If being an entrepreneur is a profession, will universities be able to cultivate talent for it?
Both Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg were Harvard dropouts, but were awarded honorary degrees by their university after they built their business empires.
Computer science professor Harry Lewis, who had taught both, said that does not mean university education is unnecessary. He stressed that both Gates and Zuckerberg have unique traits that contributed to their success.
Lewis, 70, recalled that one of his colleagues once told Gates that he was wasting his time working on microcomputers, when there were so many important issues that had to be resolved about getting big computers to run more efficiently.
Once, Lewis even caught Gates adjusting the clock on the wall in the classroom so that classes would end earlier as he had computer codes to write.
Gates wasn’t a good student in the traditional sense of the word, but he was not bounded by technical frameworks and ways of thinking, and he was willing to spend time to create something new that led to the founding of Microsoft.
Lewis was most impressed by Zuckerberg’s “outside project”, Six Degrees. He was building a social network, which later became Facebook.
In the early 2000s, Harvard’s sociology and psychology departments were still trying to study social networks, but with outdated methods.
At that time, Zuckerberg saw an intersection of two subjects, and traveled back and forth between the departments of psychology and computer science.
Lewis said the success of both Microsoft and Facebook were not coincidental, as they both recognized the significance of new things to which the faculty was not giving much respect or attention.
Education needs to change. When new knowledge is just at the stage of development, there is no systematic method to teach it yet.
Universities should have a more supportive and open environment to let students explore new things and learn from their mistakes.
Teachers can create a good learning environment by encouraging students to experiment with new ideas and master new skills through practice.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 2
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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