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The First Jobs of CEOs in Gaming and Tech: Why Breaking into the Industry Might Not be as Hard as You Think

CEO First Jobs

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.


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.


CEO first 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.


CEOs first jobs


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:


Bonnie Ross, Head of Studio343 IndustriesSystems engineer
Julie Sweet, CEOAccentureReservation agent
Bobby Kotick, CEOActivision-BlizzardIndie game developer
Brian Chesky, CEOAirBNBCompetitive bodybuilder
Jeff Bezos, CEOAmazonMcDonald’s crew member
Tim Cook, CEOAppleNewspaper delivery boy
Steve Jobs, CEO/Co-founderAppleVideo game designer
Minoru Kidooka, CEOArc System WorksVideo game programmer
Shigeru Yokoyama, ChairmanBandai Namco StudiosVideo game designer
Todd Howard, DirectorBethesda SoftworksVideo game producer
Ray Muzyka & Grek Zeschuk, Co-foundersBioWareMedical doctors
Pete Parsons, CEOBungieFitness and nutrition marketing
Kenzo Tsujimoto, CEOCapcomConfectionary store manager
Chuck Robbins, CEOCiscoApp developer
Song Byung-joon, CEOCom2usSeoul University’s startup community chairman
Jim Buckmaster, CEOCraigslistSurvey researcher
Will Shu, CEODeliverooInvestment banking analyst
Michael Dell, CEODellDishwasher
Oskar Guilbert, CEODontnod EntertainmentComputer science researcher and lecturer
Tim Schafer, FounderDouble Fine ProductionsDatabase development intern
Andrew Wilson, CEOElectronic ArtsExecutive producer
Scott Schenkel, CEOeBayFinance manager
Emma Sinclair, FounderEnterprise AlumniMcDonald’s crew member
Tim Sweeney, CEO
Epic GamesLawnmower & hardware store manager
Mark Zuckerberg, CEOFacebookIndie software developer
Sid Meier, Creative DirectorFiraxisCash register systems developer
Hidetaka Miyazaki, CEOFromSoftwareAccount manager
Satoshi Tajiri, PresidentGameFreakFanzine founder, writer & editor
Stephane Roussel, CEOGameLoftHuman resources
Ken Levine, Founder & Creative DirectorGhost Story GamesIT installation technician
Ian Dallas, Creative DirectorGiant SparrowComedy writer
Robert Hohman, Chairman & Co-founderGlassdoorLawnmower
Veronica Moss, CEOGoodreadsBusiness analyst
Sundar Pichai, CEOGoogleMaterials engineer
Sergey Brin, Co-founderGoogleComputer technology intern
RJ Mical, Game DirectorGooglePinball & arcade machine software engineer
Josef Fares, FounderHazelightFilmmaker
Dion Weisler, CEOHewlett-PackardIT technician
Ren Zhengfei, CEOHuaweiMilitary technologist
Brian Halligan, CEOHubSpotSales assistant
Renee Gittins, Executive DirectorIGDAGameStop clerk
Col Needham, CEOIMDbSoftware engineer
Ted Price, CEOInsomniac GamesAccountant
Chris DeWolfe, CEOJam CityPopcorn and peanuts vendor
Humam Sakhnini, PresidentKing.comFinancier
Hideo Kojima, CEO & Co-founderKojima ProductionsVideo game designer
Emily Greer, Founder & CEODouble Loop GamesAccountant
David Darling, Founder & CEOKwaleeNewspaper deliveryboy
Swen Vincke, CEOLarian StudiosIndie game developer
Akihiro Hino, CEOLevel-5Video game programmer
Jeff Weiner, CEOLinkedInSnow shoveller
Satya Nadella, CEOMicrosoftSoftware engineer
Bill Gates, FounderMicrosoftComputer programmer
Phil Spencer, Xbox VP of GamingMicrosoftMicrosoft intern
Robert Small, CEOMiniclipEntrepreneur, founded Miniclip
Jonas Martensson, CEOMojangBank agent
Tom Blomfield, CEOMonzoEstate agent leaflet deliveryboy
Neil Druckmann, Vice President & Creative DirectorNaughty DogUniversity research assistant
Kim Taek-jin, CEO & FounderNCSoftElectronics R&D member
