Of that group, probably 50 played well enough to do a creditable "Eruption" solo, and there were half a dozen guys who could get on stage at an assembly and keep the entire school entertained for 10 minutes.
Lots of those guys, when asked what they planned to do after school would look you in the eye and tell you they were going to be a rock star. Lots of them tried, forgoing college to form bands and live the dream. At the time, there were so many stories of starving bands rising out of the LA club scene to land million dollar contracts that it seemed like all you had to do was show up. It was a lot like reading the tech press today about the Bay Area.
Anybody care to guess how many of the guys from my school actually became rock stars?
So here we are, 20 years later, seeing exactly the same pattern. We hear about the Twitters of the world, getting zillions of dollars for some trivial idea, and figure we can do that too. And just like the kid from my youth with the Judas Priest t-shirt, we ignore the overwhelming amount of evidence we see every day that there's pretty much zero chance of that happening.
Here's an idea for a reality check. Do a quick search for "Ask HN: Rate my startup" here. Count(*), then Count(millionaires). That's what you're up against.
If I were in school, I'd stick it out just to hedge my bet.
Okay, so I put off financial security for a few years, but I have a lot of great memories and the satisfaction of knowing I had the balls to try. No regrets.
From the condescending tone of your post, it seems you think you're better than all those guys who pursued their dream. You're wrong and I salute each and every one of them. What fun is life if you don't take chances?
I dropped out of high-school to work at a web company programming in perl. I was ensconced with the idea of doing something I usually tinkered with at three in the morning while trying not to wake up my mother AND making a butt-load of cash doing it (at least for a teenager).
The crash came about a year later and I had to go back to finish school so I could get into college. That was a little embarrassing, but I got through it...
... and did it again. Fast-tracked a year of audio engineering and thought I could start up a label and produce records. Started my own business this time.
I wouldn't get back into programming for a few years, but I say it was worth it.
Now I love programming, but who knows? In a few years I might want to be building hot-rods or running an expat cafe in some foreign country.
You only get to live once.
UPDATE: edited for spelling/grammar/clarity
Good busineses require a lot of knowledge about engineering and world in general. Everyone here recommending dropping out of college is clearly delusional. What the fuck a freshman knows, even if a student is computer genius, college is essential to learn about how world works. To all the folks who are commenting like stupid about how they learnt nothing from college, I suggest them to find few people who couldn't go to college and talk to them.
And Oh btw Steve Jobs dropped out because he didnt have money and Zukerberg studied at Exter and Harvard, similar with Bill Gates. When they both dropped out, they had good connections as well as parents capable of bank rolling them.
If you are a an 18 year of HTML CSS RUBY PHP educated kid, please dont listen to this crap. Go to a good school and get a degree in engineering and minor in business or economics.
A teacher at my school was in signed band in the early 90s, released a couple of albums, travelled the world though ultimately their second album flopped. He still had time to train as a teacher before hitting 30. He got a lot of respect from the kids in class as a result of being in that band.
The former U.K. prime minister was in a band in his youth which failed, doesn't seem like he did too badly afterwards. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugly_Rumours_(band)
Even if you fail at a startup, you have learned a wide array of skills in the process. You have gotten hands-on experience with a variety of technologies. You have learned, through experience, some lessons on making products for a customer. You've learned something about business, and finance, and investing.
If you fail at being a rock star, well, you have some skills at playing the guitar, and can go on to being a mediocre guitar teacher or work in a wedding band. If you fail at a startup, everything you've learned can be applied towards more stable jobs in the tech industry.
Now, I wouldn't advocate dropping out of school necessarily. But taking a year or two off to try your hand at a startup, and then go back if it doesn't take off? That doesn't seem too unreasonable; there are people who decide to take a year or two off before college to make some money and get some working experience.
If you work really hard, you will perhaps fail to a lesser degree than everybody else.
But the only way to win is to play your own game.
If you play reasonably well in a game where modest success is typical, you will likely get modest success.
Most people who play absolutely their own game lose too.
Most big successes play a game where winning is typical and play it better than average.
There's a "sweet spot" of self-expression and following the crowd but it's still fairly close to the crowd.
More seriously: nothing wrong with taking a swing.
The main problem is not the people who take risks to begin with. It's the ones who don't know when to quit and carry on a failed plan to the point of turning their lives into a parody - the difference between a couple years off and a decade spent mucking around getting nowhere.
The current problem isn't that people drop-out with the hope of becoming Mark Zuckerberg. The problem is that currently school offers rather very little for an extremely high price.
I know someone who dropped out of a psychology PhD program with $100K debt. Perhaps she should have dropped out sooner.
Don't get me wrong, you're making a good argument for staying in college. However, I think it's hardly a prima facie case for staying in school.
If you are in it to be a billionaire then you're looking at it in the wrong way. It's a testament to the quixotic nature of life that you never, ever get what you're looking for.
I am in it to learn and grow as a human being, while trying to figure out what it means to be me on this ball of rock and liquid metal. I don't care if my start up makes a million dollars or a billion or a ridiculous trillion. I will work towards that goal, but my first priority is creating something beautiful and keep showing up everyday no matter what.
So, where does an education come in over here? Are colleges the only way I can learn in my life? Except for a few fields where direct intervention from a teacher is required I can learn a lot of things on my own. Whenever I face any problems whatsoever there is something called the internet to collaborate on.
Then again the question arises, why do people still fail? We're back to my initial point; drive. You can be an autodidact only if you are driven enough and there is a voice inside of you that tells you that you need to learn. Some people need flogging and "discipline" to do the same thing. They need to go to an institution to internalize things and get things done under a Damocles sword (exams).
Most people are like that. Some aren't and this is the difference between them zuckerburgs and me.
I'm not a fan of truisms such as "the quixotic nature of life that you never, ever get what you're looking for" and whatever it is called when you claim 1 factor of many is the culprit such as "lack of drive is the reason people fail" and "this is the difference between zuckerburgs and me".
Truisms are nearly always incorrect. I am looking for my keyboard. Well, it's right beneath my fingers. That should seem to disprove your theory of innate life quixoticness. I'm not meaning to be facetious. That's just how reasoning works. It's very likely that you perceive life to be this way because you don't give credit to the times where you do get what you're looking for, and, conversely, you may attribute too much to the times where you don't get what you really, really want (despite seeking it very thoroughly).
In terms of why people fail, and the difference between zuckerburgs and you, there are many, many different reasons. While you might have meant to say "the main reason" or "the main difference", it is my perspective that issues as complex as "what makes people different from one another" and "why do some people succeed, and some people fail" are pretty much unsolvable. There are just so many factors in each person's life, and the world in general, that it seems incredibly unlikely that one or two factors are behind any given characteristics of our life and world. This is also why I lend very low credibility to anything I read that says: "Want some big thing X, then do some simple thing Y" and other such link-bait articles. It is in their brevity they appealing, easy to believe, and probably wrong.
That being said, of course these types of life-experience and drama-driven topics are fun to indulge in, from time to time, but it takes a lot more than a few paragraphs and minutes of thought for me to take away anything other than: "Interesting..."
In specific response to "drive" being the main factor behind success, it's probably true that it is very important. There is also luck (a massive topic that encompasses anything from having your competitors succeed/fail [which recursively accounts for more luck], to whether or not you overhear a specific person say something when you're in a certain frame of mind [aka: Inception]), who you know, where you are, etc. Kyro was pointing out these attributes and their relation to the article, which I thought was insightful. And I definitely do not think he is mistaken in doing so.
You're right about truisms, but in this case making a billion dollar is something so vague and unsubstantiated that there isn't any fixed path to it. Whereas smaller short term objects and goals can be grasped and put into perspective. How can you do that with something as fluid as the path your life will take? It's certain that in the random chaos your plans will never work.
So, what happens when you set out to become a billionaire, or a millionaire with single minded intensity? You lose your ability to adapt and invest in the seeds that grow into something truly meaningful be it people, knowledge, observations, research, projects. So in essence by having that rigid goal in mind you're setting yourself up for failure.
Yes, I agree that people are complex beings and you can never factor them in, but what I have observed is that almost anyone who became anything in their lives at any level had a comparable amount of resilience. Whenever you do anything at all you will fail again and again and again. It will be as if the only thing you can do right is getting things wrong, but it takes persistence to move beyond that and that persistence is a combination of the amount of resilience a person has and what drives them.
As far as luck goes the interesting thing about it is that you have to be the one to walk through that door. Chance in itself can only go so far someone has to see the significance and exploit it, but that again is a function of the state of that person. Hence, you have a recursion. The luckiest people tend to be the ones who go the farthest.
On the other hand, my comment really might be a bunch of sour grapes. I can't go to college any time soon and I admit that I would love to be in the type of environment MIT offers. So, I have soul searched a lot and tried to see if I could convert this into something far more beautiful.
The only thing my life has taught me is that failure should be celebrated more than success.
Some other fields do certainly benefit from the resources a university provide though. With many engineering and science subjects, lab work is pretty key to understanding, and you're not going to have to resources to do that on your own general. Computer science is an exception here, since computers are pretty readily available.
However, with the rise of grade inflation and the general dumbing down of university curricula, for a lot of subjects your average school just doesn't confer much actual value.
1. how to learn
2. organized methods of thinking about problems
3. how to separate truth from crap
4. how to break down large problems into solvable small ones
I'm not sure how these can be learned effectively through self study.
Perhaps you should break down that problem into solvable small ones? Then you could determine how I was able to teach myself each of those with only a high school education.
This is something I've heard a lot. I don't mean to disparage your accomplishments, but how exactly do you know what you're missing with a college/grad school education? It's fallacious to think that a college education will instantly make you smarter, but it's also fallacious to think that a college education is worthless.
Additionally, when I work with others, even though they have college degrees, I can often see the disorganized thinking and lack of problem solving skills.
I see this a lot in the programming world, for example. Many programmers, when confronted a bug, flail about essentially at random hoping to get lucky and fix it. If you show them how to approach finding the problem in an organized manner, it's like you're speaking a foreign language to them (or at least I'm a very bad teacher, which is entirely possible).
For another example, I once had the job of figuring out the force involved when a screw drive ran full tilt into its stops. I worked out the math, etc., coming up with a formula for the force, plugged the numbers in, and got the answer. My colleague nearby (with a 4 year engineering degree as well) asked me in amazement "what book did you get that formula from?"
If you're an EE, and you carry around a card that has printed on it V=IR, R=V/I, I=V/R then you do not know how to solve problems - you learned how to formula plug.
Some people can learn all this stuff from self-study. The risk with self-study, however, is that you may not be aware of where the gaps in your skills are, especially if they are difficult to quantify like "organized thinking" or "problem solving skills" or "ability to separate truth from crap".
My experience of a CS degree was being drowned in information but not anything nearly as useful as that which you've noted.
Separating truth from crap is essentially what the scientific method is all about. If there is data that doesn't fit the theory, no matter how small, the theory is wrong and needs to be revised. A theory may explain existing facts, but it is useless unless it can make predictions that can then be tested. Stuff like that.
It is true that you can pass the bar without going to school. In fact law school does not prepare you for the bar exam. Most people take a supplemental course after law school just to prep for the exam. I am pretty sure that a reasonably bright person could just do the prep and pass the exam. But the exam itself is sort of a joke in that the material you are tested on is pretty orthogonal to what you'd need to know to be a good lawyer.
As far as the bar exam being a joke, if that's true, that's broken. If the more important thing is going to law school for 3 years, then why put so much emphasis on the bar exam t all? There are people who graduate to law school but never pass the exam, or the ones who try and try again and pass it on their 4th or 5th try, if they went to school why isn't that meaningful? Either the schooling isn't all that it's cracked up to be or the metric doesn't measure the right things, but either way there's an impedance mismatch which means the system is broken.
I went to engineering school as an undergraduate. In my opinion, the biggest value of a traditional engineering education is that you learn how to solve problems. This works very well in the software industry where X is supposed to do Y but does Z.
First year: Traditional coresciences. Physics, Chemistry. Very structured problem sets (well defined problems, well defined answers)
Second year: Core engineering classes. Statics, Dynamics, Materials. More specialized problem sets, less definition.
Third year: The hardest year. Labs, beginning of long-term group projects. Problems are now more general. Doing a homework problem now is much more difficult because if you get off track early - you don't get the textbook correct answer. Lots of engineering labs where you have to collect a lot of raw data and use a cookbook of formulas to write the analysis.
Routine now on tests to not solve many problems in time allotted. It's really a test of your problem solving process now. The point is you could probably solve all of the problems given enough time but in the real world you have time constraints so the faculty is helping you adjust your analytical skills to be quicker.
Fourth year: This is the year where you work on a Capstone project. Very big problem with some constraints. All the design is up to you. It's your problem to solve.
There is a gigantic difference between medical school and University of Phoenix.
At some point, you have to start deviating from that path if you want a better-than-expected outcome, unless you happen to be really good at following whatever path has been set for you by others. Zuck and Gates started early; many people never do.
In Japan, which has the best life expectancy of any nation, doctors are trained for three years after high school. That's it.
I believe a case can be made that the entire pre-medical curriculum is a scam, one that wastes years of life from some of our most promising young people and rakes in billions of education expenses that drive up the cost of health care.
For example, no amount of medical care can overcome the US obesity problem.
More constructively, saying that medical care cannot help with obesity is unnecessarily restricting the definition of medical care. Further, obesity is a factor in life expectancy, so measuring life expectancy is a reasonable proxy for measuring obesity, and to some extent, vice versa.
Other life expectancy lowering factors that have little to do with the quality of medical care include murders. For example wikipedia states and [Japan] experienced 1.1 murder per 100,000 population, compared with 3.9 for West Germany, 1.03 for England and Wales, and 8.7 for the United States that same year.
It's true that you can apply to medical school straight out of high school in Japan, but that's also true for many (most?) other countries.
I released my iPhone app this Summer (SeizeTheDay, http://seizethedayapp.com). I'm in school at Ohio State for my senior year. We got featured on the App Store, and received app of the week from Time and CNET. This has put us around 100k downloads in the first couple of months. While in SF this Summer, I received a lot of advice to drop out and blow it up. I disagree significantly. College is fun, and the idea is that it's something I can do on the side while I'm in school.
I'm currently making somewhere between beer money and a salary from iAds (will probably post some data on this at some point when we have more data available). I figure if I can grow revenue to about 4x what we're currently doing, I can afford to dive in full time. This gives me 9 months of school to keep working on the side, and see if it's realistic when I graduate.
We put about $800 of investment into it, and our only recurring cost is Apple's dev license ($100/year). While not every startup can operate this way, I feel this is the way to do it. Our model lends itself pretty well to tackling a small problem and growing slowly.
Anywhere else, your family, your friends, your colleagues, they will not take you seriously until you finish your degree.
The stigma will only die when every single college dropout has found success. So.. let's not egg people on to quit school because social pressures aren't there anymore, that's not true.
Secondly, I don't thinking you have to quit completely. I am a HUGE supporter of taking a year or two off after high-school to explore the world, read books, grow up and develop a character before pursuing post-secondary education.
This is what I did and I can tell you every word that came out of my professors mouth made sense to me, and if it didn't I would challenge him and raise my voice. I understood the subjects better. I felt compelled to challenge myself and take on TA roles. If I had gone to university straight out of high-school, I don't think I would have benefited the same way.
This expectation that you have to choose a college in your senior year, getting accepted, doing four years and moving on to a job has made student numb. not dumb, but numb to the fact that they're merely a tiny spec in an automated process. No one really grasps the subject as long as they memorize enough to pass the course, and eventually get handed a piece of paper which they can get a job with.
Break out of this cycle and start learning. You will then see education as a tool that will broaden your horizon and open a lot more opportunities.
Large companies and universities might have to make special arrangements for you to be on the right "career track", but that's about it (and they will do that, I have personal experience with a University inventing a new position for me).
College is just not as good a deal as it used to be. More and more of the stuff you'd need to know is available for free; more of the people you need to know are one email away. For students who aren't attending elite schools, college is probably not a good deal (adjusted for inflation, the wage premium for college students peaked in 1985; it's been dropping in real terms since then, even though tuition is rising faster than inflation).
100 years ago, an ambitious young person might have had two choices: stay on the farm and be the best farmer he can be, or move to the big, strange city, and try to do something extraordinary. In the future, I suspect that most people will view higher ed as equivalent to staying on the farm. You can do it, sure, and it will probably lead to a safer future for you. But if you think you're really extraordinary, or you'd like to find out, you have to get out and do something.
