I think I have a simpler test: Do you have a customer?
Of all the things that you need to do to start a successful business, I think that getting someone to pay you for your work is the hardest. Deceptively hard.
I've seen it all too often: Good technical skills. Check. Good design skills. Check. Work well together. Check. Building cool stuff. Check. Have passion and in the groove. Check. Sell something. Oh shit.
Let's not overlook the single biggest common thread to all those successful startups founded by college dropouts: they already had huge demand, often accompanied by people with checkbooks.
Don't forget the story of Bill Gates' parents telling him that if he dropped out of Harvard, he was on his own. By this point Micro-soft already had several $100K CDs in the bank and he said, "I don't think that'll be a problem."
That would be about the only way I would want to do it.
It didn't hurt that his mother was on The United Way's National Executive Committee along with then IBM Chairman John Opel.
I'm from Chicago, "the city that works," and that IS how it works.
"In 1980, she discussed with then-IBM Corp. Chairman John Opel, who was also on the United Way committee, the business IBM was doing with Microsoft. Opel, some accounts say, knew little about the venture, but mentioned Mary Gates to IBM executives who introduced Microsoft at a meeting of IBM's top-level management committee a few weeks later. IBM contracted with Microsoft, then a small firm specializing in computer languages, to create an operating system for its first personal computer."
Hopefully, a person's optimism and lack of experience still allows them to distinguish between actual customers and possible customers [Hint: until money changes hands a person is not a customer].
One thing which struck me after reading the article was the difference between today's typical customers and those of Jacques' younger days.
Although today's base of potential customers is much bigger due to the expansion of computing devices into the consumer market segments, their expectations about software costs approach $0.00.
Conversely, back in the day, the smaller market expected to pay real commercial money for software - i.e. one typical customer could sustain a person for a year whereas today one customer won't even get you fries off the $0.99 menu after the app store takes their cut.
Getting an MVP build and finding those first critical customers (if they even exist) should be perfectly feasible while still going to class.
I found it much easier to launch side projects once I got out of school, because I could leave my work at work and didn't really care about it anyway. I don't think I reached a level of distractedness equal to my college career until I made senior engineer (and hence have everyone asking me for advice) and started dating, 5 years later.
Passing college is cake. It requires very few hours of time compared to a real job-- it's a GREAT time to spin up a side business to see if you can generate/find demand for what you have. It's also a great time to experiment with co-founders.
That said, necessity is the motherhood of invention and failure isn't going to sting THAT much. It's not terribly challenging to un-drop-out of college is it?
Finally, I suppose if someone is racking up debt and getting an art history or philosophy degree, you should advise them to drop out immediately whether they have a business idea or not. The common thread I see here ( http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/ ) is student loan debt.
School CAN be a really free time. You live in a tiny room, Have access to a cafeteria, have a 0-5min commute to work, and are surrounded by an army of peers who are segmented by interest (field of study). As evidenced by the number of startups that started in college dorm rooms, it's a great place to start a company.
Funnily enough, the time that I have to experiment with side project is during the summer months when I have a full-time job.
Agree. That's why I think people aiming to make money from software should look more to advertising income. Much easier IMHO ;) Anyone can make a good income with a little effort.
I dropped out of uni after a year, with no idea what I was going to do. I dread to think what I'd be doing if I'd stayed. Probably some corporate drone at a bank.
When considering dropping out of college, you're the one who is ultimately responsible for that decision, you're the one who will live with the consequences, and you're the one who has the best information for making that decision. It's all on you. You have to ask yourself if you really believe that you can live with the consequences and, if so, take the plunge.
Now, I've only been a drop out for 3 months, so it's impossible for me to comment on the long term effects, but -- if there's one thing you need to realize before dropping out -- being a drop out is hard.
For one thing, everyone thinks that kids between the ages of 18 and 22 should be attending college, and they'll be happy to tell you so. Lots of people attended college and, since it worked for them, they will believe that the system can work for you. Further, these people have a vested interest in telling you how important college is and what a worthwhile experience it is because, frankly, they are trying to justify spending however many years attending college and paying off their student loans
Basically, don't expect a whole lot of support.
In addition, being a drop out in today's climate is a little bit more difficult than it was in the past. Computer Science is now an established discipline and schools actually teach it, so being self-taught is less of a necessity and more of an oddity. Further, while the common wisdom seems to be that the current economic climate is not so bad for programmers, it's certainly harder to get a job now than it was during the dot-com boom.
The final, and hardest part of being a drop out, is that it's incredibly lonely and incredibly difficult to stay motivated when you're on your own. I imagine that it's similar to being a solo founder. There are days when it's hard to find the strength to get out of bed, when you'll be filled with self-doubt, when you'll wonder if dropping out was the right decision. Hacking on your own for four years and building a portfolio, instead of attending school, might sound great on paper, but without your peers to support and motivate you, it's very hard.
If you're smart, you have support. I don't know what people were around you but generally the right people can tell if you'll make it in this world. Their support means a lot. Find those people to surround yourself with.
