How did Elon Musk first become interested in programming? By playing video games. Tesla and the SpaceX founder talked about his love of video games and how they started him on his career path at a video game convention last year.
Today, we may not be thinking of Musk primarily as a programmer. He is the founder of three companies that take on today’s most challenging technical problems: building affordable electric cars with great range, colonizing Mars and tunneling during the worst city traffic. This week, he also became the world’s third richest person, knocking out Mark Zuckerberg after the Dow Jones Indices announced that Tesla will be added to the S&P 500 index next month, and the company̵
It all started when he was about 10, and his father took him on a trip from South Africa (where Musk was born) to the United States. “It was a really great experience because the hotels all had arcades. So my first thing when we went to a new hotel was to go to the arcades,” Musk astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse told Tyson in an episode of Tyson’s radio show Star Talk a few years ago.
“I thought I could make my own.”
Video games are “incredibly engaging,” Musk said. “They made me learn to program computers. I thought I could make my own games.” Musk managed to acquire an early Commodore computer, which came with a manual explaining how to program in BASIC, an early computer language. He absorbed knowledge by reading the manual, pretty much the same technique he used to teach himself to build rockets almost 20 years later.
At the age of 12, Musk sold the code for his PC game Blastar to a PC magazine for about $ 500 after mastering BASIC. Eleven years later, he and his brother founded Zip2, a company that provided city guides, cards, and yellow pages to the newspaper industry, which they eventually sold to Compaq for $ 307 million. Musk says he did most of the coding for Zip2, mostly at night when the software was not in use.
Musk used the proceeds from the sale to found X.com, which after a merger eventually became PayPal, sold to eBay in 2002 for $ 1.5 billion. The high-profile sale and the millions Musk earned as PayPal’s largest shareholder gave him both the funds and the recognition of the name to get rocket scientists and car technicians to take him seriously when he set out to build spaceships and electric cars. In other words, domino Musk pushed over when he first fell in love with video games in these hotel arcades and decided to create a self led directly to his phenomenal success today.
This is likely to come as a surprise to the millions of parents who have pursued their children to put the controller down and talk to their family members, go out and get some fresh air, or generally find a more constructive way to spend their time. And some studies suggest that most people who drop out of school or work to play video games do themselves no favors. But if you – or your child – are the kind of person who goes from playing a game to creating one, it can be a much smarter way to spend time spending hours on video games than you might think. Just ask the world’s third richest man.