However if you are one of the people who has the courage to follow your dreams, then you shouldn't care what the stern majority thinks. Society will never nurture unique personalities, if you want to do something great in life you need to look beyond your family (and local community, especially if you live in a small town) to find your own mentors and your own way.
(I'm in the UK, so maybe it's different, but there's certainly no stigma here).
While in college, start a startup!
It's the optimal time of your life where taking such a risk is really no risk at all. If your idea takes-off, great, figure out what to do then. For everyone else, finish your degree and try again soon (you'll be that much more experienced).
They're both wrong! First of all this aim high stuff is nonsense. Facebook did not start with the goal of toppling MySpace. Microsoft did not start with the goal of running on 95% of machines. Twitter did not start with the thought of becoming a billion dollar company. These companies get their through consistent cycles of ambition and execution. There's nothing particular about a "lifestyle" business other than that the ambition has waned. There's literally no business that exists that can not have ambitions and grow into a major corporation through a series of growth cycles. Likewise, there's no business plan for a billion dollar company that someone can draw up from day 1 and have it survive the market on its way to that size.
As for education, that's the qualification for knowing how to run a business? There's nothing about growing a business from nothing to 9 figures that a few years in the trenches of silicon valley won't teach you better than education. Sure higher ed can teach you a lot, and you can make a lot of connections, but there's nothing special about it, and in fact it doesn't really have the same culture that makes successful startups possible. My advice to anybody in college with a project as successful as Facebook was at the time Zuckerberg dropped out is, "yes, you should drop out too. You won't be the next Zuckerberg (that ship has sailed), but you'll likely meet with some success in the valley, and certainly you'll learn more about running a real business than you were going to finishing out school."
As Basho once wrote, "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought."
That said, can't agree with you on the statement that a lifestyle business is a business where the ambition has waned. Lots of people with "lifestyle" businesses are getting exactly what they wanted. Getting what you want is getting what you want, regardless of whether somebody on the outside deems your ambitions "good enough."
HNers seem to treat "lifestyle business" like a slur, while lionizing people with unlikely lifestyle businesses (hi patio11). I'd like to see that cognitive dissonance resolved.
However ambition is ambition, let's not redefine the word as a means of affirmative action. I never made a value judgement that every business should have endless ambition, or that getting what you want from a business and being satisfied is bad; I merely stated that the moniker "lifestyle business" is defined more by the ambitions of those running the company than any inherent quality of the business.
By your (faulty) definition... for you to want to own a world-class airline is ambitious. But for Richard Branson, it's a deal brokered over lunch. See the problem?
Yet I agree with you, and somehow feel I'm making an improper comparison here. Why?
At some points I could not distinguish what were my priorities and you need a strong support system around you to keep you a float, mentally.
It's an exhausting and distracting proposition, so don't take it lightly or do. Whichever works best.
It's a physical, emotional, and psychological whirlwind to put it lightly. I definitely do not suggest anyone attempt what I'm doing, but if you can more power to you. If possible, I'd have never gotten a job. I don't make a lot of money, but it's hard to give it up. I think what's most important about starting a startup in school is that you probably do not make a lot of money and you're less likely to compromise where most would because of finances.
On the other hand, dropping out of school, or even quitting your day job, do not guarantee success.
While at Harvard, Gates developed a version of the programming language BASIC for the first microcomputer - the MITS Altair.
In his junior year, Gates left Harvard to devote his energies to Microsoft, a company he had begun in 1975 with his childhood friend Paul Allen.
a) Cost - In today's economic climate, I simply cannot justify an education that, on avg, costs over $100K. Especially when student loans are involved.
b) Time - 4 yrs is an unnecessarily long amount of time for a bachelors degree, not to mention another 1-2 yrs for a masters. The opportunity cost of this time only compounds the first problem.
Edit: Sorry, I should have been more clear. In terms of cost, I meant that there's an institutional problem within the American education system that allows for such skyhigh tuition rates.
The same reasoning applies to time. Sure, students can ramp up their classes and finish a 4 yr degree in 3 yrs, but why should they have to? Why not make it 2-3 yrs to begin with? This can easily be done by making non-relevant classes optional instead of core for a given major (for example, I had to take a course in art as part of my biology major).
But the time thing kind of bugs me. As driven as HN is this may be a minority position but I really don't believe you should be working (in a 9-5 career style job) between 18-24. I really don't care so much abou t college, but have fun, go out, date guys and girls, travel, there are so many things you should be doing at that age then starting a business and you'll end up better for it.