Ding Lei, CEO & FounderNetEaseSoftware engineer
Reed Hastings, CEONetflixD2D salesman
Ed Boon, Creative DirectorNetherRealm StudiosPinball software engineer
Owen Mahoney, CEONexonBusiness development executive
John Hanke, CEONianticForeign affairs
Tameem Antoniades, Co-founder & Creative DirectorNinja TheoryVideo game programmer
Shuntaro Furukawa, PresidentNintendoAccountant
Rishi Khosla, CEOOaknorthBanker
Carl Pei, Co-founderOnePlusGame store clerk
Safra Catz, CEOOracleBanker
Dan Schulman, CEOPayPalAccount manager
Sidar Şahin, CEOPeak GamesSerial entrepreneur & founder
Ben Silbermann, CEOPinterestTech consultant
Kenichi Sato, President & CEOPlatinumGamesDepartment store worker
Gavin Raeburn, CEOPlayground GamesFreelance programmer
Dmitry Bukhman, CEOPlayrixEntrepreneur
David Cage, CEOQuantic DreamFreelance musician
Adam D’Angelo, CEOQuoraSoftware developer
Tim & Chris Stamper, Co-foundersRareVideo game designers
Ru Weerasuriya, CEOReady at DawnVideo game artist
Steve Huffman, CEORedditEntrepreneur
Alexis Ohanian, Co-founderRedditComputer shop worker
Tero Virtala, CEORemedy EntertainmentManagement consultant
Marissa Tarleton, CEORetailMeNotModel
Michael Kelbaugh, CEO & PresidentRetro StudiosUS Navy communications
Sam Houser, Outgoing PresidentRockstar GamesRecord label mail sorter
Brenda Romero, Co-founder & CEORomero GamesVideo game tester
Kati Levoranta, CEORovioTrainee lawyer
Marc Benioff, CEOSalesforceJewellery store shop assistant
Jennifer Morgan, CEOSAPClient manager
Hajime Satomi, CEOSEGAArcade gaming & casino entrepreneur
Niklas Zennstrom, CEOSkypeTelecomms operator
Stewart Butterfield, CEOSlackFreelance web designer
Evan Spiegel, Co-founderSnapchatMarketing intern
Daniel Ek, CEOSpotifyFreelance web developer
Justyn Howard, CEOSprout SocialPizza shop worker
Mikael Nermark, CEOStarbreezeElectronics retail worker
Ilkka Paananen, CEOSupercellGaming startup volunteer
Strauss Zelnick, CEOTakeTwo InteractiveCIC’s National PR Director
Debbie Bestwick, CEOTeam17Video game shop assistant
Ma Huateng (aka Pony Ma), CEO & FounderTencentPager software developer
Elon Musk, CEO & FounderSpaceX, TeslaVideo. game programmer
Jenova Chen, CEOthatgamecompanyGame development student
Ben Huh, CEOThe Cheezburger NetworkHouse painter assistant
Zhang Yiming, CEOTikTokJunior travel website engineer
Emmet Shear, CEOTwitch.tvCancer research centre intern
Jack Dorsey, Co-founder & CEOTwitterTaxi firm software engineer
Dara Khosrowshahi, CEOUberFinancier
Travis Kalanick, Founder & former CEOUberD2D knife salesman
Yves Guillemot, CEOUbisoftFarming support business assistant
Gabriel Newell, CEOValveMicrosoft OS producer
Chris Cocks, CEOWizards of the CoastMarketing
Mark Rosewater, MTG Head DesignerWizards of the CoastMagician
Aneel Bhusri, CEOWorkdayCorporate finance analyst
Marissa Mayer, CEOYahoo!Grocery store clerk
Susan Wojcicki, CEOYouTubeD2D saleswoman
Robert Altman, CEOZeniMax MediaLawyer
Erin S Yuan, CEOZoomProgrammer
Frank D Gibeau, CEOZyngaPhotocopier 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,
  • Miscellaneous: Wikipedia, Startups, Monster


Interested in sharing your experience or writing a guest post for us? Chat with us on our social media (TikTok | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook) and we’ll consider something for you! If you found this article helpful, share it with anyone who’d find it insightful or useful.

Passionate minds of Kwalee, delivering captivating insights for gamers and developers alike.

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