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Peter Thiel's unexpected job requirement (cnn.com)
85 points by cwan 1809 days ago | hide | past | web | 59 comments | favorite

This is stupid. Do people really think Thiel is personally managing every job opening at every company he's associated with?

Non-sequitur "gotcha" reporting at its worst. I expected better from Yglesias.

Of course the flip side is Thiel has been so amazingly vocal about his views on higher education you'd think he would have made a his staff aware that this requirement wasn't aligned with his views.

In the end it is mostly a depiction of how having a degree is a door opener because it is a default filter for almost all hiring managers. Even hiring managers employed by a vocal advocate of skipping college.

The job requirements and qualifications for an entrepreneur and a hedge fund analyst are so different that it's not necessarily inconsistent

Has Thiel been careful to always specify that his anti-higher-education-in-the-U.S. stance only applies to entrepreneurial people?

Peter Thiel's exact words on the topic:

"The elitist view in the U.S. is that even if people concede that college is not for education, the caveat will be that, well, surely it’s for all the smart people. What we want to suggest is that there are some very smart and very talented people who don’t need college."


"...are there 20 of those 60,000 who should perhaps not go to college--that does not seem like a terribly controversial statement. That the more talented you are, the more narrow the set of choices you should make? And that if you're a really smart person, the only thing in the world you can do is to go to Harvard?"


I wholeheartedly agree. In this particular case they may be the opposite ones.

I think that's pretty correct, the entrepreneur's role is to disrupt the status quo, which is pretty much the opposite of how finance seems to operate.

Even if he personally approved of this opening. There is nothing wrong with it.

The problem is that these reporters that Peter Thiel is anti-education or at least anti-higher education. He isn't. He has a problem with the current model of education. He thinks that there are more efficient models of education that are worth trying.

It's not black and white, it's much more nuanced. Thiel cannot go back in time and change the education model in the past. In the future if Theil's model works we will see more ads looking for people who started companies.

I don't agree with everything he says but I can respect his desire to change higher.

Not to mention this is standard boilerplate: it's not even listed as a hard requirement (should have, not must have). If someone is deterred from as much as submitting a resume because they don't have one of the "Desired Skills", odds are they shouldn't be anywhere near a startup hedge-fund or any other kind of enterprise that requires taking initiative.

Heck if I wanted to work there I would apply even though it said 'must have' and I didn't.

Job ads requirements are basically a way to scare away those who are limited by artificial restrictions.

Not that I want to make every thread a "sexism in tech" discussion, but I have personally noticed more women feeling intimidated and discouraged by overblown and strangely specific bullshit requirements in job listings. So, if you're wondering why you don't get many female applicants to your job listings, maybe you should stop asking for experience in every language from Ada to ZPL.

Nah the reason you get so few applicants is that there are so few females in programming to beging with.

I don't think this true: despite all talk of elitism, CS classes at universities like Stanford are actually more diverse than technology companies.

Yes, having seen both sides of the process. The minimum requirements tend to be a lot more flexible than people think.

Doesn't this get absurdly game theory, though? Some minimum requirements aren't, so applicants ignore 80% of the minimum requirements, so employers increase the minimum requirements to get applicants that are a little more qualified, so applicants start ignoring even more...

Perhaps. But if that firm just so happens to be named "Thiel Capital", I think it's fair to assume that Thiel has some responsibility, wouldn't you agree?

In any case, the job posting has already been fixed:


  Quantitative skills in a field such as computer science, 
  mathematics, statistics, physics, or engineering; no 
  college degree required
Thiel actually believes in what he's saying.

Just curious but does it mean that having quantitative skills in those fields implies that you probably have some job experience in those fields?

I cannot imagine high schools providing substantial education to develop skills in those fields.

There aren't too many colleges which offer courses on Rails, Django, Coffeescript, or Nodejs. Smart people manage to get by with the internet, without going hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt.

Well, if he is serious about changing the system, wouldn't it be comparitively easy for him to start with his own companies and lead by example?

Thiel is, first and foremost, advancing his own interests by enouraging students to drop out and pursue startups in which he will have a stake.

He wants to hide this among otherwise valid criticisms of the system. But he really can't.

Unless he's paying you not to attend, you are foolish not to attend university because of what he says (versus your own reasons).

As if we should call out the "CABLE" News Network for having a web site. So silly.