I didn't start my career until my late 20s and I don't regret that at all.
Do those studies on lifetime earnings really isolate for other factors?
If dropping out of the college track isn't considered a valid, supported choice, then the only people that drop out will be those that have fallen out of the system. Is it a surprise that the majority of those students then fail?
But the time thing kind of bugs me. As driven as HN is this may be a minority position but I really don't believe you should be working (in a 9-5 career style job) between 18-24. I really don't care so much abou t college, but have fun, go out, date guys and girls, travel, there are so many things you should be doing at that age then starting a business and you'll end up better for it.
I got the "having fun" and dating out of the way between 16-18 (I dropped out of high school and moved out at 16). Everyone needs time to figure things out and grow up, and there shouldn't be a rush to start a business, but avoiding significant responsibility until you're 24 is unnecessary, carries a heavy opportunity cost, and is a waste of some of your most productive and formative years.
It's great that this worked out for you, but I have to say -- starting work in my field at 16 meant I had 10 years of experience when I was 26, and that expansive lead time on my contemporaries has been invaluable and allowed me to bring a breadth and depth of knowledge to my work that most people simply don't have, has ensured that I remain well ahead of the curve, and has provided me with a considerable backstop of experience to draw on when running my own business.
Given that I still love my life's work -- and that I have a few good working decades still ahead of me -- if I were given the choice, I wouldn't trade in those initial years for any other opportunity.
Now, consulting 5-10 hours a week (or a few months a year) while enjoying yourself and traveling could be appealing.
I definitely made more money waiting tables 25 hours a week then my first two 40hr positions salaried.
But hey consulting would be a good way to go too.
3 years at NC State would cost you about $50k. Save up beforehand, work during school - it's doable. Hard, but doable.
Looking at Oakland (Michigan), where I went, it's now about $10k/year - 3 years accelerated would be under $40k FWICT.
Yes, that's not peanuts, but it's not the end of the world. Scholarships/grants/working during school - it's all doable.
I'm still shocked to find people getting in to 6 figure debt for college degrees. I just don't see the payback in most cases, and likely neither will those students. :/
Additionally I would say that the balance of course work (requiring an artist to take biology and a biologist to take art) is the most important part of an undergrad degree. In my experience well-roundedness is extremely important in real-world problem solving. It's not entirely surprising that the guy who discovered the quark also spent time reading Finnegan's Wake.
My local state university offers a decent education for <$40k. If you knock out the first 2 years at a local community college (because as an engineer does it really matter where I get my Western Civ course credits?) you can shave another $12k off for a grand total of $32k.
Hell, you can an A.S., a B.S. an M.S. and a PhD for less than $100k and have plenty of drinking money left over.
$100k for an education...ridiculous.
If you want to major in History (and enjoy the really bad pay-scale that comes with that), you'll probably get the best education at a liberal arts school, but the cost-benefit analysis is even worse.
I don't think there are any good engineering colleges or universities that are not also liberal arts schools, and many good liberal arts schools offer engineering.
But, there are exceptions.
I recently went through the Forbes billionaire list and picked out everyone that made their fortune through technology. I found that about ~35% had no Bachelor's degrees and ~55% had no Master's degrees. Then I looked at the top 7 on the list and saw that more than 50% did not have Bachelor's degrees. It is also interesting to note that billionaire college dropouts are worth $9bn on average, compared to billionaires with Ph.D.'s, worth an average of $3bn.
Most college dropouts don't become billionaires. But, an overwhelming number of tech billionaires are college dropouts. Interesting...
Why is there such a high percentage of tech billionaires that are college dropouts? My theory is that there are people that are born entrepreneurs and will become billionaires whichever path they take in life. Most of these people are very smart, and, as a result, end up going to Ivy Leagues. But, a time comes (usually around age 19 or sophomore year in college), when something just wakes up in them and they decide to drop out and take the plunge. These are the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
Dropping out of college does not increase your chances of success. If you look at statistics, it decreases your chances. It's just that the born entrepreneurs "wake up" right around age 19-20 (which happens to be right in the middle of college), and end up dropping out. Only if you are in this tiny group of born entrepreneurs would it make sense for you to drop out of college.
