Leave school? Join a startup? Wait.

So you’re in college now. You’re bored and frustrated. Everyone else is pass you like you’re in the slow lane. People are having fun, making loads money, and your dumb ass is stuck in school. Fuck that, right?

Don’t leave school to join a startup. Pivot.

You’re probably a smart guy. I have a different argument to make. It’s not the same academic, “Oh you’re going to need Calc 8 in the real world.” I argue that you will eventually face an external force we call “the economic cycle.”  The cycle takes about 20 years to complete which is too slow to notice it until it’s pointed out.

The best way to beat that cycle is to pivot. Don’t throw away the investment you already made in school. Just pivot! Change majors and challenge yourself. Get yourself some transferable skills now that would otherwise be hard to get later.

Let me start at the beginning:

There’s so many people hiring right now! I’m losing out!

Yes, lots of tech companies are hiring right now and there are so many grads who are not getting jobs. That’s because there’s a cycle. History will repeat itself. You’re not losing out. There’s plenty more opportunities to come. Check this out:

I first saw this in my equities and valuations class and it blew my mind! It tells the future! Here in  plain english:

See the red line I drew? Our economy (the yellow graph) is in a shit hole. We’re in the “Trough.”  Right above it is #5: the tech industry. The blue graph says we’re in the middle of the early bull and the middle bull.

The tech industry is just starting to blow up. IPOs, hiring frenzies, the whole nine yards. The tech industry will be going strong for at least another 5-7 years. You’re going to graduate by then. Right now,there are 5-10 jobs for every developer. That ratio is only going to get better. I wouldn’t  worry about getting jobs in the tech industry.

According to the graph, it doesn’t last forever.

But that also means that in about 10 years (2025-2030) the tech industry will tap out.  It did it about 10 years ago (1998-2001). History will repeat itself. All the developers will lose their jobs, all the VC’s will stop handing out money, and all the free beer will be gone.

When that moment comes you’ll be 30-ish. That’s when you’ll really need that degree. Unless you moved yourself into the utilities business you’ll be in heavy competition with every other programmer on the block.

When everyone’s skills are awesome, every last thing counts.

Those 10 jobs for 1 developer it will reverse itself. There will be 10 developers fighting for 1 job. Now we talk about supply and demand. High supply, low demand equals lower price. Each one of those guys will accept a slightly lower salary just to get that job.

On the other side of the desk imagine looking at a pile of tech resumes in a tough economy: Everyone looks awesome because they all went through the boom of 2012-2020. They have a lot of experience and worked for great companies. But now that it’s 2025 and there are 15 awesome guys ready to work.

How do you pick? They’re going to pick the one that’s not only the best, but the guy who can also fit other needs in the company. If I were hiring in a tough economy, I would pick the guy who can do more than just be a programmer. Two birds, one fucking stone.

How do I know? Because it happened to me.

It was 2002. The end of the first major tech bubble. Despite knowing 4 programming languages, 2 database servers, Linux and Windows, graphic design, and working for some very notable startups in Philadelphia, I couldn’t get a job. Neither could my friends. (We were all hackers before Anonymous was cool.)

I had just as much experience and I was definitely a better programmer than other guys, but because I was the only one without a stupid degree, my resume wasn’t considered. I knew that because the hiring manager was nice enough to tell me.

That’s when I said, “Fuck this!” I went back to school. Like a real entrepreneur, I pivoted. I studied business instead of computers for a few reasons.

  • I knew nothing about business or economics back then, so I knew I was going to be challenged.
  • Industries may come and go but the fundamentals of business never goes away.
  • I wanted to learn something I can use everywhere.
  • I wanted to learn something I couldn’t learn on my own. (A business is not something you can “experiment” with using trial-and-error).
  • I can learn a programming language in a week.

That was hard work. What could have taken me 1 year while I was going to school full-time, it took me 6 years doing it part-time while trying to hold down a job, pay rent, keep food on my table, and keeping my car from dying. Oh, that’s why this is the road less traveled. It sucks!

College might not be required for tech. But will tech always be there?

10 Years ago, people told me there will always be a need computers and technology. How could there never be a tech industry? Why should I waste my time doing 4 years of school when I could be doing shit now? You’re probably right, university isn’t required to get in the tech industry when it’s booming and there are more jobs than people.

But history will sadly repeat itself. Economic expansions never last forever. Seems obvious, but I didn’t really think about that 10 years ago. I was too caught up reading entrepreneur books and running for the gold rush. The day will come when an industry will contract. When it does competition will be tight and you will need to compete against everyone else who’s just as smart and has just as much experience than you.

If you think about that in a marketing perspective, what’s going to differentiate you from everyone else in 10 years when the job market is thin? That’s the pivot. I can code in anything you throw at me, but I can also work with your business people. I can talk about budgets, roadmaps, timelines, read and understand financial statements. I can calculate how much server load we’re going to use, how much that will cost, work that into the budget, and project how much money we will need, at what time, based on the rate we’re hiring two years out. Oh, and I can build that shit too.

Instead of dropping out I pivoted so that would I have skills other programmers won’t have when the shit hits the fan.

 

One thought on “Leave school? Join a startup? Wait.

  1. It’s so funny how I’ve used this concept to explain certain things to people, but I never looked at it from the reverse side. Thank you so much Chris for writing this, definitely helps bring a new perspective to where I’m at.

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