I think being a dropout is easier now than ever. There is a large collective who understand college is not what it use to be. You can definitely do well without it, and they know.
"Computer Science is now an established discipline and schools actually teach it, so being self-taught is less of a necessity and more of an oddity." I disagree. Computer Science is established for Computer Science. It gives you almost zero introduction into the industry. If you want to be a software engineer for a living then it's the experience of work and your personal drive that outweighs a degree.
This industry has gotten to a point where we realize skill outweighs paper trails. If you can prove that you can do the work and do it well, you will get hired. I rather hire and work with someone who does not have a CS degree and knows what they are doing versus the opposite. It's the only way to hire -- skill.
My point is that dropping out isn't a particularly easy path to choose. It's not a good default for most people.
I'm not trying to say that you can't be successful as a drop out. If I believed that, I wouldn't have dropped out myself.
Do you have any regrets about your decision? Were you making money before you dropped out and are you making enough to support yourself now?
As far as money goes, I made some cash from participating in Google's Summer of Code, but currently I'm not making any significant income and I'm living at home. I've got some projects that I'm working on and I've had a couple of interviews so, hopefully, I will soon be able to support myself, but not currently.
Young smartasses have a way of becoming old maintenance programmers ;)
I avoided the natural sciences throughout my entire secondary and post-secondary career, as I feared the catastrophic effects structured learning would have on my inherent passion for those subjects. The joy of reading Darwin and Hawking, and the resultant awe of the universe, could not have been manufactured in a structured learning environment.
If you're passionate about the work and reasonably good at networking and selling yourself, I believe you can still make it in the industry without a college degree. You must have the passion though. Some people can choose a career in IT by spending an afternoon in their high school guidance councilor's office, and after 4 years of hard work in college actually realize that goal. For those kinds of people, college is essential.
College has no proven track record. The best we have is some loose correlation showing people who work hard to attain a degree are also likely to work hard in industry, and thus earn more money. No surprises there. Hard working people have always earned more typically.
I don't want to diminish the value of college. It comes with a lot of great experiences for personal growth. It is a wonderful passtime. However, these articles are starting to highlight that it plays no role in business else there would be no reason to argue for going to college.
50 years ago a state college degree could be paid for by a part-time job at a gas station, and once you had it you were virtually guaranteed gainful employment. These days, easy loans are turning ignorant youth into indentured servants, and it's not even a guarantee of employment, so college could actually be harmful.
Personally I got a great deal out of my college experience, and I did it without debt thanks to 2 years of community college and 2 years of staff employment at a University that paid my remaining tuition (ironically it was my self-taught web skills that landed me this job). If I had had to take on $30k or $40k of debt the equation would have been radically different.
Remember Gladwell's "10,000 hours" rule of thumb for success? THAT is what college is. 50 hours per week for 50 weeks per year for 4 years is 10,000 hours. You graduate from high school, and realize you haven't mastered a marketable skill - so you sign up for a four-year boot-camp that will drag you, kicking and screaming, through your obligatory 10,000 hours.
Thing is, most the successful dropouts were already "practicing" well before they started college. Gladwell notes that Gates was putting in hours a day, for years, of programming before getting to college (at a time that programming required connections and money, being a motivated kid he was allowed free use at 4am). By the time they dropped out (perhaps long before), they already had their 10,000 hours in. A grade-school kid has opportunity for about 5,000 hours of "practice" available...and most use that time throwing balls or acting, building unmarketable skills.
Or for most students, 40 hours per week for 16 weeks per term for 2 terms per year for 4 years is 5,120 hours.
Which might just explain why students coming out of college tend to be at most half good at something.
For me, undergrad was more like eighteen hours a week for fourteen weeks, then fifty hours a week for one week. And that was with a heavy physics/maths courseload.
Unless you're in situation #5 that the article talks about, spend a few years to get the degree (graduate early if you can because that saves time and money) while working on your projects on the side. And maybe have some college fun in the process.
If you're not enjoying and getting value out of university, something's wrong.
The dislike comes form it being pointless busywork. It may not have been pointless busywork to you, depending on your upbringing. And that is just fine. Everyone comes with different experiences. College is just not for everyone, plain and simple.
Or from what university you're at, and what you're studying.
My advice to programmer types who come into university thinking they already know all about programming: forget CS and take as much mathematics as you can. That stuff is hard and you can't learn it anywhere else.
I should clarify that it is pointless busywork with respect to a career. There's definitely something to be said about learning for the sake of learning and personal growth. Not having world class knowledge of mathematics is not going to hinder your wallet in any way though.
You also learn other skills that come in useful in your career, though I agree some can be worthless. I hated some of my classes in college, particularly the writing class requirements, but even those are helping me today because almost everything requires some sort of clear and coherent writing.
Its only 2-3 years if you work hard to graduate early, during which you'll have many opportunities to try out various ideas and meet many of your lifelong friends and likely, cofounders. If you don't have much money, excel at a state school and graduate with a manageable amount of debt, or better yet, work hard and get a scholarship.
