Mike Isaac

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At 28, Few Tech Titans Could Hold a Candle to Zuck

It’s a big week for Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook, his baby of the past eight years, is expected to go public on Friday morning. He’s just coming off a cross-country road show speaking to investment banks hungry to scoop up shares of Facebook stock.

And on top of it all, it’s May 14 — Mark’s 28th birthday.

Aside from the intense scrutiny of the company by the tech and financial press leading up to the IPO, Zuckerberg is doing all right. Especially when stacked up against some of the biggest names in tech that came before him.

Consider Steve Jobs. He was zooming along just fine in his twenties. Until, that is, in his 28th year he recruited the man who would eventually become his — and Apple’s — undoing (temporarily, of course). That man was John Sculley, then CEO President of Pepsi-Cola, who traded the position to be the CEO of Apple Computer after intense courting from Jobs. Of course, Sculley would eventually play a part in Jobs’s ouster from Apple; Sculley would also oversee the company in what proved to be the darkest years in its 36-year history. Jobs was also in the process of launching the Lisa when he was 28, one of the biggest commercial computer hardware failures the company has ever released. In other words, 28 wasn’t the greatest year of Jobs’s career.

Amazon luminary Jeff Bezos’s best years were yet to come. At 28, he was still at his hedge fund gig, where he first saw the opportunity in the fast-growing Internet use around the country. Two years later, he would go off on his own to start Amazon.

Bill Gates, on one hand, had founded Microsoft in 1976 — then known as “Micro-Soft,” begun in a small Albuquerque office in partnership with Paul Allen — at the ripe age of 20. It’s the same age Zuck was when he officially founded Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. At 28, Gates was certainly upwardly mobile — the year before his 28th saw him begin to license MS-DOS — though his best years were yet to come: In two years, Gates would launch the first retail version of the Windows operating system.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin were still three years off from Google’s IPO when they turned 28 (Page in March of 2001, Brin in August). It was that year in which the two — who had run Google since they co-founded it in 1998 — decided to turn the reins over to Eric Schmidt, a learned executive well versed in leading technology companies. Unlike Zuckerberg, who retains full control over Facebook with his majority of voting rights, Page and Brin let a seasoned Valley veteran guide Google through its early days.

In all, it seems Zuck is doing just fine. Still two years off from the big 30, he’s number 35 on Forbes’ Billionaires List with an estimated net worth of $17.5 billion. Better still, he’s got a longtime live-in girlfriend and an adorable floor mop of a dog, “Beast.”

Happy birthday, Mr. Zuckerberg. And enjoy a quiet moment of reflection while you can; Friday isn’t too far off.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus