Jeff Bezos Before Amazon: Childhood and College

What was Jeff Bezos like before Amazon? How did he get interested in the online world?

In Invent and Wander, Bezos recounts his life prior to finding the largest online retailer in the world. Bezos inherited many of his leadership traits from his family and developed an early love for computers that would change his life.

Keep reading to learn more about Jeff Bezos before Amazon.

Meet Jeff Bezos

To understand the fundamentals of Jeff Bezos before Amazon, we must go back to the very beginning. The future multibillionaire Amazon founder was born on January 12, 1964, while his 17-year-old mother was still attending high school. Bezos’s path to wealth and recognition was fraught with financial risk, and quantifiable success would be a long time coming. Bezos and Isaacson trace Bezos’s early family influences, his childhood interest in science and computers, and his fateful decisions during college and after that altered the path of his future.

Bezos’s mother, Jacklyn Gise, became pregnant with him while still in high school. She was only allowed to graduate because Bezos’s grandfather fought for her right to attend, but her success was due to her resilience, which she passed on to her child. At college, Jacklyn met and later married a Cuban immigrant named Miguel Bezos, who adopted Jeff as his son. By the age of 10, Jeff Bezos was already tinkering with computers and the rudimentary internet of the 1970s, an interest that his mother encouraged. During summers at his grandparents’ ranch, Bezos learned values of perseverance and resourcefulness—as when his grandfather went out of his way to fix things on his own rather than paying someone else.

(Shortform note: Bezos shares the status of having been adopted with another computing industry leader, Steve Jobs. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, he relates that unlike Bezos, Jobs wasn’t raised by either of his biological parents, but just as Bezos felt about his father, Jobs thought of his adoptive parents as his true parents. While Isaacson doesn’t draw any link between Bezos’s adoption and his personal development, Isaacson argues that Jobs’s adoption left him feeling abandoned and specially chosen at the same time. That dichotomy played a role in shaping Jobs’s conflicted nature—a pitfall that Bezos seems to have avoided.)

The Computer World Beckons

In college, Bezos started by studying physics, but he says he wasn’t able to process the math at a high enough level to follow that career. Instead, he switched to computer science, which would determine the course of the rest of his life. After college, Bezos’s first job was writing software for a Wall Street hedge fund. (Shortform note: Despite the many prospects for computer science students like Bezos in the ’90s, the number of graduates in that field peaked in 1986 and declined until 1997, with an upward spike in 2000 just in time for the internet bubble to pop.)

The work was stable and provided steady income, but while there, Bezos learned that the fledgling World Wide Web was growing at an exponential rate. Like many others, he sensed an opportunity and hit upon the notion of an online retail store. Isaacson writes that Bezos starting his own business meant leaving the security of Wall Street behind, but that Bezos did so because of the fear that he’d always regret not taking the chance.

The Internet Gold Rush

Though the internet officially began in 1983, with its predecessor ARPANET dating back to 1969, the World Wide Web didn’t publicly launch until 1993, when its creators at the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) made the web’s source code free online. In the first year of the web’s existence, the number of servers hosting websites grew from 500 to over 10,000. Those first years saw the birth of early web browsers such as Netscape and internet directories such as Yahoo. It was during this time that Bezos and others recognized the World Wide Web as uncharted territory for business entrepreneurs.

Another businessman who came to the same conclusion as Bezos was his future rival Elon Musk. In Isaacson’s biography of Musk, he writes that Musk turned away from pursuing a Ph.D. for fear of missing the rising tide of the internet market. Instead of going into retail like Bezos, Musk developed the Zip2 business database, which he sold to finance his second venture, the online bank that would evolve into PayPal. Whereas Bezos would remain in the internet arena after the heyday of the 1990s, Musk would leave to follow other pursuits until buying the Twitter social media platform in 2022.
Jeff Bezos Before Amazon: Childhood and College

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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