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Ask HN: Friend's 15 year old wants to drop out, I've been asked to intervene
44 points by shawndumas on Feb 9, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 140 comments
After reading the letter he wrote to his principal (included below because HN won't allow an Ask HN post over 2000 characters) I think I am going to disappoint his parents and recommend that as soon as he gets his GED that he go ahead and drop out.

Any advice / thoughts / concerns / considerations anyone could provide would be greatly appreciated.


It's definitely a goofy, pompous, rambling letter written by someone who doesn't know what he doesn't know yet. But assuming the business is profitable, there's zero chance that you or his parents can stop him from pursuing it at this point. I think this 15-year old's decision is made, and the point to intervene might have been when he started employing people.

I wasn't particularly academic, but wasn't driven / confident enough at college to start a business either. So I got my grades, degree etc. first, and have never given a CV to anyone. But I think anyone who gets that far, got through education to 18 or 21 and says they got nothing out of it years later is pretty stupid or short-sighted.

A year of computer science at college turned me from a know-it-all hacker into a grateful know-nothing. Two years of classics before that showed me how to spot when I was hopelessly bored and only trying to fulfil others' expectations, while I built a great relationship with my wife. You get something out of such a dense set of life experiences, but you might have to work it out what it was afterwards.

I'd say to the parents let him go, with a stern & overblown warning that he'd better not fuck it up. If he's burned out or bored of the hosting business at 17 or 18, there's nothing stopping him from resuming his education if that's what he wants - it's just doing things in a different order.

Yes, he sounds like every 15 year old I know (including my own son) who is absolutely convinced that school is useless and a waste of time. That said, for most people the purpose of school is to prepare them to be able to support themselves and their families, and it sounds like he's basically able to do that now.

School is something you can always come back to, but once you start into the family/kids part of your life it becomes a lot more difficult for most people. The best time to be in school is when you don't have any responsibilities to support anyone else.

I think Neil Tyson does a beautiful job of explaining why basic education is important:

There are people who say “I'll never need this math -- these trig identities from 10th grade or 11th grade.” Or maybe you never learned them. Here's the catch: whether or not you ever use the math that you learned in school, the act of having learned the math established a wiring in your brain that didn't exist before, and it's the wiring in your brain that makes you the problem solver.


Can I not learn "math" wiring from doing other activities that ACTUALLY benefit me, such as programming? The very act of owning a business and such is giving me the PRACTICAL knowledge while still building the wiring. It's win win.

I didn't say you can't -- I was simply adding to this:

> That said, for most people the purpose of school is to prepare them to be able to support themselves and their families, and it sounds like he's basically able to do that now.

The real question you have to ask is whether you can do both (impractical and practical) -- if you can do both, then it is clearly better than doing one.

You may not realize it now, but a lot of things that seem impractical can become very useful (or at the very least, fascinating) when provided with the right context. For example, if you ever want to learn about how your computer works on the inside, knowing basic physics will give you better perspective on what's happening. More obscure stuff like Quantum Tunneling starts appearing in technologies like NAND flash memory -- it's not necessarily practical to know all that, but I'm very happy that I know it.

Funny you mention Quantum tunneling as I love delving into quantum mechanics and various inner topics such as tunneling. I also enjoy going into the philosophical elements of said quantum mechanics. Cool thing is, I do all that in my free time, not at school. I like to keep an open mind and use the information on the internet to broaden my knowledge.

Then you're on the right track :-)

Forget I even said anything.

have you seen minute physics on YouTube?

Yes and I very much enjoy it.

that ACTUALLY benefit me, such as programming

You don't know what you don't know. You can have a fine career in programming without math -- but with math you can have many great careers.

Keep taking math and working hard at it. Stop when it gets too hard.

Two of my three favorite classes in college were math classes -- combinatorics and algorithms.

More than that; your smart and get things done. if and when you needed to learn the math needed to solve a roadblock you'll use exactly the same skills you used to learn Linux administration/networking/programming

He is succesfully managing a Minecraft hosting company. I don't think he is lacking in the problem solving skill.

Yes and no -- learning calculus (which is offered in many high schools) or advanced physics (he's in a private high school, so I'm assuming their classes and lab activities are well-funded) is still different. The real question in all this: is this a false dilemma? Is it really impossible for him to pursue both?

If possible, learning physics and managing a Minecraft hosting company is clearly better than just the latter.

not every 15yo is successfully running their own business

and we're not talking a lemonade stand. he's doing the heavy lifting at a hosting company; networking, Linux administration, programming.

all of which are disciplines in their own right

do you really think he'll have trouble rounding himself out by reading broadly?

> It's definitely a goofy, pompous, rambling letter written by someone who doesn't know what he doesn't know yet.

Further, I find it a bit odd that the kid, knowing that his parents are paying thousands of dollars (I'm assuming) to attend a private school decides to start neglecting his classes. I'm likely just not doing a good job of understanding his point of view, but it feels selfish and immature.

Did he not want to discuss his ambitions with his parents? They clearly care about him (at least, remarkably more than many of the kids that went to my high school).

Is the company really consuming all of his time? Or is this letter satisfying a desire to rebel? These are important questions to ask him (but probably in a less confrontational tone).

I read the letter twice. The first time naturally, and the second time from the viewpoint of a parent to try and compensate for my natural bias. It would appear to me that your natural bias lies on the other side. Try to reread the letter from the point of view of a kid who is making $350,000 a year (I realize that he personally isn't pocketing the money, but he is responsible for it). I feel like you are too quickly dismissing his point of view entirely because you are not able to sympathize with it. I have not a few friends from my college days who would agree with a few of his sentiments. They are now working at low paying jobs despite their high levels of education.

> It's definitely a goofy, pompous, rambling letter written by someone who doesn't know what he doesn't know yet.

Here, you are quick to come to the conclusion that he is simply naieve. In that case, I too, may be naieve because I cannot quickly point out what it is that he is missing. Neither do you in your comment point it out. If you get around the language, which may seem pompous, it appears to me that this kid would actually like to know the answer to this very question that you have dodged.

I don't think there is some new insight in his letter, though I agree the message is clear, and his decision made. But lots of 15 year olds think school is boring and pointless, or think they can do anything based on the tiniest success.

Lots quit school for "real life", and for far worse reasons than having a substantial & profitable business, though I'd suggest there's a survivor bias to the ones you hear about - Branson, Gates etc.

Like I said, the only reason against is that you don't know what you don't know, and his parents will see real risks that he won't.

The time for an intervention was a while back, and it just doesn't seem like a terrible parental decision to throw your support behind a child with ambition and some success. (unless of course the business is propped up by parental subsidy, or favours from friends: free rent, broadband, meals etc. might have made a ramen-profitable business look like a fabulously comfortable one).

Who knows whether it's the right decision? It's a viable one while business is good. I hope his motivation stays strong for whatever comes next - whether that's expansion, a second business, college, or something else. Good luck to him.

I'd say to the parents: definitely let him keep on managing this company. Running something with that much revenue is a big thing for a kid to be doing. I'd love it if my kid was doing that.

I'd say to the kid: don't give up on school. There are lots of ways to continue formal education besides your current high school. Find something that works (see many ideas on this thread), part time if necessary, and do it. Yes, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, but he could return to Harvard if Microsoft failed.

I appreciate the comment and agree with it. I have addressed the first matter you spoke of in some of my various other comments. In addition as you stated, I can return to "high-school" or other higher education if [my hosting company] failed.

I'm not trying to be stubborn. I WANT to see how the school system can benefit me. I WANT something custom tailored to help me. I WANT to learn, but right now I'm not seeing that. I WANT someone to show me HOW the knowledge and skills I'm getting at school are MORE beneficial than the knowledge and skills I'm gaining at home applying to my business.

Neither of my kids have ever been to school (k-12). One is in college now, the other just turned 17 and is considering her college options, of which there appear to be plenty based on the amount of mail she is getting from colleges.

Dropping out has a stigma, unfortunately. Homeschooling, not so much anymore. So I'd recommend he quit school to homeschool, studying mostly whatever he needs to do on a day to day basis to run his company. The end result is basically the same, and depending on where they live, the Principal may be powerless to stop the homeschooling decision. Maybe he can offer to take a class or two at junior college, or on Khan Academy to mollify his parents that he is still doing something and that their kid is not a "dropout."

If you want to let me know what state they are in I can give you a basic idea of the homeschooling regulations for that state.

He founded a startup with $350K in revenue and his parents will be disappointed? Really? This guy is not your typical at-risk high school dropout. He's clearly a true entrepreneur and a winner. At this point, he can pretty much write his own ticket in life. He doesn't need the arbitrary rules and stifling structure of high school to be successful.

His parents grew up in a very different world, and they need to understand the world has changed. Education and keeping your head down in a stable corporate job are not the ticket to prosperity anymore.

