The usefulness of a degree depends on what field one is working on. In the Software arena, smart kids out of high school can do a lot if college is not holding them back. But try to start a laser / semiconductor / biotech company with high school kids if you dare ;-)
One might not need a degree to be a good software entrepreneur, but there are many other entrepreneurs who don't live in the software world. Sure, HN is focused on software, but it seems to me that it's irresponsible to promote the idea that all that entrepreneurs need is passion and hard-work. Necessary but not sufficient.
Exactly. We've inadvertently created a culture that rewards extremely shallow achievements. Thirty years ago, brilliant 20-somethings wanted to send men to Mars and build super-colliders. Today, the smartest college kids are trying to build social networks for dogs.
Frankly, that's not a trend worth celebrating. A society where an advanced education isn't an economic advantage is a society going the wrong way.
You could just as easily argue that thirty years ago (I was actually around then and old enough to be paying attention), technical people just wanted safe jobs solving circumscribed problems for large organizations.
The truth is that, all other things being equal, each generation of people is roughly equally ambitious. Past generations weren't golden ages compared to the present, or vice versa.
I agree that people are probably as ambitious as they were decades ago on an individual basis, but that doesn't mean that their goals have stayed the same over time. Even in the last decade, there's been a massive shift of technical talent toward entertainment technology, whereas it's getting harder and harder to find R&D jobs in physics, chemistry, biology and computer science.
There are always a few companies doing interesting technical work, but if the number of under-employed PhDs I know is any indication, the fraction of companies doing R&D is pretty darned small, and getting smaller every year. It's much easier for a PhD in Physics to get a job as a sysadmin at a web startup than it is for her to get a job in her field. I think that's sad.
IMO, there is value to understanding the limitations to existing technology before you start doing basic research.
"The Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes finds that mercury loses its electrical resistance at temperatures near absolute zero. This low temperature effect is observed in other materials as well."
That takes advanced equipment to reduce things to that temperature, an expectation that resistance is effected by temperature, and an formula that works at higher temperatures to notice the discontinuity.
PS: Consider all the benefits high speed computing has provided when designing aircraft. You need a lot of wind tunnel / real world tests to build a model, but with that model and lot's of computing power you can design aircraft out to the limits of your simulation. At which point you need to collect more data.
Do you have any evidence for this massive shift toward entertainment?
Surely there are more research jobs in biology than there were 30 years ago, considering biotech was mostly invented in the intervening period.
There's plenty of evidence of a shift toward entertainment. Look at the big startup successes of the last decade: Google, Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, YouTube, Blogger, Flickr, Digg, Bebo, etc. Save Google, nearly every major success story has been an entertainment/media play. In fact, I don't see this argument as particularly surprising or controversial, given that the web has been the dominant technology of the last two decades, and that the web has always been about media.
I think we both agree that personal ambition is pretty much constant over time. My argument is that if that's the case, then it's not reasonable to argue that people preferentially sought out "safe" jobs three decades ago. Smart, ambitious people have always sought out the opportunities that make them most successful; today those opportunities are clustered in industries that reward ephemera.
Unless they want to not publicize it, to avoid anti-patent sentiment? e.g. two TechCrunch comments:
Could you tell them to publish the papers or the notes please?
As useful as sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are (not to pick on any of them), their achievements are nothing compared to putting people in space, designing planes like the Dreamliner and the A380. or even the engineering that went into the Chunnel.
The Facebook team's accomplishment may be much smaller than putting people on the moon, but the size of their team (and partners) and their budget isn't comparable either.
I say an accomplishment of X value by spending Y resources is equivalent to one of 100X value by spending 100Y resources (numbers and proportions unrelated to facebook VS moon example).
Without an education, you might still have a marketable skill, but people have to take your word for it.
Personally, I don't have a university degree. I do have a marketable skillset, but it's up to me to prove it, and through a bit of luck I'm in a pretty good position. But it's certainly not a path I would recommend others to travel, you leave too much to chance.
And while I'm on the subject, Sergey Brin also still has a Stanford web page (http://infolab.stanford.edu/~sergey/), which helpfully informs us that "Currently I am at Google."
Could it possible that these are really people who dropped out after studying for a few years having learnt what they can or realised what they cannot learn rather than people who never went to college.
This is a big difference.
I think people should at least try a couple years of college, if they can, if only so they know what they're missing if they don't finish.
i didn't mean the post to encourage dropping out but upon reading it this morning, i realize it sort of does that
A start-up usually takes at least four, on the average seven years until a "liquidity event" occurs (Some stay private forever and while profitable, don't offer any opportunity to just hand the business off without losing everything).