I can see why it's so appealing for a University student to want to drop out solely because of the cost. We all have to admit that University can't possibly cover all bases and teach one how to build a business and product. We also have to admit that University provides some very valuable connections, knowledge and perspectives for those who are there.
Hence, to me, it's a question of relative value.
That aside, it then again depends on the type of career path you want to take down the road. If you're in the software world, I guess you can say that building a software product is something that you can do without University. Or put slightly different, University won't make you a better programmer.
Merit in our world is won by building the better hack. However, I've got friends in accounting and finance who have leveraged the crap out of the exposure opportunities at University. I'm sure many of them will land high-paying jobs in the future.
Bottom line is to know your system and thrive.
I sorta dislike the way Vivek tries to push statistics of startup founders as a justification for a college education. Statistics show the current state of affairs, but they don't necessarily link to the point that he is trying to make.
Basically, what he says is that one should learn the ropes by working for some large companies, or even at a startup. The assumption there is that you need a degree to work at a company to gain experience, which again, varies by field (accountants better have a degree, coders at a startup, maybe not).
That said, I agree with his evaluations on the merits of a college education. It would also be stupid to admit that a college degree doesn't confer a certain level of credibility; I'm sure that those with a degree will find it easier to get their foot in the door at large companies.
After all of that, the questions I still think needs to be answered first and foremost is: What does it cost? Am I ready to bear that cost?
I say you should drop out for a sufficiently interesting project. Even if it doesn't work out, by the time you're done you'll have enough experience to be far ahead of your peers.
Personally, I dropped out of a top-tier school to found a startup (we closed our Series A ~3 weeks after I decided not to sign up for classes. Scariest 3 weeks of my life ;-)). After I left the startup, I was worried about my options w/o a degree - but it's really not a problem.
Within 2 weeks of leaving I had 6-figure offers in NYC, Chicago, and SF. I'm now 24 yrs old, making ~$200K/year, doing work I really enjoy, and still no degree.
The important thing is to prove you can do stuff. And the best proof of that is actually having done stuff.
I am 20. I dropped out a semester before I was to transfer to Georgia Tech. I dropped out because I know the surest path to greatness is autodidacticism. It's the way da Vinci, Lincoln, Einstein, and Jobs/Wozniack did it. Being a bit more rebellious and more curious than most, it's the only method of learning that I have ever excelled with anyways. I taught myself to read and write at 3 watching Disney movies with captions. I have been reading a book a week since 5th grade. My dad got me into web design and development while I was in middle school. By the end of high school, I was already feeling jaded with our Industrial Age school system and decided to learn of the Cosmos by direct experience...
HOW I GOT A WORLD CLASS EDUCATION FOR FREE:
1. ) I worked for my older brother's bootstrapped startup (Myriann.com). I watched him build websites from scratch, close big deals while still in college, and manage a team of designers and developers from all over the world. He is profitable and on pace to retire within a few years (if he wanted).
2.) I took advantage of iTunes U, TED, my public library, and free lectures from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard. I read world classics, epic biographies, and all branches of science. I discovered myself by going deeper into all subjects to the root of where each came from and why each exists. I now have a deep passion to be an artist and a scientist for the rest of my life. I will remain a student the rest of my life and apply everything I learn to my work...
3.) MY WORK: I am building a startup by trial and error. I have attempted to launch a startup 7 times since I was 15. All of them have had little success or went up in flames. I learned from each attempt and kept asking, thinking, and creating. I am now on attempt #8 and will try to enter YC this fall. I have never applied before.
DON'T LET YOUR VOICE BE DROWNED BY DOGMA!!!!!!
In those same 5 years, if you're willing to struggle, take on a little debt, apply yourself to learning whatever it is you were going to be learning in school, you'd likely come out ahead.
Maybe I underestimate the opportunities that are opened to you when you get your bachelors. Obviously, the connections you get from an Ivy league school are priceless. The work ethic you learn from very motivated individuals is also priceless.
But the reality is the vast majority of people going to school aren't going to a top tier school. They aren't going to bust their ass, they are going to get into debt, and they aren't going to come out of it a super solid prospect.
If I wanted to hear that, I'd just ask my parents.