Agreed, but:

> Education and keeping your head down in a stable corporate job are not the ticket to prosperity anymore.

...are not the only ticket...

They still are and entrepreneurs are still a tiny minority. Almost everyone around you lives depending on a stable job with not that many options to go up. World is different from the HN echo chamber. Education and corporate jobs are still valid - in different ways, context and to a different degree than for the last generation - sure. But they're still valid.

> a true entrepreneur and a winner

The problem is that he might be a lucky winner. As per the "once - you're lucky, twice - you're good" expression. He's on a roll now, but if it all collapses (350k split to 12 employees and running costs - that's not really something to write home about), what are the chances that he'd be able to recreate the success? I don't know. Nobody knows.

He's effectively not hedging the risk of future failures.

If his current company does well, it'll be OK. But if it fails, he may end up facing more trouble than he can handle, all due to not having basic checkboxes ticked on the resume.

if it fails, he may end up facing more trouble than he can handle, all due to not having basic checkboxes ticked on the resume

It depends on what he permanently cuts himself off from, which I'd recommend he not do.

He's probably a dream candidate for other hosting companies to hire. If the company fails, he can get a GED and apply to college, even very prestigious ones. (And if he qualifies as independent from his (I'm guessing upper-class) parents, he'll get a free ride.) And he will have plenty of employment while going through college.

You've made good points and it is something I'm worried about, however, I do think that as the other commented below this one pointed out. I'm a prime candidate for many other hosting companies and with a little work I can re-secure those "check-boxes"

You think that you are a prime candidate. In reality, you will need formal certifications and other checkboxes to get a job in a larger company, and you will find it difficult to find a smaller company with more relaxed hiring policies that is actually hiring (and offering what you want). The likelihood of you needing to hide the lack of basic formal education is very high.

Risk management is something that doesn't really correlate with being 15 year old. But you are at the point where you are about to discard conventional arrangements for advancing through life and try and do something very unique. The more unique it is, the higher the chances of it not working out (because otherwise everyone would've been doing it), so do not burn any bridges and do think through your plan B for the shittiest circuimstances moving forward (like the economy receeding, people not having money to pay for Minecraft servers, inflation eating up your profits, etc).

Lastly, on a more general note, the benefits of fundamental education are hard to distill in a concise form, but they are significant. Knowing how things work outside of the circle of your immediate interests, what people tried, explored and what mistakes they made... all this makes you a person who is smarter than the rest, and in the fastest way possible. You can, for example, re-invent calculus (and it's been done on more the one occassion), but that's highly inefficient way to go about it. Learning from others is the only way to get in a territory where you can truly innovate. But again if you don't see yourself ever desiring to do that, then it's hard to persuade you otherwise.

All in all - don't drop out. There's always another 350k to be earned, but there's no better time to absorb the knowledge than while you are young. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, don't waste it.

I barely made it out of HS and have no further degree

and yet, with a CISCO certification I had no trouble getting plenty of job offers

I decided to change job tracks and focused on front end engineering and got hired at Yahoo! (after 7 rounds of grueling interviews including a coding interview).

I really think you are over stating the importance of a degree

What are profit margins like in the hosting business? In retail, $350,000 in revenue means about $3,500 in profit.

How do you know that about retail?

From my experiences of HS/College in the US, I wish someone had told me I could've gotten a GED, taken the SAT/ACTs and gone to college when I was 15. I feel as though I missed out on advancing my knowledge at a time in my life when I could focus on it with vast amounts of my time and energy. Although I'm not "behind" the average progression of someone at my stage in life, I feel as though I'm behind where I could be, had I known there was the alternate path.

One of the administrators at my law school dropped out of high school, got a GED, and went to Harvard undergrad. Growing up, I always believed that colleges cared intensely about what classes you took in high school, etc. They don't. Nobody cares what you did in high school as long as you keep up a 4.0 in whatever classes you did take. People will care where you went to undergrad, people will care where you got your MBA, but nobody will care about your high school (barring making old-money connections at a place like Andover or Exeter).

I quite enjoyed my high school experience, but for kids who didn't, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to push them to get out as soon as possible, and maybe take community college classes for awhile until they're ready for college. Lot's of people who hate high school thrive in the more self-directed environment of college.

Not sure about the Harvards of the world, but I'm pretty sure the college I ended up going to only cared about my ACT score, which was > double the minimum score required for them.

I know many people in my HS enjoyed it and were challenged by the classes. Personally I took as many AP courses as I could get my hands on, but the two versions of an AP class seemed to be really slow pace and really high percentage busywork.

By the time my senior year hit, for example, I was attending just enough of my AP Calc class to stay in it and when I was there I slept. AP Calc was my favorite course in HS (because of the math, not nap time), but between the lack of content and slow pace, I couldn't stay awake. I always got points off for not showing work on tests, etc, because I did the work in my head and the time it took to write everything out wasn't worth the ~2 points it cost me.

My college experience wasn't much better. These days I assume it's because I spent the extra four years in HS. I had academic and athletic scholarships, but the classes were ridiculous and of the same HS variety. Sometimes I wonder if applying to places like Stanford would have helped the situation, but when I see the course setups I'm not so sure.

I'd agree that college is more self-directed than HS, but I don't believe it's self directed enough.

People will care where you went to undergrad, people will care where you got your MBA, but nobody will care about your high school (barring making old-money connections at a place like Andover or Exeter).

Some people will care about that stuff. Many won't.

He stands to learn far more by dropping out and trying to grow his business than by taking chemistry classes in high school.

– If his business succeeds, he has a great career ahead of him.

– If his business fails, he will gain practical and useful skills & experiences that cannot be taught in school.

Assuming he is a good self-learner (it appears he is), his skills will make him marketable to a variety of Silicon Valley companies (Facebook, Google, Mozilla, etc.) Worst case, in a year or two, he'll be able to write a great essay for college applications with a reasonable chance of getting into a top notch university.

[I'm a 21yo college dropout & YC alum. Some of the things I worked on succeeded, and others failed.]

A teacher approached my mother when I was 15 and strongly suggested that I be allowed to take the GED and move on to college. Later, an employer approached both of my parents and strongly suggested that I be allowed to take the GED and attend culinary school. Both adults were ignored.

Outside of these two, there was no guidance available to me for seeking an education beyond high school. To this day, I believe that this is still the norm in rural America. If it were not for a community of educated friends, it may have been another decade of rough living for me before I went to college. This contributes to one half of my opinion: in some circumstances, the secondary school environment has nothing to offer the student. In this case, it is evidently time to "move on."

The other half of my opinion is nearly directly contradictory. It comes from the part of my life education garnered over the past 13 years of being a parent. If I try to cast my mind into the situation where, two years hence, I will have to face the decision of allowing my first born to set foot out into a world he may not be mature enough to handle, some reservations are immediately apparent. I am counting on having a few more years to teach this person to manage his life (shop for food, keep his person and effects hygenic) and to make good decisions. It would take some significant reassurance and possibly some means of monitoring his well being to provide me with the peace of mind that would result in my ultimate blessing.

In the four years you attend high school, pure academic enrichment is not (or should not be) the only skills you acquire. As a slightly older person attending college, the total lack of life preparedness exhibited by the other inhabitants of my dorm was nothing short of astonishing. I believe that my focus on getting an education allowed me to wade through the "temptations of freedom" that my these kids could not. That focus was due to having spent most of my young life dealing with parents who partied all the time. My son doesn't have that life, and so I don't trust he has that focus, either. Your friend's son may believe he does, but as the parent of a teenager (who used to be a great deal more reasonable than he has been in the past few months)... you'd have a really tough time selling me on that.

Having said all that nonsense, I would start out by making a list of the pros and cons of taking the GED and heading off to college at 15/16 and then systematically plan to address all of the cons. And make sure to roll in some means of adapting when the plans don't work.

without disagreeing with a thing you wrote, you're assuming that he even wants/needs to go to college

You make a good point. It was completely necessary for me, not at all for Tom. If this kid can position himself in such a way that he has access to the kind of resources that universities have without having to go to one... he should be quite happy.

having already had the meeting with his parents one of the biggest problems that was identified was that they had no objective means to evaluate his abilities.

it's like he was a piano prodigy and they were deaf... both of them were stunned to hear my assessment of his abilities and accomplishments. it was like they could suddenly hear.

it was very much an emotional and pivotal moment in the meeting. my wife was crying... and to be honest it was all i could do to not cry.

his skill set is only incidentally related to minecraft; he could make a living at any of the three major disciplines that he has demonstrable competence in. they were so sad that all this time they were missing out on how happy they could have been for him.

How to win friends and influence people. Grab a copy. Read it or the cliffs notes, time permitting. Revise your letter.

op here; it's the 15yo's letter not mine and it's been sent already.

but I do agree, it was somewhat off-putting.

