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Ask HN: Is there a point to school?
63 points by sam191 2603 days ago | hide | past | web | 92 comments | favorite
Something I've been wondering about lately is the idea of school. And to be honest, I'm a bit lost right now.

Here is my situation. I am a senior in high school but go to the community college via the running start program here. I got accepted into the University of Washington and will be going there next year. And of course, I am interested in hacking and the start up culture. I've been reading Hacker News for quite a while now.

I'm confused about the whole purpose of school. To me, it seems that school is something one goes through to get a job and make money. But from what I've heard, to be successful I need to spend my time programming, and right now it feels as though I'm doing everything but that. I feel like I'm being dragged through this tedious system which will later prepare me for work at a company coding Blub, it's driving me nuts. Everyone around me keeps saying how important school is, but right now I'm having trouble seeing that. It's as if there are two paths that say they lead to the same thing, one of them being the right path while the other being the path we are supposed to believe is correct. At least that's what it feels like to me.

I have a lot of respect for everyone here at HN and I find many comments to be very valuable. I was hoping to gain a bit of insight from this great community.




Even if you think university will teach you absolutely nothing, you've got a one-time offer from society that we're going to subsidize anything you do for the next four years and not have any expectation that you'll work for a living during that time. This offer is essentially only good once. Take it.

That said, you can learn an awful lot from school. You say it is tedious -- that suggests to me you're underchallenged. Have you tried learning a foreign language yet? Like, really learning a foreign language, rather than learning to say "Yo quiero una cerveza" like I assume your high school Spanish has taught you? It is incredibly rewarding, in all possible senses of the term rewarding, and you'll never get a better opportunity than the next four years. (Dedicated instructors, plenty of time not occupied by the demands of job and family, social push to complete studies, possibility of study abroad bankrolled by someone else and unrestricted by visa concerns, etc etc etc...)

You can also learn quite a bit about programming during college, even if actually doing it is a much better teacher. (Although, again, we're subsidizing all your activities for four years -- you show up for 3 hours of classes 5 days a week, the rest of the time is yours, program as much as you want to program.)

Incidentally, I hate to sound like An Official Adult, but just trust me on this one: the job market for young Americans sucks right now, and you absolutely do not want to be facing it without a degree. Degrees are not just for boring megacorps coding Blub: even cool companies which code Lisp look for people who can carry tasks to completion, and not possessing a degree when we hand them out like candy on Halloween suggests "I am insufficiently motivated to do clearly beneficial things when they require non-trivial amounts of actual work. Please employ me -- you will find me excellent at everything you assign me to do, provided none of it is actual work."


Patio is spot on as usual. All I can add to this is the following:

As an American it might not be immediately obvious but if you ever want to get a work visa in another 1st world country, having a degree in something useful is just about required. With the current state of the world and the US in particular, this could turn out to be a very important thing.


Wow thanks, this really makes sense to me.

I'm already fluent in Russian, and I am learning my native language, Armenian, at the moment.

And I wouldn't say that I'm under challenged. College seems like a lot of work, but that thrill of a challenge is missing. It's also a tough time for my family, so I'm also working as much as I can. I guess my main dilemma is the lack of free time. It might have been unclear in my post, but I was thinking that my time would be better spent coding than trying to be an overachiever in school.

Nevertheless, I really appreciate the advice!


that thrill of a challenge is missing

It still sounds to me like you might not be studying the right stuff. If your classes remind you of a tedious treadmill leading toward the Blub Factory you need better classes.

Or a better major. Perhaps you're making the mistake of letting your chosen career dictate your choice of classes. The universal secret to school is: Take the best classes you can find, from the best people, regardless of subject. If the local comp sci offerings remind you of Javaschool, do something else. I have lots and lots of colleagues who can attest that you don't need a major in comp sci, or even a single class, to spend your career working on software.

The best bang for the buck in college is the stuff that you can't get anywhere else. Stuff that requires expensive facilities or hardware, for example. Take lab courses -- unlike programming, these are things that are hard to self-study. Biology, physics, chemistry, electronics, mechanical engineering, even art and design (which I suspect is best done with physical materials and a live teacher). Or be a productive dilettante: As I said above, find the best professors in the university and take their courses, regardless of the field. I discovered linguistics that way, and it turns out that intro-level linguistics is a really nice thing to know if you're going to work with languages all the time.

If I were to go back I'd probably still take a lot of physics and electronics, which is what I did before, but I'd also be all over the biology and biochemistry. Molecular biology is the ultimate machine language. And I wouldn't neglect statistics: Study as much stats as you can stand.

Of course, nontechnical subjects are also important, because they make you write essays. You'd be surprised how useful a skill essay-writing can be. I had a minor in history, and I don't regret it.


U Dub has one of the best Comp. Sci. departments in the nation, especially when it comes to Operating Systems. I would sell half my soul to be 18 and going to UW.


Well, you are you, I am myself, and the OP is the OP. Everyone has different tastes!

The good news is that if the OP finds that he doesn't enjoy comp sci, at least he'll know that it isn't because the local department is objectively terrible.


>Or a better major. Perhaps you're making the mistake of letting your chosen career dictate your choice of classes. The universal secret to school is: Take the best classes you can find, from the best people, regardless of subject.

I think this is great advice. If I had the opportunity to do college now I would probably try to major in my second (or third!) career choice. Having mobility in where you could have a career could turn out important.


1- College can be good. Patio11 makes some very valuable points and there are plenty of other ways and reasons to make or conclude that it's valuable.

2- Social License - The first paragraph of Patio11s response, subsidy, is incredibly important. For the time and cost of attending college it is possible to take a huge number of alternatives . Buy & run a Jakuzzi installation business, start & run a preschool in a developing country. I have a feeling this is the line of thinking inspiring your question.

The problem is that you (and the vast majority of other people) probably won't do that. That's mostly because of this social license. Only an extremely radical parent would give their child a hard earned $100k and 4 years room & board to go buy a Jacuzzi business that will most likely go bust but amount to a tremendous learning opportunity. Everyone would think that they're nuts. Nevermind financial support, you are unlikely to find moral support. Not from society. Not anywhere near the support you receive for bumming through the most meaningless of University degrees.

I'm not advocating the easiest option. I actually think there is no excuse not to learn a lot at University. I'm also not advocating going where social norms dictate. Far from it. Just pick you battles and be realistic about opportunity costs. Most of the people who don't do the incredible things that you could be doing instead of College aren't not doing them because they went to college instead.


You sound somewhat like me. I coded a huge amount before college. So much so that like you I felt it would be a waste of time to be a CS major. So I took Mechanical Engineering. It is far harder than CS and will certainly give you a challenge. There are complimentary majors (econ, bio, finance, chem E, electrical E, physics, math) you could choose from. Either way you will come out knowing far more math and science that will allow you to do some really cool CS stuff after if thats what you want to do.

