Most kids between 8- and 13-years-old spend their days riding bikes, playing video games and avoiding homework. Ray Dalio, Bill Gates and Jack Dorsey weren’t most kids.
The trio of billionaires each found their professional calling before turning 15. And while their early exposure to finance, tech and business was somewhat serendipitous, Dalio says he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that they’ve all achieved massive financial success in the years since.
On a recent episode of the “Armchair Expert” podcast hosted by actor Dax Shepard, Dalio suggested that his career trajectory — and those of Gates and Dorsey — was set into place when he learned how to navigate the stock market at age 12. It gave him naïve confidence, he said, but more importantly, his brain absorbed information differently when he was younger.
“You think differently pre-puberty than you think after puberty,” Dalio said. “You learn differently. And [the] experiences … can have a very big effect. You can learn in a way that you can’t learn later.”
There’s some scientific evidence to support Dalio’s musings. A 2018 study conducted by MIT scientists found that “a great deal of evidence suggests” children — especially below the age of 10 — have an easier time becoming fluent in a language and mastering grammar rules. “Underlying causes remain unknown,” the study noted.
An October study conducted by Berkeley University psychologists contained similar results, and suggested that children seem to be more curious than adults because they’re less concerned about making mistakes.
All three billionaires have publicly reflected on how their adolescent interests led to successful professional lives. Here’s how their early passions helped them develop lucrative careers:
In the 1960s, 12-year-old Dalio caddied for Wall Street execs on a golf course in Long Island, New York. He overheard them talking about the stock market, and decided to invest his caddy wages — not really knowing what he was getting himself into.
Dalio, now 72, said on the podcast that he chose to invest in Northeast Airlines — which merged into Delta Air Lines in 1972 — because it was “the only company I ever heard of that was selling for less than $5 per share.” He fortuitously tripled that investment, and according to the nonprofit Academy of Achievement, built a stock portfolio worth thousands of dollars by the time he graduated from high school.
“It was so dumb and lucky,” Dalio said on the podcast.
Dalio leveraged that early success into Bridgewater Associates, the hedge fund he launched in 1975. Over roughly four decades, he grew it into the world’s largest hedge fund before stepping down as CEO in 2017.
When Gates was in the eighth grade, he learned how to write software programs. He and his classmate-turned-business partner Paul Allen designed an automated class scheduling system for their prep school.
In 1993, Gates told the Smithsonian Institution that the experience of learning — and failing — at writing computer code at such a young age gave him an opportunity to try something he was “good at or interested in,” but likely wouldn’t have been able to do in a classroom setting.
“Self-exploration [at that age] is great because you develop a sense of self-confidence and an identity of, ‘Hey, I know this pretty well. I know this better than the teachers … Maybe I’m pretty good at this stuff,” Gates said. “If your program is wrong … then you fix it and try it again. It’s a feedback loop.”
Together, Gates and Allen launched Microsoft in 1975. Gates was the company’s CEO until 2000. As of Friday afternoon, company has a market cap of $1.85 trillion.
Jack Dorsey started programming before he was a teenager and became ‘obsessed’ with dispatch routing
When Dorsey was growing up, his father — an engineer — sometimes brought circuit boards home from work. That led young Dorsey to become “pretty interested in taking things apart,” he told Harvard Business School’s “The Business” podcast in 2014.
That interest turned to programming after his father brought home a computer, Dorsey told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in 2013. And as a teenager, he said, his interest extended to the dispatch routing programs that assign routes to vehicles like taxis, couriers and medical emergency services: He’d spend time listening to the verbal codes emergency responders used on police scanners.
The short exchanges that relayed vehicle locations and driver activity eventually inspired Twitter, Dorsey said. He co-founded Twitter in 2006 and ran the company until 2008, then again from 2015 to 2021.
Dorsey also co-founded Block — formerly known as Square — in 2009, and remains the CEO of that company today. And throughout that career, he’s contributed millions of dollars to coding education programs, emphasizing the importance of building skills at a young age.