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College Comment
Of Seniors and Startups

Yale’s addiction to e-mail and the Internet has made it a prime breeding ground for the next generation of high-tech entrepreneurs. Where investment banking and consulting firms have traditionally snagged the top Yale graduates in the past few years, they’re now being forced to compete more and more with the allure of the Internet.

Every starry-eyed techie and programmer entering the world of Internet startups may have dreams of building the next Amazon.com or Yahoo, amassing untold wealth by the age of 22, and being chosen as Time’s Person of the Year. Despite tales of computer geeks who metamorphosed into high-tech millionaires with the magic of the perfect dot-com site, the appeal of life in the Internet world is about more than money for most Yalies.

Internet startups are young, exciting, irreverent, and full of the kind of financial risk that’s fun but not really all that risky when you’re 21 and could survive on someone’s couch eating cans of tuna for an extended period of time. Job descriptions change every day, if not every minute. There are no bosses, no fixed standards of decorum, and lots of responsibility. It’s not work. It’s like running an undergraduate organization.

I have one friend, a graduate of the Class of 1999, who left an internship at the Wall Street Journal—and a promising career in journalism—for a New York startup in the home-design market. Even the thrill of breaking news was nothing compared to the excitement and challenge of building a new company. After writing about hot new startups and their makers, she finally decided that she was missing out on something by standing by and watching as the Internet revolutionized the world.

This friend is not alone in her recent detour from her intended career path. Other friends have passed up graduate school admission offers and jobs at prestigious investment banking and consulting firms to start their own companies or join those of friends.

There’s even a flourishing new subculture of Internet entrepreneurs in New Haven, many of whom are Yale students. The companies start in students’ dorm rooms, run from personal computers buried under piles of unwashed laundry and neglected homework. The work is fit in between classes and trips to Viva Zapata and Toad’s. The lucky ones catch the eyes of investors and become real companies with offices and paid employees.

It’s not just the more technically inclined students who’ve succumbed. What was once considered the domain of unwashed computer geeks has become trendy and hip, and now it’s the English majors, political scientists, and pre-meds who are clamoring for a spot in the revolution. There’s suddenly a rush to get into the business before the fun is over; everyone seems to be afraid of being left out of the movement that will define our generation the way drugs and free love defined that of our parents.

No one knows how long the boom will last, but with youth on their side, the dot-com pioneers are sure of one thing: At the very least, it’s more fun than trading on Wall Street.  the end


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