Back to the Future 2 Day October 21, 2015: Seven of tech’s biggest entrepreneurs and what they were doing back in 1985

Lynsey Barber
Follow Lynsey
From 1985 to 2015: How far have they come? (Source: Getty)

It’s not just the technology that’s different on Back to the Future Day (the day which Marty McFly travels to from 1985 in the second instalment of the film).

The world’s best known entrepreneurs who have changed the way we live in the last 30 years were living very different lives back in 1985 when audiences were being wowed by the futuristic scenes of holograms, voice assistants and hoverboards in Back to the Future 2.

What were they up to before shaping our future with things like Siri and Google Glass that helped make the movie a reality by 2015?

Steve Jobs

Back in 1985, the founder of Apple and tech pioneer Steve Jobs, himself only 30 years old, had just quit as Apple chairman after being ousted by the board. It was a “very public failure” he later said.

He had spent 10 years helping craft a company from two blokes in a garage to a $2bn company with 4,000 employees.

In a commencement address at Stanford in 2005, he reflected on that time:

“ What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me.

“I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologise for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me - I still loved what I did.

The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.”

It may have taken more than a decade, but in 1997 he did eventually return to his first love, and with even more success than he had the first time round.

Tim Cook

At 25, Cook had just completed a degree in industrial engineering at Auburn University in Alabama and was three years away from completing his MBA at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

The timing is hazy around start and finish dates, but he took evening classes to achieve his business degree. Perhaps he was simply holding down a dull office job to pay the bills for grad school?

While studying, his professors asked him to make a 25-year career plan. How did that work out for him?

“It was reasonably accurate for all of 18 to 24 months. And there was not a single thing in it that was accurate after that,” he told an audience at Duke 25 years later.

Elon Musk

Ok, so Tesla don’t make flying cars, but Musk has made serious strides forward in both electric vehicles and space flight. It’s surely only a matter of time until he combines the two? We hope so, anyway.

In 1985, a 14-year-old Musk was growing up in South Africa and had already learned to code. Two years earlier he had made a computer game called Blaster (which you can play online here) and had pocketed $500 from selling it to a gaming magazine.

That may be the height of precociousness, but he also had to overcome some severe bullying in his teenage years too, and there was already a hint of the kind of life he would go on to lead as one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs.

Larry Page

Page was a 12-year-old kid, but he’d already been tinkering with computers for years and apparently 1985 was the year that he made plans for the future, deciding he would one day own his own company.

Here’s how he came to that conclusion, in his own words.

“From a very early age, I also realised I wanted to invent things. So I became really interested in technology and also then, soon after, in business, because I figured that inventing things wasn’t any good; you really had to get them out into the world and have people use them to have any effect. So probably from when I was 12, I knew I was going to start a company eventually. “

He wasn’t half wrong… unlike Tim Cook’s career plan.

Sergey Brin

Brin was also 12 years old in 1985, and had been in the US for only six years after his family emigrated from Moscow.

Details of Brin’s teenage years are scarce, but he did attend a famous “geek camp” at some point in the 1980s. The Johns Hopkins Centre for Talented Youth identifies academically gifted kids to attend a summer program. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Stefani Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga) are also alumni. Speaking of which….

Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg was just a babe in arms. At 18 months old in 1985 he’d probably already mastered the art of walking and could no doubt say several words, but perhaps not string a sentence together. He was certainly some way off learning code, that’s for sure.

Bill Gates

In 1985, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was a lot further ahead, as was the tech company, which had celebrated its 10th birthday in April. The first ever Windows hit desks in November that year. While you may think Microsoft and Gates’ world domination was assured, back then there was all to play for.

The reception for Windows 1.0 was not good.

"What's interesting in retrospect was we laughed, just laughed them out of the place. Because we had a vastly superior window manager of our own, and these guys came in with this pathetic and naive system. We just knew they were never going to accomplish anything," said Nathaniel Borenstein, who was working at the Carnegie Mellon University IT Centre.

In fact the whole thing was a bit of a flop, but of course it laid the groundwork for future versions that turned Microsoft into the triumphant winner in the PC versus Mac computer war.

Related articles