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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Johnny takes a different approach to college

I am trying to get families and young people to rethink the automatic track to college. Instead of Johnny mechanically leaving for a four year college this Fall to study Sociology, how about this for an alternative?

He combines learning with work. Johnny takes a combination of junior college classes, free on-line classes at the Khan Academy and reads like heck on a variety of subjects. And most importantly he reaches out to meet and learn from entrepreneurs, inventors, and business people - not just his college professors and classmates.

He then works hard at getting real world work experience with fast-moving entrepreneurial companies that would love to bring in Johnny’s energy, smarts, work ethic (and affordable price) into their organization. Johnny might work for free (as an intern) or offer to do some project work as an independent contractor or fixed prices that are too hard for the company to turn down. It would be great if Johnny made some money early in the process but it might be six months or so before he starts earning $20 an hour with the freedom to work flexible hours. Early on, the experience and the contacts are far more critical that the money Johnny earns. But it is important that Johnny start to develop the ability to communicate his value, negotiate pay, ask for a raise and be searching for opportunities where he will both learn and earn.

All the while Johnny is fervently networking, looking for other opportunities, learning, asking questions and developing a reputation for getting things done well and a great attitude.

But back to Johnny’s “education”. It clearly matters what kind of things Johnny initially has an interest in, and where he perceives a good fit for his services and personality as compared to the real job market. But consider that Johnny has only had a chance to experience a very small part of the world, so he shouldn’t narrow it down too early in life.

But let’s say he is interested in designing new technical devices. What subjects might he study over his first three years out of high school? If I was in the Folsom, California area, here are a few subjects that I might consider at Folsom Lake College (junior college): Chemistry – 5 units, Micro Economics 3 units, Physics – 4 units, Statistics – 3 units, Financial Accounting – 4 units, Mechanics of Solids and Fluids – 4 units. General Microbiology – 4 units, Environmental Biology – 3 units, Financing a Small Business – 1 unit, Business Law – 3 units, Introduction to Public Speaking – 3 units, Introduction to Logic Design – 4 units, Linux Operating System – 1 unit, Imaging for the Web – 1 unit, Engineering Graphics – 3 units. All for only $35 per unit as a resident (plus books) or $244 a unit if one is from out-of-state.

If Johnny is far away from the action (i.e. Elko, Nevada) where he can only communicate via phone, internet, email and text with the entrepreneurial world, then he should consider moving to where the opportunities are (Silicon Valley, New York City, Houston, Los Angeles).

But Johnny is simultaneously exploring a range of free online classes at sites like the Khan Academy. At the Khan Academy he digs into several technical subjects that might include: Photosynthesis, Types of Immune Responses, Visualizing Taylor Series Approximations, First Order Homogeneous Differential Equations, Representing Structures of Organic Molecules, Introduction to Torque, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, Compound Probability of Independent Events. And of course how can he pass up the free online class in Artificial Intelligence being offered at Stanford?

Without a doubt he has to learn the personal computer inside and out. This is 101 for entrepreneurs. He needs to know several operating systems, Excel (including macros), Visual Basic, and network creation, maintenance and security.

But today that is not nearly enough. One must also learn to develop and code applications for the IPhone and the Droid phones.

And Johnny is reading like crazy on a variety of business/entrepreneurial subjects. Here are some of the blogs that he might start his reading list with:

Martynemko.com
Bnet.com
venturebeat.com
blogmaverick.com
entrepreneur.com/blog/
getelastic.com
garage.com
ducttapemarketing.com/blog/
scobleizer.com
venturehacks.com
onstartups.com
texasstartupblog.com
toiletpaperentrepreneur.com/blog
thisisgoingtobebig.com

What an exciting time for Johnny. Johnny’s grandfather may have had no other options than working in the coal mine or the assembly line. Hopefully he will make the most of it.

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