Originally posed by angel investor Peter Thiel.
Since I've been associated with universities twice, first with Harvard and now with NYU, and given my long standing in the tech industry, I feel qualified to have an opinion about this. (Not that lack of qualification ever stopped me from having an opinion.)
And by the way -- I was at Harvard when Facebook was hatching there. And I was at NYU during the Diaspora crazyness. I had absolutely nothing to do with either of them. Entirely coincidence.
Here's what I think. College is a good thing. It can teach your mind a kind of discipline that you won't get in the real world. It can also teach a lazy arrogance, the thought that people in the commercial world somehow aren't as smart or clued-in as those in academia.
But lately, the reverse thought has been happening, as the tech world with its startup frenzy is sucking out some of the best students, with the dream that they can be the next Zuck. A few of them can, but there's only room for a few. For the rest, whether or not all this is actually a bubble, it will be a bubble for them. Most won't achieve fabulous wealth before they turn 30.
I think we should aim much higher in academia. We should aim to recreate the environment that made the Internet itself spring into existence, in academic institutions. I was also lucky to be at a very good computer science school during the boot-up of the Internet, and got to play a very very small role, mostly as an observer and student teacher. I learned from reading the code the Unix guys were writing. And marveled that something so simple, so clear, could do so much. More than teaching, the experience inspired me -- it showed me how great you can be with these tools. And I like to think I achieved some of that in the career that followed.
I think we're heading into another period, like the 70s and early 80s, when it's time to take a fresh look at how we do things. The venture world will never do that. I've spoken with several VCs about this idea over the last few years. They only understand one kind of investment, something with a short fuse that produces almost immediate results. The kind of work that creates revolutions requires more iteration, patience, trial and error and lots of bootstrapping -- creating tools that will be used to create tools to create tools and on and on. Out of that soup comes not just one or two commercial products but whole generations of them.
I wrote a piece in January about educating the journo-programmer. That's just one slice of it. Overall the challenge for education is to excite and inspire our young people to do great things with their lives. Sure it's wonderful to have economic resources, but it's even better to have a mission.