Their companies are responsible for the video games and tech that we enjoy every day, and yet it can feel as though the world’s foremost CEOs exist on another planet that many of us could only dream of occupying.
Incredibly wealthy and with seemingly supernatural talents, you’d be forgiven for assuming that they emerged fully formed into their lofty positions and have always worked within their industry of choice, benefitting from years of experience and the ability to progress up the ladder.
And indeed, our research has found that roles in gaming and tech are perceived by the general public as some of the most desirable to work in, but also among the most difficult to break into.
We’re living through turbulent times, with many individuals and businesses facing real difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But gaming and tech have been some of the most resilient industries, with so many of us turning to video games, on-demand TV streaming and other digital entertainment to keep ourselves entertained.
Tech companies have also enjoyed a smoother transition to remote working than most, and at Kwalee we’ve even been inspired to embrace remote working in the longer term as well as continuing to hire as normal. We’re in good company in this regard, with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Slack all committing to permanent remote working options for staff.
So with gaming and tech firms already adapting and beginning to look beyond COVID-19, these industries are becoming even more attractive. But is there truth to the perception that they’re difficult to break into?
To help provide some perspective, we went back to the very beginning and researched the first jobs of CEOs of more than 100 gaming and tech companies. This revealed some surprises, but also a lot of hope, with 65% of CEOs beginning their careers outside of their current sectors.
If the first jobs of CEOs wasn’t within their industry of choice, then where did they start?
The career paths of these CEOs came from fifteen different areas, ranging from deliveries all the way to law, showing that there really is no best place to be if you want to make it in tech or gaming. Of course, many did unsurprisingly start in the likes of Software & IT, but a large amount also started their working lives in retail and sales backgrounds.
Below, you can see the full breakdown by job category.
But what of those who defy categorisation? Take for instance Melissa Tarleton, CEO of online voucher code company RetailMeNot, whose first paid work was as a model. Likewise AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky, a former competitive bodybuilder, does not neatly fit with our preconceptions of a tech CEO’s backstory. Again, this helps to show that no matter where your career currently is, the barrier to entry is much lower than you might have thought – you just have to take the leap!
Elsewhere, McDonalds can claim to be the first employer of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; Netflix CEO Reed Hastings sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door; while Emmett Shear – the head of streaming platform TwitchTV – began as an intern at a cancer research centre.
Specifically among the gaming CEOs we studied, even fewer began in their eventual industry – only 33%. Of those who did start in the industry and have made it to the top, around 30% began as independent developers/entrepreneurs and another 30% worked in Programming positions. Beyond that, 13% began as Game Designers while around 9% were in Production. The final 17% is made up of multiple roles within the industry, including Accountancy, Game Testing and Game Art.
But even beyond the roles themselves lie some interesting and inspiring stories. Hidetaka Miyazaki, responsible for some of the generation’s most critically-acclaimed video games as the President of From Software, has told of growing up ‘tremendously poor’ and being entirely unambitious in his early life. He joined From Software, and the games industry, aged 29.
Tencent CEO Ma Huateng, named China’s richest man in August 2019, reportedly earned just $176 per month in his first job developing software for pagers.
Kenzo Tsujimoto, CEO of Capcom (Street Fighter, Resident Evil, etc.) has written candidly about his humble beginnings. He reflects that ‘to rise above poverty requires two to three lifetime’s worth of effort… it was adversity that gave me the confidence to succeed, and it is without a doubt the source of my management philosophy.’
And then of course, our very own CEO and one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the UK games industry, David Darling started out like many of us did, by delivering newspapers in his local area. That was of course until game development caught his and his brother’s attention, and the rest was history!
With a job in gaming being viewed as one of the top three most fun and enjoyable industries to work in, we’re happy that our findings hopefully go some way to showing that if many of the people at the top of this world didn’t start in the industry, then there’s no reason to write yourself off! Gaming and tech are environments in which a broad range of individuals can thrive. So if you’re interested in taking the leap working in the fast and fun world of video games (mobile, PC, console, and web), check out our current vacancies!
Full List of First Jobs of CEOs
Our list includes Newzoo’s top 25 public companies by game revenues (where CEO data was available), selected subsidiaries thereof, alongside a broader selection of some of the world’s most recognisable gaming and tech companies.