I find the Principal saying "If I was a good student I would simply do what is asked of me." equally off-putting.

The frustrated tone of the letter suggests he thinks he can get the principal to agree with his position using reason because what other possible reason could there be for the disagreement other then lack of understanding? He's 15, can't fault him for that.

The way adults treat teens is often unfortunate. It's often caused by the way teens treat adults, but then again, the ADULTS are the one who are supposed to be the bigger person in the exchange and break the cycle.

Sadly, while there are some great educators, there are some very lackluster ones as well.

I'm astonished that anyone would hesitate for even a nano-second to give this kid anything less than a godspeed and God bless. I'm sorry, but the kid has already launched himself into orbit, he's not going to come back to earth for the sake of two or three years of choking down generic, all-purpose pablum at the local high school.

Totally agree. His ego is orbiting way out there right now, and I can't see him sitting down to concentrate writing a history paper.

I dropped out of high school in grade 11. I wish I had done it sooner. I am 29.

Unfortunately, I had no support from anyone and ran away from home to get away. School made me want to kill myself, every day. I stopped doing it, I flunked everything, my computers at home got taken away in response. My entire life had become a prison.

Some things that have bothered me:

-Not going to college and feeling like I missed out was a big complex for a long time, feeling like I was falling behind socially and intellectually (which is true but not all bad). I was not prepared for the social skills that people develop there in the process of mentally/emotionally beating each other the head. I have had to deal with peers more socially skilled than I using tricks and experience to throw me off many times, which I see in retrospect having gained enough experience.

-Also not going to college has stunted my intellectual development. I am not as good as I could be and I know it, though I also know that I would likely have had the same social difficulties and not succeeded there anyway. Something like Khan Academy, some guidance, and some support would have helped with this, but perhaps even then I would have been a bit behind my peers earning PhDs, I would have no way to know.

-Peers often hold their degree over me, to this day. Along with this, being judged and stigmatized as "the dropout" and being treated by old peers as inferior no matter what kind of success I achieve, possibly because I am different and they are somewhat uncomfortable with that.

-The road of achievement, especially early on, without the support of a social group or educational institution that I could deal with, was probably a lot more hellish than it should have been. I was naive to a lot of things and didn't have the experience or understanding as to how to apply myself. Especially being a runaway and not being able to take care of myself, but feeling that I had no other options and had no support from anyone made me feel hopeless and desperate and gave me a huge chip on my shoulder, swinging between "I'm fucked and should just crawl in a gutter" and "I have to fight to get revenge" for half a decade+.

My perception by relation to my own experience (probably flawed somewhat) They are going to nail this kid as a cocky bullshitter. Cocky, sure, but that's because they are attacking him for being himself and it's a defensive response to that. Supporting his ego phase is going to be difficult, but try to remember that they are trying to cut him down for trying to be what he is and doing what his brain does. Defiantly labeling oneself CEO at that age and standing up for yourself aggressively is all about grasping for power where you have none.

Hastily typed, hope it is useful, obviously not complete.

very helpful.

my biggest fear is that his parents are gonna die on this hill and as soon as he's legally emancipated he'll sever communications.

I didn't talk to my parents for years. I needed my life to myself to recover for a little while, because I felt that I couldn't trust my parents/anyone and needed freedom to figure myself out. Having zero support and struggling as hard as I did didn't help improve the situation, it made me angry I was abandoned and reenforced the distrust.

The best thing they could have done was given me a place to Do My Thing, food, and electricity, and some warnings about bad habits and explicit and detailed examples of why they are bad. Instead I struggled and scraped and fell behind (and picked up some bad habits as a response to the harshness) just trying to get a room where I could sit and use my computer to make money, and I hated the world for it. Because the trust wasn't there and I couldn't express myself, everything they told me was in an angry and authoritative tone and my brain just blocked it out and made me more introverted.

I knew what I wanted to do and I couldn't understand how they didn't know that and support it. (I didn't express myself well and I was too weird and high tech and clever, like I get the impression this kid is.)

Also: At that age a year of school feels like a decade. The people in this thread saying "what's the big deal about another couple years" are possibly (if anything like my situation) sentencing this kid to life in hell in his eyes.

Double addendum: I get along great with my parents now and they support me entirely.

I would strongly dissuade you from ending your formal education at this time. That said, your career accomplishments qualify you as 'child prodigy' in the eyes of college admissions counsellors, on the one hand, and successfully graduating with C's / D's will if anything hurt your case.

Get your GED. Find a good, large community college at 16, and begin there on a part-time schedule, perhaps 12 credits a year instead of the normal 24-36. Get straight A's or don't bother. Now, at any time in your progress towards a "2-year degree" (including after graduation), you can transfer out to a big-name university and have most of your classes count. You have an academic track record that shows you can successfully study, and an extracurricular that outweighs anyone else's. It enables you to focus your learning, remove yourself from the often harsh social environment of high school, and put off the decision about whether you'll begin a traditional college experience for years, and still be ahead of the game age-wise and credibility-wise.

There is a reasonable chance that your business will fail entirely, or be sold profitably in the next five years, and this route provides you with long-lived options, without wasting the time you're wasting now.

I think that he should get his GED and drop out. If he's already running a business with that much revenue, then he stands to learn far more from dropping out than from staying in high school. I think that you should also reframe the situation by not calling it "dropping out." He will be homeschooled in an unschooling environment, which is what it's called when you let kids do what they want. In his case, what he wants to do is run a business with ~$350,000 in revenue. That, to me, is much more valuable life experience than sitting through calculus.

If he decides to go to college later on, if the company fails, then he will have an incredible admissions essay. The very best colleges look for kids who are unique and running his own business would definitely make him stand out. Have his parents read this: http://homeschooling.penelopetrunk.com/2012/04/27/top-univer...

I'd advise the kid to keep his grades up as long as he has to stay in school, but to drop out and get his GED as soon as possible. Even if his business goes bust, as long as his GPA is intact he's got a hell of a college admissions essay on his hands, and honestly colleges won't care whether he got a GED or not as long as his grades while he was there were good. Unlike getting a college degree, there is pretty much zero signaling benefit to finishing high school versus getting a GED, and the kid is 100% correct--high school is a total waste of time from an educational standpoint. The only thing it could buy him is maturity, but it's clear that he understands the importance of developing social skills and if he can manage a dozen employees he's well ahead of the curve in that dimension.

Again, as long as he doesn't tank his grades trying to do both, the kid has nothing to lose here.

Impressive. He is managing a company earning over a quarter of a million dollars in revenue, and he is 15?

There are valid reasons to complete high school, but frankly, this would be a greater accomplishment on his resume than anything school would offer him.

If he can do this at age 15, and sustain it, he doesn't need school. He's already succeeded.

Hello Mr. [Principal],

I've heard through sources that there have been various meetings conducted regarding my recent and overall academic performance at [private school]. I'd like to put some stuff on the table and get your thoughts on a few issues if you would take the time to read this. As background information I'd like you to know that I am the owner, CEO, and CTO of [hosting company], LLC a large Minecraft hosting company with over 5,000 clients and over $350,000 a year in revenue. We currently staff 12 employees and maintain a network of over 70 high powered server systems in a data-center located in [colo]. With that kept in mind I'd like to continue to discuss some issues that may have surfaced within your meetings.

Firstly I'd like to discuss the issue of character within this. As I heard you discussed this is a problem for you particularly because you feel that "If I was a good student I would simply do what is asked of me." While this may be a somewhat accurate statement, I would like you to think a little bit deeper into the fact that this is not pure rebellion, defiance, or lack of will. However, the core reason why I have not been completing a majority of assignments is due to the fact that my work is a full time job in which I'm constantly required to be present in the work environment as a crucial role to our day-to-day operations. My presence allows the company to be effective in providing our offerings as well as playing a crucial role in furthering the development of the company towards our end goals. Every minute that I'm away is time, and thus money, lost for the company.

As much as I would love to be able to complete everything that is requested of me I need to balance that out with thinking about the future of my business, and down the road, my life. There comes a time when there is simply from a mathematically validated standpoint, not enough time in the day to complete one's required duties for multiple operations (work and school) and still get a decent amount of sleep (I only get about 6 hours of sleep a night by the way.) You may also try to make the point that school should come before work, and my question to that is, why? Is it because it will prepare me academically in life? Well please refer to the below paragraph. Is it because I need to maintain social contact with people on a regular basis? Is there any reason why on-line relationships over Skype don't count when almost all elements of physical relationships are mirrored? If it's none of those what is it?

