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20 Highly Successful People who Started Their Careers with an Internship

6 min read
· Posted on
October 28, 2020
by Alistair Wilson

An internship has many benefits and sometimes it has life-changing consequences. Other times, it can simply help to nudge you in the right direction or toward the place where you need to be. As internship providers here at Bridging Gaps, we’ve seen this first-hand and we are always preaching about the amazing advantages an internship can provide.

Below, we offer some proof! We list 20 highly successful people who started their careers as interns or who credits their internship in helping shape their goals.

1. Steven Spielberg (age 72)

film and photography internships in cape town
Photo credit: Matt Baron www.variety.com

Steven Spielberg is an American filmmaker. He is considered one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood era and one of the most popular directors and producers in film history. He is responsible for iconic films like Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Jurassic Park (1993), which became archetypes of modern Hollywood escapist filmmaking. 

He has won the Academy Award for best director two times and some of his movies are also among the highest-grossing films of all-time.

This prolific filmmaker and producer began his career by attempting an unofficial internship at Universal Studios. Steven was 17 years old and although he wasn’t allowed on the movie lot (as he wasn’t an official intern), he sneaked in anyway and networked with directors. On his own accord, he created a short film that ended up landing on the desks of the right people. The executives at Universal Studios were so impressed, that they offered him a seven-year contract. 

If you love everything Hollywood and respect the art of film making, be sure to check out our internship opportunities in film and photography. 

2. Oprah Winfrey (age 65)

oprah winfrey journalism internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.cbsnews.com

Oprah Winfrey needs no introduction. She is an American media executive, actress, talk show host, television producer, and philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show. The show was the highest-rated television talk show in history and ran in national syndication for  25 years from 1986 to 2011.

Oprah was the richest African American of the 20th century and North America's first black multi-billionaire. She has also been ranked the greatest black philanthropist in American history and is often considered as the most influential woman in the world. 

The famous TV host got her start by doing an internship at WLAC-TV, a CBS affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee. Oprah succeeded to such an extent that the program offered her a fulltime spot as a reporter and she eventually became the first African-American female news anchor. Her internship, therefore, was directly responsible for starting her professional career.

If you are also interested in a career in journalism, have a look at our great journalism internship opportunities!

3. Tom Hanks (age 63)

tom hanks film photography internship in cape town
Photo credit: www.hollywoodreporter.com

Thomas Jeffrey Hanks or Tom Hanks, as we know him, is an American actor and filmmaker. He is one of the most popular and most recognisable film stars in the world and is widely regarded as an American cultural icon. Tom Hanks' films have grossed more than $4.9 billion at U.S. and Canadian box offices and more than $9.96 billion worldwide.

He is known for his comedic and dramatic roles in such films as Splash (1984), Big (1988), Turner & Hooch (1989), A League of Their Own (1992), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), You've Got Mail (1998), The Green Mile (1999), Cast Away (2000), Road to Perdition (2002), Cloud Atlas (2012), Captain Phillips (2013), Saving Mr. Banks (2013), and Sully (2016), to name a few!

He is the fifth highest-grossing actor in North America. His awards include a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Philadelphia (1993), as well as a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a People's Choice Award for Best Actor for Forrest Gump (1994).

Tom Hanks completed an internship at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland, Ohio while he was attempting to complete a college degree. Hanks credits his internship for giving him confidence as he acquired valuable theatre production experience. The internship eventually lasted three years and led to him dropping out of college. Life is like a box of chocolates indeed!

If you would also like experience in production and film, have a look at our internship opportunities in film and photography.

4. Tom Ford (age 58)

tom ford marketing advertising internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.architecturaldigest.com

Ford is an American fashion designer and filmmaker. He launched his luxury brand in 2006, having previously served as the Creative Director at luxury fashion houses Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Ford also directed the Academy Award-nominated films A Single Man (2009) and Nocturnal Animals (2016). He currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. This iconic designer and filmmaker studied architecture before taking a Parisian internship with Chloe. 

From his position at Chloe, Ford moved to Gucci where he became the line’s creative director. He opened his first store in 2005 and has since created fragrances, cosmetics, accessories and clothing for his own label. Tom Ford’s experience demonstrates, as with Oprah, that an internship can be directly involved in getting a first, real career opportunity.

If you are all about fashion, consider these marketing and advertising internships to get you that much closer to understanding this exciting industry. Tom Ford’s architectural studies no doubt helped develop his aesthetic sensibilities. If you are interested in architecture, for whatever reason, consider interning in this field.

