by Kristin Burnham

Tech’s 10 Most Famous College Dropouts

May 03, 20124 mins
IT Leadership

Who says you need a college degree to be successful? Here's a look at 10 tech titans who dropped out and made it big...really big.

1. Apple: Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak

Steve Jobs, a dropout of Reed College in Portland, Ore., and Steve Wozniak, a dropout of the University of California, Berkeley, joined forces and founded Apple Computer in 1976. The two became friends when Jobs worked for a summer at HP, where Wozniak was working on a mainframe computer.

Thirty-seven years later, the company they built is valued at a whopping $600 billion. Teardown: Apple CEO Steve Jobs

2. Dell: Michael Dell

In 1984, 19-year-old pre-med student Michael Dell dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin and founded “PCs Limited” with just $1,000. Operating out of a condo that year, the business sold between $50,000 and $80,000 in upgraded PCs, kits and add-on components. Later, the company would be renamed Dell.

Twenty-eight years later, Michael Dell is worth $15.9 billion, according to this year’s Forbes billionaires list.

3. Digg: Kevin Rose

Entrepreneur Kevin Rose enrolled in the University of Nevada Las Vegas where he majored in computer science, but dropped out to code software. In 2004, the 27-year-old launched Digg, a social news Website, with just $1,200.

Since its launch, Rose has invested money in the launches of Twitter and Foursquare. This year, he—and the rest of his newest startup, mobile app company Milk—joined Google. His net worth has not been recently published.

4. Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg, whose storied startup was chronicled in the 2010 movie The Social Network, dropped out of Harvard University in 2004 with cofounders Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin and Chris Huges to work on Facebook fulltime.

Eight years and plenty of drama later, Facebook has turned into the biggest social network, with more than 900 million active users worldwide. As its IPO approaches, Zuckerberg could be worth up to $28 billion. Teardown: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

5. Microsoft: Paul Allen & Bill Gates

Paul Allen, a Washington State University dropout, linked up with childhood friend and fellow college dropout Bill Gates in 1975 and founded Microsoft (Gates dropped out of Harvard University). Their first project: marketing a programming language interpreter.

Today, the duo has a combined estimated wealth in excess of $70 billion.

6. Oracle: Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison left the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after his sophomore year, then attended one semester at the University of Chicago before dropping out and moving to Northern California.

Later, while working for Ampex Corporation, he created a database for the CIA, which he named “Oracle.” In 1977 he founded Software Development Laboratories, which was renamed Relational Software and ultimately became Oracle. Today, Ellison is worth $36 billion, according to Forbes. Teardown: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison

7. Research in Motion: Mike Lazaridis

Two months before he would have graduated from the University of Waterloo with a degree in electrical engineering, Mike Lazaridis was approached by General Motors with a $600,000 contract to develop a network computer control display system. Lazaridis dropped out to pursue it.

That GM contract enabled Lazaridis and two others to launch RIM. Today, Lazaridis is reportedly worth $800 million. Teardown: RIM’s Mike Lazaridis

8. Spotify: Daniel Ek

Sweedish entrepreneur Daniel Ek, who reportedly founded his first company when he was 14 years old, is perhaps best-known for starting up music streaming service Spotify in 2008. Prior to Spotify, Ek enrolled at the Royal Institute of Technology but did not complete his degree. His other ventures include founding Advertigo, an ad company acquired by TradeDoubler, as well as positions as CTO at Jajja Communications and Stardoll.

Twenty-nine-year-old Ek is reportedly worth $306 million.

9. Tumblr: David Karp

At 14, David Karp interned for animation producer Fred Seibert. The next year, he dropped out of high school, later moving to Tokyo to work as a software consultant for online parenting advice site UrbanBaby. In 2007, Karp founded Tumblr, a microblogging and social networking Website, which now has more than 46 million blogs. Today, 25-year-old Karp’s net worth is estimated at $400 million.

10. Twitter: Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey transferred to New York University from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, but later dropped out and moved to California. There, Dorsey bounced between jobs before founding Twitter in 2008 alongside Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

Today, Dorsey is chairman of Twitter and CEO of mobile payments company Square. His estimated worth is $650 million, according to Forbes.

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