I'm not sure this is even about programming, per-say. If your goal is success as rated by monetary gains, it seems short sighted to focus your learning on any specific subject ahead of time. You might find riches in programming, but you might instead find riches in producing a set of short Youtube videos, or maybe writing a how-to book about getting rich without going to college. Who knows what opportunities will arise? If your vision is narrow, you're going to miss them, that is for sure.
If you have a very specific goal of programming for a top corporation at the age of 40, maybe a degree will help you out. Again, who knows? You cannot prepare yourself for success. You might decide you hate programming when you reach 40. Who knows? Following in the footsteps of others will not lead you to success. That is one thing we do know.
I'm not arguing against going to college. I see that it comes with many merits with respect to personal growth and a is generally an enjoyable time for most people. I just do not see how it relates to business and why anyone would want to pressure someone else to go to college. Who cares what other people do with their lives? Whether or not one should go to college is a very personal decision and it is one that should not be clouded by misguided notions of future fortunes.
Keeping your head down and finishing for the sake of finishing is probably not going to end well; you'll be in debt, you will have lost the opportunity cost of your time in school, and you still might not know what you want to do.
Don't be the guy who's in debt from a degree in a field he doesn't want to work in.
Do you really have to take time off to do that? Does college take up so many hours a week that it simply leaves zero time for you to "figure out where you're going"?
To wit: the First Law Of Holes is "stop digging".
My point was that continuing on along a path (staying in school) might not be the best action, and oftentimes it's hard to step back and get a sense of things when you're fulltime in school. Not to mention the debt you'll acquire and time you'll waste going down a wrong path.
Don't do it. Why? Because dropping out is easy, getting back in later is hard. Sure, the system sucks, but you are this close to bagging that piece of paper, you might as well go all the way.
I fundamentally disagree with you on this one. Getting that piece of paper give you a quick escape plan for when things get tough. Lets say you graduate, and start your startup. In the back of your mind you'll be saying "If this doesn't work out, I'll just go get a regular, decent paying job". And then things start to head south. You can't raise money, or you have no traction, ect. That decent paying job starts to look more and more attractive.
If you drop out, you're burning your bridges and forcing yourself to stay committed when shit hits the fan. Graduating leaves open an easy retreat strategy; it makes it much easier to quit.
You don't like to learn, and you need more money...Don't do it. Why? Because that stuff you learn you will need later on, and you will need it badly.
Of all the stuff I learned in college, I needed very little of it. This includes many classes I enjoyed. Most of it I've forgotten already. Not only that, I didn't even take the traditional college -> job route - I stayed in academia for 8 years after college.
Some of the many classes I took: medieval literature, women's studies, chemistry (3 semesters), population dynamics for environmental engineering, 2 semesters of economics, optics, and all of this is just the stuff I can think of. Most of my college experience was spent learning stuff I don't need to know and have now forgotten.
Stay in school for the sheepskin so that you can signal conscientiousness to the world. But focus on networking, not learning. Most of what you learn is a waste of time.
Even if there was a need to search through the branches early on, I could reasonably predict that medieval literature was a waste of time. But 9 semesters of humanities were required by my college, so I crammed for exams and forgot about it after the fact.
I'm not sure I agree. They made a point on more than occasion to show Zuckerberg at home on his computer while everyone else was at a party. Even at the depositions, he was working during every available moment. In the one scene he was falling asleep in the lab, so, instead of sleeping, he went home to work on Facebook for the remainder of the night.
I believe he was drinking alcohol during some of the work scenes, but there's nothing particularly abnormal about having a few drinks while coding. I even know of legitimate and profitable businesses who support the occasional drinking while coding days.
OR you can drop out and get a lousy, physical job - get the same structure you get from school, gain better appreciation for mental skills and abilities that university teaches you, and add to your bankroll (albeit, slowly) instead of your debt load.
This, instead of coasting through school with lousy character and no discipline and getting less out of it then if you appreciate it more.
If it's discipline you need, you'd be better off spending four years in the military. Perhaps you'll say that this is "discipline provided by others" rather than "self-discipline", but in practice I'm not sure there's much of a difference based on the ex-military folks I've met.
 Sorry, the metaphor subsystem of my brain is broken today. Insert your own metaphor here.
The point is that a degree is now extremely expensive and is getting more so all the time. Id like to make the point that holding all that debt is a lot scarier than the successful people with decent jobs trying to persuade us to start or stay in school think it is.
You have all the time in the world to start a company or join one. But right now, while you're young and have the time and resources available, you're at the best possible position to acquire the experiences and knowledge you'll need for the rest of your life. Yes there's debt; you'll pay it off. Yes it's tiring; you'll get used to it.
Is it easy to drop out? Yes. Can you make money (assuming you're smart enough and have learned enough to get a job now)? Yes. Does it make sense to cripple yourself for the future just to get a couple years ahead of your peers? Hell no.
Do whatever you have to do to finish school and try hard to enjoy yourself while you're there. Life isn't going anywhere that you need to drop out to get there.