5. Anderson Cooper (age 52)

anderson cooper journalism internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.pagesix.com

Anderson Hays Cooper is an American journalist, television personality, and author. He is the primary anchor of the CNN news show Anderson Cooper 360°. In addition, he is a correspondent for 60 Minutes, one of America’s most respected investigative journalism television shows. From September 2011 to May 2013, he also served as host of his own syndicated daytime talk show, Anderson Live

Anderson Cooper interned with the Central Intelligence Agency when he was 19 years old while studying political science. However, for Cooper, his internship showed him what he didn’t want to do. He called the experience at the CIA “actually pretty bureaucratic and mundane” and “by the end of the second summer, I realised it was not a place I wanted to work after college” (www.cnn.com). He decided to stick with his first passion, journalism and pursued a journalism career without any formal journalistic education.

(If you are also passionate about journalism, be sure to have a look at these internship opportunities.)

6. Bill Gates (age 64)

bill gates internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.fortune.com

William Henry Gates III, or Bill, is an American business magnate, software developer, investor, and philanthropist. He is one of the richest people in the world, with his current worth estimated at $107.1 billion. He is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. During his career at Microsoft, Gates held the positions of chairman, CEO and chief software architect, while also being the largest individual shareholder until May 2014. 

He is one of the best-known entrepreneurs and pioneers of the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s and his work with his wife as philanthropist ranges from the eradication to polio, research into renewable energy alternatives, and solving the world’s sanitation problem. (If, like Bill Gates, you are also interested in renewable energy solutions, have a quick look at our environmental science and sustainable development internships.)

As a high school junior, Bill spent his summer in Washington D.C. as a Congressional page. During this internship, he delivered messages, prepared the House chambers for each day's session and performed other administrative tasks.

Years later at a Senate hearing about a possible Microsoft monopoly, Gates reminded reporters of his internship and said that was when he learned to stay out of politics. Only Bill Gates is capable of already disqualifying a specific career choice at the age of 14!

7. Elon Musk (age 48)

elong musk business and entrepreneurship internships in cape town
Photo Credit: www.wikipedia.com

Elon Musk is a technology entrepreneur, investor, and engineer and is the founder, CEO, and chief engineer/designer of SpaceX. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, Inc., the co-founder of Neuralink, the founder of The Boring Company and co-founder and initial co-chairman of OpenAI. He also co-founded PayPal.

In December 2016, he was ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World's Most Powerful People and was ranked (co-)first on the Forbes list of Most Innovative Leaders, 2019. He has a net worth of $22.8 billion and is listed by Forbes as the 40th-richest person in the world. Many describe Musk as a visionary, capable and on his way to impact human future in many ways.

Elon was somewhat of a serial intern, completing internships at Bank of Nova Scotia, Microsoft Canada, Rocket Science Games, and Pinnacle Research. There is no doubt that these internships help shaped Musk’s career goals in finance, and in computer science and technology. 

(Check out our internship opportunities in banking and finance as well as business and entrepreneurship.)

8. Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011)

steve jobs business and entrepreneurship internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.theinformation.com

Steven Paul Jobs was an American business magnate, entrepreneur, industrial designer, investor, and media proprietor. He was the chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Apple Inc. Apple is considered one of the most successful companies in the history of the world and is considered as one of the big four tech companies, along with Google, Amazon and Facebook.

He was also the chairman and majority shareholder of Pixar, a member of The Walt Disney Company's board of directors following its acquisition of Pixar, and the founder, chairman, and CEO of NeXT. 

Jobs is widely recognised as a pioneer of the personal computer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, along with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

At the age of 12 (yes, 12!), Jobs started an internship at Hewlett-Packard, an information technology company, after he called the CEO (he was listed in the phone book) and asked for a job. Jobs ended up working at Hewlett-Packard on the line for a summer, assembling frequency counters. He was basically putting in screws. It didn’t matter to him though. He described the internship opportunity as “heaven.” And it was also where he met Steve Wozniak, his working partner and co-founder of Apple.

Steve Jobs was not only a visionary software developer, but he was also an excellent businessperson. If you are interested in business and entrepreneurship. Have a look at our internship opportunities.

9. Spike Lee (age 62)

spike lee film and photography internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.thetimes.co.uk

Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. 

He made his directorial debut with She's Gotta Have It (1986). In his films, Lee explores race relations, colourism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues.

He has written and directed such films as Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992), He Got Game (1998), The Original Kings of Comedy (2000), 25th Hour (2002), Inside Man (2006), Chi-Raq (2015), and BlacKkKlansman (2018). Lee also took starring roles in ten of his films and his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced more than 35 films since 1983.

He has won numerous accolades for his work, including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, two Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and the Cannes Grand Prix. He has also received an Academy Honorary Award, an Honorary BAFTA Award, and Honorary César.

