"Don't be a fool: get out of school"!?


Conventional wisdom from celebrity heroes instructs young people to stay in school. Even Mister T says so. But today's tech entrepreneurs have other ideas. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, is effectively paying kids to drop out.

Thiel, who has a net worth of $1.5bn, has made his views on higher education well known. He thinks that the US is in a higher-education bubble and questions its rationality. His foundation, has launched the 20 Under 20 fellowship, actually awarding 24 young people $100,000 each to become "tech visionaries" and build tomorrow's tech companies.

"Applications arrived from nearly two dozen countries, and from nearly two hundred high schools, junior colleges, community colleges, four-year colleges, and graduate schools," said Thiel's foundation in a press release. "They applied at a time of increasing debate about the cost and value of college and student debt."

Education is a sacred concept for many, and questioning it is, as Thiel has pointed out, "like telling people there's no Santa Claus". But it's worth pointing out that some technology luminaries have dropped out of school to start their empires. Bill Gates is perhaps one of the most famous, having left Harvard early to start Microsoft. Steve Jobs quit school to form Apple. Michael Dell started his company in his dorm room, before deciding that it was a more productive use of his time. The founders of Twitter didn't graduate college. And then, of course, there's Mark Zuckerberg, who is just on the verge of floating a company that promises to be worth more than Cisco, Amazon, or HP. He started the company at Harvard, and never finished school.

There is an argument to be made for learning technology entrepreneurism by doing, rather than by studying. In an industry that undergoes paradigm shifts in less time than it takes to complete a three-year curriculum, maybe Thiel has a point. What do you think?

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.