The list is arranged in an alphabetical order, largely. All the positions listed are accurate as of the March 2020 data. CEOs included in the research are as follows:
|NAME AND ROLE||COMPANY||FIRST JOB|
|Bonnie Ross, Head of Studio||343 Industries||Systems engineer|
|Julie Sweet, CEO||Accenture||Reservation agent|
|Bobby Kotick, CEO||Activision-Blizzard||Indie game developer|
|Brian Chesky, CEO||AirBNB||Competitive bodybuilder|
|Jeff Bezos, CEO||Amazon||McDonald’s crew member|
|Tim Cook, CEO||Apple||Newspaper delivery boy|
|Steve Jobs, CEO/Co-founder||Apple||Video game designer|
|Minoru Kidooka, CEO||Arc System Works||Video game programmer|
|Shigeru Yokoyama, Chairman||Bandai Namco Studios||Video game designer|
|Todd Howard, Director||Bethesda Softworks||Video game producer|
|Ray Muzyka & Grek Zeschuk, Co-founders||BioWare||Medical doctors|
|Pete Parsons, CEO||Bungie||Fitness and nutrition marketing|
|Kenzo Tsujimoto, CEO||Capcom||Confectionary store manager|
|Chuck Robbins, CEO||Cisco||App developer|
|Song Byung-joon, CEO||Com2us||Seoul University’s startup community chairman|
|Jim Buckmaster, CEO||Craigslist||Survey researcher|
|Will Shu, CEO||Deliveroo||Investment banking analyst|
|Michael Dell, CEO||Dell||Dishwasher|
|Oskar Guilbert, CEO||Dontnod Entertainment||Computer science researcher and lecturer|
|Tim Schafer, Founder||Double Fine Productions||Database development intern|
|Andrew Wilson, CEO||Electronic Arts||Executive producer|
|Scott Schenkel, CEO||eBay||Finance manager|
|Emma Sinclair, Founder||Enterprise Alumni||McDonald’s crew member|
|Tim Sweeney, CEO||Epic Games||Lawnmower & hardware store manager|
|Mark Zuckerberg, CEO||Indie software developer|
|Sid Meier, Creative Director||Firaxis||Cash register systems developer|
|Hidetaka Miyazaki, CEO||FromSoftware||Account manager|
|Satoshi Tajiri, President||GameFreak||Fanzine founder, writer & editor|
|Stephane Roussel, CEO||GameLoft||Human resources|
|Ken Levine, Founder & Creative Director||Ghost Story Games||IT installation technician|
|Ian Dallas, Creative Director||Giant Sparrow||Comedy writer|
|Robert Hohman, Chairman & Co-founder||Glassdoor||Lawnmower|
|Veronica Moss, CEO||Goodreads||Business analyst|
|Sundar Pichai, CEO||Materials engineer|
|Sergey Brin, Co-founder||Computer technology intern|
|RJ Mical, Game Director||Pinball & arcade machine software engineer|
|Josef Fares, Founder||Hazelight||Filmmaker|
|Dion Weisler, CEO||Hewlett-Packard||IT technician|
|Ren Zhengfei, CEO||Huawei||Military technologist|
|Brian Halligan, CEO||HubSpot||Sales assistant|
|Renee Gittins, Executive Director||IGDA||GameStop clerk|
|Col Needham, CEO||IMDb||Software engineer|
|Ted Price, CEO||Insomniac Games||Accountant|
|Chris DeWolfe, CEO||Jam City||Popcorn and peanuts vendor|
|Humam Sakhnini, President||King.com||Financier|
|Hideo Kojima, CEO & Co-founder||Kojima Productions||Video game designer|
|Emily Greer, Founder & CEO||Double Loop Games||Accountant|
|David Darling, Founder & CEO||Kwalee||Newspaper deliveryboy|
|Swen Vincke, CEO||Larian Studios||Indie game developer|
|Akihiro Hino, CEO||Level-5||Video game programmer|
|Jeff Weiner, CEO||Snow shoveller|
|Satya Nadella, CEO||Microsoft||Software engineer|
|Bill Gates, Founder||Microsoft||Computer programmer|
|Phil Spencer, Xbox VP of Gaming||Microsoft||Microsoft intern|
|Robert Small, CEO||Miniclip||Entrepreneur, founded Miniclip|
|Jonas Martensson, CEO||Mojang||Bank agent|
|Tom Blomfield, CEO||Monzo||Estate agent leaflet deliveryboy|
|Neil Druckmann, Vice President & Creative Director||Naughty Dog||University research assistant|
|Kim Taek-jin, CEO & Founder||NCSoft||Electronics R&D member|
|Ding Lei, CEO & Founder||NetEase||Software engineer|
|Reed Hastings, CEO||Netflix||D2D salesman|
|Ed Boon, Creative Director||NetherRealm Studios||Pinball software engineer|
