“Why does it always end up being Cole vs Drake? I wonder if classical music heads
in the baroque period gathered in the town square to debate Beethoven vs. Mozart. “naw, knave, Beethoven’s just a concert hall composer. Mozart plays at the costume balls.””
I left college between my sophomore and junior year. I wasn’t that young to begin with, but I did it because I wanted more experience and had an opportunity to pursue an internship that I felt would help me on the path towards my desired career at the time.
After the internship, I had a few weeks left before school was to start again. I was broke, unchallenged and pretty jaded about most things. I got a job and decided that rather than quit said job, that I’d stay where I was and keep working. I knew I needed to go back and get my degree, but at the time, staying afloat was more important.
I was 25 and it was becoming increasingly difficult to explain to people who I knew back home I was in school at that age and wasn’t working full-time. I made a conscious choice to do that, because I knew I’d get distracted otherwise.
<em>Edit: I forgot to mention that the reason I started college late in the first place, was because I spent four years in the Air Force. Without that context, it might be a bit more confusing of a story line.</em>
Long story short, I ended up quitting that same job a few months later to found my first startup, because I realized that I just couldn’t stomach working in an environment where the work wasn’t intellectually demanding enough. Well that and I had a few ideas that I thought had some legs.
So when I ran into an interesting discussion on a forum about the merit of a college degree for hackers who become entrepreneurs, it piqued my interest. The gist? <a href=”http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2009/02/one-thing-you-dont-need-to-be-an-entrepreneur-a-college-degree.html”>That you don’t need a college degree to start a successful business.</a>
Sounds seductive, that’s for sure. I mean, look at all of the college dropouts who’ve managed to get rich. Bill Gates is always the first one off the tongue. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is the college dropout soup de jour right now.
All of this mythology gives poor kids who probably need to go to school to get their acts together, a lot of false hope that their startup ideas will get them anyplace other than quarter-life with a receding hairline, no resume to speak of and a lack of opportunities to gain experience.
The fact is, I was half a year into my first startup and <strong>I went back to school </strong> and eventually finished. I realized fairly quickly that it’s very hard to get a business off the ground with massive amounts of money or contacts. No one tells you that. They say “write a business plan and pitch it the SBA.” Or they say, “write a business plan and pitch to VCs.”
Was undergrad largely a waste of time? Well, yes and no. In a sense, it’s a lot of jumping through hoops. But pretty much everything in life is. The human part of it — the contacts, the experiences and the growth therein — was worthwhile.
It’s not an accident that kids who end up at flagship state universities or elite private institutions startup businesses that hit home runs. It’s the perfect combination of timing and opportunity meeting circumstance to create something that could work.
What college also can be, is the great equalizer for the motivated, scrappy individual who doesn’t have the “right” last name, connections with someone with money to give away or some other resource that might give them a leg up to simply throw caution to the wind and “pursue their dreams.”
Zuckerberg gave a talk I saw online and mentioned that Harvard has a leave policy that lets students go back whenever they want after taking leave. Not all schools do that. Or if you do, when you go back, that same financial aid package might not be waiting for you. What’s this financial aid I speak of?
Let’s just say it’s not an accident that you don’t hear of three kids combining a love of hacking and a distaste for their middle of the road public school to take a semester off to pursue their startup dream.
Because it’s just not a reality for most people. This isn’t even about the fairness or unfairness of it, either. I’m just saying that for most kids, the last thing they need to do is eschew an opportunity to grow, build contacts and perhaps get some discernible skills before striking it out in the world.
I’ve always had a serious problem with the federal student aid industry, because it allows kids with no assets or anything else, borrow huge sums of money against the deed to something they haven’t acquired yet. If that were seed financing to start a business, it’d be a completely different story.
So sure, Joe Brilliant who goes to Harvard probably could milk having gone to Harvard for years. Just saying you got in, could be enough. But for his cousin at Olde State U-Branch Campus? She probably just needs to get the degree, get some experience and watch the marketplace. If she’s really got chops, she’ll quickly become frustrated with the hum-drum routine that it offers up and she’ll be well on her way to a startup.
But when she starts hers, she’ll have years of contacts to draw from — both from college and work — and perhaps a better chance at succeeding.
Starting a startup isn’t an accomplishment. Creating one that actually does something, is the real benefit.
I feel somewhat differently about this post now, but think there’s something in here that can help me with another thing I’m working on.
I lay beside you, evenly,
And like this and like that
We forget things
Until evening. Then a glass of wine,
Then olives. I brush your hair.
We are disturbed by wind, scratching
At the door. We rub together matches.
The way is lit, shadows thrown. Our fingers
Smell of sulfur, even down at the beach.
Without a moon, the water still finds a color
To hold on to. It folds
And flattens, flattens
Like this and like that,
The between of us disappears.