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?
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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
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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 — 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 — 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."
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 on— despite his newfound wealth. "I hope I have an opportunity to go to school at some point," he said, "and study something completely different."
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