Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Tumblr CEO: To drop out or stay in school, that is the question for wunderkinds

Tumblr, engineered by computer science wunderkind and high school dropout David Karp, was just purchased by Yahoo for more than a billion dollars. Should gifted youngsters end their education early or would they do better by staying in school? 

(Page 2 of 2)



Thomas just won a Thiel Fellowship, which gives $100,000 to 20 people under the age of 20 each year so they can skip college to focus on research or a dream, whether it's a high-tech project, a business or a nonprofit. But his mom says she would have let him drop out even if he hadn't won the award. "The part that really bothers me is that there are a lot of Thomases out there and their needs are not being met," said Mills.

Skip to next paragraph

Thomas says he's sad to be leaving his teenage friends behind, but he's excited about the future. And he has mixed feelings about his years in school. "I've had some amazing, great teachers that really have the passion to teach, but most of what is in school now is teaching to a test," he said. "It's really sad. You're not learning the skills for how to solve the problem β€” you are just learning the answer to this question that is going to be on the test."

Susan Bartell, a psychologist based in Port Washington, N.Y., who works with adolescents and their families, says she frequently encounters parents who are convinced that their kids are extraordinarily gifted. But she cautions that it's "the very rare exception when this decision (to drop out) makes sense." In the case of Karp, she said, "it worked out, but almost always it doesn't β€” even if a kid is extremely gifted. School is about much more than just academics and in most cases, even the most gifted kids need the socializing."

And not all young moguls take Karp's route. Earlier this year, a 17-year-old from London, Nick D'Aloisio, sold an app he created to Yahoo for $30 million β€” but he decided to stay in school.

On the other hand, there are examples of successful individuals in many fields who lack a high school diploma, from top performers such as Jay-Z to billionaire businessmen such as Richard Branson.

But the tech community may be different from other industries. Degrees are not necessarily seen as a hallmark of achievement and programmers are judged on their ability to type lines of code. You are what you create.

What also sets the field apart is that computer programming is not taught at every high school, and even when it is, the most talented students often either "surpass the curriculum or feel it's not relevant to them," said Danielle Strachman, program director for the Thiel Fellowship. "They want to move at their own pace."

Strachman also emphasized that just because someone has left school, doesn't mean they've stopped learning. The Thiel program provides not just funding, but a community of peers and mentors to help recipients reach their goals. And they can always go back to pursue a degree when the fellowship is over.

It's a goal that even Karp has his eye onβ€” despite his newfound wealth. "I hope I have an opportunity to go to school at some point," he said, "and study something completely different."

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!