I'm going to be perfectly honest with you and I think if you keep an open mind, can understand where I'm coming from on the following issue: I think the modern school system is flawed from the perspective of someone who knows what their life's niche is. For me I already know I want to work in the server administration and networking area. Because of this my education should be tailored to what I want to learn, similar to college. The problem is, all information taught in lower level schooling is purely general information, which, up until grades 7+ is perfectly fine as it teaches you the basics of life, social skills, and various other things essential to becoming successful, however, once you get to the higher levels of general education you are met with a plethora of useless information that you will truly, never need in life. I have a general understanding of this because I'm currently living the life of a 15 year old adult, paying my bills, paying taxes, operating a business, managing employees, etc...

After doing much research (through polling a group of adults ages 25+) I have found that an overwhelming amount of them state that school is, and was, simply useless for their later life. I understand that if the information is not directly relevant to my future in life that the information can be used to expand my mind and critical thinking skills; however, I'd like you to consider that on my own time I am expanding my mind and critical thinking skills at a much more rapid rate than possible in a structured environment in which teachers have to attend to 20 or so other kids in addition to the distractions and other deterrents in those types of environments. I can go into much more detail on that but for sake of keeping this E-Mail short I won't; maybe we can have an in-person talk sometime regarding this because I hope to be understood in these matters even though I know it may go against the current prevailing thoughts on schooling.

One point I know that was brought up was regarding the fact that "Minecraft hosting won't last forever." Any reasonable person would of course agree with this statement, games are temporal, and will soon be "out of date" or "old fashioned", but what I don't think is fully understand is that we have a business structure setup to last which features many expansions planned in the near future bringing VPS Hosting, Cloud Hosting, web-hosting, voice server hosting, DayZ Hosting, among many others, and I can tell you many of these things will be around for as long as the Internet exists. For perspective, VPS and cloud hosting are the backbone of the 21st century Internet, allowing thousands of websites to operate properly with millions of visitors, and because of this is a rapidly expanding and solid market for the future.

In conclusion I would again like to remind you that anything said here was said not out of hate, or disrespect (as I have utmost respect for you and the other administrators), but rather, I'm just sharing my thoughts and opinions to get your feedback as to them. Thank you for you time. I look forward to your response whether it be in person or via E-Mail.

(P.S. I'd like to state that the validity of my sources is questionable and may not be 100% accurate. If I made any false claims please let me know.)

-- Kind Regards, [Kid] (CEO/CTO) of [hosting company]

When talking with a friend of mine about me having dropped out of college because I was too bored, he once said: "If you were that smart you would've just finished it next to all your other stuff."

I was pretty much this kid, or close to it, and to this day that statement is still one of the most valuable, harshest truths to me. So just challenge the kid to make it both work, run the company and finish high-school. If the kid is this smart he can do way better than running some VPS hosting company in the long run.

edit: I'm not from the US, but biscarg's comment sounds like it would be pretty good for the kid.

> If the kid is this smart he can do way better than running some VPS hosting company in the long run.

What's actually super interesting about the kid's comment is that while clearly written by a clever kid, he specifically never states that he is too smart for this, and that seems intentional.

It seems very much that the kid recognizes that the system is flawed, and not that he is too extraordinary for the system, so in my opinion, trying to appeal to him in the: "If you were that smart you would've just finished it next to all your other stuff." sort of manner will be of no effect.

Now, I don't even know if I think he should stick around through school, I likely would not have, but if that's what you want to argue to him, I'd suggest that the best way to do that is through showing him how non specialized education is helpful all through life, which I argue will be very difficult, because we have an educational system that stresses specialization over a more liberal education, and I think he recognizes that.

Exactly. I do not feel I am too smart for school, however, as you say, I feel that the system is flawed. And I don't want to waste my time on many things that I know will truly never help me in practical knowledge. However, there is still of course the connections and some vital information that school providers, but I don't think it's worth sitting out all the other useless information that wastes my time.

It's been many years since I've read "The Millionaire Next Door," but one thing about the millionaires is they surprisingly often don't have college degrees, sometimes not even high school.

HOWEVER, just about universally they highly highly value their own kids getting college degrees. It is one of the most important things they believe they can give their kids. So while they skipped parts of the traditional educational system, their experience after 30 years of life has convinced them that their own kids ought to have it.

This is a curious assault on general knowledge that you display here - what precisely would you consider to be "useless information", and why?

Schooling at the level you're at now is designed to be well-rounded, and I suspect you would be doing yourself a future disservice if you chose to completely reject it in favour of your current narrow interests.

the insipid inanity that they pass off as "knowledge" really is not worth his time.

he would be much better served reading broadly; historic fiction, science/nature periodicals, the classics etc

As I am unfamiliar with the state of the US education system, could you please explain what exactly are you referring to?

below is an example of what is done and what to do diff. this is about science but you can extrapolate to the other subjects.

teachers like Tyler DeWitt are vastly underrepresented in the school system.


Thanks for the links. The speaker in that video makes an excellent point about science communication which I think applies to all education and not just primary/seconday school. For example, even scientific journals having "commentary" or "news and views" sections alongside the papers is incredibly important to tell the readers why the research may be important (if they don't follow it intimately already).

Flawed doesn't even begin to describe the system, and that's not taking into consideration that the system was never designed for people like him

Every system is flawed; the ones after high-school as well.

I'd suggest following hkmurakami's advice and figure out a way to bend the system to your will. It's a much more valuable lesson in the longrun.

Some private high schools will give assignments that in totality, really do take many hours per day since they require lots of repetition and formula application, rather than say, a small number of very difficult prompts.

In response, here are some "deals" that my friends cut with their teachers:

Friend 1: Instead of doing ~50 easy/medium difficulty math problems per night, he would do 3 difficult ones instead from the section.

Friend 2: He would not have to any homework for AP Physics class as long as he got an A on the previous exam.

AP Bio Teacher: Had an official rule where any student who got a 90% or higher on the previous week's exam wouldn't have to do any of the assignments for the week (though many would do the assignments anyways to learn the material).

These are some things he could look into.

My teachers (with exceptions) are stubborn and unwilling to make such deals. It's also not only the after school assignments that I'm upset about, but the fact that I spent 8+ hours of my day in school with no ability to get any work done.

Have you considered that you might not have the social skills yet to make them willing to make such deals with you?

I was in a very similar position as you and looking back what got me those breaks were the teachers that liked me, that liked what they saw in me and who wanted to support me.

Everything I got, I was granted. Just like in real life.

Lots of schooling is built around making it easier to manage groups of kids. If this guy starts getting exceptions, the teacher is afraid that the next 10 kids in the class will also want exceptions, and pretty soon it's dogs sleeping with cats.

Yep. That about describes it. All the kids in my school are wildly crazy and immature and thus it's not in the picture.

I may not have the "best" social skills, but I will say many of the teachers do like me.

worse than that; the very nature of the job of school administration attracts a certain kind person

they want him to conform to a system that was never designed for him

he convinced me to do what I could to try and convince his parents to let him get his GED and then dropout

Maybe there's a point like this to be made about college but I don't understand how 3 more years of high school would benefit him - what's wrong with a GED? It just seems so much more time efficient.

I agree. And while a genius/superman may be able to do both, everyone has their limits. It may be smarter to pick one thing and focus completey on it.

For better or worse, a GED has a stigma as being an inferior option. Just something to be aware of.

Sure, right up until you finish a college degree or have enough work experience that nobody asks about your HS experience. If he just went to a community college and got an Associate Degree in something, the difference between having a "real" HS diploma and having a GED vanishes in the wash. Transfer from the CC to a regular university and he's on the exact same track as before, except for possibly not going to Princeton or Harvard, and instead being at $STATE_SCHOOL. Big deal.

Don't get me wrong.. for most kids, I'd suggest going ahead and sticking around HS and finishing. But it's not very long after high-school when your high-school "credentials" become totally insignificant.

I've conducted well over 200 interviews and I will tell you honestly it never would've crossed my mind to pass up on someone who is smart and got things done simply because they had a GED

and just to give that statements some context, I've been in a position to make the initial decision on hiring at three of the last four companies I've worked for

biscarch* ;)

"If you were that smart you would've just finished it next to all your other stuff."

It's not about being that smart, it's about the best use of your time. You could be the smartest person in the world, but doing hundreds of single-variable derivatives isn't going to teach you as much as moving on to multivariate calc (if you're capable of moving on).

School in the US locks you into a specific speed. If you learn more, you're punished with busywork below your current level, if you learn less, you get left behind.

The quote I'd prefer to hear your friend say is "If you were that smart why didn't you test out?" or "If you were that smart why didn't you just finish everything in a couple months?" But these are impossibilities in the current system.

The school system is akin to having a giant pile of rocks.

Which is a better use of your time if you're capable of building a crane:

A) You can either carry them one by one to where they need to go (finish hs)

B) You can build a crane that moves them faster (drop out and pursue more).