I was a stats major, emphasis actuarial science. On paper, I was set to go work for some insurance company and make bank.
Except...I couldn't make myself care about it. Done purely for money, that stuff is pretty boring.
No, I didn't drop out. The university did that for me as my grades plummeted.
I'd learned a bit of java, so I applied for a job out of the student paper and ended up working on an application for...wait for it...insurance agents. Exactly what I couldn't make myself care about in school. In Visual Basic.
Having read enough of pg's essays to somehow acquire the impression that I was a Great Hacker destined for startup greatness because I had played around with CL, I quit the insurance software gig to build....video conferencing software! I even found a customer willing to pay me for it. I was clueless and so was he, so we ended up negotiating a fixed-price contract. Cue the tragic cycle of I-didn't-realize-it-would-take-this-long-and-I'm-not-getting-paid enough on the developer's part, and it became a nightmare project that dragged on four months longer than it should have.
Cue some more inexperienced-at-software-and-inexperienced-at-contracting horror stories, and I was kind of sick of being on my own. I found the one cool company in my area and bravado'd my way into an interview. They were everything awesome the insurance company hadn't been: smart people. Great conditions. Clojure and Ruby as main languages. Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information on the coffee table in reception. An engineer cofounder (vs. an insurance agent founder).
And...I wasn't qualified. I'd plugged some libraries together for the videoconferencing thing, and the Rails stuff I'd done on contract was pretty basic. Any my stats knowledge was poor. I'd dropped out!
So I decided to go back to school. Part of the reason I failed so badly in school is because I had a really hard time getting motivated when I could see how sucky most of higher-education is for actual education---many things are quietly optimized toward extracting money from the student's parents, or measuring things for future employers, or compensating for a model with many students and few professors. This is all true, but I can get a loan to attend school, while I can't get a loan to grab a bunch of textbooks and start cranking.
So if someone were thinking of dropping out, I'd say---do it. Absolutely do it. If you're sick of school and can't get motivated, no inspirational talk will cure that, and you'll stumble through half-caring, graduating with either a useless degree (because you didn't learn anything) or failing out like I did.
The only thing that will cure you of that is experience outside of school. That will be what tells you how off-base (or on!) you are. Since I left school my opinions on some portions of it being B.S. have only strengthened. But I have also gained an appreciation for certain parts that I took for granted. So if you leave, be cold-blooded about it. You may hate the system (it deserves it), but it might be useful to you later, so don't burn that bridge if you can help it.
Btw, I signed up for a external program at the University of London so that I could still get a BSc without actually doing anything academic - so now I'm 24 with 4 years of real-life work experience and a BSc (not that I need it, but it's there)
So, perhaps it is better to summarize it that way: if you clearly see opportunities for yourself that are better than staying in university - drop out.
Besides higher education is NOT about learning skills immediately useful for employment. It's about so much more. It's about mental gymnastics, about stretching your mind, it's about dedicating 5 years of your life to nothing but bettering yourself, reading and learning anything you can get your hands on, exchanging ideas with other great minds, and becoming better you.
This is a unique time, that can't be reproduced otherwise simply because you never will have the time (unless you are a millionaire and don't have to work) to do that any more, and when you become older you become less plastic and more set in your ways.
Dropping out of school is a tragedy really for any young mind. So is choosing easy school. If you are going to study anything, study hard things (Math vs English). They change you more.
There are plenty of amazing, rewarding, lucrative, and challenging projects out there besides the poles of Hard CS and bland Enterprise work.
I think the dropouts look at people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, etc, and want to say "Look! You can be rich and successful and influential without requiring some silly piece of paper and a goofy hat!". Therefore, I don't need it!
The PhDs and Computer Science grad students are likely to look up to people like Turing, Church, Von Neumann, John McCarthy (as he's been in the news) etc.., and be satisfied pondering The Secrets Of The Universe and be stimulated by working on extremely pure intellectual challenges.
To the dropout entrepreneur/hacker, the prospect of working in an office proving the lower bound of a routing problem over ad-hoc networks is about as bland as you can get.
To the computer science professor, post-doc, whatever, the prospect of working as some web-app developer or "java engineer" and hustling for customers is completely vapid.
I tend to slightly side with the academic CS types, since many people can teach themselves to be successful hackers independently, few college dropouts are architecting the next generation of internet protocols, contributing much to computational complexity theory, producing the next RSA cryptosystem or homomorphic encryption, or contributing to the algorithms to make higher-resolution images from MRI scans. On the other hand, if you drop out of college, this isn't probably the kind of stuff that would interest your blood pumping anyway.
But anyway, I agree that "mental gymnastics", "stretching your mind" and "exchanging ideas" are very important things. And so I found ways to do these things. Yes, it's not the default case when you drop out, but as I said - if you have a clear vision how to proceed, including these important aspects, you should.
Well, consider this. Here's an exercise, without googling for a solution (other than language documentation), do you think you could write your own grep? Write a reasonably performing distributed algorithm for routing over an ad-hoc network? Think you could write an automated theorem prover or model checker? How about just a frequency hopping protocol for congested wireless networks?