I minored in CS and so just took some of the more advanced classes, a graduate class on computer graphics, a grad class on computer vision, one on mechatronics, one on Lisp. I don't think I would have been able to learn that stuff as rigorously without a professor. The other courses I would recommend - Operating Systems and Compilers will teach you a LOT. I passed on them but I know people who took them and got a lot out of them.

Also about your free time, I know it seems like you are pressed for it right now but college is only 4 years. You wil graduate at 22 and have 43+ years of a career. I work 60-80 hours a week on school stuff and find plenty of time for my own side projects, partying, I was even on a sports team for 3 years. You can do it (you don't sleep much though unlike in the movies where everyone sleeps until 3pm). After graduation I'm going to be working exactly 40, max 50, with a 5 minute commute. Thats it. I'm going to have so much free time to do my side projects that I don't mind missing out on them for the last 4 years when I learned so many other things.


I agree with your general recommendation. Go to College..period. A good University will do wonders for a curious person. If the OP doesn't know why he needs to go, that's all the more reason he needs to go...and if the studies are not challenging/interesting enough, switch to something that is.

I'm not sure what colleges only require 3 hours of class a day. I only went to one school...my week was a solid 60 hours of class, homework, labs, and test prep. I do sometimes recommend to others not to go to a tough as nails engineering school ;). When I compare notes with folks that went to other schools it does seem they had lots of leisure time.

I also don't know where your point of subsidizing comes from. Most colleges are expensive. I do think many are worth the cost but its not a free ride for most.


I'm 20 years old now and just left school to work and so far it's been the best decision I've ever made. I had many of the same issues with school and put it to myself like this:

At the age of 22 will I be a more valuable programmer by staying in school, or by entering the work force?

Couple that with the price of NYU and the choice was clear...

I've been working since I was 15, so I had/have a pretty decent resume to drop out on, so I wouldn't suggest it if you don't have significant intern (programming intern, not coffee xerox intern) experience probably stick with school: it's a safe path to at least a $60k a year job when you graduate. But since I've dropped out I've had a chance to work with really smart people and learn at a much faster rate, and I have a LOT more freedom. YMMV of course, but for me I just wish I'd done it sooner.


University is, IMHO, less about learning what the jobs want and more about learning the things that you may find hard or dont have the opportunity to do in your own time - this includes things unrelated to your career choice (eg, I learned to snowboard), build your social network (especially with people on other complementary career paths), learn and do things you may not have the resources to do yourself (electronics, robotics, any exotic hardware (I built an (location aware, 3D audio centered) augmented reality headset, for example), learn those theory subjects that a company isnt going to spend time teaching you but that will ultimately help you understand and solve problems better (computability, statistics, computational complexity, compiler construction, whatever!).

Theres no reason you can't do this things on your own, but Universities provide an environment which makes these much easier, puts you in touch with other students and professors, provides you with resources and also helps you prove to future employers that you have the drive to stick with something. For these reasons, I think University is more valuable than the paper you get at the end.


I'm also 20, and I'm about a little over a year away from finishing my degree. If I had to do it again, I may have very well skipped school. I'm awfully burnt out on the whole thing. It seems like a series of bars I have to jump, some high, some low, in order to get a decent job. Well, I already have a decent job, and I'm turning down job offers to stay in school. If I wasn't this close to finishing, I'd definitely go the same route as you and drop out.

That being said, college can do wonders if you don't already have a social network. I already had plenty of connections in the (albeit small) technology world in my hometown, but getting close to professors has opened a few more doors. I'm definitely appreciative that I stuck around long enough to get to know a few professors and work for them. I'd imagine that's going to pay huge dividends when I do actually graduate as professors often have connections far beyond their city of residence or college.

For most people, I'd suggest going to college just as proof that you are able to finish something non-trivial. If you already have proof of that in pet projects or work experience, and you really don't feel like going, don't.

College is a lot better than high school, but there are still similarities. There are classes I have to sit through that I could easily teach myself because the professor keeps attendance. Then there are the classes that I'd go to whether or not I had to, just because the professor and the material are both interesting to me. You'll have a few classes you love and a few classes you abhor. Hopefully the ones you love outweigh the ones you don't.


"you've got a one-time offer from society that we're going to subsidize anything you do for the next four years and not have any expectation that you'll work for a living during that time."

Not everyone can afford to go to college, much less go without a job. Even if you are able to secure loans to cover tuition and all living expenses, this would easily run 100k at a public university. I'm at a bit of a loss regarding your attitude towards the price of attending college...could you please elaborate?


You can do it for much cheaper than $100k, but I went to an expensive private school, so $100k is in the rough ballpark. My family didn't have the wherewithal to pay anything near that. I got through college via a combination of work study, scholarships, and about $21,000 worth of loans.

You know how hard it is to get $21k worth of angel funding? And the kind of terms people will want? Getting $21k of student loans requires a) filling out a form and b) signing up to pay $200 a month for the next ten years, after you've graduated and (presumably) have paying work. Seriously, you will never be offered money on terms this good ever again. (I ended up paying my loans a few years ahead of schedule, with business profits. That probably wasn't economically rational but debt grates on me psychically.)

Obviously I wouldn't suggest taking out $100k in loans (~ $800+ in monthly payments) to get a degree in Studies of the Subaltern: Literature In Post-Colonial Uruguay, but if you're already decided on programming I have little worry that you'll walk down that path.


The terms of loans so advantageous, and there are so many scholarships and financial aid opportunities which don't require repayment. The majority of students don't pay anywhere near full price at expensive private colleges. And the returns, on average, more than pay for the cost.

I went to a school which ran around $40k a year at the time, half of which the school paid for me on my behalf, purely based on financial need not scholarship. I worked hard, got a bunch of outside scholarships, and then landed a TA job my final year which paid for my final year of school. I graduated with around $40k in debt, which I've barely made a dent in two years later, but it's obviously the best money I've ever spent.

For one, I met my cofounders there, and started a company that I love working at. I also learned how to program. I went in to school never having written anything other than a calculator app for my TI 83. Maybe I could have learned everything I did on my own, but I doubt it would have been as effective or as efficient.

Your posts in this thread have been spot on.


25k/year for a decent standard of living in an environment that those of us who have been through the process look back on fondly as some of the most fun we had? Yeah, that is a hell of a bargain.


"I am insufficiently motivated to do clearly beneficial things when they require non-trivial amounts of actual work. Please employ me -- you will find me excellent at everything you assign me to do, provided none of it is actual work."

On the contrary; nobody has ever even asked me where I went to school. I do not have a degree.


Then you are among a small and very lucky minority. Right now there is something like a three percent difference in unemployment rates between those who completed a bachelors degree and those who are listed as having "some college or an associates degree", while those with only a high school diploma have an unemployment rate six percent higher than college graduates.


