By Matt Doeden
From South Africa
to Silicon Valley 4
Building an Empire 10
Chasing Dreams 14
New Visions 20
Source Notes 29
Further Information 31
FROM SOUTH AFRICA TO SILICON VALLEY
Elon Musk has always set his goals high. As a kid, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut and traveling to Mars. He loved to read science fiction stories. These tales of wild futures and imaginary technology filled him with excitement about what people might one day achieve.
Born June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk was curious about everything. When he wasn’t reading, he was exploring. But by the time he was ten, his biggest love was technology. Personal computers were still fairly new. So were video games. Musk wanted to create his own games. So he saved up his allowance and bought a computer. Then he started teaching himself to write computer programs.
He was a quick study. At the age of twelve, Musk created a game called Blast Star . And he sold the game’s code to a computer magazine! Already, he had a knack for combining tech smarts with business sense.
In high school, Musk was the youngest and smallest boy in his class. He was often bullied. Musk found comfort in books and computers. But it was a very lonely time in his life.
It was also a difficult time in the history of South Africa. The nation was ruled by a racist political party. A policy called apartheid officially separated black people and white people.
This was a way of keeping South Africa’s white minority in power. Black and mixed-race people had fewer rights. Musk didn’t agree with apartheid. But as a white male, he was expected to support the government. All white men had to serve in South Africa’s military for a few years. Musk knew that once he finished high school, he’d have to join the military. That meant enforcing the government’s racist policies. So Musk made a big decision. After high school, he would leave South Africa. His parents didn’t like this plan. But Musk was determined to make a new life for himself. The seventeenyear- old traveled halfway across the world to Canada.
Musk enrolled at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario. ( Kimbal, his younger brother, later joined him there.) He had very little money. Often he struggled just to afford a meal. But that changed in 1992 when he earned a scholarship to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Musk earned a degree in economics. He was excited about getting out into the real world. He wanted to make his mark. But he wasn’t yet sure how he would do that. He had three main interests. The first was space travel, his childhood passion. The second was clean energy —energy that doesn’t damage the environment. The third was the Internet, which was just starting to become widely used. Which passion would he pursue?