On CBS Sunday Morning, a segment on college, even high school, “whiz kids” who have dropped out to become the new prospectors in the digital goldrush. Part of this segment was an homage to Peter Thiel’s Fellowship, a $100,000 prize awarded 20 of the best and brightest dropouts.
How cool is that?
The cameras showed the faces of a handful of young whizzies, filled with risk-taking aplomb and ideas for new apps that were pretty much like old apps, and didn’t do much of anything to change the world. But hey, all they want is some VC loot and a chance to sell it to someone with enough money to turn them a profit, so they can do it all again.
But the kids they didn’t put on camera were the waiters in the restaurants where the TV producers ate lunch, or picked up a venti fruiticcino. Because they were going to be huge successes too. The problem is that the faces they show, the stories they tell, are of the handful who are treading water, if not quite surviving.
It’s likely that the producer didn’t set up interviews with the losers because they can’t see them, they’re hidden from view. The winners are easy to find. The losers don’t have signs on their heads, publicists, an incubator holding them out as the whiz kids. The losers are asking if they want fries with that burger.
The Thiel fellowship is a tool of the devil, a lure for those who are smart but not wise. They forsake education (which may not be their worst move), but they also forsake the opportunity to gain experience to go along with their mad coding skillz. Indeed, one of the apps discussed in the segment would facilitate the use of hourly workers. Viable idea? Maybe, but what it also means is that you will not get a job, a full time job, with security, medical insurance, a pension, because you’re now available for 2 hours on Thursday when someone needs your skills.
The app creator may succeed. Minimally, but whatever. But the hourly worker? Enjoy that future there. After all, it’s not like your kids will want to eat. Every day.
Yet, is success for whiz kids any different than success for everyone who gives up everything to find a gold mine? There is Gates. There is Jobs. There is Zuckerberg. And there are tens, hundreds, of thousands of people who aren’t Gates, Jobs or Zuckerberg.
Everyone thinks they’re going be the one, that very fortunate one, who finds the mother lode. And as the young lady in the segment explained, should her quest for fabulous wealth fail, she can always return home to mommy and daddy. You remember them, the old folks who worked hard, saved, behaved responsibly so you would have a place to return to when your crazy cool life failed?
But why not chase rainbows when you’re young? You might be the one in a million to catch one, and even if you’re not, there’s always your parents to feed you.