Some of these are not things that you can learn quickly with a "certain level of computing knowledge". Sometimes research projects like this take years and decades by huge teams and brilliant people, who often have to spend considerable amount of times formalizing and making consistent the underlying theoretical models, which can only then be effectively implemented.
And if I have to do research projects - I agree I won't be able to start as a senior researcher. Perhaps a minor assistant, it is not impossible, if I ever need to. It's not like "I've missed my chance in life to ever do compilers".
Is a 4 year education and a degree valuable? Of course.
Is it worth $xx,000 in student debt and 4 year opportunity cost of doing something else? Rarely. Especially for this crowd.
If you are a 19 year old with some programming skills, and you are paying for your own college (via loans or with cash) dropping out is a GREAT idea. Spend the next three years working on your own projects, open source projects, crappy little free lance whatever.. you are going to be in a much better spot than if you spent the next three years going to classes and coming out with 50k in student loan debt.
If college is free, then yeah, you are crazy not to go. But if you are smart and willing to work hard anyway.. education is FREE these days. Save the cost of the house and the years.
The opportunity cost is relative, since the people you meet in college may very well be the best resources you have for maintaining your drive, innovative spirit, and will to keep on. Just the discipline of finishing something is worth the time and money spent. That said, it depends on _you_ and your situation.
Personally, I wouldn't be who I am today without suffering with my peers through classes like CS1, Discrete Structures, and Computer Architecture. My first piece of real consulting work, the first proposal I ever wrote, was for an ad on our local university's job board.
Disclaimer: The total cost of my education was paid by scholarships, so I do not have first hand knowledge of how this works, just providing my anecdote. $26,000 figure was calculated using my in state invoices from 2003-2007 so they may need adjusting for inflation.
And you have a 126k education.
That ~50k you are making a year is roughly the same as my first salaried position; except that I dropped out of college and spent that time jerking off and doing some free lance work.
Certainly there is a lot of value in college; I learned to program (even though I didn't graduate) primarily in college, and my buddies from there are some of my best friends (and potential networking opportunities).
However, at 26, with no degree, minor networking, and (in my opinion) an amateur portfolio I was able to get multiple 45k+ opportunities. At 28 with a better portfolio I can work as much or as little as I choose for $50+ an hour.
In this industry, no one gives a shit about your degree for 99% of cases. Can you hack it and show you can hack it? Then you can get a job.
You can live on about 1K per month. So loosely, that's about 20K per year to get a degree here.
In other words, for a computer science student - if you have a business raking in cash and you need to drop out to keep the money stream, you're losing out. Otherwise, stay in college.
I see the point you're trying to make, but I don't see why you'd calculate living costs into the cost of school.
If I'm working I'm likely to have higher living costs as most universities have subsidized housing and meals, not to mention most students live with room mates once they move off campus.
I'd guess working people have far fewer room mates and much nicer/expensive accommodations :)
Anecdotally that's how it's been for pretty much everyone I know
On the flip side, my high school roommate dropped out of college as a freshman and he is doing just great working for a big-name Valley startup.
I'm in the process of applying for a Master's Degree in Computer Science. Historically I've been rather reluctant to do this since I can learn on my own, and have. However, I think the structure and the environment provided by school is worth the 25k a total cost. Having money on the barrel head provides a real sense of focus. Having a peer group that wants to really pursue the same topic is valuable and worth a portion of the 25k. Finally, it gets me to focus on a topic. Currently I'm flitting around from technology to technology, fueled by HN. I look at Node.js, then Mongo, then a plethora of JS libraries. I'm tired.
School will focus me on Software Engineering with a focus on Grid/Distributed computing.
The first extreme relies completely on papers, degrees, and the value of adderalled-up memorization of facts and focusing your life on passing the tests. Life isn't about passing tests and I didn't want to go that route. So I dropped out of high school.
The second extreme is an anarchist, 'fuck the power' immature, spontaneous chaos. It disregards discipline, it ignores the beautiful life-rhythm of doing something everyday. It glorifies chaos and disorder, and ultimately for me it would probably lead to jail and homelessness. I decided to ignore that, since I realized the value of discipline and the value of education in a classroom (but not for a degree).
I have very little interest in the opiatish dream of a 'start-up that will make me filthy rich' too. Hence why I avoid startups. In fact I am skeptical of everything that alludes to 'becoming filthy rich'.
I am not a typical successful dropout like Bill Gates (yet) nor do I think I will be, and I'm not a stereotypical dumb lazy fry-flipping dropout (yet). As an experiment to test my discipline and knowledge, I decided to spend a year working in a full-time IT job, and I have spent exactly one year there.
So yeah, I'm that other guy :) Your mileage may vary.
I think some of that flings back on people who drop out of college. Work, regardless of company size, is, to put it simply, work. That sounds circular of course but really the key is that if you can't find the motivation to get you through college then where are you going to find the motivation to get you through the 'last 10%' of a project which is what takes 90% of the effort?
