Michael Dell was born in 1965 in Houston, to a Jewish family whose surname reflects the translation into English of the original German Thal ("valley" or "dale [q.v.]"; modern common-noun spelling Tal) upon the family's immigration to the United States. The son of Lorraine Charlotte (née Langfan), a stockbroker, and Alexander Dell, an orthodontist, Michael Dell attended Herod Elementary School in Houston. In a bid to enter business early, he applied to take a high school equivalency exam at age eight. In his early teens, he invested his earnings from part-time jobs in stocks and precious metals.
Dell purchased his first calculator at age seven and encountered an early teletype terminal in junior high. At age 15, after playing with computers at Radio Shack, he got his first computer, an Apple II, which he promptly disassembled to see how it worked. He got a job as a dishwasher at age 12 and was quickly promoted to maitre d'. Dell attended Memorial High School in Houston, selling subscriptions to the Houston Post in the summer. While making cold calls, he noted that the people most likely to purchase subscriptions were those in the process of establishing permanent geographic and social presence. He then hired some friends who scoured local court records so he could target this demographic group by collecting names from marriage and mortgage applications. He then segmented those leads by the size of the mortgage, calling on those with the highest mortgages first. Dell earned $18,000 that year, exceeding the annual income of his history and economics teacher. He used the company's first financial statement to convince his parents of his decision to drop out of college. The statement, dated July 31, 1984, shows a gross profit of nearly $200,000. Dell dropped out of the University of Texas in his first year aged 19.