|Owen Mahoney, CEO||Nexon||Business development executive|
|John Hanke, CEO||Niantic||Foreign affairs|
|Tameem Antoniades, Co-founder & Creative Director||Ninja Theory||Video game programmer|
|Shuntaro Furukawa, President||Nintendo||Accountant|
|Rishi Khosla, CEO||Oaknorth||Banker|
|Carl Pei, Co-founder||OnePlus||Game store clerk|
|Safra Catz, CEO||Oracle||Banker|
|Dan Schulman, CEO||PayPal||Account manager|
|Sidar Şahin, CEO||Peak Games||Serial entrepreneur & founder|
|Ben Silbermann, CEO||Tech consultant|
|Kenichi Sato, President & CEO||PlatinumGames||Department store worker|
|Gavin Raeburn, CEO||Playground Games||Freelance programmer|
|Dmitry Bukhman, CEO||Playrix||Entrepreneur|
|David Cage, CEO||Quantic Dream||Freelance musician|
|Adam D’Angelo, CEO||Quora||Software developer|
|Tim & Chris Stamper, Co-founders||Rare||Video game designers|
|Ru Weerasuriya, CEO||Ready at Dawn||Video game artist|
|Steve Huffman, CEO||Entrepreneur|
|Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder||Computer shop worker|
|Tero Virtala, CEO||Remedy Entertainment||Management consultant|
|Marissa Tarleton, CEO||RetailMeNot||Model|
|Michael Kelbaugh, CEO & President||Retro Studios||US Navy communications|
|Sam Houser, Outgoing President||Rockstar Games||Record label mail sorter|
|Brenda Romero, Co-founder & CEO||Romero Games||Video game tester|
|Kati Levoranta, CEO||Rovio||Trainee lawyer|
|Marc Benioff, CEO||Salesforce||Jewellery store shop assistant|
|Jennifer Morgan, CEO||SAP||Client manager|
|Hajime Satomi, CEO||SEGA||Arcade gaming & casino entrepreneur|
|Niklas Zennstrom, CEO||Skype||Telecomms operator|
|Stewart Butterfield, CEO||Slack||Freelance web designer|
|Evan Spiegel, Co-founder||Snapchat||Marketing intern|
|Daniel Ek, CEO||Spotify||Freelance web developer|
|Justyn Howard, CEO||Sprout Social||Pizza shop worker|
|Mikael Nermark, CEO||Starbreeze||Electronics retail worker|
|Ilkka Paananen, CEO||Supercell||Gaming startup volunteer|
|Strauss Zelnick, CEO||TakeTwo Interactive||CIC’s National PR Director|
|Debbie Bestwick, CEO||Team17||Video game shop assistant|
|Ma Huateng (aka Pony Ma), CEO & Founder||Tencent||Pager software developer|
|Elon Musk, CEO & Founder||SpaceX, Tesla||Video. game programmer|
|Jenova Chen, CEO||thatgamecompany||Game development student|
|Ben Huh, CEO||The Cheezburger Network||House painter assistant|
|Zhang Yiming, CEO||TikTok||Junior travel website engineer|
|Emmet Shear, CEO||Twitch.tv||Cancer research centre intern|
|Jack Dorsey, Co-founder & CEO||Taxi firm software engineer|
|Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO||Uber||Financier|
|Travis Kalanick, Founder & former CEO||Uber||D2D knife salesman|
|Yves Guillemot, CEO||Ubisoft||Farming support business assistant|
|Gabriel Newell, CEO||Valve||Microsoft OS producer|
|Chris Cocks, CEO||Wizards of the Coast||Marketing|
|Mark Rosewater, MTG Head Designer||Wizards of the Coast||Magician|
|Aneel Bhusri, CEO||Workday||Corporate finance analyst|
|Marissa Mayer, CEO||Yahoo!||Grocery store clerk|
|Susan Wojcicki, CEO||YouTube||D2D saleswoman|
|Robert Altman, CEO||ZeniMax Media||Lawyer|
|Erin S Yuan, CEO||Zoom||Programmer|
|Frank D Gibeau, CEO||Zynga||Photocopier salesman|
Sources were taken from interviews referencing first jobs of CEO, and tweets from CEO personal accounts with details about their first jobs. The first roles of the 121 CEO detailed in the research were acquired from the following resources.
- Publications: Business Insider, Bloomberg, Financial Times, Forbes, Inc., GQ
- News Outlets: CNBC, New York Times, Financial Times, LA Times, The Guardian
- Social Networks: Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium
- Gaming News Outlets: Kotaku, PocketGamer.biz
- Miscellaneous: Wikipedia, Startups, Monster
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