As pg pointed out, and Jacques does too, if you're wondering if you should drop out then you shouldn't. You've got bigger problems and you need to deal with those. If on the other hand getting school stuff done is hard because your business is growing in leaps and bounds and you don't have time for both, that is a completely different story.
Work can suck at times, that is why you don't see travel agents advertising "Bankok Work Vacations." But getting stuff done rocks. You have to see the goal, if only in your minds eye, to get past the stuff that is lame and irritating.
Jacques appears to have a very shallow knowledge into the value of liberal arts. It has nothing to do with a marketable skill (if you want that, go to a vocational school), and everything to do with refining the quality if your thought and mind.
Happily, that hasn't been my goal in life, and I wouldn't trade my philosophy degree in for the world. There turned out to be plenty of time to go back to school and learn the technical skills I needed after I figured out that programming was what I wanted to do with my life.
Having said that, I would be somewhat reluctant to counsel anyone to take a career-path-agnostic approach to college in the current climate. Times are tough, decent jobs for people without demonstrable technical skills are scarce, and college is even more breathtakingly expensive than it was 20 years ago.
1. If someone dropped several thousand dollars in seed money in my lap today and said "Hire some people, establish a profitable business," I would feel more enthusiastic about an interview with someone who'd dropped out of CalTech, MIT, OTIS, Art Center, RISD, or Parsons than one with a graduate from anywhere.
2. Not that it necessarily matters, but whenever I encounter the argument that a university education is or should be considered a required component of "success" or "learning" my opinion of the person making the argument drops significantly. Specifically, I find myself treating their judgment of what constitutes "success" or a "learned" person with complete disregard. These feelings are especially strong when they're directed toward someone older than me. (Is there a fake formula to measure how forgivable someone's stupidity is, given their age?)
3. If you're between the ages of 16 and 24 and have convinced yourself that you must be "successful" by the time you're 25, you'll probably feel like a failure whether you drop out or not. In the event that you matriculate/graduate, you'll just be more likely to have picked up a lot of debt, and maybe a nasty alcohol and/or adderall habit. Worse case scenario: you'll be 21-23 with a fancy piece of paper, the false impression that you "get it," and not much else.
(To be fair, I met my best friends in college—which is now a huge pain in the ass since everyone's scattered across the country—and the majority of my favorite memories are from that time. But after meeting those people my freshman year, I could have dropped out, done enough design work to cover food, gas, and rent in Pacific Beach—I went to school in San Diego–and had largely the same experience.)
Once I admitted this to myself and acted accordingly my income shot up from poverty levels to middle class levels. Now that I have kids and all of the uncertainty and financial hardship that can impose, I'll take what I've got. I'll never be rich but I'll still be happy.
Then I read the fifth point and just thought: "This more likely me. Except for the savings and the acing of exams without learning."
I was a little confused about the "Do it" since all other points ended with "Don't do it" but it has been fun.
Thanks for this article.
PS. I am about to pause studying for half a year to one year and than continue to study. I am 19.
Right now I practice my software development skills. I practice BDD, pick up new mainstream languages, practice writing good and concise code, working with people, etc.
When I'll finish the army I'll have three years experience in software development. I've worked at a couple of start ups already, I'm lead dev in the army and we are pushing a new project every month or so, I have my own start up and hopefully by the time I'll finish I'll have the elusive paying customers.
And then I'll learn whatever I want for three years. All the math I want, all the algorithms I'm interested at. I'll design a language, I'll write my own compiler, I'll meditate on data structures and work on large open source projects.
That's far better than university. And it's gonna be fun.
I know University is supposed to teach me dedication, perseverance, hard work etc but it seems all it does is make me doubt myself which makes me depressed and lazy.
I make reasonable money as a freelance web developer. I figure by dropping out of Uni completely, I can take on more jobs and focus on personal projects. This is what I want. This is what gives me excitement so why shouldn't I drop out if the only reason I'm in Uni is to finish a degree I don't even care for.
I figure that if you graduate Uni, you can take on more jobs and focus on personal projects.
It's a false dichotomy.
After you graduate, the jobs will be better and the personal projects more deeply informed.
I could be mistaken, but I'm convinced that over 80% of people in college would not qualify.
If I'm mistaken, then I am saddened even more due to the existence of so many that could put forth so little effort for something they truly wanted to do. When I attended college I would not have qualified.
Their main point is that they think that going into a multi-year debt in order to get an education is a losing proposition for many people and that because of that you might be better of dropping out.
The 20 under 20 program is for exceptional people, see #5 in the linked article.
People love lines like this, but a 20% chance is a million times better than any kind of lottery. Even here in Brazil, where it sucks to be a business owner, recent data shows that +50% of small business survive for over 2 years.
If it were then the odds would be substantially less. People start businesses at all points in their life, and the failures skew significantly towards inexperience.
* I've scraped enough credits together to collect my CS degree in May with my peers, though I do miss the english lit classes I was taking.
There are four conditions there, not three.