Apparently I too am among a small and very lucky minority. I don't even have a high school degree. I did spent a lot of time hanging around my local university though, hacking on their computers on the sly. I had a great time, learned a lot, and met the people who are still my best friends today. Consider going and auditing some classes that sound interesting, that way you get to participate in the college lifestyle but not spend a fortune.


the rest of the time is yours, program as much as you want to program.

On this point I disagree. I think that much of the value of college comes from things that don't really seem valuable at the time: sports, clubs, experiences with friends, or even study groups. As such, I'd really recommend limiting the programming a bit, and forcing himself to engage with other students first, and program second.

And as a corollary to that, I'd recommend trying to find ways to get to know students who aren't other people with identical interests and socioeconomic backgrounds. The more one stays in one's bubble, the less one is going to get out of school.

"I am insufficiently motivated to do clearly beneficial things when they require non-trivial amounts of actual work.

This is huge. Absolutely huge.

I have very little interest in hiring somebody who thought, at age 18, that he knew everything college could teach him; nor one who could not spare the time to give himself such a clear advantage.


If there's one regret I have from college, and let it be known I have many, but of them all it's that I didn't join clubs and intramural sports from the beginning. I realized junior year what I was missing out on, and took an active role in the ACM, but I missed out on a whole set of potential experiences and relationships.

It seemed stupid and I couldn't get over myself to go out on a limb and try something completely different and new. Boy was I wrong.


Yep, I was lucky and got sucked into one club my first year, which led to another, and another (all nothing to do with my studies). It was very rewarding and my closest friends from college (20 years later) are the ones from these extra activities.


I'd particularly recommend being part of one of the smaller sports clubs - as well as being part of a different social group from those on your course (it's really useful to have a group of friends who aren't all exactly your age and who won't be massively stressed at exactly the same time) you get to learn new skills and even get some exercise.

From a more clinical point of view, it's also a good place to get proof of 'can function as part of a team' - which is another thing employers care about.


I feel lucky that my college offers a robotics club (of which I surprisingly, even to me, a turn to man for circuits to solve interesting problems) and a IEEE student branch, which is one of the most active in my section. Apart from that there is always the magazine which is run by students independently.

Boy, if these things were not around I would have died of boredom. There is just so much to do, organize workshops take part in projects. We even opened another club so we can encourage new projects. I am in center of all this and am just in the first year. Sometimes it feels too much to do, and also maintain and improve my grades, but I think all this has made me more mature as well as professional.

One of the main advantages of joining clubs like IEEE is that you get to know other people from different colleges also. Now when I enter other student branch colleges I have a plethora of contacts who can help me.


I've had no problem getting employment in NYC (I've actually had 2 different jobs since I graduated and a total of 5 offers between two job searches since last april). It matters much more who you are as a person: college is one path to what employers are looking for, but you don't necessarily need the training wheels if you can sell yourself.

"I am insufficiently motivated to do clearly beneficial things when they require non-trivial amounts of actual work."

This is huge, but it has nothing to do with college...


Another important reason to go to college is for personal growth. There are experiences that are to be found only in college.

You might take a music or philosophy class just to fulfill credit requirements but it turns out to greatly influence your world views or let you discover your hidden passion. You might meet a professor who turns out to be life long mentors.

You may join a study-abroad program to open yourself to a completely different culture and society. You may get to know others who will become your best friends in life. You may engage in intellectual conversations during lunch/dinner or late night with your pals.

To relieve you stress, you might do some stupid things with your friends during friday parties that you can laugh at 10 years later. The list goes on.

If you miss college, you are not just missing a degree, but much more. IMHO, the most important thing about college is not diploma or lectures but the college atmosphere, the people you meet, the connections you make with them and the invaluable experiences you will have during the 4 years.

Just think about it, if you love coding, you will code for your whole life.So there is really no rush.

And I highly recommend selective liberal arts colleges for better personal experiences.


Here is my hard learned lesson: DO NOT STUDY JUST TO GET AN DEGREE! It such a waste of good time AND money (lost income) to study some random topic that you could not care less about. MANY students fall into the trap of choosing a study/career that brings them status. Unfortunately, they will either 1) most likely drop out, or 2) Become average at doing what they do. Why? Because the guy who always is curious and maybe even passionate about his domain will always go to greater lengths to get there.

Study something because of your curiosity towards the subject.

The day your curiosity has dried out, you are finished with the topic. Its as simple as that. Do not study something because its interesting; you got books for that. University degrees are meant to prepare you for research and a academic life, and ultimately become professor/PH.D. The degree aside, the network one can establish during your study years is once in a lifetime opportunity. But I repeat again, follow your curiosity. The story will write it self.


If you're a straight male, college is the easiest place to meet women in America. For that reason alone, it's worth checking out for a couple semesters.


Girls at a technology university? Then I'm envious of you, the m/f ratio at mine is like 20-1.


The OP is going to the University of Washington, The ratio is 52.4% women, 47.6% men (http://admit.washington.edu/Numbers).


If you're not sure, then go to school.

One big problem with learning on your own is that you'll usually avoid doing the hard boring stuff that seems pointless. For a lot of people, that includes math. But doing that stuff gives you the strength and confidence to attack difficult problems in the future.

I work in an engineering shop where about 25% of people have degrees, and they are miles ahead of the rest. I think what sets them apart is the belief that they will get to the bottom of a problem with logic and hard work, rather than flipping opinions back and forth.


I'll agree here. I was absolutely sure about leaving. If you're not sure, you should definitely go (and honestly, I went for two years before I had enough - you should at least go for a while if you can afford etc.)


UW Seattle has a lot of really amazing computer scientists and mathematicians. Even ignoring all the stuff you learn just from being around a huge number of folks in your own age range, and intro/intermediate classes which you can learn on your own if you have a "sufficiently good" textbook or lecture notes, there is still a huge amount of physics, statistics, general mathematics, combinatorics, probability theory, theoretical computer science, algorithms, computer vison, and other cool things. UW Seattle has cool faculty in all those areas, and if you take advantage of your school, you stand to learn from them! (or do cool stuff like learn some mechanical engineering or take some drawing classe)

Also, little/well known fact, most tech startups aren't that technically interesting, and rarely does a startup leave its employees with much time to do much else. (Yes, many counterexamples exist, but even at those, how many roles are the interesting ones at even those places?)

there are other bits, but those are the broad points


I second this. I did undergrad and grad pure math at UW, and a lot of comp sci electives. The faculty was phenomenal. I learned so much, and not just of the subject material. I learned so much about how to think during some brilliant lectures. You want some mental exercise that will make programming seem easy by comparison? Get a pure math degree at UW. And take all the hard classes.