Agreed. From the headline, I thought he was hiring a personal assistant.

When I was at CWRU in the mid-90's, I was on a student panel which provided large donors (those whose last names were the same as large area companies, mostly) with an opportunity to ask questions of students. Several donors wondered why Case students studied so hard and participated so little in extra-curricular activities. After all, one said, I'd rather hire the interesting, well-rounded student with a 3.0 GPA than the boring one with a 3.7. Several students on the panel explained that many of their peers feared the short-term consequences of low GPAs -- lost scholarships and limited job opportunities. The donors were surprised to learn that most companies (in come cases including their own) would refuse to allow students with less than, say, a 3.5 GPA to even sign-up for on-campus interviews.

The job posting itself has already been fixed:


  Quantitative skills in a field such as computer science, 
  mathematics, statistics, physics, or engineering; no 
  college degree required
Tempest in a teapot. Obviously someone junior in Thiel's organization who didn't get the message, fixed at the speed of light. Now let's see Yglesias, Slate, and CNN issue addendums.

And if not for the tempest, when would this have gotten "fixed," if ever? This isn't about one job, it's about the reality of everyone having an ingrained sense of "education = capability."

There is so much grade inflation at schools today that using it as a filtering mechanism for any position seems rather pointless.

Elite schools are especially bad about this. The average GPA at Harvard is 3.45 (it was 2.5 in 1950). Yale is at 3.5 (was 2.5 in 1963). Stanford is at 3.5 (was 2.6 in 1948). At one point, over 90% of the graduating class at Harvard graduated with honors.

If Thiel is requiring a top-tier school, it is because of the network the person brings, not because of the education.

On the other hand, the average SAT score at Harvard in 1950 was much lower than the average SAT score today (adjusted for SAT re-calibration as well).

Grade inflation also applies mostly to non-STEM majors. Average GPA for EECS at many of the top CS schools is significantly below a 3.0. Incidentally, it creates a feedback loop: grade inflation leads people to obsesses over their GPA and to switch from STEM to the majors more susceptible to grade inflation when their GPA falls below a certain point.

In defence of Harvard, whilst at one point over 90% graduated with honors it is now capped, so that only 50% of the class will graduate with any kind of honors. I used to get a significant number of students emailing me when final grades came out moaning that because of their B+ they'd never make the cap for honors (I Head TA'd a few courses).

I do wholeheartedly agree with you: using GPA as a filter is fairly pointless.

I know you've removed it now, but I thought I'd point out the word is "shudder". Normally I don't care about spelling, but the two are very different words.

Apologies; carry on.

I'm a bit sleep deprived right now. Not particularly a great time to post on HN. :)

I'm sure Peter is a great guy, but I've stopped paying attention to what the newest hype is around what some VC is saying of how you should run your startup and career. Unless they have heavily funded my startup, then I really don't care. It isn't their startup or career. We can't all be them, nor should we be.

We should stop playing follow the leader. Peter's advice will work for many, but not for all. One size does not fit all. Maybe Peter cares about people's university credentials, but when hiring I'll look at each person on a case by case basis as a sum of their parts. There's some great people out there without ivy league degrees, and some terrible people out there with ones. Better to evaluate the stack of history and competency than a single component.

I mostly see his name popping up in works by Curtis and similar writers, which makes me wary by default.

There's a difference between optimizing for current conditions, and changing future conditions.

Optimizing for current conditions: right now, a lot of the best job applicants have degrees from top-tier schools, and if you need to hire someone today, using education as a job filter is a reasonable choice.

Changing future conditions: there are plausible arguments that universities should not have a monopoly on education and credentialing, and promoting alternatives to a college degree may be a reasonable long-term advocacy and philanthropic goal.

The real story is: what's going on with this new hedge fund? Is the focus on "conclusions that are fundamentally correct but missed by most of the world" an actual strategy or a contrarian buzzword?

This brings up an interesting point. Are there jobs where a degree from a "top-tier university" is more highly-valued?

Being an entrepreneur--even a successful one!--doesn't necessarily require a college degree. But are there jobs (perhaps this one?) where college classes are useful enough to warrant this bullet point in the job description?

I'm not sure--I wasn't a stats/math major. But I'd be interested in hearing some informed opinions on this matter.

I think you're looking at it backward in some sense. A "top-tier" university doesn't teach any skills that couldn't be learned at most other universities (especially at the undergraduate level). However, the characteristics of an average student can be vastly different between a top-tier university and those lower in the rankings.

