Do What You Want

February 19, 2009

My friend Chris Wanstrath gave the keynote talk yesterday at StartupRiot on his lessons learned in building a successful startup company. A comment on the Hacker News post about it summed the keynote up thusly:

dont be afraid to fail, there is lots to learn from it, follow what you genuinely love and use, and do what works for you best

I largely agree, and I like the talk. What I wanted to comment on was what I read on the same Hacker News post:

I know that’s a popular piece of advice given around here (though HN has an interesting mix of “stuffy” academia and “Wild West” hacker culture), and I felt the same way when I was younger. I thought I knew all the CS I needed to know to develop the stuff I’d want to develop. But I want to say that I am so overwhelmingly happy I have done CS at the college level. I knew so little back then (and still). It scares me that I almost neglected the path of inquiry that is /the/ single most interesting intellectual topic in my life.

That commenter was talking about a part at the end of Chris’s talk where he mentions a kid that was trying to decide if he should go to college to learn CS or just work at a startup. Chris’s advice is to :

Do whatever you want. Don’t take VC because Twitter did. Don’t piss off investors because signals likes to. Do whatever you want, whatever works best for you, what makes you the most comfortable and seems like the best idea. Do what you love.

I love the advice to not do what others did just because that is what is done, but I would probably advise that guy to go to college. Not because it’s the only way to get things done, but because it’s a great way to get a broader perspective. I’ve found that the better programmers I know are people that have interests in things other than programming. I discovered tons of things that I would not have normally been interested in but made me think differently because of classes I took in college.

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