplishing, while others made decisions that might not immediately make sense to an outside observer. 

But whether you major in International Studies like Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe, or Metallurgical Engineering like Google’s Sundar Pichai, there are plenty of ways to make it big in tech.  

Take a look: 

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Reed Hastings — Netflix CEO

Alma Maters: Bowdoin University (B.A.), Stanford University (M.S.) 

Majors: Mathematics (B.A.), Computer Science (M.S.)

Hastings deferred his college acceptance for one year to continue his summer job: selling vacuums door-to-door. While at Bowdoin, Hastings ran the Outing Club which organized climbing and canoeing trips. 

Jack Ma — Alibaba CEO

Alma Maters: Hangzhou Normal University (B.A.), Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business 

Majors: English (B.A.), M.B.A. 

Ma didn’t get into college on his first attempt. Or his second. Or even his third. In all, Jack Ma applied to college four separate times before he was accepted and got an English degree. Now, he is worth almost $30 billion. 

James Park — FitBit CEO

Alma Mater: Harvard University (dropped out)

Major: Computer Science 

 

Whitney Wolfe — Bumble CEO

Alma Mater: Southern Methodist University

Major: International Studies

As a sophomore, Wolfe started a business selling tote bags to benefit wildlife harmed by the 2010 BP oil spill. 

Reid Hoffman — LinkedIn CEO

Alma Maters: Stanford University (B.S.), Oxford University (M.S.) 

Majors: Symbolic Systems (B.S.) and Cognitive Science (B.S.), Philosophy (M.S.)

Travis Kalanick — Uber CEO

Alma Mater: UCLA (dropped out)

Major: Computer Engineering 

Kalanick went to UCLA to study computer engineering, but dropped out to work on Scour, a peer-to-peer search engine. 

Meg Whitman — Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO

Alma Maters: Princeton University (B.A.), Harvard Business School

Majors: Economics (B.A.), M.B.A. 

Whitman initially wanted to be a doctor, and began her college career studying science and mathematics. However, after spending a summer selling advertisements for magazines, she switched her major to economics. 

Satya Nadella — Microsoft CEO

Alma Maters: Manipal Institute of Technology (B.S.), University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (M.S.), University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Majors: Electrical Engineering (B.S.), Computer Science (M.S.), M.B.A. 

Though the India-born Nadella originally wanted to be a professional cricket player, he realized early on that he would be better off pursuing his passion for science and technology. He got a bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering because he always knew he “wanted to build things,” but travelled to the United States for graduate school because he wanted a university with a computer science program. 

Elon Musk — Tesla and SpaceX CEO

Alma Mater: University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences & Wharton School of Business

Majors: Physics and Economics 

Before he was envisioning putting a man on the surface of Mars, Musk was enjoying much more pedestrian pursuits. As an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk famously rented a 12-bedroom house and turned it into a nightclub, sometimes having as many as 500 guests a night. 

 

Evan Spiegel — Snapchat CEO

Alma Mater: Stanford University (dropped out)

Major: Product Design 

Though Spiegel did walk at his graduation, he isn’t technically a graduate of Stanford. The Snapchat CEO was only three classes away from receiving his degree, but ultimately decided to focus his energies on Snapchat. Safe to say, the decision paid off for him. 

Bonus: Bobby Murphy — Snapchat CTO

Alma Mater: Stanford University 

Major: Mathematical and Computational Science 

While at Stanford, Murphy was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity where he met Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel. 

Bill Gates — Microsoft founder, former CEO

Alma Mater: Harvard University (dropped out)

Major: N/A

Gates never decided on a major during his time at Harvard. He famously spent much of his time fooling around on the school’s computers. In a recent Reddit AMA, he admitted that he hardly ever attended his classes, and would instead attend classes he wasn’t signed up for. 

Marissa Mayer — Yahoo CEO

Alma Mater: Stanford University (B.S., M.S.)

Majors: Symbolic Systems (B.S.), Computer Science (M.S.) 

Mayer arrived at Stanford with a plan to pursue the pre-med track and eventually become a pediatric neurosurgeon. However, her freshman year she took a class called CS 105A—Computer Science for Non-Majors and quickly fell in love with the field. 

Tim Cook — Apple CEO

Alma Maters: Auburn University (B.S.), Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Major: Industrial Engineering (B.S.), M.B.A. 

 

 

Mark Zuckerberg — Facebook CEO

Alma Mater: Harvard University (dropped out)

Majors: Psychology and Computer Science

Zuckerberg never did complete either of his two majors — he dropped out during his sophomore year to move to Palo Alto and work on Facebook full time. 

Larry Page — Alphabet CEO

Alma Maters: University of Michigan (B.S.), Stanford University (M.S.) 

Majors: Computer Engineering (B.S.), Computer Science (M.S.) 

 

BONUS: Sergey Brin — Alphabet president, Google cofounder

Alma Mater: University of Maryland

Major: Computer Science

Jeff Bezos — Amazon CEO

Alma Mater: Princeton University

Majors: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 

While at Princeton, Bezos served as the chapter leader of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. His college extracurricular seems to have stuck with him, because he is currently working on a space-tourism project. 

Brian Chesky — Airbnb CEO

Alma Mater: Rhode Island School of Design

Major: Industrial Design

 

Logan Green — Lyft CEO

Alma Mater: UC Santa Barbara

Major: Business Economics

Ginni Rometty — IBM CEO

Alma Mater: Northwestern University

Majors: Computer Science and Electrical Engineering

While at Northwestern, Rometty served as president of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.  

Sundar Pichai — Google CEO

Alma Maters: Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, Stanford University (M.S.), Wharton School (M.B.A.)

Major: Metallurgical Engineering (B.S.), Material Sciences and Engineering (M.S.)

Marc Benioff — Salesforce CEO

Alma Mater: University of Southern California

Major: Business Administration

 

Stewart Butterfield — Slack CEO

Alma Maters: University of Victoria (B.A.), University of Cambridge (M.A.)

Majors: Philosophy (B.A.), Master of Philosophy  

“Studying philosophy taught me two things,” Butterfield told Forbes. “I learned how to write really clearly. I learned how to follow an argument all the way down, which is invaluable in running meetings.”