> I don't remember high school being extremely rigorous

Agreed, but it still requires at least 35 hours a week of sitting in class.

I'm reminded of the argument I heard from one kid that if eating junk food was "bad" it wouldn't satisfy their hunger and be so tasty.

The core of that argument, like this one, is that the fundamental assumptions about what the activity is providing are incorrect, and that leads to poor reasoning about the problem.

In my case the young man had made assumptions about signalling his body gave him with regard to being hungry or not as a signal of quality and/or acceptability. In the author's case the young man has conflated the value of education with the value of earning a living.

I agree with others here that if he is "that smart" he should be able to just finish up the high school curriculum and get that out of the way. I'd certainly consider home schooling him, since his business is so successful he should be able to hire himself an individual tutor, get the basics covered, get certified, and then get his degree. These folks typically deal with kids of movie stars or executives who are travelling a lot but they are out there.

If the kid is smart, and you want to reason with them, do it at the company level which he has so much of his identity invested in.

What is his gross margin? EIBTA? Net income? What are the strengths, weaknesse, opportunities, and threats for his business? What happens if Notch decides to cut off folks like him? What's the next step in his life? And the one after that. When he's dead what does his obituary say, "Man he ran the best Minecraft servers." ? He has shown that he can create a business, that is great, but does he have the stones to make bigger businesses? Or is he strictly small time, the 21st century equivalent of the guy who owns and runs the gas station on the corner his whole life? Who are his heroes? His anti-heroes?

Clearly he has had success in his goals, but he doesn't know what he doesn't know. The goal of an education is to give you the tools to attack the problem of developing knowledge when you are confronted with a lack and a need to know. Its artificial in the education system (do you really need to know about ancient history?) but the tools and techniques are widely applicable.

I think your last paragraph is most applicable. And I see this becoming a larger problem in the years ahead. What do I tell my now-5-year-olds when they're in high school? Is there a "low cost" way to marry the social/community aspect of college with the immediacy of online learning? At 40 yrs old now, my most valuable lessons from college are not specifics; rather, they're the general ability to reason/perform logic, work hard at a singular goal, and communicate effectively (in English). I'm left wondering if they all can't be done virtually.

I don't doubt for a minute that developing skills in reasoning, investigation, resource/time planning, and effective communication can all be taught via a remote system. And your 5 year old may very well choose to do things that way, assuming you've managed to communicate to them why these things are important to know.

My eldest child is pretty smart, she basically tested out of the public high school curriculum at age 12, however most of that was due to a voracious and wide ranging reading habit fed out of a pretty strong curiosity drive. College taught her to discipline her efforts toward a specific goal. Sort of like Luke Skywalker learning that even if the force is strong in you, being unable to apply it effectively makes you weak.

The primary difference between the "we're all here together" college and doing it remotely, is the exposure to other people having similar/different challenges and meeting them around you. Since folks are rarely good at everything having people around who are good at things you aren't good at lets you learn from them, and they from you. People deal with stress, and failure, and challenge in different ways. In a college community you get to see how others do that and decide if its going to work for you. That stuff you can't get remotely and that is unfortunate.

He already knows how to develop knowledge when confronted with his own lack of it

you act like he hasn't already learned linux administration/networking/programming on his own

Learning to be a system administrator is a skill. I don't doubt for a moment he is skilled.

It reads as if you have equated skill acquisition with knowledge acquisition, can you say more about what leads you to believe those are equivalent?

skills require knowledge; especially the kind of skill involved with the three separate disciplines (administration, networking, and programming) he has already demonstrably become proficient in.

if you don't think there is a metric ton of domain specific knowledge represented in what he's already doing then you may not be as familiar with the topics as you think you are or are not remembering what it took to attain that familiarity.

but i am also privy to other areas of knowledge aqusition that might identify this minor more than i fear i have already

I think I have a pretty good idea about what it takes to run something similar to what our 15 year old has going on. I think where we might find we have different views is on what constitutes knowledge. Skills are acquired by learning and practicing all the 'how' questions around a topic, knowledge is acquired by learning all of the 'why' questions around a topic.

hmm... i personally need to understand the why before i have any ability to remember/understand/apply/execute the how.

i guess that's the difference between people that inherited knowledge (without any need of it) instead of having to arrive at it (because they were feeding themselves and their kids with it).

that kind of explains why, of the over 200 interviews i've conducted, some of the college educated "programmers" i came across seemed knowledgeable; until i made them write code that is.

thanks for solving that conundrum.

He doesn't know what 'temporal' means and doesn't write that well. He would benefit from more English instruction.

There are many problems with how kids are taught in school. However, it's arrogant to think that you won't benefit from further instruction at 15 - regardless of how well you think you're doing.

I've known many smart autodidacts, but they're often unaware of their weaknesses. They tend to be less 'well rounded' than those with academically trained minds.

I don't know what temporal means? It means that something is time sensitive I.E. my computer is temporal, because it will only exist in it's current working state for a certain period of time.

And I would agree that I'm not the best writer, but are there not people who are far worse at constructing a proper sentence that have graduated high-school AND college?

I don't think that I won't benefit from further instruction. What I'm saying is it's MORE beneficial to focus my efforts in more practical learning. I WANT to learn, but I don't want to learn stuff that will waste my time. I have nothing wrong with the subject, the problem is that we're not seeing how to apply it. I can learn math all I want through doing complex programming and creation of algorithms, however, sitting in class isn't getting me the same practical knowledge that that would.

it's MORE beneficial to focus my efforts in more practical learning

No. Not because "practical learning" is bad - indeed, it's as great as you say - but because the "practical learning" that you can find for yourself is available forever. Especially if you're naturally good at it. At this point, or at any other point in your life, all you need is Ramen noodles, a cheap laptop, a solid Internet connection and a credit card.

Indeed, self-administered practical learning just gets easier with time, because you can move around and buy hardware and rent machine shops and own your own garage.

But there are things you can't easily replicate outside school, or that are a lot easier to enjoy if you have credentials and go through channels. My personal favorite example is: Science labs. Colleges have real science labs! Which are really fun for practical learning! And which you can use as a student. I mean, I won't go so far as to argue that you should spend twelve years doing a Ph.D. and a postdoc just to get your hands on the femtosecond-pulsed UV lasers, the bounteous supplies of liquid nitrogen, the fully-equipped biochemistry labs, the cell-culture hoods and incubators, the specially-bred laboratory mice, they mysterious bottles of colorful liquids, the nanotechnology laboratory, the electron microscopes, or the particle accelerators. But I did. And I don't regret any of that!

Yeah, I don't "use" my little pile of academic credentials at the moment. But there is more to life than just being "useful". Otherwise nobody would ever bother to, say, play Minecraft.

I can learn math all I want through doing complex programming and creation of algorithms...

So, are you one of those geniuses who has already aced the U.S. Mathematical Olympiad and then gotten bored with it? I have to ask, because such people exist, and if you are one I can't help you. But otherwise: Please tell me you've taken a serious high-school mathematics competition and been bored by it, because otherwise I'm not yet convinced that you know what you're missing. There is a lot of math that is not encompassed by "complex programming" or "creation of algorithms". A whole lot. More than I can understand. Not to mention the physics. Physics! In the hands of the right teacher, who is admittedly not easy to find, it's really a lot of fun.

"Temporal" means either "relating directly to time" or, idiomatically, "relating to the affairs of life on this earth instead of the afterlife". You meant "transitory".

Your situation is fascinating. You are simultaneously me (although substitute software exploit development for Minecraft hosting and subtract a lot of dollars) at Jesuit school in the '90s and, from what I can see coming, my son (now 13).

Can I offer you some more advice?

* Find some honest, worldly adults, preferably some affiliated with colleges, to lock down the advice you're getting about going GED instead of finishing school. I'm finding it jarring and disquieting; on the one hand, if the people advocating GEDs are wrong, you could be making your life much more annoying by complicating your entrance into college; on the other hand, if they're right, sticking out school is actually going to make college harder because your grades are going to suck.

* Read fiction, and get a book on writing (check out _Style: Towards Clarity And Grace_ --- it approaches writing the way K&R approaches C), and take writing seriously. You write like a very smart teenager; you don't edit, and you choose puffy words, but you also write like someone who doesn't hate writing. The world cares very much about this. Writing clearly and confidently will get you a long way in your career. You won't find many successful adults who will tell you otherwise. Participate in forums and, when you do, try to be mindful of how you're writing; there's no better way to learn than to practice, and no easier way to practice than to yell at people (gracefully) on forums.

* If you're serious today about a future in technology, learn to code. I know a lot of people who dropped out of college early for careers in systems/networking who never learned to program, and it hamstrung them later in life. High school won't teach you anything about programming, but the first few semesters of a good college CS program are a forcing function that does. Don't settle for PHP! If you're already doing this, congratulations, and keep on it. Software development is the fissile core of the whole industry.

