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Nvidia co-founder Jensen Huang once cleaned toilets, he is now known as the 'godfather of AI'

Before founding Nvidia, Huang worked as a busboy at a local Denny’s.
Cover image source: Jensen Huang speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit | Getty Images | Photo by Slaven Vlasic
Cover image source: Jensen Huang speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit | Getty Images | Photo by Slaven Vlasic

Jensen Huang, co-founder of Nvidia, has emerged as one of the beacons of innovation and leadership, shaping the industry’s trajectory. However, before Nvidia, now a $3.1 trillion company, Huang worked as a busboy at a local Denny’s. He is now known as the "godfather of AI".

NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang talks prior to a CPBL game | Getty Images | Photo by Gene Wang
Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang before a CPBL game. Getty Images | Photo by Gene Wang

“To me, no task is beneath me because remember, I used to be a dishwasher [and] I used to clean toilets,” said Huang, who has an estimated net worth of $110 billion, in March at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

"I would not be where I am now without the dreams and aspirations of my parents," Huang once told The Common Wealth Magazine. Huang’s father, a chemical engineer came to the US in the 1960s under an employee training program organized by the air conditioning company Carrier. This paved the way for sending his two sons to the U.S. for their education.

Huang was born in Tainan, Taiwan, in 1963, and at the age of nine, he and his older brother were sent to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. They came to live with their uncle before being sent to the Oneida Baptist Institute in Kentucky. However, due to some misunderstanding, they were sent to a school for “troubled youth”. Naturally, Huang had problems fitting in and at one point he was made to clean toilets.

Later on, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in the Portland, Oregon area. Huang demonstrated an aptitude for mathematics and science, and after completing his high school education, he got a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University. He then obtained a master’s degree in electrical engineering and then an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.


Huang worked several odd jobs, including the one at Denny's. "I was a very good student, and I was always focused and driven. But I was very introverted. I was incredibly shy," Huang told The New York Times. He stated that working as a waiter helped him out of his introverted shell. After graduating from college, Huang went on to work for companies like AMD and LSI Logic.

On his 30th birthday, Huang along with his friends and fellow engineers, Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem started Nvidia, coincidentally at Denny's where Huang worked as a student.


The three envisioned that there would be a need for more powerful hardware for rendering computer graphics in the future. At the time, such tools simply did not exist. Their audacious vision was to harness the power of graphics processing units (GPUs) for more than just rendering images in video games. They foresaw the immense potential of the hardware in accelerating complex computational tasks.

Under Huang’s leadership, the company embarked on a relentless pursuit of innovation and expansion. One of the key milestones was the introduction of the GeForce 256 GPU in 1999, which set new standards for graphics performance and laid the foundation for Nvidia's dominance in the gaming industry. Despite making breakthroughs in gaming technology, Huang pushed the company further to foray into parallel computing and artificial intelligence.

In 2006, Nvidia launched CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture), which unlocked the GPU’s full potential for general-purpose computing. This catalyzed advancements in scientific research, deep learning, and high-performance computing. With the rising demand for semiconductors, Huang positioned Nvidia at the forefront of the AI revolution.

Under Huang, the company faced and overcome two difficult periods, the 2002 dotcom crash and the 2008 financial crisis, according to the Wall Street Journal. After 2008, the company endured crushing pressure due to a plunge in demand and at one point it was months away from shutting down. However, during this period, NVIDA pivoted to the GPU producing strategy which led to the company’s current success.

Between 2006 and 2023, Nvidia's built capabilities that helped it create a difficult-to-surmount lead in the market for generative AI GPUs. With the rising demand, Huang positioned Nvidia at the forefront of the AI revolution.

In 2017, it began tailoring and selling GPUs to companies to handle specific AI calculations, and in 2022, Nvidia announced the production of H100 chips to enhance transformer operations that trained ChatGPT and other generative AI chatbots, as per Forbes.

Nvidia fuelled AI acceleration, with its GPUs powering some of the most sophisticated AI systems and supercomputers in the world. NVIDIA’s Tesla GPUs became standard for AI training and inference, driving significant adoption across industries.


The company’s ecosystem, from its software to its sourcing of materials, positions it as the go-to source for tools with massive computing power to handle the AI revolution led by OpenAI.

Nvidia's fortunes have gone stratospheric, surpassing the $3 trillion mark this year. Last month, another stock surge lifted the company’s market cap to $3.34 trillion making it the most-valued company in the world.

Huang's distinctive leadership style and corporate culture is widely recognised in the industry. While most CEOs try to limit the people directly reporting to them, Huang prefers to have roughly “50 direct reports,” he once told CNBC. He says this structure improves Nvidia’s performance by allowing information and strategy to flow more directly between the leaders.

“The more direct reports a CEO has, the less layers are in the company. It allows us to keep information fluid,” Huang said, adding that it makes Nvidia perform better.


He has been named the world’s best CEO by Fortune, the Economist, and Brand Finance, and featured in TIME magazine’s list of 100 most influential people list.