Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s Sage Advice for Aspiring Young Students

"Greatness comes from character, and character isn't formed out of smart people—it's formed out of people who suffered."

Jensen Huang
Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang has over the years addressed students at Caltech, Stanford, Oregon State University and the National Taiwan University. Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Jensen Huang, the founder and CEO of Nvidia (NVDA), has seen the value of both his company and personal wealth explode amid the A.I. revolution. Nvidia, which began as a major force in computer gaming, earlier this month surpassed a $3 trillion market cap as demand for its A.I. chips continues to skyrocket. It is therefore no surprise that its leader is an in-demand speaker for universities filled with young students eager to replicate his success.

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“I’m the longest running tech CEO in the world today,” Huang told nearly 600 graduate students earlier this month at a commencement ceremony at Caltech. “And over the course of 31 years, I’ve managed not to go out of business, not get bored, and not get fired.” The tech executive’s speech centered upon the tenants of resilience and adaptability, sentiments the Taiwanese-born American has previously expressed while addressing students at universities like the National Taiwan University and his alma maters Stanford and Oregon State University.

Graduates would do well to listen to Huang, whose company produces the graphics processing units (GPUs) powering countless A.I. applications. The company’s dominance in the emerging industry has sent Huang’s own net worth skyrocketing. His fortune was valued at $28.1 billion last spring, a sum that failed to rank Huang among even the 30 wealthiest individuals globally. It now measures at around $115.8 billion, making him the 11th richest person in the world.

Huang’s rise to the top hasn’t been without its hardships, roadblocks and tough life lessons. From 2009 to 2024, here are some of the CEO’s wise—and at times brutal—messages to young students entering the world:

Don’t be afraid to explore untapped markets

While delivering Caltech’s 2024 commencement address, Huang urged the university’s graduating class to venture into unexplored areas. Nvidia’s early days saw the company struggle to survive in markets filled with rivals, noted the CEO. It would build new products annually that generated “enormous amounts of excitement,” only for Nvidia to be “kicked out of those markets” a year later, he said.

“With no more markets to turn to, we decided to build something where we are sure there are no customers,” said Huang. “Because one of the things you can definitely guarantee is where there are no customers, there are also no competitors.” A search for a “zero-billion-dollar market” led Nvidia to build the world’s first robotics computer, which processed a then-unknown deep learning algorithm enabling the company to create the next wave of A.I. ten years later. “Our logic is: If we don’t build it, they can’t come,” Huang said of the company’s foray into deep learning.

“I hope you believe in something—something unconventional, something unexplored,” Huang told the graduates. “You may find your generative A.I. You may find your Nvidia.”

Pain and suffering builds character

Huang might be one of the world’s richest individuals today, but his success was not always guaranteed. The entrepreneur endured unrelenting bullying while growing up in the U.S. and started off as a dishwasher at Denny’s. Even after founding Nvidia in 1993, his company went through rough patches and in 1996 was forced to lay off 70 of its 110 employees.

These experiences, however, were key to its eventual success. “Greatness comes from character, and character isn’t formed out of smart people—it’s formed out of people who suffered,” said Huang in March when asked to provide advice for Stanford students while speaking at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

Huang described “low expectations” as one of his greatest advantages, as those with high expectations lack the resilience required to break through to success. Most Stanford students have high expectations due to the prestige of their education—something that must shift to build up perseverance, he said. “To this day, I use the phrase ‘pain and suffering’ inside our company with great glee,” added the CEO. “For all you Stanford students, I wish upon you ample does of pain and suffering.”

Run, don’t walk

In many ways, the current moment in technology parallels the time of Huang’s own graduation from Oregon State University in 1984, where he received an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. Back then, the PC and chip revolution was just beginning, said Huang while delivering a commencement speech at the National Taiwan University in May of 2023. Today’s young graduates, on the other hand, are now gearing up to enter the A.I. revolution.

They must take advantage of the opportunity, according to the CEO. “What will you create? Whatever it is, run after it like we did. Run, don’t walk,” said Huang. “Remember either you’re running for food or you are running from being food. And oftentimes you can’t tell which.”

The executive emphasized the vast array of opportunities presented by A.I., from entirely new industries and jobs like data engineering, prompt engineering, A.I. factory operations and A.I. safety engineers, to its impact on productivity for programmers, designers and artists. “Just like every generation before you embraced technologies to succeed, every company—and you—must learn to take advantage of A.I.”

Challenge conventional wisdom with childlike innocence

Back in 2009, long before Nvidia became a key player in the A.I. boom, it had already made a name for itself in the computer gaming industry. During this era, Huang delivered a heartfelt speech during Oregon State University’s commencement ceremony. “My first wish is for you to find joy in work or just fall in love with whatever work you do,” said Huang. “That’s the only way you’re going to do exquisite work.”

Believing in one’s approach with a childlike innocence, even when others count against you, is key, according to Huang. When Nvidia was formed, for example, customers, industry analysts and rival companies believed “the world surely didn’t need yet another PC graphics company,” said Huang. But the tech leader remained adamant about the untapped potential in computer graphics and the generation of realistic digital images.

“All the conventional wisdom was true historically, but we believed completely irrelevant to the future we saw,” Huang told the graduating class. “To this day, we challenge conventional wisdom with the same innocence.”

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s Sage Advice for Aspiring Young Students