These sorts of requirements aren't put in place because there are particular skills necessary to do the job. They are in place to cut down the applicant pool to a reasonable size while raising the average quality (or at least not lowering it). It's classic signaling.

They let the university do most of the screening for them, weeding out the people who aren't smart, driven and dedicated enough to get into and graduate from a top-tier school.

Some extremely prestigious consulting firms won't look at a resume that isn't from one of a handful of schools. They fully realize that this policy results in them outright rejecting hundreds of excellent applicants. But they still end up with top-tier people, and they don't have to wade through tens of thousands of resumes to do it.

Highly sought-after employers can do this. But it doesn't work as well the further down the corporate "food chain" you go. This works especially well in industries like finance where ambition and a drive to perform while working within a fairly narrow set of parameters is paramount.

Peter Thiel is a big name, his companies are big names. Therefore they can use this strategy to their advantage, even if they don't particularly care about any specific set of skills.

"weeding out the people who aren't smart, driven and dedicated enough to get into and graduate from a top-tier school."

Wow. Since the rest of your post seems to equate "top-tier school" with the Ivy's (plus maybe MIT/stanford or whatever) this is just amazingly wrong to the point of being offensive.

There are tons of smart, driven and dedicated high school students in America who have no chance of getting into Ivy League schools. If you're lucky enough to be born into the right family so that you can go to the right private jewish prep school in one of a handful of posh suburbs, then being smart, driven and dedicated means you can probably get into one of the Ivy schools.

For every kid going to a public school in the midwest, who has to check the "will need financial assistance" checkbox (if the application fee alone didn't make them skip applying) and doesn't have any legacy or connections, then applying to Harvard is a lottery ticket even with perfect grades, stellar test scores and a long resume of extra-curriculars.

There are plenty of smart, driven and dedicated 18 year olds who won't be heading to Harvard or Yale next fall. Admittance to one of those schools correlates more with growing up privileged than it does about intelligence.

I didn't say those are the only people who are weeded out, just that, in general, people who don't have those qualities are less likely to get into "top-tier" schools.

Admissions at these schools actually work a little bit like hiring at prestigious firms in this sense, right? Plenty of awesome applicants get rejected or are priced out of even applying (as you pointed out). But since the average applicant is still quite qualified, that doesn't really matter to the institution, nor to our discussion.

As something of a footnote, I really didn't mean to imply that only Ivy League grads are smart, driven and dedicated. I'm definitely not one, and I like to think I'm reasonably bright.

Ive studied a lot of math in school (including financial mathematics) and I think its hard to learn that type of stuff on your own. Its easier to learn how to code on your own since there are plenty of resources on the subject - but its harder to learn math. Maybe we have a business opportunity here?

One should also remember the Hedge Fund Long Term Capital Management who hired 2 managers who had won the Nobel prize in economics - and they blew up (so math skills is not everything) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-Term_Capital_Management

I'm not sure that it's harder. A good textbook or two combined with diligently reading, rereading and doing the problem sets is probably about as successful as class attendance in the average case, I would say. I think the problem is finding a good textbook and forcing yourself to do the work.

Yes and a lot of finance jobs fall into this category including investment banking, hedge funds and VC firms. The more selective ones will typically only consider people from a few schools. It's just a way filter.

Using GPAs is so silly, as scales vary widely between universities, and even countries.

In French universities, you get marks between 0 and 20 (you need 10 to pass a class, and in some cases you can pass a class with 8 if it averages out with certain other classes). In some universities (classes préparatoires), marks superior to 10 are extremely rare, with a class average at ~6-7 being common, as professors want to push students to the max.

A student having an average of 15 would be a very, very strong student (the top student in my university, whom I was friends with, had an average of 14.5 or so at graduation).

So would employers just divide that by 5 to get an American GPA? That would barely be a GPA of 3 for top students— I doubt they would get any consideration from such employers, although they're probably much more competent than a top-tier student with a GPA of 3.5+ (I'm not too familiar with undergraduate studies in the US, but it seems that as long as you show up and do the homework, you pretty much get an A in the class).

