Today’s teenagers are ‘native speakers’ of technology. Since they grew up with the Internet, their ease with social media, smartphones and the latest innovations often outstrips that of parents and educators.
In our increasingly wired society, success depends more than ever before on Internet know-how and tech fluency. With so many fields of expertise moving online, from publishing to modern warfare, pursuing tech-related careers may end up a necessity rather than a choice for future generations.
Recognizing their potential, some tech companies, particularly start-ups, are targeting teens and young adults in an effort to harness low-cost workers and sniff out untapped talent. Is this strategy going to help the next generation of tech minds ease into the workforce early and jump start innovation, or will it take advantage of young, eager programmers and developers?
Tech Pioneers: Forever Young?
Many of the masterminds behind personal computers, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in particular, eschewed formal education for the entrepreneurial life in Silicon Valley. The tech industry still retains a general attitude of irreverence towards post-secondary education — recently, Mark Zuckerberg became yet another tech scion to rise to success after dropping out of a prestigious university.
The bottom line is, people don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to get ahead in tech. The skills can speak for themselves, and people who sit on their great idea until they’re out of school may end up left behind by the quickly-moving sector.
In fact, PayPal founder and Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel started a scholarship for college age people to drop out or forgo formal university education in favor of pursuing their big ideas. Thiel’s unique program awards promising young minds with $100,000 to start a business, and so far he’s launched young people under 20 years old into electric car and solar panel ventures.
Wanted: Tech-y Teens to Start Immediately
Although many tech firms, including start-ups, shy away from hiring precocious programmers and developers until they’re in college, a few programs are striving to get teenagers on board with companies sooner.
One such program, Teens in Tech, sprang from the mind of a formerly disgraced TechCrunch intern, Daniel Brusilovsky when he was only 15 years old. TechCrunch fired Brusilovsky for compromising the website’s journalistic ethics, but he bounced back to succeed as a teen entrepreneur.
Brusilovsky’s organization lets start-ups find young people to intern or work for them. The program’s website features a job board to move the process along. The majority of the jobs on the site are internships, but considering the amazing salary and perks that come with jobs at places like Google or Facebook, its possible the site may unearth some fairly lucrative positions for interested 13 to 19-year-olds.
Along the same vein, a recent college grad created another start-up aimed at connecting talented teens with tech companies for internships and summer jobs. Rock Your Block, a Minneapolis-based company, helps tech-minded adolescents find companies to work for and use their talents while they work toward their high school diploma.
These jobs boards may make it easier for teens with skills but few connections to the tech industry to break into the market at an earlier age.
The Best Route for Aspiring Tech Superstars
Finding a summer job and internship in tech as a high school student makes a lot of sense, and the programs linking companies and nascent tech workers will help promising young men and women hone their skills and build connections early on in their careers.
Teens with exceptionally promising ideas may want to delay their degrees and pursue their dreams, but teens with less specific plans who want a career in technology still stand to learn a lot in a traditional university. Proponents of a university education point out Thiel and other libertarian techies have a slightly cavalier attitude towards post-secondary education, which is ironic considering Thiel himself went to Stanford before founding PayPal.
For every teen tech prodigy like 15-year-old Nick D’Aloisio, who created a promising iPhone app and is about to receive an investment from a global venture capital company, there is an equally talented counterpart with a unique idea that would benefit from having more time in the incubator.
Programmers without college degrees have a harder time getting a job with those who do, so unless someone belongs to the absolute upper echelon of tech masterminds, they will have a better time finding employment by sticking to a semi-traditional educational path. At the same time, the success of tech entrepreneurs who forged their paths without formal education is raising questions about why degrees are necessary for the field and inviting a wider debate on the value of a college education.
There is debate over the necessity of formal education for today’s tech-oriented teens, but with internships, tech job boards and other opportunities for young people to dip their toe in the tech pool, there no shortage of ways to begin an investigation into a career in tech without abandoning school.