Thus, if someone is willing to try building a start-up (potentially, a four year commitment) why not try a college education provided they have the means?
Lastly, college education has rewards in it of itself: not just the employment/entrepreneurship opportunities it may open. There aren't very many jobs/many feasible/executable start-up ideas out there where you'll get to write operating systems, compilers, design RISC chips and code in Haskell and Scheme (I did/could do all of the following, despite going to a school that wasn't, by any means, a top research center for EE/CS). Add to that being able to attend lectures and write papers/essays on topics in such as Ancient Greek History.
The last paragraph sounds like something I'd like to do if/when I have a "liquidity event". On a personal note, had I not been exposed to these topics, I may have found routine software engineering work to be the most exciting task I could put my mind to (as I did, when I briefly worked full time during and after high school) -- and would see no reason for entrepreneurship.
College forced me to learn a lot of stuff I wouldn't have bothered to learn before. Stuff I had no idea would become useful and if I ever needed it may not have had an idea to look for it.
I have an interest in programming languages and interpreters--college helped me find and cultivate this interest. I'm working on a startup doing a lot of natural language stuff--college gave me the foundation necessary to teach myself the tools of this field quickly.
The theoretical underpinnings of stuff don't go away. Understanding different string matching algorithms can apply to writing an efficient style checker, not just making an asinine version of strcmp.
Granted this is all oriented towards technical stuff. I suppose if I wanted to be just an entrepreneur I could save money and buy a Subway franchise. I don't think a college education is necessary there either (but I'm sure it doesn't hurt).
Some of us had parents who never stepped foot near a college or university and having their kids graduate with a degree is one of their dreams. Having picked up programming in high school, Computer Science was really the only appealing option. Overall I don't think it was a waste, though some parts were (most general education requirements.) At that age, I don't believe I would have been ready or mature enough to even work a full-time programming job, let alone start some sort of business.
So all you needed were a few people to guide you in the right direction. You can get that from the Internet or from other people you may know who are into the same thing or have a certain level of expertise. We don't absolutely need colleges for that anymore.
Wow. We never even came close to studying that kind of stuff at my college (Computer degree). We just learned some Java and linked lists and trees in the data structures course, a bit about computer hardware and not much else.
All the really cool stuff like interpreters, compilers, programming languages, unification, Rete, Common Lisp, etc. I had to learn on my own.
Did I simply attend a subpar college or you attended a great one?
I stopped school for three years before I came to the US to further my studies here. In those three years, my plan was to start something that could make me millions. Soon, I realize that this is a dream, I only managed to make decent amount of money through freelancing. But, I can tell you that you hardly can go anywhere if you are working alone. Luckily enough, I did learn some programming in this period.
Then, I decided to come to the US. English is not my first language. I worked my ass out to get decent score for my SAT. And, luckily enough, I got accepted into one of the best CS school in US. Here, I met with my current cofounders with my new startup. And, this is another new process that I have to dedicate myself to learn something new again(Communication skills, new culture, etc.).
I never regretted to further my studies to college. I met new people here. I learned new knowledge(Remember, CS is not all about programming). And, I believe that this year in college actually helped me more than the three years I wasted.
My startup died when my cofounder got into Harvard Business School and I got into Google (we're both Amherst grads). 99.99% of America would not call that a failure. But the bottom line is that my startup's still just as dead.
I would have agreed with you had Bill Gates, for instance, never been to Harvard in the first place. If he had applied for a job at IBM and had got spurned. If Microsoft was something he came up with as a last resort after failing to bag a job elsewhere.
I presume that’s not the case.
And I'd imagine even among those like Fred, they still find themselves impressed by a team of 4 CS grads from MIT. Thankfully for those of us who college wasn't for, customers are significantly less likely to read your resume.
it takes chutzpah to make it as an entrepreneur and the cereal guys can hire the CS grads from MIT easier than the CS grads can get up the courage to sell 800 boxes of cereal at $40/box.
However, I feel that I've been quite lucky and am far more the exception than the rule. I'm actually quite jealous of some of my friends who are getting ready to receive their Bachelors in the next year. As different paths as we took, I somehow feel that I'm lagging behind them in terms of achievements. So I'm back in school this semester. Just one class to make some iota of progress towards my B.S. Comp. Sci.
You certainly don't need a college degree to be a successful entrepreneur, but I've often found it quite hard to apply theory to practicality when you don't know the theory in the first place. When all is said and done, I'd like to have the holes in my knowledge filled and kick that much more ass at what I do..