Let's ignore the complexities and focus on crude market value. A smart person with no college degree can probably earn $25,000 per year at 18. We're assuming a middle to upper-middle class background-- no special family connections-- and a reasonable work ethic. With a CS, math, or science degree from a good college, that jumps to about $80,000 at 22. That's a 34% annual growth rate in one's earning potential! (I'm ignoring the career prospects of Communications majors; a startup is much harder than getting 3.0+ in a CS program.) Typical income growth in the work world is 5-7% for average people and 10-20% (with ups and downs) for very ambitious people. I've been running at 17%/year since I left school, but that's likely to slow down as I trade off income acceleration for more interesting work and autonomy. My point is: being able to grow your earning potential at 34%/year, and probably have fun and learn a lot, while surrounded by intelligent people, over 4 years... is not something to walk away from.
Yes, everyone hates college sometimes. The lowest of the lows truly suck. Sleep deprivation. Drunk people. Final exam stress. Realizing that some idiots get in no matter how elite a college you attend. On the whole, though, if you struggle with college the problem is probably with you-- or more specifically, your level of maturity, and college is a great place to improve that.
Mark Zuckerberg could grow (in wealth and earning potential) much faster than 34%/year. College was slowing him down. Same with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc. Most of us are not in that league-- not yet, anyway.
That's just discussing market value. Here's another factor. Forget about the startup dream and focus on the reality (for the middle 90%) of the work world. College is more fun, interesting, and educational than the first 5 years of the work world for most people. Don't throw that opportunity away lightly.
Furthermore, I'm doing better than a lot of my peers. Your numbers are suspect at best.
$25k x 4 = $100,000 opportunity cost for college.
$20k x 4 = $100,000 college debt load (if you're lucky).
8% over 10 years for interest payments = ~$45k.
$245,000 total cost to go to school.
If you figure a $55,000 starting salary after school and do $8,000 yearly increases because you're clever and smart, it will take you 4 complete years to make up the difference AND that's still assuming the same clever and smart person has been working without a degree for 8 years and is still only making $25k/year. (For the curious, the two cross path around $350k total salary earned)
ALSO, that same clever and smart person could have been accruing a whole host of assets with the money they were making every year and could be well north of net worth $250k by the time the college grad gets to net worth $0. That clever and smart person with 8 years experience in the real world could use those assets to do all sorts of things our college grad is still going to have to wait some years to do.
The financial benefit for a smart person going to school and not going to school, in my mind, is irrelevant. When you factor in opportunity cost and debt, that same smart person will have grayed the difference between a college grad and a non-college grad by the time the college grad gets to net worth $0.
And as college tuition inflation continues to outpace all other expenditures in society, I would move more firmly into the drop-out camp.
2) $25k x 4 is both high and low. It's low for 4 years at an expensive school, it is high for compared to going to a community college for 2 years and then graduating from more expensive 4 year place. My girlfriend went to a state school for a year and then a private school for 3, she definitely saved $15k in one year. That wasn't the plan at the outset but it was a result of the path she took.
3) 8% is way too high of an interest rate. Our loans are between 2 and 6.8%. I'm paying down the 6.8% fast, but at 2 or 3% it's almost free money once you include inflation and the tax rebate.
4) It shouldn't take 10 years to pay back
5) If you are making $25k and living outside of your parents house, you have no money left over to invest. Frankly the difference between $25k and $55k is the difference between sustaining yourself and building up wealth. No matter how frugal you are, it's nearly impossible to get ahead on $25k a year.
$25k a year is $12.50/hr. With proper job hunting, this shouldn't be too difficult to find with a high school education.
CS graduates with decent coding skills can get that much. And in my experience, your major doesn't matter much if you can code. A CS major might make your CV 20% more appealing, and what you'll learn is certainly valuable, but technical skill (not major) is what matters. (I majored in math, not CS.)
Also, the person with the capability to get a CS/Math/Science degree (from a respectable program) will likely have other potential that fall somewhere between the typical dropout and Gatesian success.
I think the strongest argument to stay in school is that most 18-year-olds don't have the discipline to fulfill that potential, so they'll get more out of a structured environment. I know I was certainly this way. However if you are the exceptional 18-year-old that is driven in some way (whether it be code, art, music, business, whatever), then you probably won't regret jumping.
Often, it's both-- because you don't make it through a college-assisted placement program into a high-profile company that likes to hire recent grads, and the college hasn't provided any reasonable training on how to go about getting a good job and compensation on your own, you flounder and struggle up a ladder of mediocre tech jobs until you figure that stuff out. You are probably not making $80k/yr during that time.
Sleep deprivation and final exam stress is mostly our own making. If you use SRS and study regularly, I am sure the college life is no problem.
It rewards people who can cram well and have good memories, but punishes those who do good work and who aren't good at last minute cram sessions. I've always thought it borderline cruel, especially when the workplace doesn't reflect this. I rarely jerk around M-F and stay up until 4am on Sunday to perform some big task. Its all about rationally addressing problems, breaking them into chunks, and performing those chunks. At universities, its all about irrationally fucking around and doing a last minute cram to get by. I can see why so many talented young men and women would consider dropping out to enter the startup workforce, especially in a down economy that isn't hiring and the sudden realization of having a huge loan debt for the next 10-20 years.