Nor was I bored in even the intro C Sci classes. There were typically other experienced folks taking the classes with me, and some projects open-ended enough to let them challenge themselves. I saw some guys build an animated 3D vector projection from scratch in CSE 143, and in CSE 373, during a speed competition, I remember someone taking apart and rewriting scanf.


"But from what I've heard, to be successful I need to spend my time programming"

You've heard wrong then.


If you want to be a really incredible programmer you need to spend time programming, but that isn't remotely required to be successful, even in programming. For example, I wouldn't consider any of the creators of the top 3 scripting languages good programmers. They're known, I'm not.


I took 18 months off to do a startup+moved to the valley and am now back finishing college before doing another startup. Why? It shows that you're good at finishing things and the degree is something you'd probably rather have than not have. Some lessons learned I guess:

* don't try to do a full time startup AND college. By full time, I mean the serious i want to raise money, grow the company, big vision startup. It won't happen. If it somehow gets to the point that you think it can, take time off. Side projects are okay, and I'd encourage them. Keep making your own stuff. Not every project you build has to be the next facebook.

* you know the path youre going for (engineering/startup stuff). Go learn the things that interest you while you're at school that you know absolutely nothing about.

* meet as many people as you can.

* if you're not challenged like patio said, find something that will challenge you.

* you might take some business classes. everything they say to you will seem wrong because of the way we do things in a web startup. that's okay. you're not going to be able to all of a sudden make them see what you see.

* use your student discount for everything you can. conferences, software, research material access, ways to get people to listen to you (youd be surprised at how much the "im a college kid, can u help me" line gets people to respond),etc.

* keep in touch with the industry, but don't get pulled into the echo chamber+desire to social climb too much. for every kevin rose there are many many more like Ryan Allis or other successful entrepreneurs that have made millions + never graced techcrunch/techmeme. youll feel anxious seeing x company get funded y amount, 500 mentions of twitter, and google buying x company for obscene amount of money y. Youll somehow feel as if now is the only time this can ever happen and unless you jump in, you're screwed. this isn't true. Even though there are boom periods, there will always be new technology companies and market needs. I stopped using Twitter the other day and deleted my entire feed reader list. I only read what's on HN when it comes to tech. I'm already a happier person, because I'm less stressed.

My biggest mistake is that I really only got one year of the "real college experience". that's when I was at boston college my freshman year. Somehow when I transferred to UMiami, I just stumbled into entrepreneurship, which meant the real world. If I could go back, I would have found a way to enjoy more of just being a normal college kid, worked on fun projects, and then gone balls to the walls with startup stuff.


'There are a lot of things you can teach, but the most important ones must be learned.'

One thing that I would love that someone else had shown to me when I has in high school is what does it mean to learn, and how to learn. These are some resources that really helped me understand the value of true learning [1][2][3]

What I would recommend is that you wait some years to get into university/college. You really have no reason to rush, and the whole experience, if you later choose to live it, could be much more enjoyed if more maturity. Go travel, study programming by yourself or doing projects, study languages in other countries, take some telecommuting jobs, take some risks, and above all else, learn what does it mean to learn.

[1] http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/560

[2] http://www.papert.org/works.html

[3] http://ournature.org/~novembre/illich/1970_deschooling.html


High School can definitely be tedious, but it does leave a lot of free time to tackle things on your own.

When you get to college, that time may diminish somewhat (coursework is a bit more demanding), but the important thing to realize is that college is what you make of it. If you view it as a four year hurdle to getting a job, then it's going to feel like that. If you view it as an opportunity to have experts direct your learning (which makes learning on your own much faster, having someone telling you what is important), then it'll be much more pleasant. Throw in the freedom to work on your own projects, and it'll be a great time of your life.

It'll be hard to maintain that attitude though. >90% of students (and parents) view college as the ticket to a good job. As an analogy, you could go to a barbeque to please your boss, or you could go to have fun. It's the same barbeque either way, but your outlook can determine whether it's enjoyable or not.


The way you describe your situation and outlook, I'm wondering whether you're pursuing a career, or a lifestyle. I fear it's a lifestyle. That is, what exactly do you mean by "interested in hacking and the start-up culture"? Hacking is about application of talent and curiosity; start-ups are about running a business (entrepreneurship, capitalism). Hacking, absent any purpose or discipline, is really just a hobby. Entrepreneurship, itself, isn't a "culture". It involves cleverness, creativity, pervasive optimism, and a lot of perseverance.

Your analysis is telling: "it seems that school is something one goes through to get a job and make money". And then you go on, "but to be successful...". I'd stop there - how do you define success? If it's being happy at work everyday, then I'd say you're seeking a 'job', a 'vocation'...you should seek to be a skilled tradesman.


Trust me, what you learn from high school will probably not help you at all. In fact, you'll forget all of it after graduation. However, the point of high school is to develop certain skills and to challenge you.

That being said, I'm in this situation as well. I'm a grade 12 student from Canada. However, I've decided to join the hacking and start up culture. Being in the technology industry, I, of course, started my own web design company called Design Vetica. Sam, rather than waiting, why not do it now? Soon after, we were covered in many articles. One of them, for example, is http://www.getharvest.com/blog/2010/01/design-vetica-the-dou... As of now, we are already looking into building our first application

Shameless plug aside, I think school is great, but learning should not be about getting a job. I love programming, that's why I'm going into Computer Science in university. Again, Sam, if you truly want to accomplish something, start today.

Two great links that talks about school: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P2PGGeTOA4 http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_crea...


Think of university not only as a handful of classes a semester, but instead as your personal research park. All the resources a hacker/entrepreneur needs can be found on a college campus. Explore what it has to offer beyond the track they set you up with each semester, get to know professors, meet your cofounders. There will be lots of students who are just coasting, but there are also plenty of those who are self directed like you.


The problems with modern schools are manyfold. Highlights:

- it's designed for the slightly-below-average student. Even the average students get bored, but only the very brightest realise they can do their own learning.

- it's currently often treated as somewhere to dump your kids for 14-15 years

It's perfectly possible to work through the system, though, and not work at company X. Some tips (from someone who managed it):

- dont take anything too seriously

- university is for fun, learning is incidental (assuming your competent enough to get a degree) [seriously: treat it like this and you will learn a lot more]

- ignore recruiters

And finally: it's fine to buck the trend. You either end up being a bit radical and rebellious (yeh!) or certain people just roll their eyes at you. Neither hurts too much (the first one just gets you laid more).

Quitting Uni to do a startup etc. is fine and make that choice if uni isn't for you. However I'd seriously consider it - you develop a lot during the next few years. You'll make contacts, learn a lot about how people interact and probably make some really important friends. Most importantly your getting away from "home" and fending for yourself.

