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The Online Auction King: Pierre Omidyar is Born

“I started eBay as an experiment, as a side hobby basically, while I had my day job,” recalls Pierre Omidyar. An unexpected success, that side hobby has today become the world’s largest personal online trading community. The website hosts nearly four million auctions every day, with almost half a million new items being added for sale every 24 hours. Omidyar’s personal net worth is estimated to be roughly $10 billion.

Omidyar has come a long way since being born on June 21, 1967, in Paris, France, to Iranian immigrants. When he was six years old, his family moved to Washington, D.C., so his father – a physician – could take up residency at John Hopkins University Medical Centre. His parents separated when Omidyar was just two years old, and although he lived with his mother, his father was always a part of his life. It was while attending St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Maryland that Omidyar first developed an interest in computing. After moving to Hawaii to finish grades eight and nine, Omidyar returned to Washington to finish high school.

Because his family always seemed to be moving around, Omidyar was never in one place long enough to make a lot of friends his own age. “There weren’t a lot of kids around, and when I was younger I ended up hanging out with adults a lot more, because I had to,” he recalls. “I kind of grew up very quickly and became a little more mature more quickly than I see some of my relatives these days.”

Omidyar admits that he was the typical geek growing up. “I was actually interested in gadgets, little electronic gadgets,” he says. “I always managed to break them for one reason or another, of course, as kids do, and then I would take them apart and try to fix them, which I was never able to.” It was in third grade that Omidyar saw his first computer – a TRS-80 with 4K of memory. That would mark the end of the beginning.

From that point on, Omidyar did everything he could to spend time with computers and learn how to program them. “I was one of these guys that didn't really study, so I don't think I was a good student,” he says. “I used to actually cut gym and sneak into the computer room – which wasn't really a room, it was a closet where they kept the computer between classes – and played on the computer.”

Following high school, Omidyar enrolled in Tufts University, where he would graduate in 1998 with a degree in computer science. “I am very proud to say that I graduated from Tufts University with better than a 3.0 average. It was actually 3.01,” recalls Omidyar. “During my entire four years there at Tufts my GPA improved every single semester, which gives you an idea of where I started.”

Despite his less than stellar academic performance, Omidyar had little difficulty finding a job, and was promptly hired by Claris, a division of Apple Computer. Here, he worked on developing software for the Macintosh and helped write MacDraw. The position allowed Omidyar to indulge his passion for computers, but there was an entrepreneurial instinct within him that would not rest quiet for too long.

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