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Steve Jobs' former intern on why college grads should pay $50,000 to work with the best people

Datastax

Steve Jobs' former intern has some sage advice for college graduates: stop focusing on working for big companies and instead find the best people to work for.

Chet Kapoor, chairman and CEO of generative AI company DataStax, has had an illustrious career in Silicon Valley.

The Kolkata-born tech leader started out working at Steve Jobs' software company NeXT in 1986 and went on to become CEO of API management company Apigee which was acquired by Google in a $625 million deal in 2016.

Discussing his time as an intern at Jobs' NeXT with CNBC Make It, Kapoor said: "I was one step below the person that opened doors but that didn't matter because I worked 20 yards away from him every day."

Kapoor said his experience observing Jobs played a role in shaping his leadership style. "I can attribute a large portion of my success to my first two or three years at NeXT," he added.

It's why he advises young college graduates to seek out opportunities working with great people they can learn from — rather than just applying to work at the obvious big-name firms.

"Figure out a way to go hang out with the right people very early on in your career," Kapoor told CNBC Make It.

"Titles, money, all that will come because what you will learn from them will help you have impact … The quicker you can draw a line from your work to the impact that you're having on the company, the more successful you will be."

'Pay them $50,000 a year'

Kapoor even suggests paying to work with the right people, insisting that this early investment will pay off further down the line.

"Here's what I tell everybody that's coming out of college, and wants to look for a gig," Kapoor said. "Find a set of people that you think you can learn from. Don't worry about the titles. Don't worry about what company they work for. Convince them that they need you and then pay them $50,000 a year so that you can work for them."  

"It will be the best $50,000 you've ever spent in your life. Certainly better than the college education you just funded," he added.

Kapoor explained that the first few years of one's career "dictates your future" and that most young people are too absorbed by the brand name they work for.

"People get stuck on the brand you worked for. 'Oh I worked at Google' or 'I worked at AWS.' The point is: who did you work with and what did you learn from them? Because that will actually set you on the right course," he said.

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