How this engineer worked his way from a coffee shop to a plum gig at a $24 billion startup


Mike Curtis, VP of Engineering at Airbnb

Biz Carson/Business Insider

Mike Curtis, VP of Engineering at Airbnb, speaks at Internapalooza 2015.

Mike Curtis worked his way from AltaVista to Yahoo to Facebook to Airbnb - without a college degree - all because he was good at serving lattes.


In high school, Curtis worked at a coffee shop, serving up hot drinks to businessmen. A new tech company was across the street, and Curtis started pestering its owner about getting an internship.

"It's okay to be shameless sometimes," Curtis said to a crowd of 3,000 aspiring tech employees at Internapalooza. "You just have to go get it."

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The owner finally caved and gave Curtis a shot, but he also had to answer the phones and play receptionist for the company.

"Don't be afraid to do a little bit of sh-twork," Curtis said. It's what taught him how to deal with customers, after all.


That company, iAtlas Corporation, went on to develop a catalogue of business information that could be used for search, and suddenly it was fielding calls about acquisitions. Altavista bought the company in 1999, leaving Curtis with a decision: go to college, or move west and work for AltaVista.

He took the road west, and moved out to Silicon Valley in 1999, forgoing a college degree. From there he worked as engineer at AOL and at a healthcare company before he signed on with Yahoo.

He spent seven years with the company, working his way up to lead engineering for Yahoo Mail, before he came to a realization. "Make sure that one day whatever company you join is working as hard for you as you are for it," Curtis said.

He had a corner cube at Yahoo - "that's a cube with two windows," he explained - and a team of more than 200 engineers, but he decided to give it all up to move to Facebook as an engineering manager.

Suddenly the former VP found himself in Facebook's bootcamp program sitting alongside interns and college grads.


"It was one of the best decisions I've ever made," Curtis said. "Look for opportunities, and shed your ego."

Curtis moved to Airbnb in 2013 because he felt "it really mattered." It was also a chance to get in on a company early, and now the home-rental market is reportedly closing in on a $1.5 billion round of fundraising, which would value it at $24 billion.

That's a lot of lattes.

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