* I'm probably the 1000th person to tell you this, but that's because it's very true: you will not necessarily want the same things when you're 30 as you do now at 15. The world is full of talented technologists now working as doctors, lawyers, accountants, and teachers. Screwing up college doesn't close many doors in technology, but it does almost everywhere else. As you get older, your degrees of freedom diminish, and obstacles you create for yourself now can become forbidding later. Keep the doors open.

Let us know how all this goes!

To inject a bit of treacle, here... man am I ever glad I chose you as the father of my children. :-)

What fiction do you recommend? A comment of yours from a few years ago describes how I feel about fiction now: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=917882.

Thank you for your advice in regards to writing.

I'd also like to note that I currently can program well in the following languages: PHP, JavaScript, Java, C#, Python, Lua, etc... and I most certainly enjoy doing so.

Thank you for your input.

This can't be understated, and I'm glad you see that. Also, about the programming languages-- you may think you can program well in them, but you most certainly can't. By virtue of the the fact that knowing a syntax (or idioms) is far different from having domain knowledge, not to mention your age. The fact that you can type the correct syntax for those languages is irrelevant--You have no real-world knowledge about how this is used, which greatly impacts how you build software. That's one of the many reasons why young, "bright" developers will never surpass experienced developers-- it's more than "coding."

what makes you think that he "most certainly can't" program well in the listed languages?

he's solving real world problems in those languages!

I strongly second the last point.

I was a lot like you (I'm addressing this post at the person the whole thread is about, not Thomas) for the second half of high school. I had a lot of fun hacking on various projects, was quite sure that CS was my future, and thought my classes--though I did find parts of most of them interesting--were mostly wasting my time. I talked about wanting to quit, and if I had a successful project that started bringing money in the door, I might have.

One trick is that I did care very much about my grades. So after some wavering about whether I wanted to go to college or push it off indefinitely, I decided to go to Stanford. And for reasons that I can't entirely explain, I signed up for a program where I spent freshman year reading a sizable portion of the important Western writers of the past 2500 years. And I realized that I actually really like the humanities when done well.

But I was still pretty set on a career in tech startups, took mainly CS aside from that program, and flirted with dropping out a couple times.

Now it's my junior year, and I've slowly realized that there are a lot more options out there that interest me. I gained an appreciation for the academic side of CS. And I realized that I really do like and care about thinking and writing about social issues, philosophy, and some other things.

I've pretty much determined that my dream job is professor because it would let me do everything I like doing (innovate technically, communicate, teach people, mentor people). However, I'm also probably not going to go down that track because of the hazing (grad school + difficulty of finding academic jobs afterward) and inflexibility (in the good case, you probably only have one great job offer in one place, and you'll pretty much be there for life), but if you had asked me freshman year, I would have said I had no interest in research.

I'm also not sure that I want to stay in tech forever. There are a lot of interesting problems, one person's contributions can be meaningful in some settings, and it's very flexible and well-compensated. However, a lot of what people are doing is pretty boring to me on most levels (most companies don't need innovative technology, and even most of the ones that are innovating aren't particularly doing anything for society that I care about). After a decade or two, there's a good chance I'll want to do something more interdisciplinary and with more social value. I definitely am not convinced startups are the thing for me; the vast majority of startups just seem banal at this point, though there are some gems.

This also ties into the fact that I expect the world to change a lot in my lifetime. Tech is important to me now, but as the world changes, that could change too, and the more freedom I have to do that, the happier I'll be.

I've learned a lot about what there is in the world and what I care about in the last five years thanks to being in school. And I have a great foundation that will make it easier for me to follow my interests as they develop.

As a side note, college has been an extremely important time for me as a person. I felt pretty adult as a senior in high school, and in many ways, I was; I was far more responsible and better at avoiding stupid decisions than most of my classmates. But I still had a lot of growing up to do, especially socially. I don't think college is necessarily the optimal environment for that development, but it's a very good one. Make sure that you have friends about your age, whom you frequently see in person, and spend significant time with. Get close to some of them.

Finally, writing well is extremely important and useful no matter what you do. It is worth the investment, and the earlier you invest, the more it will pay off.

He's using 'temporal' correctly; one of its connotations is 'temporary' or 'transitory'. See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/temporal

He writes better then a lot of the people that I've dealt with in my 23 years in the computer industry

Well, one thing he could gain from HS is the ability to write an argument. What does he actually want? I tend to agree with you.

The problem is Jonsen, I'm not exactly sure what I want. I don't 100% think that dropping out is the best option. What I want is some kind of reform, I want a system that works for me. Not a system that 'works' for everyone or keeps kids off the streets.

Your only option now is home schooling or private tutoring.

or GED

His arguments, considering that he's not even quite sure what he wants, where enough to convinced me to try to convince his parents to let him get his GED and then dropout

Note that there are colleges that accept students from earlier years of High School. I dropped out of high school at age 15, spent two years at an early college called Simon's Rock[1], and then transferred to Berkeley.

I am not saying this is the best choice for you, but if you want to skip all the useless parts of high school, this is another option.

[1]: www.simons-rock.edu

Going to go against the grain here and say that intervention may not be necessary.

Need followup information:

1. What is the parents net worth?

2. Is the child a US Citizen?

3. What is the skin color/race/nationality of the child?

4. How much money does the child have in cash. What's his net worth?

5. Is his employment at this gig guaranteed for at least 5 years and is this gig going to continue his salary for 5 years?

6. Does he show any signs of burn-out? He may be wildly successful for a few years, then commit suicide because he didn't get stock options?

7. Does the child have stock options in the company and the right to liquidate the company and if so how much would get get in return?

8. Committed any felonies or gotten into trouble in younger years?

9. Does he have a drivers license?

10. Is there a Charismatic cult leader that hypnotized him into a delusional state to plant these seeds who stand to make a fortune from his quitting school?

11. What is the REAL reason for hating school?

12. Did the child write this letter or hire one of his employees to do it?

13. Are there any bullies in school that are hassling him that are prompting this? Can he get along with his peers?

14. Does he have successful mentors who will see his development through to age 18 or so?

15. Is his relationship with his parents solid? So that if he were to get into an accident and become mentally disabled that they would take care of him?

Who can predict the future of this decision? If I was the father, I'd compromise, I'd say: "If your next year in high school is Straight A's, we'll let you quit". If he wants it that bad, and he's a doozer, he'll make it happen.

Check state laws. Since he is a minor, there may be compulsory attendance laws. Also, until he is of legal age, he may have to do as he is told by his parents. Look at the state laws. Look at homeschooling laws. Look at the possibility of attending college part time. Getting him enrolled in college part time may go over better with the parents and the school system/general bureaucracy while freeing up time for him to sleep and run his business.

Since he is clearly intelligent and strong willed, I think the best role you can serve is as a mediator between him and the system/powers that be. Our laws generally are not designed to account for someone so young and so competent. Most adults will think he cannot possibly know what is in his own best interest and, legally, he has little right to decide for himself. Btdt, got the t-shirt. I managed to advocate for myself anyway, but it was via a form of emotional blackmail since, as a legal minor, I had no legal right to look out for my own interests. Emotional blackmail is probably not the best route to go for a budding entrepreneur. Dealmaking is a better path forward if he can get any cooperation.

You could also search for laws regarding emancipation of a minor. When I was 14, California passed laws allowing for emancipation at age 15. This means essentially claiming adult status early for purposes of signing rental agreements and other contracts. However, it is probably reserved for cases of abuse. Given his age, I wonder whose name is actually listed as legal owner of a lot of the business assets. Most businesses will not sign a contract with a minor because they legally cannot be held to it. If his parents signed for everything, he needs to keep them on his side. Until he is 18, there is a legal and practical limit to how much he can tell the adults around him to go screw themselves. (In cases of abuse, you can stretch that limit because ending up on the street may be an acceptable alternative. But that hardly seems to apply to this situation.)

If he were 18, that would be a completely different situation. But he is not. So legally he likely has no right to just do as he pleases. So if you wish to help him, you probably need to help him find a reasonable compromise which is palatable to all parties. If he really wants to be an entrepreneur, this negotiation process (in which he legally has no real say) will be an excellent advanced course in dealmaking. If he views it that way, perhaps he can view it as a challenge to relish instead of just a bunch of pointless obstacles from idiot adults. If you haven't already, you should both read "getting to yes" and "the heart and mind of the negotiator".

Am I the only one here who worked hard in high school and learned stuff? I was probably doing 60-70 hour weeks studying math, chemistry, physics, geology, English, and a few electives in between.