Even if you end up doing the same thing in 4 years as you would do now (if quitting) it's not always a waste of time :)


I actually wonder the same thing sometimes -- I'm 30, went to MIT from age 16-18 but dropped out due to lack of money, went to found a few startups, and am now doing defense contracting (for another few months).

When I get back, I am trying to decide what to do -- mainly a startup full time, or a startup/consulting part time plus going back to school (presumably either MIT or UW, maybe Stanford). I'd probably do aero engineering at UW, or nuke or biomed or mech eng at MIT, and then would do a startup in those fields.

The main benefits I see for a degree at 30, when one is already pretty well established in the work force, are access to grad school, and foreign visa apps. While I could certainly learn useful CS in an academic program at this point, I think I'm able to learn on my own about as efficiently by now -- however, that's less true for a new field.

From a purely financial standpoint it is probably a bad idea; 2-4 years of lost earnings, plus direct costs.

At 18, I would almost definitely do college (actually, I'd probably take 1-2 years off and THEN do school, and try to do a program which had a lot of coop/work experience).

If nothing else, avoiding going into the job market for 2010-2014 is worth it.


As someone who has been through both sides of this debate, I've realized that school is what you make it. I went into school sure that I won't get much out of it. And that's what happened for the first two years. Then I took a 3 semester break. I returned thinking there is stuff I can learn at school. And I have learned a shit load which I have been able to apply directly to my new startup.

It is common for me to run into friends who claim a class is BS. It's hard for me to agree. At the same time, I understand where they are coming from. The class's professor might not be super interesting and he might be just running through slides--but if you went into the class(says its on Sales Management) hoping to learn about Sales Management, you can learn despite the average professor and class.

I encourage everyone who thinks school is crap to take some time off and test out your hypothesis. Some will find it to be true and won't return. That's the best case scenario! Vast majority will learn how much they suck at various things and return to school a little humbled and more receptive to the classroom.


UW has a terrific CS program. You will learn a lot.


Purposes of college:

a) having fun, making lifelong friends, getting laid

b) learning from peers and the environment (lectures, events, clubs, etc)

c) building a social network

If end up not liking your college classes,I recommend switching to an easy major that takes no time to do. Then spend your free time either consulting or doing a startup. This is the path I took, with good success, and I know other people who got their first businesses off the ground while in college.

Here's another way to think of it. You might want to do a startup or start working in programming. So why not do that while living at college? It's way more fun than living in an apartment without a social network that you're connected to.


School consists of sitting in a lecture hall with 100 other students listening to a middle-aged lecturer talk about his interests for 50min, 3 times a week. Unless you aspire to be a good listener / note-taker, no, there is no actual point to school, unless both common sense and modern psychological learning theory are both horribly wrong.

HOWEVER, when you get a degree what you are getting is a signal to potential employers that you are of roughly the average intelligence of other people with that degree. This signal is of varying importance in the real world.


I don't know what university you went to, but this is about as far from the truth as statements come.

If you can't learn anything interesting/useful/mindblowing in a university course, you are either not paying attention, or are taking the wrong course...


Maybe this is just a generational thing, but when I entered my years of intellectual curiosity I had access to the local university library, bookstore, and the internet. Although I don't disagree there are mindblowing concepts out there, I feel they are much more efficiently delivered in texts written by practitioners with worldwide recognition in their fields rather than from a powerpoint lecture made by average state U professor. It seems rather absurd many students must pay thousands of dollars per semester for the privilege to sit in on these lectures when one could purchase the definitive treatment of the subject for $35 and read it in a month.

There are a lot of ways of interpreting the question. But to me, the main interpretation is: is it at all cost-efficient to charge students $60k+ and 4 years of their lives to sit in on lectures in order to "learn" abstract bodies of conceptual knowledge? To me the answer is no.

But of course the other aspect is the social signal. Many middle class wage paying jobs will not consider uncredentialed people. For this reason acquiring a degree is probably 'worth it'. And of course if you can go for free and delay the real world for that long, hell yeah do it.


"Dots connect in future". You are not the first one to not see any point in going to school now. You will see the point 10 years down after - having met a co-founder of your very successful company. - transforming a college project into a billion dollar enterprise. - making great business deals with your college alumni. - ... etc etc

School gives plenty of opportunities to be whoever-you-want-to-be. More than that, the bonds you create in college are priceless. They motivate you to do whatever big you are destined to do. Don't miss out on all that.


University is a good way to meet people with similar interests. You may also have a couple professors that inspire you in some way.

But the other 80% of it is a waste of time.

It's like a job; you could learn things on your own much faster but you're forced to go slower because of the way things are set up.

If I could advise my 18 year old self, I would probably take a couple part time courses that seem interesting (and attend some extracurricular activities around campus, and go to parties as well) and then spend the rest of my time writing software and reading books on my own.


Personally, I don't go to school to learn or for the piece of paper at the end. I'm smart (or arrogant) enough to think that I can learn anything I need to pretty quickly. I go to school to find professors (and other students, for that matter) who care about what they're doing and to interact with them.

I entered college as a CS major, picked up International Relations as a major somewhere along the way in freshman year after taking a class to fill a req that turned out to be surprisingly good. This semester? I'm taking 6 classes in 5 different departments. Turns out that my least favorite class is my CS class. And thats still a surprisingly good class (even if I'm not a huge fan of how it's taught).

One of my favorite classes that I've taken (well, currently taking, in this case) is an upper-level digital art class. Somehow, I'm half-decent at design, but, I'm not an art student. I just emailed the professor and said that I was interested in the class, that I wanted to see if there is any crossover that could be done to combine the two fields. I stopped by and spoke to her one afternoon and we spent the next few hours discussing possibilities. That sort of thing just doesn't happen often enough. But thats why you go to college; for the occasions that it does happen.


I found co-founders and first employees in my university (UF). Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Brin&Page, etc all started and found co-founders in school. (whether you decide to drop out later or not)

I recommend something you have a personal interest with, not necessarily something you think you may need for your career. I ended up with a political science degree, but learned all the useful tech startup things by doing, mentors and online (wikipedia and blogs)


Hi, It seems like everyone thus far has given good opinions, however they are missing the real point. It is not about what they did or their experiences, it's how school relates to you. With your extra credits and starting in a junior year, that is an awesome advantage. However, you get out of school what you want to put into it.

What are your goals when you get out? Just because someone is interested in start-up culture/hacking doesn't mean they are meant to be an entrepreneur and apply to a startup program. They are completely separate things. If you love to hack, and are good at it, you can get a great job at a top company/consult/join a startup. Maybe joining a startup for 2 years right now would be great. It may take off and you won't need school. If not, you were already two years ahead.