The successful director did an internship at the famous film studio, Columbia Pictures after receiving a mass communications degree at Morehouse. Spike Lee not only understands the art of film making, he constantly reinvents it. If you are interested in film and photography, check out these internship opportunities.

10. Ursula Burns (age 61)

ursula burns engineering internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.businessinsider.com

Ursula M. Burns is an American businesswoman. She is also the chairperson and CEO of VEON, a senior advisor to Teneo, and a non-executive director of Diageo since April 2018. She is a member of the board of directors of Uber, and in 2009, Burns became CEO of Xerox, the first black women to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. 

In 2014, Forbes rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world. She has also fulfilled many civic positions, including the leader of the STEM program of the White House from 2009 to 2016, and head of the President's Export Council from 2015 until 2016. 

Ursula grew up in the projects of Manhattan with two siblings. Burns took her mother’s words "where you are is not who you are" to heart and started working at Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern while completing a master's degree at Columbia University. From her internship position, Burns worked her way up from positions in product development and planning to executive assistant and vice president. If you are also interested in engineering, be sure to have a look at our engineering internship opportunities.

11. Tom Adams (age 47)

tom adams business and entrepreneurship internships in cape town
Photo credit: wikipedia.org

In his twenties, Adams worked as a commodities trader, which had him travel to Mongolia, the Philippines, China, Slovakia and D.R. Congo. He also lived in Switzerland and China before moving to the United States in 2003. After graduating from business school, Adams met the leaders of Rosetta Stone in February 2003 and became chief executive of the company.

He has also won an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2009, was the president and founder of Workaround, a tech incubator, co-founder and chairman of Pedago, an educational technology company; and founder and chairman of the board of Bizy, a business management technology company.  

He completed an internship for a reinsurance broker in London when he was 20 years old. Adams told Forbes: "The big lesson I learned [during my internship] was that business is not about avoiding risk so much as it's about taking on managed and diversified risk. That has helped shape my work at Rosetta Stone, where we're working to change the way people learn languages. In running an entrepreneurial venture, it has been crucial that we have a good handle on the risks we take" (www.forbes.com).

If you are a budding entrepreneur, be sure to have a look at our opportunities in Cape Town, South Africa.

12. Andrea Jung (age 60)

andrea jung finance and banking internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.forbes.com

Andrea Jung is a Canadian-American executive, non-profit leader, and prominent women's issues supporter. She became President and CEO of Grameen America, a non-profit microfinance organisation in 2014. Grameen is the fastest-growing microfinance organisation in the United States, providing the largest number of microfinance loans to individuals and small businesses.

From 1999 until 2012, she served as the first female CEO and chairman of Avon Products, Inc., a multi-level marketing company. Jung was also the first woman to serve as Chairman of the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association, and Chairman of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations.

Jung was born in Canada and completed an internship at Bloomingdale's in New York City before graduating magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1979.

After completing her internship and working for a retail chain in San Francisco for several years, she became the executive vice president at Neiman Marcus from 1991 to 1993. Andrea joined Avon in January 1994.

(If the world of finance and banking also excites you, check out our internship opportunities in this industry.)

13. Mary Barra (age 57)

mary barra engineering internship in cape town
Photo credit: www.cnbc.com

Mary Barra is the chair and CEO of General Motors Company. She has held the CEO position since January 15, 2014. She is the first female CEO of a major global automaker. On December 10, 2013, GM named her to succeed Dan Akerson as chief executive officer, and prior to that, Barra served as the executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing, and Supply Chain at General Motors. 

She kicked off her career as an 18-year-old factory floor intern. After her internship, Barra went on to tackle other roles at GM, including plant manager, executive engineer, and head of human resources. Barra, therefore, started her successful career as an intern at the very company she is now heading. 

(Check out our engineering internship opportunities here.)

14. Dennis Muilenberg (age 55)

dennis muilenberg engineering internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.forbes.com

Muilenburg is the CEO of the aerospace giant Boeing. Muilenburg held numerous management and engineering positions on various Boeing programs, including the X-32 (Boeing's entry in the Joint Strike Fighter competition); Boeing's participation in the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter; the YAL-1 747 Airborne Laser and the High Speed Civil Transport.

He also participated in the production of the Condor unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. He later served as vice president of the Boeing Combat Systems division. 

Muilenburg served as president and chief executive officer of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems from Sept 2009 till 2015. In December 2013, Muilenburg became the president of Boeing and in June 2015, Boeing announced that Muilenburg would succeed James McNerney as CEO, who was stepping down after ten years in that role. 