Of course I don't use most of that stuff in my daily life, but I'm glad I know it. And if I had gone into chemistry -- which I was seriously expecting to do as a freshman in college -- those chem classes would be something I'd be using in my daily life, of course with a lot more undergrad and grad work on top of it.

Get the GED, bank the money, and go to college at your leisure when the Minecraft hosting plays out.

If High School weren't such a poor learning environment then maybe but this trend to saddle a student with homework so they are working on school in excess of 40hrs/week is inhuman. Most adults would be looking for new work under those conditions, but we frown on students when they don't want to put up with it. We need creative, spirited young folks, not a bunch of crushed-soul droids.

I'd strongly recommend that the choice be left with him.

His parents are responsible for making sure he has the information he needs to make the right decision, but standing in his way won't protect him; the best thing they can do for him is stand behind and protect his decision.

I feel strongly about this because I was in the same position. At 14, after teaching myself to program for several years, I felt that school had a negative effect on my education (in fact, this was corroborated by standardized test scores). Instead of proceeding to high school, I decided to pursue college courses part-time and spend the rest of my time teaching myself to program.

This was the single best decision I've ever made for myself. I eventually started taking more courses at my own discretion, and later transferred to Berkeley to get a degree in math. Now I'm a 23-year old founder of a growing technology company backed by first-tier investors in Silicon Valley, and no one has ever asked for my high school diploma (which doesn't exist). I owe much of this to the advantage I got from the freedom to pursue to my own interests at such a young age, and having support from family to do so.

I'd be more than happy to talk to him or his parents directly if they're interested. Feel free to pass along my email: scott@deltaex.com.

I'm pretty sure the GED was invented for this kid. He's learning a bunch of stuff now I wish I'd learned at that age. I stayed in school because I didn't have a better idea, but I certainly would have chased a better opportunity. Telling him to stay in school is a natural thing to do, but it sounds like he's old enough to make big decisions for himself.

If the people around hin strong arm him, give him crap, or generally disapprove of his plan to drop out, it's not going to help him (in my opinion). Should I be fortunate enough to be in his position at 15, I'd hope that the people around me would care enough to educate me about my options. This could include staying in school, pursuing school in some other capacity (child actors do it), or simply walking away. There's always the opportunity to go back later, but there's very little chance he'll learn a more valuable lesson by walking away from something he productive that he cares about towards something in which his sees little value.

I propose this. His friends and family go to work for him. They agree to help him make the business more successful. In return, he agrees to pursue a certain level of education for at least two years. Just one crazy idea.

I vote for GED and dropping out.

I did not go to a particularly good high school, but I didn't think that it was entirely a waste of time. However, I had no idea what I wanted to do after finishing my schooling. This kid does. As somebody said, the successful business will catch somebody's eye in some admissions office. Hell, Alexander Hamilton was a manager rather than an owner, and Columbia was happy to take him.

This is not a well-grounded suggestion, but FWIW. Child stars (e.g. film) -- or their parents, although the child's income may well be paying for this -- hire tutors. They cram in concentrated, often one-on-one tutor time and independent study on top of often full schedules. In part, the concentration and quality may reduce the total number of hours required.

I don't know this person's income, but would something like this be an option? Combined with "graduating" early?

In this case, he might be taking the initiative himself, rather than through a parent. But the mechanics seem workable, even if this is not within some established paradigm and set of expectations.

In the business world, rather than e.g. the film world, this person might be considered a "star child". Why not afford him the same opportunity that a film star would have?

I don't know the socio-economic position of this "[private school]", but this sounds as if it's in the U.S., and "private school" and some other content lead me to assume a few things: Both parents are in careers and/or otherwise too engaged to consider home schooling. There may be enough money in the family to help with private tutoring in addition to or aside from the kid's own income. (Much private schooling in the U.S. is not cheap.)

From the language used in our protagonist's letter to his principal, it appears to me that he could benefit from some additional education. At least in written English, there is room for improvement.

So... get the degree, and some additional education. But do it your way, with a concentrated curriculum and instruction that provides the most useful concentration possible while eliminating as much of the bullshit and crap as possible.

Just a suggestion for consideration.

When I was homeschooling in California, you could opt out of public school by hiring a tutor for three hours a day (as just one option). According to info I downloaded here: http://homeschoollegaladvantage.com/resources/homeschool-law... you can opt out of school in Colorado by hiring a tutor for four hours a day, 172 days a year. Compulsory attendance extends to age 17. So his parents may be in no position to let him simply drop out. They could be dragged into court for violation of truancy laws.

I tried to suggest this was the stuff to look into. No one upvoted it or replied to it. It appears to have been completely ignored. But as a former homeschooling parent and former bright teen who tried to convince parents and school administrators to let me do early college, etc, I have firsthand relevant experience. Hopefully, your comment gets a little more notice than mine did. A fifteen year old simply has no legal right to tell parents and school "screw you", especially not to run his business. If it were a case of abuse and he was willing to flee to another state, he might have a bit more flexibility, though at a cost (a lot of runaways wind up prostitutes and/or drug addicts -- not normally a better alternative than putting up with parents and compulsory attendance laws). Those extremes really do not seem to have any bearing on this specific situation.

Sorry, if/as I missed your comment. Looking for it now (commenting here from another page)...

I passed the test they give pregnant teens (I forget what it's called) which gives you an equivalency, midway through my junior year.

My parents wouldn't let me drop out and go to junior college, explaining that I wouldn't graduate.

Of course, they were right. I am just not good at school.

Two years later, when I did graduate, it was 1997. Within months I had a pretty decent programming job that "required" a college degree.

Nobody has every asked about my high school diploma. (I, of course, never mention it. Why would I? all the jobs I have had "require" a college degree, and I don't have one of those, either.)

Anyhow, I gave my parents shit for years about how much money I'd have made if I had another two years working during the bubble.

We are in another bubble, just like '97. If you have the opportunity to get a job now? do so. Once the bubble pops, it will be /dramatically/ more difficult to get a technical job and earn that almost inestimably valuable "first real job" experience.

You can always go back to college if you can't hack the standards after the bubble pops. (standards went /way/ up in 2001. I traded down, job-wise, but retained my pay grade and even though I was working at a less impressive company, retained a programmer/sysadmin role. I had worked hard and learned a whole lot since '97- there is no way I would have made that cut without the experience I gained in those few years.)

If I had gone to college like everyone said I ought, and gotten out in 2001? Very likely I'd have been unemployed through '06 or so. I'm saying this because one of the guys I worked with in '97... someone more experienced than me, and not significantly worse than me? He ended up making sandwiches through the early oughts. I ended up hiring him for my projects through the mid oughts; He left me for a real job again in '07, if I remember right.

I mean... there must have been some difference such that I was able to retain employment through those years and he wasn't... but he was pretty good. If he couldn't get a real job during those years, I don't think a me without experience could have either.

My point, here, is that the business cycle has a huge effect on how easy it is to find employment. It is /essential/ to take advantage of the good times in the business cycle to build experience you can use to get jobs during the bad times.

If what he claims is true, that's hugely impressive, and in terms of how successful he will be, it doesn't matter if he stays in school or not. If he's done that by 15, he's probably not going to learn anything that will change his mind unless and until he goes to University.

School isn't going to help him make more of himself than he has, all it will effect is his current business. With respect to his parents and school, it would be unfair, in my opinion, to stop him doing what it takes to make that an even bigger success.

His letter is inaccurate in saying education gives you nothing, I'm 18 and would disagree profusely. I've studied Computer Science for a few months after being suckered into a short lived technology business, and it's changed a lot about how I think.

However, he does come across in some respects as a smart business guy - where he discusses Minecraft hosting as a fad and tells of his longer term ambitions for that company - that's a business guy whose already made up his mind.

I think he wrote a very good letter explaining his situation and that understands the rewards/consequences. If he feels 100% comfortable with dropping out, and is ok with not going to college to have fun, learn things that would actually interest him, and make more connections, then by all means, it would be a better choice to drop out.

Dropping out isn't going to impact his ability to go to college. Colleges know that 99% of American high school education is crap, and don't care at all whether you complete it or just get the certification via the GED route.

Exactly, this seems like a no brainer. If things turn bad, he can just grab his GED, go to community college for a year or two and transfer over to a regular college. Most of his peers that will finish HS and go to college probably will never have similar opportunities even with a degree. This kid's parents need to yank him asap from school, and work out some kind of home-schooling situation in the interim.

Dropping out is only acceptable if a student has a realistic plan for what to do afterwards. A drop-out who has no plan of action is a worthless bum.

If this kid has a plan -- say, to get a GED, go to a trade school, and secure a decent salary, then it may not be so bad. Equally viable is if the kid has an apprenticeship lined up, with the promise of a career afterwards. On the other hand, "I am bored with school so can't I just play Halo until I can find work as a janitor" is a useless plan that will lead to a miserable life.