My situation is a little different, I'm 18 and graduated from high school this past June. I chose to forgo university to start a company. I am a non-technical founder and so I don't do the hacking, I do the biz dev. Best decision I have ever made. But that is in my situation. I don't sit around and just do charts. I read 4 books a week, trying to learn as much as I can. For me, I am better at learning from myself than I am under a schedule over 4 years. I can absorb way more info at a faster rate this way.

The decision is completely personal and up to you. Just go with your gut, and don't care about other people. When you are successful, no-one cares if you have the letters beside your name. The better PR story is the kid with no college. The downside is the average job force applications later on. It doesn't sound like you are an average person, so I wouldn't worry about this.

Best of luck!


I would love to respond to everyone but I think a follow up would be better. I never expected getting this much feedback! Just wanted to start off with a big thanks!

I've decided that the university route is the way to go. I was stressing over getting a job or doing a startup so much that I forgot about how much I want to learn. I think I will do whatever interests me and allow that to lead me, instead of having a pre-determined mndset of what I think I'm supposed to be. I won't stress out about grades or jobs and make the most of the next four years.

And just to clarify, I've been going to the community college for two years full time, not high school. I know the uni is a great place to meet girls but, and I REALLY don't want to sound cocky, I've never had problems with girls. I'm not lacking in social skills and I'm sure many here on HN aren't either.

I also never expected there to be so many people from UW here! The next four years should be exciting, and I'm really looking forward to them and also being more active in this community. Thanks again.


College is not like high school. Take full advantage of it. Also, community college (at least the one near my HS) is like HS with harder courses. College where you live away from home is completely different. Some other points:

1) You'll meet amazing people. Other students and professors. It maybe the only time you can do this in such a casual environment.

2) You can ease into living alone, i.e. without your parents. Its not that easy to get used to and during college can do it halfway. I.e. you have to buy your own food but don't have to pay bills/taxes right away.

3) You will learn things you don't even know exist now.

4) Lots of people won't take you seriously without a college degree. You may think that if you do good work you'll be fine, but sadly thats not true. As an example, most HR people look at each resume for 7 - 10 seconds. If you don't have a degree, they'll dump it. (Note: I know you are interested in startups, but this is just an example).

5) You can learn non-CS things as well. Even if you don't care now, you'll regret skipping the opportunity to do it later.

6) There's a reason people call it the best time of their lives.

7) Great place to meet girls (or guys, whatever).

I'd say go to college, find some great professors, let them know what your interests are and they'll help you get into them. Also, learn everything you can about CS and other topics, join a bunch of clubs, learn how to dance or sing, go to frat parties, etc... You only get once chance to do this.

I was just talking to someone who regretted graduating a year early because of the experiences she missed. You'll really regret this later if you don't go to college. You mention elsewhere that you can join as a junior. Don't do that. Instead, get a second major or two minors or something.


I have a different perspective (though a few of the comments here have briefly touched on it). College is not for meeting like-minded peers, and it's not for learning about programming. Rather, it's for the opposite.

It's for meeting diverse people that will give you new and unexpected perspectives on life. It's for learning to work with humanities people, meeting international students, etc. It's for learning how you fit in to everything else.

I don't think it's too controversial anymore to say that most of the greatest innovations come from multidisciplinary pursuits. You won't get this if you sit at home and code.

IDEO, the Stanford d.school, and much of the Silicon Valley community looks for T-Shaped people. A light working (horizontal) knowledge of many subjects, and a deep knowledge of one subject.

You will inevitably get your depth of knowledge in coding whether or not you go to college. But will you really learn how everything fits together?

Oh, and college is FUN, even if UW is a Pac-10 rival :)


I have friends who are very smart, decided to Fore-go college and opted for a career. They turned out weird.

Remember, College is not an all day, all night venture like High school is. You can book your schedule to go to class only 2-3 days a week and the rest of your days you can spend programming at a Startup or for yourself.

If you think college will be a waste of time, you should re-think how you are approaching it. Don't major in CS and just take classes that generally interest you. Get an edge on programmers in areas where they like such as finance, communications, english, etc. Become well rounded, it's a better way to live.

Lastly, college is an awesome place to meet girls. At the college i went to, there is some crazy stat that 70% of the students end up marrying someone that went to the school. It's a lot harder meeting girls in the real world. Let me rephrase that, meeting quality girls. The best of the crop get picked off in college. Seriously, it's true. Good luck Sam!


I would say that college is a good time to learn how to socialize. Sure, you won't learn anything in college that you couldn't teach yourself by reading a book, but you will get four years of practice interacting with others. People go from being kids to adults while they are in college, and the social opportunities are one of the reasons why. College is an environment where it is particularly easy to meet people.

Particularly if you're the hacker news type, your social skills are probably below average for someone of your age. If you don't go to college, you will likely suffer even more.

A lot of people I know who dropped out of college or graduated early have significantly poorer social skills than those who finished school.

If you are smart enough, you may be able to compensate for the lack of social skills. However, social skills are extremely important in the working world and while starting a company.


It's one of those red pill blue pill deals, and perhaps at the heart it drives at the current melt down of society (depending on your vantage point). If you go with what you believe you risk having others say things like "you just haven't applied yourself" to you, and they will forever remind you to go back to school and hold it against you when you don't. It's really a world view issue. Honestly, hacker news is not the best forum to ask about this. For the most part the answers here will be one sided.

One thing to consider is the debt you will accumulate. You also don't want those around you to be unhappy. Tough deal right? My hope for humanity and the human condition has actually diminished in recent years, despite a lingering optimism for well into the future. It's just been pushed a little further along, I suppose, by a generation or two.


Dropping out to work on my business felt so right at the time. I was studying politics and hated it. Now I'm living with students and watching them enjoy a care-free life for a few years whilst I stress about wages, sales and tax-returns. The grass, it seems, is always greener.


If you don't understand the value of it right now, don't go.

I didn't go for about 5 years after high school. Then one day I had a Eureka moment and totally got it. I signed up for school, and was straight A's until graduation. There's really nothing that says you have to go now.

When you get tired of working dead end jobs, or watching people get promoted faster than you, or make more money...even if you are materially, objectively better than they are...someday you'll get sick of it and decide to fix it. You can either go through the next 25 years pissed off as to why you can't seem to make it through that glass ceiling, or you'll "get it" and go back to school and get your sheep's skin and suddenly find yourself with an extra 20-30k in the bank every year to start with.


Hi sam191,

I'm currently still in college, so I guess I understand a little about your dilemma. However, I am not from the US (from Singapore), so my situation might be slightly different.

Since I'm currently in my final year, I appreciate my education a lot more than before. There are so many fundamentals that I wish I had spent more time on, that are coming back to haunt me now. (P.S. I'm in engineering=))

School gives you an opportunity to meet smart people that forms your future team. You'll be surprised how many projects get started in college. It's pretty difficult to meet people like that randomly. School gives you a chance to work with people so that you can find out what kind of team player you are, your own personal strengths and weaknesses.

