Entrepreneurship is cool again. HBO has a TV show. Government is embracing it on the city, state and national stages. Colleges are launching new programs to further embrace entrepreneurship and to help their students create new businesses. The final frontier is upon us now: High School students. As we reach down to them to excite them about startups, let's do the right thing: Encourage them to get technical degrees in College. Here's what you should tell them:
One of the greatest skills you pick up in any STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) is the ability to think about a problem in a methodical fashion. I have a bachelor's in electrical engineering and while I'm not doing any circuit debugging or system calculations these days, the processes I learned for attacking physical and mental challenges have stayed with me. The key difference to me is the search for solutions: the technologist looks for the best solution, while most young business people look for the first solution (no matter how crude or quick a fix).
I've lost count of how many people of any age have approached me asking for help in finding a technical co-founder. Addressing the challenge of having technical people team up with business people is a story for another post, but it does highlight a key opportunity: If more young people interested in starting companies had technical skills, they could at least start building a prototype themselves. In addition, by being in a technical degree area, they have classmates and professors they can naturally talk to for help. Finally, with a technical background, they're more likely to understand the true feasibility and technical demands of their invention. These are huge benefits.
Some of you may say..."Wait. If you're busy getting the technical skills, won't you lose out on learning about all the necessary business skills?" Fortunately, you won't. Universities all across the country and especially in New England are now working to provide programs open to any student at their schools. You can see our list in ourresource section. Along those lines as well, I highlighted a lot of the reasons to start your first company in college, regardless of major.
I won't lie. My friends in college who had business majors had a lot more free time than I did. STEM degrees aren't easy. But starting a company isn't easy either. I've traded long nights studying circuit equations and calculus for late nights building Greenhorn Connect. The work ethic I developed in college is a key aspect of my success now as I've learned what you can accomplish with hard work. If they go into a business major, it's very easy to develop bad habits and lose a work ethic they may have developed in high school.
Whether you're reading Jason Fried's new book, ReWork, or the many blog posts on the issue, you'll see there's a major backlash currently on getting your MBA as part of working on a startup. If that's the case, how can you justify getting a 4 year degree? I just went through a one year program and feel like I have enough of the basics to figure everything else out. I think the best way to think about it is this:
Which is easier: Teach a business major how to code or a Computer Science major how to keep the books for their company?
So, if you happen to be interested in this hot new thing called "Startups," I highly encourage you to get a technical degree when you go to college.