I remember more than a few classes that were structured as 90% final exam and 10% everything else (or more typically 80/20). I never felt this was fair to the student and only encouraged lousy study habits, procrastination, and cheating. Its almost as if the American college experience is one big exercise in not doing things the proper way.
I feel this made me a worse procrastinator than I already was and that it took me several years to shed these bad habits.
Anyway, this is not universal. My CS program (University of Minnesota) tended to be about 50% assignments / 50% tests. It varied by class of course, theoretical stuff has to go by tests (numerical computing, discrete math, etc). The programming classes sometimes had competitions for bonus points, optimizing a C program in machine architecture, or a head-to-head game competition between programs (that was super fun, and really cut my cleverness down to size).
This Wired article is fascinating look at the founder of SuperMemo, one of the big players in that industry: http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/magazine/16-05/ff_woznia... Highly recommended, it's a great read.
they have software where you can set up a flashcard system if you know what you are doing, and it will time out when you should review what for optimal memorization
1. Don't procrastinate and get distracted. Even if you're taking hard courses, a college course load is rarely more than 50 hours per week. Average in hard majors is probably 35-40 all-in. That's not onerous at all, especially when you're only working 40 weeks per year (including internship).
2. Concentrate on learning interesting stuff, not on the grades. Good-enough grades (3.5+) will come from this for most people in most circumstances. There are hard-ass professors and even unfair ones (although I never had an unfair professor) but they are very rare and their damage is seriously limited.
I find it odd when college students claim they're going to sue professors over grades. Really? In college you're judged on the average of 30-40 (!) mostly independent grades. If you flunk a class and ace the other 35, you have a 3.89 GPA. In the real world, manager as career-SPOF is pretty much the default.
That said, I dislike grade inflation because it adds to the stress of college. If 2.0 were average, then acing a course could cancel out a failure. (When my parents were in college, a 2.5 was a perfectly respectable GPA and 3.0 was actually good.) With 3.2 as the average, flunking a course cancels out 4 As. That sucks. It makes people risk-averse and stressed out.
I've only had one, and it was in a math course (something I'm usually pretty good with). First, he barely spoke english. Second, he just wasn't a good teacher. He even apologized the last day of class saying how bad a teacher he was and that everyone would at least pass. Nope, he failed almost the whole class.
I retook the class the next semester with a different teacher and aced it.
The thing is, a degree no longer guarantees a skilled job. I know a lot of smart and well-educated people working retail right now.
Also: do not underestimate middle-class connections. As a kid I mowed lawns to make money. Middle class neighborhood in the central valley. One of the yards I dealt with belonged to the sister of an industry notable; it got me an interview. (it wasn't my first SysAdmin/Programming gig, but it certainly was the most impressive one. For years after, if I really desperately wanted a job I'd use that guy as a reference, and I'd get the gig.) During the depths of the dot-com crash? I cracked under the stress of being the only sysadmin to not get laid off, and quit without another job lined up. My dad, a mid-level IT manager at a university got me an interview with someone who had worked for him as a student who had later done well with his own company.
Those two jobs, I think, made the difference between a pretty good career and a sputtering, so-so career. And really, if I didn't have a dad and a stepdad in the field and if I didn't have computers, compilers, books and people who knew how to use such things around the house from the age of four onward, well, I'd probably have ended up with a semi-skilled career. Whatever you want to call this situation I was born into has helped my career far more than any amount of schooling could.
That said, I think you are likely right about the cultural aspects of College; No matter how rich I become, I suspect I will never fully relate as 'middle class' even though I mostly am. My social skills have suffered quite a lot; I'm probably four years behind my peers who went to school in that area. The thing is, high school is such a horrible experience it leaves you overly misanthropic and cynical. I think College softens this outlook for most people- it took some time for me to soften.
But income-wise? I don't think a degree would have bought me anything. I mean, it might be different now, just because the job market is so shit, and going to school for four years is lightyears better than being unemployed or working retail for four years; but I just wanted to say that school is not what gets you that 30+% salary increase for four years; going from being an unskilled worker to a skilled worker is what does it.
It's also possible that people born without at least middle-class connections can gain those connections by going to college; that could dramatically contribute to the value you take from a degree.
2 vs 1! Don't dropout!
1. You get your food paid for, you get your housing paid for, you have 0 expenses.
2. Schoolwork doesn't take up a lot of effort...hell you can throw it to the wind, and coast by to get all Cs, and still graduate with a decent GPA...it might not be stellar, but at least you'll have something to fall back on
3. Dropping out is fine if you are profitable and the startup is paying for itself. But if you are still at the idea stage, or aren't making serious coin...then you are frankly an idiot for dropping out when you aren't ready.
4. Startups are a case of hurry up and wait, you can launch, and 99% of the chance, a month in, you'll be getting a few hundred hits a month. Don't throw away your backup plan for nothing.