Study what you really like and try to be damn good at it.

I'm just starting to learn programming, but I think most people would acknowledge that combining knowledge from other fields makes you better in the field that you choose to specialize in. You also get access to teachers who can guide you along the difficult parts when you get stuck. Find good teachers, and you might not find school a waste of time. =)

School provides resources that are relatively freely available for you to take advantage of. There are funding schemes, equipment, computers, a captive audience to test on, an alumni network, overseas opportunities..

It's really up to you how you manage your time during those 4 years. If you are as smart as I think you are, you would realise that school gives you a lot of assets that you can leverage on easily. If you have been always under-challenged, maybe you should try taking the advanced modules available.

School is not a direct path to a dull job at a large company. You still choose what you want to do at every stage of your education/life.

Unfortunately, to be a founder, you need multiple skillsets which you can only achieve either by being extremely multi-talented or by forming a team.

Lastly, you might end up not knowing what you don't know if you don't go to school formally.


I was like you few years ago. I finished high school with strait As, working full time on the side as a programmer and I decide to not continue in my education and take job as a programmer and then product manager and I thought that I know everything I need.

I am from very well educated familly and they always says that I should go to the uni, otherwise I will regret this in my 50s and you can always make money later. It takes me four years to discover that and I am in the half of the undergraduate CS program right now (in my mid-20s) and I am happy with it.

Maybe you need more time to see benefits of the college education, but be warned: comming back to the school "from-the-real-world" is very, very hard.


I really like patio11's comment, so I won't repeat any of that.

I have two reasons for you to be cool and stay in school:

1. If you want to be successful in the Hacker News sense of the word, which seems to mean hacking on something interesting and getting something for it in return, there are some things you really can't learn from just playing around with your little toy projects. Rather, you need to have feedback and guidance from someone more experienced, or just with a different perspective on your work. Preferably several someones. The masturbation analogy is a surprisingly good one in this respect, but I think I've pumped it for all it's worth. (ha ha! lemmas.)

Seriously though, you aren't going to learn the more serious maths or algorithms, nor will you learn how to really think about solving the sorts of problems you'll see, unless you go to school. I'll grant that it's possible to pick these things up while working, but getting a job where you can learn them will be hard, and the learning process in that environment is much slower. These concepts don't seem important when you're writing your newest blog in Fancy New Web Framework #628, but they will be important when you're working on programs that lots of people use to do something interesting, and if you don't have them, you'll likely fail to solve those problems, and whoever is paying you won't want to anymore.

2. The other big utility of a college education is the free time (as in beer) that lets you decide if you actually like what you think you want to do. If you spend 4 years working on a computer science degree, and can still stand it, it's probably a good choice for you. On the other hand, if you get a year and a half in, you can still decide that you hate it and want to switch to biology, and your school will likely be pretty flexible with you about changing your mind.

If you had gone out and tried to get a job right away --- either a decent programming job, or a job flipping burgers while you practice coding at night --- you aren't going to have that luxury. A programming job will let you know whether you like it quickly, but switching from that to a career that strictly requires an education is going to be tough, and an unrelated day job is never going to let you find out whether you like programming.

epilogue. If you just want to do the startup thing, go for it. Go to school, and while you're there, work on it as a side-project. You won't have to fight to get investment just so you can pay rent and eat while you're coding, instead, you get lodging, education, and free time for 4 years for at most a very low-interest loan.


College is the new high school. It's a requirement. Not having a college degree will be a crutch for the rest of your life. To level the playing field, its pretty much required to have a college degree.


Aye. And while most of our profession can succeed without one, the day is coming when you'll need one just to get past HR.



The point of school is to learn how to think in a certain way. If you study engineering then you learn to think as an engineer. Ideally you will learn to learn, but not everyone that finishes a degree is good at teaching their own self new ideas and thoughts. Take classes outside your major to see other methods of thinking and analysis.

I've been reading several of the 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' books which are interesting as they ask what type of worker do you want to be. Find a cheap used copy, it might provide food for thought.


School is a time where you'll have time. You'll have time to code, to explore, and most importantly for some, time to get just a little older. You'll be amazed how much you learn about yourself and your interests, and how much you'll develop yourself and your interests. You don't have to take classes that prepare you for Blub either – take art, math, science, philosophy, or whatever tickles your fancy. All of this will lend some relevancy to whatever self-motivated doings you wind up with down the road.


If you only learn one thing at college learn to write. If you can learn to distill complex concepts into straightforward language you will go places.

I've seen highly competent technical people struggle in their career due to a lack of good writing skills. Take technical writing classes and work your ass off in them. Take creative writing classes just to stretch your brain and force yourself to think differently. Approach writing like you might approach programming because it's just as important.


I agree. In fields other than computer programming like physics, school makes sense because there genuinely are years of knowledge you need to acquire before being useful. This isn't true in computer programming since you tap into those years of knowledge by--get this--programming with libraries. And using other peoples' software. Using someone else's web server means I don't need to know how TCP/IP works, or even what it stands for.


College can be wonderful, but only if you approach it with the right attitude. I went into college immediately after high school and attended for a year. I enjoyed the social aspects, but overall hated it and felt like I was getting nothing out of it. I was there because it was just what was expected of me and really, the thought of not going had never entered my mind.

I took a couple of years off and then found myself wanting to go back, because I wanted to learn and grow and do more, and when I returned to school, it was so much more fun and rewarding, and I learned a ton.

I wish more people could go into it with the attitude I had the second time around, because that's what made the experience great, but I think a lot of people head off to college right after high school because it's just what they assume they should do.

So if you are there because you want to learn and want to squeeze every last useful drop out of it that you can, then you will do well. However, if your head and your heart aren't into it, it will be a waste of time and money.

That said, a college degree is almost essential in landing any decent job these days, and the fact that you have finished one, even if it's not related to that job, does say a great deal about your character and ability to commit to something big and see it through.

My advice: You're just finishing 12-15 years of school. If you're not excited about college, give yourself a break. Take a semester or two to figure out what it is that interests you, to work at your job and save up some money, to just relax. But if you do that, give yourself a hard and firm deadline for going back to school and stick to it. Hopefully by the time that deadline rolls around, you'll have found something to be passionate about, or will have sufficiently rested from school/study enough that you will be able to view it as something other than a burden, because if you can go into it excited and ready to work, ready to learn, you'll get a lot more out of it. And if you're still not excited about it.... suck it up and do it anyway. You're going to need it.

Don't let your time off go for too long, though, because while taking a break can be rejuvenating and make going to college a lot more interesting and bearable, a very prolonged break from the habit of going to class and studying can also make it harder to go back. You have to find the balance there, and that's largely dependant on you.