As with Mary Barra, he got his start completing an internship at Boeing as an engineer in 1985. He now heads the company. If you are thinking of doing an internship in engineering, have a look at our interning opportunities

15. Betsey Johnson (age 77)

betsey johnson advertising and marketing internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.usmagazine.com

Betsey Johnson is an American fashion designer best known for her feminine and whimsical designs. Betsey’s designs are larger than life and usually embellished. She also is known for doing a cartwheel ending in a split at the end of her fashion shows. 

Johnson completed an internship at Mademoiselle magazine's fabric library in 1964. She caught the eye of Mademoiselle's editor, Betsey Blackwell, when she sent her a thank you card on which she had drawn a shoe after noticing that Blackwell had dozens of shoes in her office. That is how she started a freelance career and ultimately made her realise her passion for fashion.

If you are also passionate about fashion and understand the power of brand, product and design, check out our internship opportunities in marketing and advertising. 

16. Conan O’Brien (age 56)

conan o'brien film and photography internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.episodi.fi.com

Conan Christopher O'Brien is an American television host, comedian, writer, podcaster, and producer. He is best known for hosting several late-night talk shows. Since 2010, he has hosted Conan on the cable channel TBS,  Late Night with Conan O’Brien since 1993, The Tonight Show since 2009. 

He is known for his spontaneous hosting style, which has been characterised as "awkward, self-deprecating humour" (www.thenewyorktimes.com).  

O’Brien completed an internship for Barney Frank at the House of Representatives. Of his internship, Conan says he didn’t pursue politics because, “I didn’t want to work my way up” and like Bill Gates, he decided to steer clear of the political sphere. 

Late shows usually combine entertainment with television know-how. If entertainment is what excites you, have a look at these film and photography as well as marketing and advertising internship opportunities. 

17. Jodie Foster (age 56)

jodie foster film internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.interviewmagazine.com

Jodie Foster is an American actress, director, and producer. She has received two Academy Awards, three British Academy Film Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award. For her work as a director, she has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. Jodie’s breakthrough came with Scorsese's psychological thriller Taxi Driver (1976), in which she played a child prostitute, aged 14. 

She received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She won her second Academy Award three years later for the psychological horror The Silence of the Lambs (1991), in which she portrayed Clarice Starling with the formidable, Anthony Hopkins. 

Despite being an Academy Award-winning actress after Taxi Driver, Foster took on a summer internship at Esquire in 1982. She decided that the working hours weren’t for her, and followed her first passion, acting.

If you here the words, “Hello Clarice…” and you immediately know what they refer to, best check out our film internship opportunities.

18. Sean Combs (age 50)

sean combs entrepreneurship internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.people.com

Sean Combs is known by the stage names Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Puffy, or Diddy, and is an American rapper, singer, record producer, entrepreneur, record executive, and actor. 

Combs was born in New York City but was raised in Mount Vernon, New York. He worked as a talent director at Uptown Records before founding his own record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, in 1993. 

He has won three Grammy Awards and two MTV Video Music Awards, and is the producer of MTV's Making the Band

In 2018, Forbes estimated his net worth at $825 million, making him the second-richest hip-hop recording artist, after Jay-Z. 

The media mogul begged rapper Heavy D to put him in contact with NYC’s Uptown Records. The company’s executive, Andrew Harrell, gave Diddy an internship, which he completed while studying at Howard University. We’re pretty sure that the skills that he learned at the record company, laid the basis for his extraordinary career. 

If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, be sure to check our internship opportunities.

19. Kevin Systrom (age 35)

Kevin Systrom business internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.fortune.com

Kevin Systrom is an American computer programmer and entrepreneur. He co-founded Instagram, the world's largest photo-sharing website, along with Mike Krieger. Systrom was included on the list of America's Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40 in 2016. Under Systrom as CEO, Instagram became a fast-growing app, with 800 million monthly users as of September 2017. 

He resigned as CEO of Instagram on September 24, 2018. 

Systrom did an internship at Odeo when he was younger. Odeo was a directory and search destination website for RSS-syndicated audio and video. It employed tools that enabled users to create, record, and share podcasts with a simple Adobe Flash-based interface. Systrom is a great example of what you can accomplish with just an idea. Have a look at these business and entrepreneurship internship opportunities.

20. Evan Spiegel (age 29)

Evan Spiegel business internships in cape town
Photo credit: www.wallstreetjournal.com

Evan Thomas Spiegel is an American businessman who is the co-founder and CEO of American multinational technology and social media company Snap Inc., which he created (as Snapchat Inc.) with Bobby Murphy and Reggie Brown while they were students at Stanford University. Spiegel was named the youngest billionaire in the world in 2015. 

Spiegel had an unpaid internship in sales at Red Bull, and while he was a student, he worked as an intern for a biomedical company as a careers instructor in Cape Town, South Africa, and at Intuit on the TxtWeb project. 

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