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The Technology Startup Industry Debate: Is a Degree Really Necessary?

Is a college degree a necessary requirement to land a job at a successful tech startup? According to some self-made tech entrepreneurs, education is a costly waste of time. Yet, opponents argue that the current landscape of technology demands a higher education degree, and most companies consider it a rite of passage.

The Premise

The ongoing argument received another level of notoriety when Peter Thiel, entrepreneur and investor, referred to higher education as the next big bubble. Thiel spearheaded a program that offered cash grants to young students to drop out of school and begin new projects.

Fuel for the Argument

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner, and investor on the popular TV show Shark Tank, wrote a blog post that fueled Thiel’s thoughts and ignited a fire of controversy. Cuban likened the current state of higher education to the environment preceding the housing meltdown.

Cuban attributes the massive accumulation of student loan debt to easy borrowing. He explains that similar to how housing prices skyrocketed, education costs are rising since students can acquire education loans easily.

Cuban says, “Right now there is a never ending supply of buyers. Students who can’t get jobs or who think that by going to college they enhance their chances to get a job. It’s the collegiate equivalent of flipping houses. You borrow as much money as you can for the best school you can get into and afford and then you ‘flip’ that education for the great job you are going to get when you graduate. Except those great jobs aren’t always there.”

And in the Other Corner…

Opponents rose up in a desperate need to protect the sanctity of higher education and provide a level playing field. Evan Doll, co-founder of Flipboard, responded to Thiel by publishing a blog post regarding a young student who requested answers to a question about whether autodidacts without degrees are considered in the industry. Doll, though mentioning that the technical industry is the most conducive to accepting school dropouts or those without a university-level background, agrees that job seekers without a degree will face difficulty getting past the “front line of staffers/recruiters.” Additionally, Doll cites four non-educational benefits to higher education such as taking “uncomfortable” classes, mastering the close-group collaboration vital in the tech industry, overseas study opportunities, and making lifelong acquaintances.
Entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhawa also responded to Thiel’s claims by tweeting the statement, “For every Zuckerberg, there are thousands who dropped out and wrecked their careers.”

Bloggers supporting Thiel’s viewpoints have stepped up in an attempt to explain his true philosophy. They claim he is not suggesting everyone should avoid college. He is merely supportive of students who question whether investing money in education is worth the future benefit.

The Plot Thickens

If Thiel were asked whether tech hopefuls without a degree would have a better chance landing a job at a tech startup, one can surmise how he would answer. However, a recent job posting for one of his global macro hedge funds listed the following as the criteria for an ideal candidate:

“High GPA from top-tier university; preferably in computer science, mathematics, statistics, econometrics, physics, engineering or other highly quantitative.”
Thiel’s opponents are jumping on the bandwagon and citing this listing as evidence to support their claims.

Is higher education essential to landing a first-rate tech job? According to the college graduates who landed superior tech jobs and the millions of university students who are tirelessly plugging away at their degrees, the industry need for highly-educated professionals is still alive and well.

Today’s guest article is crafted by Ryan Farrell on behalf of Southern New Hampshire University. The tech world has long been an environment where innovation and hard work can trump educational experience. But has the celebration of high profile drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs obscured the truth about the value of a college degree in the modern tech world?


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One Response to “The Technology Startup Industry Debate: Is a Degree Really Necessary?”

  1. yankes says:

    self-made tech entrepreneurs, education is a costly waste of time