Three of those college dropouts went on to found a company that Fred is funding. So his story could easily be about those three people.
There are two things I realized after that poll. First, the conventional path is boring and I needed to jump off.
Second, the amount of work required to be great at something completely trumps the tiny amount of work that you're going to put in during college. Sure, the background knowledge is helpful, but only a little bit compared to everything you're going to have to learn after college.
If you know what you really want to do before college, sure go for it, but in most cases people have no idea, college is a good place to keep busy and learn about your interests.
Let's take a computer science degree and a ten year path to great (whatever that means). If you just measure by time spent, you're maybe coming out of college 5-20% of the way down the path.
But I'd argue that the computer science degree isn't specific enough to count nearly that much. Really, you're graduating as an broadly experienced non-expert who then has to put a boat load of time into developing a specific expertise.
The value of that time spent outside of college completely trumps the value of the time spent in college, even if the amount of time spent is equivalent.
Game? We're talking business or the "startup game" if you will.
I missed out on some things, especially getting to know good hackers, and I've probably been paid less over the years. But it hasn't hurt me much. I am under 30 and I have almost 20 years of work experience.
If you don't have a degree and you go interview at (what turns out to have been) a Stanford spinoff, brush up on your useless CS 101, is I guess my life lesson there.
And I'm 100% happy with my decision to drop out of college after 3 months.
But yes!, you should do whatever you want to do, college is not an obligation, like you said a check box not a select button.
Most people phrase the issue as either attending college or getting some boring job and missing out on the "college experience"...
The better model is to not attend college, but to hang around the college town and attend the clubs and associations...and network with the folks that are doing more than just attending classes...these will be your co-founders :)
The real stuff goes on at night when folks are working on their side projects.
The other benefit of this model is that you don't have mountains of debt from tuition...so you're able to take more risks later on.
I know that I don't necessarily need the degree. For the most part it seems useless. I'm quite sure I could find a job, my financials are not that bad, I could even start a startup, but still feel that I'm not somewhat "ready" or have lucrative options enough to dropout.
My current solution is just to read for the exams and skip most, if not all the classes and work on other things. Good thing is that college education here is basically free, so I'm only loosing some time. But still, most of the time, I dislike everything with institutional education.
I am currently a High School senior. I'm three for three as far as colllege acceptances go which makes me feel incredible but I am still unsure where I will be going or how I will pay.
One side of me wants to start a business as soon as possible. Devote my time to fostering the network of websites I own and expanding my web design services to clients. There is plenty of other stuff I do as well, but I don't know if that's a realistic way to go on. I recognize that college will provide structure when I need it and I hope that it will get me to focus.
I wonder what college did for successful entrepreneurs. Rather how to take the most of college as an entrepreneur.
Also - the elephant in the room is plain old intelligence. Ivy League colleges tend to admit smart people, at least as closely as they can determine (there're always a few doofuses who sneak in, but they are a smaller proportion than at community colleges). Smart people have a higher chance of trying to start their own business, and a higher chance of being successful once they've tried.
The same comments, the same threads, the same post-hoc justification (from all sides), the same faulty logical extrapolation, the refutation of aforementioned, etc., etc., etc.
"Anti"-college people: Hi! You do not need an article on a blog - even a great blog from an expert - to justify your life decisions.
"Pro"-college people: Hi! You do not need to act uncomfortable because you did go to college. What an idea. Where's the defensiveness coming from?
"Try inventing anti-cancer shark-mounted LASERS without college degrees!" / "You sure wouldn't hire a BRAIN SURGEON without a degree!" people: One of these things is not like the other. The kids who bypass university thinking they will strike it rich with a social network for iguanas would not go on to invent anti-gravity boots -- or torts -- if only they'd tough it out thru 4 years in a state school.
Who'd I miss?
Remember, folks, historically speaking, many of the world's greatest minds had no university education in their fields. And a lot of them did, too.
Who the fuck cares?
EDIT: PS: I dropped out of high school at 14. Take that!
The procollege people suggest that people without a degree are lesser or cannot achieve as much because of it.
This leads to both sides feeling attacked, and for them to attack back.
What you said is basically true, though. College is a choice which is good for some people, bad for others. Some people excel with the pedagogy, and go far further than they could have on their own. Some subjects require this (or, to turn it around, in some subjects pedagogy is so effective that people without it are at a significant disadvantage). Some, however, do not.
Colleges are important and useful. Some people don't need/want that level of analysis. Some people don't need the help. It's a personal decision.