October 7, 2017

The availability of information in books (as always), on the Internet, through seminars and professional shows, scientific publications, pod-casts, Webinars, etc. is amazing in today’s “digital age”.  That begs the question—Is a college degree really necessary?   Can you rise to a level of competence and succeed by being self-taught?  For most, a college degree is the way to open doors. For a precious few, however, no help is needed.

Let’s look at twelve (12) individuals who did just that.

The co-founder of Apple and the force behind the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Steve Jobs attended Reed College, an academically-rigorous liberal arts college with a heavy emphasis on social sciences and literature. Shortly after enrolling in 1972, however, he dropped out and took a job as a technician at Atari.

Legendary industrialist Howard Hughes is often said to have graduated from Cal Tech, but the truth is that the California school has no record of his having attended classes there. He did enroll at Rice University in Texas in 1924, but dropped out prematurely due the death of his father.

Arguably Harvard’s most famous dropout, Bill Gates was already an accomplished software programmer when he started as a freshman at the Massachusetts campus in 1973. His passion for software actually began before high school, at the Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington, where he was programming in BASIC by age 13.

Just like his fellow Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Paul Allen was a college dropout.

Like Gates, he was also a star student (a perfect score on the SAT) who honed his programming skills at the Lakeside School in Seattle. Unlike Gates, however, he went on to study at Washington State University before leaving in his second year to work as a programmer at Honeywell in Boston.

Even for his time, Thomas Edison had little formal education. His schooling didn’t start until age eight, and then only lasted a few months.

Edison said that he learned most of his reading, writing, and math at home from his mother. Still, he became known as one of America’s most prolific inventors, amassing 1,093 U.S. patents and changing the world with such devices as the phonograph, fluoroscope, stock ticker, motion picture camera, mechanical vote recorder, and long-lasting incandescent electric light bulb. He is also credited with patenting a system of electrical power distribution for homes, businesses, and factories.

Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer Corp., seemed destined for a career in the computer industry long before he dropped out of the University of Texas. He purchased his first calculator at age seven, applied to take a high school equivalency exam at age eight, and performed his first computer teardown at age 15.

A pioneer of early television technology, Philo T. Farnsworth was a brilliant student who dropped out of Brigham Young University after the death of his father, according to

Although born in a log cabin, Farnsworth quickly grasped technical concepts, sketching out his revolutionary idea for a television vacuum tube while still in high school, much to the confusion of teachers and fellow students.

Credited with inventing the controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible, the Wright Brothers had little formal education.

Neither attended college, but they gained technical knowledge from their experiences working with printing presses, bicycles, and motors. By doing so, they were able to develop a three-axis controller, which served as the means to steer and maintain the equilibrium of an aircraft.

Stanford Ovshinsky managed to amass 400 patents covering subjects ranging from nickel-metal hydride batteries to amorphous silicon semiconductors to hydrogen fuel cells, all without the benefit of a college education. He is best known for his formation of Energy Conversion Devices and his pioneering work in nickel-metal hydride batteries, which have been widely used in hybrid and electric cars, as well as laptop computers, digital cameras, and cell phones.

Preston Tucker, designer of the infamous 1948 Tucker sedan, worked as a machinist, police officer and car salesman, but was not known to have attended college. Still, he managed to become founder of the Tucker Aviation Corp. and the Tucker Corp.

Larry Ellison dropped out of his pre-med studies at the University of Illinois in his second year and left the University of Chicago after only one term, but his brief academic experiences eventually led him to the top of the computer industry.

A Harvard dropout, Mark Zuckerberg was considered a prodigy before he even set foot on campus.

He began doing BASIC programming in middle school, created an instant messaging system while in high school, and learned to read and write French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek prior to enrolling in college.


In conclusions, I want to leave you with a quote from President Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.


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