It certainly hasn't stopped me pursuing the startup life and over the last three years I've worked on a bunch of startup projects with varying degrees of success.
Being a university student meant that I could open doors not normally open to me, getting access to mentors and market data that I wouldn't have if I was out in the open. It also meant that while I was switching between startups I could get away without being seen as flaky as I was still "just" a university student.
I'm now in a profitable startup that is growing incredibly fast but still studying, hoping to graduate in the middle of next year. People around me have said "why finish? surely you've proved you don't need university by now?" but from where I'm standing I have to finish.
I used to say "if I get to x revenue or if y deal happens then I'll drop out". But having hit a couple of those milestones I'm still there - I need to prove to myself that I can finish this.
So if this is the problem, the goal here should be to prevent folks from getting discouraged and doing things they'd rather not do, right? To keep on learning no matter what place they live in, right?
Or is the goal to self-validate the importance of colleges?
Yes, you are probably not Mark Zuckerberg, but that's okay. Mark Zuckerberg wasn't Mark Zuckerberg either until FB took off. As long as you work hard and keep learning you'll do as well as anybody else, college or not. In fact, it's better to work hard and keep learning than it is to get pieces of paper to hang on your wall. Many times you can get so enamored with the little bits of paper you forget the "work hard and keep learning" part.
Many colleges, especially small ones, have absolutely nothing in these subjects. As for the ones that do, many successful founders and MBA holders tell me to be suspicious of said programs' ability to prepare one for actual entrepreneurship (as opposed to writing academic papers about entrepreneurship).
I personally did finish college (this year), majoring in physics with minors in math and computer science. I attended a small liberal arts college with no practical business classes, of which I took 3 by hacking around the system. The physics major taught me how to get projects done, work efficiently and endure recurring high-stress situations. The math minor taught me that I suffocate in a room with too many mathematicians. The CS minor was really a collection of "X cool research area has Y," which is occasionally relevant. I definitely learned in a college, though I've yet to reach a conclusion on whether it was "worthwhile." I wish I'd taken more theatre and had more fun.
I'm much more weary of grad school. As far as I can tell, college is more about exploring and learning general life lessons, while grad school buys you specialization. Specialization has power; most tech companies recognize this and hire PhDs as soon as they can afford to. But I currently have every reason to think that great founders are better off as generalists. Specialists get pulled in to support specific areas. Furthermore, while I admire those who were born to do one thing and do it well, I'm not one of them. I have very little idea what I would study. I certainly don't intend to spend my life researching a narrow subfield of physics. Unlike in college, I couldn't spend the 1st 2 years of a PhD or masters program field hopping. Occasionally someone tempts me with an interdisciplinary program; maybe I'll try one of these someday. Part of the draw of entrepreneurship is how multifaceted it appears.
I have every reason to believe that for recent college grads dreaming of startups, the best way to get experience is by trying it. That's exactly what I'm doing at the moment. I also tried to form a startup in college. That didn't go too well. Now I'm starting up full time.
People probably do it through a combination of "I don't want to be partially responsible for screwing with a kid's life" and "if they get discouraged from starting a startup, they weren't meant to anyway".
That said, it's kind of silly that your insightful (and true) comment is being set upon by those types of people.
Vivek talks about gathering experience before you start/join a startup (I think he mostly talks about starting a startup, rather than working for one), while Philip talks about why you should work for a startup right after your undergrad.
1. Finish your undergraduate, because in most societieis there's a big stigma associated with not having a college degree.
2. While doing that, assess yourself. If you think you've got the entrepreneurial balls, don't get a degree. It's a sure way to (slightly) higher salary but wastes time at a crucial stage in your life, i.e. the pre-wife, pre-kids time.
3. Problem is, you can assess yourself theoretically only up to a certain point. You've got to try. So, set a time limit, e.g. 1 year, start a company and give it a shot. Then, go back to (2) and reassess. Steps (2)-(3) may be repeated a couple of times till you converge.
I traveled the path of least resistance since (i) there was no one around to give me the above advice and (ii) I was in a another country where doing a start-up was rare at an early (or late) stage.
- I do. So would @petecashmore.
The more educated you are, the less practical your startup ideas.
Anyhow, life is more than just catering to user "wants". Yes, college is mostly seen as a gateway to a profession, but you can get much more than job skills out of the experience.