Friday, January 4, 2013

All I learned in college was how to work for someone else

Recently, there have been a number of points and counter-points made about leaving college to join or found a start-up. The most popular point against leaving is that a degree will market you better to join big corporations.

And that's exactly it.

College prepares you for a life of the corporate stooge, but it's worse than that. Classes in college actively teach you lessons you must unlearn, and fail to teach you anything even marginally related to what it takes to run a company. If you want to work for someone else, college is great. Having a bachelors in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Drama prepares you *excellently* to get hired as a product manager at a product company. If you want to be an entrepreneur, though, you're screwed.

Things I've unlearned

1. Plagiarism is bad.

Wrong! If the licensing is right, copy to your heart's content. If you're not in violation of copyright, trademark, or patent, you can do whatever you want with someone else's creation. Sometimes they even give you permission. Did you find a real swell formula online? Did you know you can't copyright formulas?

2. Performance matters

If you can't get users, it doesn't matter if your algorithm is O(n²). Your server will never go down. If your dataset is small, the algorithm is irrelevant. Corporations love to grill candidates on algorithmic complexity and obscure algorithm problems, but for 95% of products 99% of the time, it's all the same. You're wasting time and brainpower trying to store your data more efficiently when you should be building your business. Or doing user testing. Or anything that doesn't involve playing in the sand.

3. Pedigree matters

All of my professors were born into academia or were prior corporate stooges, so this point is pretty insidious. Unless you're in academia or applying to be a corporate stooge, it doesn't matter where you went to highschool/college or what your parents do. Good breeding doesn't correlate at all to whether or not you can build a successful product. 

University spawns discussion of literary works, a culture of cramming for tests and an absolute grading system, none of which matter in the real world. Can a recent college graduate answer these questions? Can you?
  1. What is the difference between copyright, trademark, and patent, and how can they affect your business or product?
  2. What does "forming a company" mean?
  3. If you wish to seek investors, how is company formation affected?
  4. You're building a product. How do you plan and track its development?
  5. How would you determine if a market is large enough to support your idea?
  6. How would you market a new app you've created?
  7. Your product has taken off. How do you go about hiring your first employee? What implications does hiring an employee have?
  8. What is dilution?
  9. If you have a disagreement regarding product, design, or technical direction on your team, how do you resolve it?
  10. How would you move Mount Fuji?

College is a great way to shape yourself into a cog that fits perfectly into the corporate machine, but is that something you really want?

If you're rethinking your life choices like I am, check out my new favorite podcast.