My advice: Be sure UW is right for you. If it's not, get out, and quick (to another school). Since you don't seem to have any particular reason in mind to go to school, you probably have very little to judge a school by.... this is a problem. Figure out what you want out of school, reevaluate your school choice (hopefully to confirm your choice), and you might actually anticipate attending in the Fall.


University gives you two benefits:

1. Free time. You will never have as much time to hack and experiment with stuff as you do now.

2. Other people who also have lots of free time and similar interests.

Honestly, the people you meet in all night hacking sessions, bull sessions and such, are the biggest reason to stick with college.

My advice: regard the classes as ammunition for your real education that occurs usually in the wee morning over pizza and a keyboard.


"Everyone around me keeps saying how important school is, but right now I'm having trouble seeing that."

Most people are morons. 45% of Americans still believe that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. It's really as simple as that.

Now, if you're going to go into a field like finance, you really will want the prestige from a name-brand university. But programming people generally care much less about school prestige.


It may not be the most efficient method of learning for everyone, but you'll probably learn something there. For a lot of people it's the perfect environment. That being said, I think you should try it out and see if it works out for you. If you're absolutely miserable, consider your options if and only if that happens.


I'm currently a junior at UW, studying computer engineering. I don't know too many fellow HNers from school, but there's definitely plenty of opportunities here for a budding hacker. Feel free to email me if you ever want advice or info on the CSE department: meagher@cs.washington.edu


Think of it as a few years opportunity to teach yourself a bunch of new things. College campuses for various reasons and externalities are a great place to do this in.

However, you must apprentice yourself to learn the trade.



I agree that school can be tedious as all hell. But the UW CSE program didn't feel like school at all; it was a blast.


I feel like I'm being dragged through this tedious system which will later prepare me for work at a company coding Blub, it's driving me nuts.

To some extent, this is true and will continue to be true. But, as others have no doubt pointed out and will continue to point out, you'll learn more from school than just coding Blub (or lisp, or haskell, or whatever); you'll be learning how to learn, how to get along with others, how to live on your own, and so forth.

The big advantage you'll have at UW is that you'll be hanging around a lot of very smart people, especially in the CS department (I assume you're from Washington; I actually went to Newport HS in Bellevue). The connections you make, whether from demonstrating your skill or just from hanging out, will probably serve you for the rest of your life. If you impress your professors, you'll find research/internship opportunities you wouldn't elsewhere. And don't underestimate the larger social aspect: you'll never be around so many people in your own stage of life again. So go to the occasional party, hook up here and there, and learn how to be a person too, which is more important than you might imagine.

You should at least start college, although it'll be easy to get lost at UW. Still, this advice: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1183085 seems good to me; if this is you, don't go. But the weight should be on going; if you really hate it, you can quit. But try to find challenging classes while not underestimating the social potential. And don't get side-tracked by run-of-the-mill jobs; the only way you should drop out is for a game-changing startup opportunity.

You're probably reading variations on a lot of the advice above because it's pretty good advice. It won't apply to everyone, but it will apply to most—especially people as driven as you. A few more observations: read my post about why laptops in class are often a distraction: http://jseliger.com/2008/12/28/laptops-students-distraction-... and, as soon as you can, get a copy of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience : http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0061339202?ie=UTF8&tag=... as soon as you can. There's another thing you'll find in college: books that are essential but that you don't currently know to read because you don't have people around you who are sufficiently knowledgeable to recommend them.

Anyway, if you have other, specific questions for me, send an e-mail to the link at http://jseliger.com , which is my blog, especially if you by chance are going to Newport.


Unless you're planning to work on wall street, at google, or go to a top med/law/business school, there's no point in worrying about school or grades at all. It's a time to socialize with people and makes friends in a way you'll never get to again. You and everyone else are naive little adults unspoilt by the harsh realities of life. Even delaying college by two or more years will destroy that, you'll be a 'mature' student and it won't be the same. Go to college, party hard or just hang out, drop out in later years if you build a million dollar startup, otherwise scrape through to finish.


I have little doubt that one of the biggest advantages of going to college is that you get to do a whole number of radically different things. You can join (and administer) a half dozen clubs, take really hard and interesting classes, and meet people who you probably wouldn't otherwise meet. You can stay up all night studying and write long papers on strange things, and then step outside your door and play frisbee.

Above and beyond the particular funding, as far as I can tell, you never get those types of opportunities again either.

I hate to paint a bleak picture(1), but afterwards you may end up working 8 hours every day, doing approximately the same thing every day, with people who are 'colleagues' or 'work friends' (who don't want to get outside and play some frisbee), where there is little sense of community, interaction, challenge, or variety. (The majority of people do Blub all day, and not just programmers)

You'll be forced to submit to bizarre and draconian management practices where it is tacitly assumed that you are not an adult, and can not be trusted to act like one. You will have less autonomy than you ever did in college.

So yes, god yes, go to college. Don't put yourself in too much debt, but certainly go. But please, don't go to college because it is the right path. Go because it is an interesting path. If there is another more interesting path, take it.

1.) a lie, desolation is my middle name


Major in software engineering and build some cool stuff in the meantime, sharpening your skills. Then apply to YC during your jr/sr year.


Because of my college credits, I will be entering the University as a Jr. What I'm afraid of is that I will not have enough time to sharpen my skills in a year or two, which is why I've had graduate school in the back of my mind. And also why I feel like I should be coding as much as can now.


This gives you a couple of advantages over your peers. Take advantage of your extra credits to take a light course load; enough to qualify as a full-time student but with a bit more free time than others to work on pet projects or take advantage of all of the other great things that you will be surrounded with.


Not to freak you out or anything, but that may not work out as planned. I have a good friend who had an Associate's in CS from a community college, and got into the Cornell School of Engineering. He flunked out, applied to get back in, flunked out again, applied to get back in, and was rejected. He then got his B.A. in history from Ithaca College.

University of Washington is a good school, and tough. I'm not saying this is going to happen to you, but community college can be a very different place from a top 4 year university.

Also, will your transfer credits count towards your major, or as prerequisites? In many cases, they do not. You may find that despite having enough credits to be a junior, in order to satisfy the requirements of your major you may have to stay at least 3 years (i.e. having a set of 6 mandatory courses to take in which 5 have the previous semester's course as a prerequisite).


> And also why I feel like I should be coding as much as can now.

Yes. DO it. It's important. Code for fun, code for interest, code code code. Just remember that the main objective right now is to learn things and sharpen your skills, so don't get too hung up on external validation/objectives for your coding projects.

You can learn a lot of stuff at university, but the prescribed path isn't going to do it for you. You need to seek out the interesting people, interesting projects, and interesting opportunities to really learn stuff.


Go to graduate school in human-computer interaction or software engineering. Get an MS and then apply to a startup program.




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