Nothing is black-and-white. As Sun Tzu said,

"The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom."

Every kid has got their own needs. I'm watching one adolescent melt down under the peer pressure for performance. As a parent, it's my job to make sure my child is able to survive and thrive when I'm not around. The standard route is high-school and college, but not every person is suited for that straight path.

If he drops out, and gets a GED, it may not be the same straight path, but college is still there, and someone who has worked and taken care of themselves for a bit has a very different take on a college education when they perceive it as something they want and need, rather than something they are supposed to do. When he decides to go to college, it certainly won't be a four-year beery haze.

I think the kid probably should transfer to a public school instead.

The workload is probably considerably lighter there, and he should be able to get a diploma while keeping his concern ongoing.

The business is making an OKAY income, but nothing gangbusters, even for the middle of nowhere.

If he knows what he's doing,i think it's better to let him do as he sees fit. After all it's his life and he will live it the way he wants. As for learning computer science,he already said he has a hosting business,so he may be able to learn computer science at work,by doing it (which is the best way !!!). I think his parents should support him, mainly because he is creating his own job, and if he fails it will be a valuable lesson for him, and then maybe he'll get back to school,but until then ,i think he's right when he chooses his company over highschool . If he's wrong, he'll learn from his mistake and move on...

Honestly, if he's accomplished what he claims to have, and he manages to get his GED (which will be enough to qualify him to continue his education later in college if he chooses), then I would't be that opposed to letting him go ahead and drop out.

I'd push for at least getting the GED though... that way, worst case, if his business ambitions don't pan out, he can always go back to college (starting at a community college if he has to, since they are often guaranteed admittance, if you have a HS diploma or GED).

The grammar and sentence structure of this letter indicate to me that this student could greatly benefit fm a little bit of humility. Sure the student is smart. Sure the student is wasting some time at school. I don't think this is entirely the school's fault. If the student had paid a little more attention, I would assume he would be able to construct more intelligible sentences.

Seems like school has had an influence on his grammar that numerous college graduates should envy.

Having been educated in France and lived my adult life in the US I can say the US education system has an advantage that other countries' may not have:

- In the US, one has the opportunity to get a college education at any age.

I think that college degrees are highly over-rated.. all you basically need in this world is the ability to read, a curious mind, the will to work and a good set of books, a laptop and internet connection. A perfect combo of this, anyone can take over the world.. be the next Aaron Swartz.

Dodging the question of "should he" ... I finished up a few high school credits by correspondence course (pre web) while working and still graduated from my actual high school. I could go as far as I wanted. There have to be online options available that he could work on at his own pace.

I was profiting $1k/day in high school and still managed to finish (and do a good about job to get into a couple top tier universities). I had similar thoughts in high school and understand the predicament, but I know I absolutely made the right decision to stay in school.


I myself recently went through this decision process (although the company I had started at 15 was different) the situation was the same, and if you would like to discuss anything feel free to email me at devon[at]{hnusername}.net

thank you for putting yourself out there like that, very cool of you.

To quote the BBC's Sherlock: "I am not the commonwealth!"

Set him free.

No, I can't help thinking that what they're doing to him is a lot like a sort of prison ; so your comment does really resonate with me.

for what i's worth, i think this is not a problem at all, speaking from the point of view of a parent. as a society we have put school at the level of a deity; something we don't question, just do. back in the day, a good, god-fearing man went to church on sunday. do you live a virtuous life? yes. do you pray everyday? morning and night. do you practice the teachings of the bible? without failure. but all of this didn't matter if you didn't go to church on sundays with everyone else. why? is church not about communicating with your lord? is it not about hearing the word of god and assimilating it? is it not about praising his holy name? yes to all of this. but somehow, the act of going to church overshadowed the point of going to church. much in the same way, the point of school - to be educated - has been overshadowed by the act of going to school. we just dump our kids there because we're expected to. we are somehow convinced that the only way for them to get a good education is to sit in a building and read books so they can come back with a good grade and "make us proud." we don't question it. we don't ask what exactly this "education" is and why is school the best place to get it?

personally speaking i think this is a kid who has found something he would like to do and is rather good at it. without being too long winded, i think it would be best you spoke to his parents about instilling the virtue of being educated in him rather than coercing him to go to school for the sake of it. the reality is, people graduate from school and forget almost everything. but just because they have the credentials, we are somehow supposed to say they're educated. this has been true in my professional life, and not to demean anyone i know, but also in my personal life. education follows you your entire life. it never stops. school ends after four years, and college after another four. at the end of it you would have been no more enlightened about the world around you as you scramble through the transition to "adulthood" - read: getting a job and abandoning the principles that plato and cicero should have taught you, in the interest of moving on up - and if for nothing else, in most cases all that enlightenment is not enlightenment that can only be received via the blessing of the high priest of harvard. i think that should be the important thing to teach any kid, but especially this kid, and when that is learned, school becomes a mere option, rather than the necessity we all portray it to be.

for a personal background, i'm 26, now, and i actually graduated high school when i was about his age, so i understand his perspective. it was dull. i earned the best grades, but i won't deceive myself into saying i actually <i>learned</i> anything. in fact i saw school like everyone else saw school, a collection of classes that were nothing more than classes. i was so terrible and disdainful of maths and sciences that i consoled myself with the idea that they weren't important. after all, i was learning government, economics, sociology; stuff about the "real world." i could quote marx, engels, keynes, and friedman, word for word. i could tell you the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. i could write long essays about the historical context of pride and prejudice. but i never understood any of it. i simply knew them, so i could pass classes very easily because tests were basically "tell me what you read in the book." it wasn't until i graduated that i came across the local public library. i picked up a random book on math and it hit me in the face like a truck. all of a sudden it all had meaning. it wasn't just a bunch of numbers that magically produce other numbers. history wasn't just a bunch of white guys killing themselves. jefferson wasn't just a hypocritical bastard who owned slaves. gradually i stopped seeing education as this prescribed list of books i should read and things i should say. it was all around me all this time. and once you know one thing, you simply want to know more. i'm sorry if it sounds a bit fruity, but it's true. and i thank my mother for not only being supportive in not forcing me to go to college to do the whole child prodigy thing, but also in reconsidering her former idea of education, which was in line with the mainstream view, and coming along with me in the educational journey. it made the world of difference being able to discuss philosophy, in earnest with someone else, rather than have it conferred down to me by some high priest. so you would imagine, it's a bit irritating to hear people talk as if school was this holy arbiter of education. with regards to this kid's parents, my personal opinion would be to engage them in discussion of what exactly education is and focus more on instilling the virtue of education and knowledge in him. present things as they are, life, rather than a series of facts that they have to learn in a building and it won't matter whether or not he was educated in a building, called school, or if he was educated in his fracking car. especially as he's 15 now, support and guidance are the best things his parents can give him. support through his business endeavors and educational endeavors and guidance for when he may seem to be going astray - which, statistically, he will :). and they can't effectively do that if they aren't clear on what exactly their son should get from an education, or even what it is. of course it will be tough, straying away from the traditional route. there is no manual, there are no prescribed books. probably everyone they know went to school and has kids who are going to school. but sometimes the road less travelled is the one that makes all the difference. i wish all parties involved good luck regardless of which road they choose

The only way I would authorize a highschool dropout is if the kid is ALREADY wildly successful, achieving more than 99% of all humans aged 15 to 25 years old. Only in this circumstance would dropping out to pursue these goals be preferable to getting the paper that verifies your education.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of very successful tech startup founders did finish college and have some life experience. E.g. Elon Musk is a prime example - he got degrees in both Economics and Physics before going on to found Zip2, X.com (precursor to PayPal), SpaceX and Tesla Motors.

He runs the risk of burning out like an over amped/volted light bulb, and winding up in the bread line, without a high school education. He just entered the house of pain, unless his parents are very wealthy and can support him the rest of his life, do not drop out.

If he is not a US Citizen, not having a high school diploma will hurt him.

You're most likely going to be working for the rest of your waking life, five days a week, with minor breaks for vacations. Enjoy school/college while it lasts, make the most of it; there's no rush to get into work because once you get in, unless you strike it rich, there is NO getting out. Only if his prospects for striking it rich are REAL and attainable and in-the-bag, do not drop out.

The highschool/college education combo will benefit you far longer than most companies (no matter how wildly successful they are) will be around. The world is full of snakes and evil people. His performance in getting things done may be eclipsed by someone eating him for lunch, in which case an education in common sense would save him a lifetime of pain.

If he's getting a GED I don't see a problem. I don't really know what Minecraft is or if it's going to be around for long but if he's really making $350,000 I'd tell him to strike while the iron is hot and get out of there.

If he's not going to actually go to college he should set up shop on a college campus so he can use the library, etc and make some connections.

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