> (I'm not too familiar with undergraduate studies in the US, but it seems that as long as you show up and do the homework, you pretty much get an A in the class)

that is emphatically untrue (either that, or myself and all of my classmates are a lot dumber than we think we are)

In my experience, it's not true of undergrad studies. It is however (again from my experience) very true at the graduate level. Typically because of the grade compression at grad school - in most cases a C+ is a failing grade, thus the range of acceptable grades is compressed (undergrad A-F, grad A-C+). So a grad B+ takes on the characteristics of a undergrad C+ - essentially a signal that you need to shape up.

Maybe at some colleges and in some courses. I went to a state college and studied math and science and that was definitely not true.

Obviously the requirements for an entrepreneur are different than the requirements for someone who is going to execute on the entrepreneur's vision. I don't see this being inconsistent with the Thiel Fellowship[0].

[0] http://www.thielfellowship.org/become-a-fellow/about-the-pro...

Ridiculous. To say that a top-tier university produces a better employee, or business leader, is to say that a person's individual personality, upbringing or work ethic plays no part.

A high GPA - that's an understandable requirement - but to base it arbitrarily on a 'top-tier' university is depriving qualified, talented employees from consideration.

Turning away a qualified candidate isn't the bad outcome for a hiring process - hiring an unqualified worker is. So if the trade off for avoiding the latter is some of the former, it is arguably worth it (and Thiel is likely in a good position to know what the appropriate ratios are)

>Turning away a qualified candidate isn't the bad outcome for a hiring process


I am so tired of hearing that argument. There is not a line of super qualified people banging on your door to get a chance to interview at your company.

Unless your are google or facebook, you are not going to be able to just turn away qualified people. It makes it too easy for your competition.

Perhaps they feel that being admitted to a top-tier university is indicative of the quality of a persons upbringing and work ethic? I would not agree, but perhaps that's an assumption in play here.

It's a poor assumption, for sure.

I, for example, went to a state school because quite frankly, I was not really interested in taking on hundreds of thousands in debt to finance a college education. I was accepted to a couple of top-tier universities but for financial reasons, attendance at such schools was not feasible.

Actually there is a difference: Employees from Top Tier universities make better slaves .i.e. They have been trained to "Do as you are told" (no creativity allowed), and "Wait for your turn"

Can't agree with that, even though I dropped out of Harvard to be a Thiel Fellow. Top tier uni students in my experience tend to be quite a few deviations of individual above the norm.

Creativity/individuality/freedom/etc are all very highly valued and encouraged at the best schools. Harvard was remarkably open and innovative. MIT even more so.

(Tangential, in response to the article - Harvard's very accommodating and even encouraging of people taking time off school to pursue other things. They have an indefinite leave of absence policy, which means that if I ever decide, 2, 5, 10, or 20 years down the line that I'd really like to go back to school and get a degree, they'll let me come back. Very nice and farsighted people.)

Harvard's very accommodating and even encouraging of people taking time off school to pursue other things. They have an indefinite leave of absence policy, which means that if I ever decide, 2, 5, 10, or 20 years down the line that I'd really like to go back to school and get a degree, they'll let me come back

That's great. I wonder if many (any?) other universities have such a policy? At my school, I would have to formally re-apply after being gone for a year or so. That's the sort of policy I would encourage my children to take into account when they're choosing where to go to school.

Thiel has argued that there is a "bubble" in higher education -- that is, on average, American's over value it. Not that higher education is meaningless or that going to a top school and getting good grades doesn't signal that you are: smart, ambitious, hard working and would fit in with the academic culture at a hedge fund.

It amazes me how many people listen to others without understanding their motivation.

Peter is an investor - if he's able to monetize a model where a group of students drop out of college for a startup and on the whole make his fund money, he will do so. There is no fault in that but don't think he is looking out for the good of anyone but his clients and himself - its not evil - its a business model.

The unfortunate part is that many (but certainly not all) develop these critical thinking skills to question everything in the very institutions he is influencing young kids to drop out of. I know this comes off as "stay in school kids" but I'm more hoping that students will think for themselves and identify their own reason for dropping out before leaping.

Will their former "top tier" universities allow them to return, or give that spot to someone who values it a bit more?

The former. I know people who finished their undergrad degrees after stopping out for years, and it wasn't much of a problem at all.

You could very reasonably drop out, start a company, have it fail, finish school, then work for the hedge fund. There's no problem here.

Thing is, are people who are capable of graduating from a top tier American university with a high GPA the sort of people who are ever going to lack options, the sort of people we need to worry about?

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