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Biography | Mark Zuckerberg: Tech Visionary or Supervillain?

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (1984) is an American internet entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is known for co-founding Facebook, Inc. and serves as its chairman, chief executive officer, and controlling shareholder.

He also co-founded and is a board member of the solar sail spacecraft development project Breakthrough Starshot.


Born in White Plains, New York, Zuckerberg attended Harvard University, where he launched the Facebook social networking service from his dormitory room on February 4, 2004, with college roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes.


Originally launched to select college campuses, the site expanded rapidly and eventually beyond colleges, reaching one billion users by 2012. Zuckerberg took the company public in May 2012 with majority shares. His net worth is estimated to be nearly $54 billion as of March 2020.


In 2007, at age 23, he became the world's youngest self-made billionaire. As of 2019, he is the only person under 50 in the Forbes ten richest people list, and the only one under 40 in the Top 20 Billionaires list.


Since 2010, Time magazine has named Zuckerberg among the 100 wealthiest and most influential people in the world as a part of its Person of the Year award. In December 2016, Zuckerberg was ranked 10th on Forbes list of The World's Most Powerful People.


EARLY LIFE

Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984, in White Plains, New York. His parents are Karen (née Kempner), a psychiatrist, and Edward Zuckerberg, a dentist. He and his three sisters, Randi, Donna and Arielle, were brought up in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a small Westchester County village about 21 miles north of Midtown Manhattan.


Zuckerberg was raised in a Reform Jewish household and his ancestors hailed from Germany, Austria and Poland. He had a Star Wars-themed bar mitzvah when he turned 13.


At Ardsley High School, Zuckerberg excelled in classes. After two years, he transferred to the private school Phillips Exeter Academy, where he won prizes in mathematics, astronomy, physics, and classical studies. In his youth, he also attended the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer camp. On his college application, Zuckerberg stated that he could read and write French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek. He was captain of the fencing team.


SOTWARE DEVELOPER

Zuckerberg began using computers and writing software in middle school. His father taught him Atari BASIC Programming in the 1990s, and later hired software developer David Newman to tutor him privately.


Zuckerberg took a graduate course in the subject at Mercy College near his home while still in high school. In one program, since his father's dental practice was operated from their home, he built a software program he called "ZuckNet" that allowed all the computers between the house and dental office to communicate with each other. It is considered a "primitive" version of AOL's Instant Messenger, which came out the following year.


According to writer Jose Antonio Vargas, "some kids played computer games. Mark created them." Zuckerberg himself recalls this period: "I had a bunch of friends who were artists. They'd come over, draw stuff, and I'd build a game out of it." Vargas notes that Zuckerberg was not, however, a typical "geek-klutz", as he later became captain of his prep school fencing team and earned a classics diploma.


Napster co-founder Sean Parker, a close friend, notes that Zuckerberg was "really into Greek odysseys and all that stuff", recalling how he once quoted lines from the Roman epic poem Aeneid, by Virgil, during a Facebook product conference.


During Zuckerberg's high school years, he worked under the company name Intelligent Media Group to build a music player called the Synapse Media Player. The device used machine learning to learn the user's listening habits, which was posted to Slashdot and received a rating of 3 out of 5 from PC Magazine.


Vargas noted that by the time Zuckerberg began classes at Harvard, he had already achieved a "reputation as a programming prodigy". He studied psychology and computer science and belonged to Alpha Epsilon Pi and Kirkland House.


In his sophomore year, he wrote a program that he called CourseMatch, which allowed users to make class selection decisions based on the choices of other students and also to help them form study groups. A short time later, he created a different program he initially called Facemash that let students select the best-looking person from a choice of photos. According to Arie Hasit, Zuckerberg's roommate at the time, "he built the site for fun".


Hasit explains:

We had books called Face Books, which included the names and pictures of everyone who lived in the student dorms. At first, he built a site and placed two pictures or pictures of two males and two females. Visitors to the site had to choose who was "hotter" and according to the votes there would be a ranking.


The site went up over a weekend, but by Monday morning, the college shut it down, because its popularity had overwhelmed one of Harvard's network switches and prevented students from accessing the Internet. In addition, many students complained that their photos were being used without permission. Zuckerberg apologized publicly, and the student paper ran articles stating that his site was "completely improper."


The following semester, in January 2004, Zuckerberg began writing code for a new website. On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched "Thefacebook", originally located at thefacebook.com.


Six days after the site launched, three Harvard seniors, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra, accused Zuckerberg of intentionally misleading them into believing he would help them build a social network called HarvardConnection.com, while he was instead using their ideas to build a competing product. The three complained to The Harvard Crimson, and the newspaper began an investigation in response.


Following the official launch of the Facebook social media platform, the three filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg that resulted in a settlement. The agreed settlement was for 1.2 million Facebook shares.


Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year in order to complete his project. In January 2014, he recalled:


I remember really vividly, you know, having pizza with my friends a day or two after I opened up the first version of Facebook at the time I thought, "You know, someone needs to build a service like this for the world." But I just never thought that we'd be the ones to help do it. And I think a lot of what it comes down to is we just cared more.


On May 28, 2017, Zuckerberg received an honorary degree from Harvard.

Simon Whistler
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