Some personal context context to this! The narrative people often read off me is that I started working as a programmer in high school, and could make a good living doing that and school would only slow me down. This is surface level true, but it certainly wasn't because I was too achieved for school but strictly because school was never going to work out for me. I was a below average high school student and the only college that accepted me (the first time I applied) was a small school in Ottawa. I think a version of me who is some combination of more passionate of pursuit of knowledge, less ADHD or just smarter could've been better off in school.

This is a pro-not-going-to-college post in the context of people around the tech industry. It is mostly for people who are entertaining no-college as something that might be good for them. It is not about why or if dropping out is a good idea, and more to air out the idea that not going to school requires some level of skill -- a notion probably brought forth by prolific dropouts and some reasonable sense that school is useful and so to not go you'd have to overcome it and then some.

Most messaging with not going to school along the lines of "there are more important things to work on", "you can learn faster outside of school", "why wait for a degree when you can start working now", or "you could be running a kickass startup instead". All of these are great reasons to not go to school, but they have an implication that you have to be skilled to a certain degree (haha, "degree"). Good enough to have the opportunities to work on more important things. Good enough that school isn't already challenging your learning. Good enough to get a job. Good enough to run a startup.

Most of my conversations with people who are interested in the concept of not going to school have implied that not being good enough is a blocker. Of course, there are other overlapping blockers related to fear, money, privilege, or it simply not being a good choice for your priorities, but I think "not being good enough" is wholy surmountable (provided you're accurately evaluating your own abilities).

Doing the things no one else has had the chance to do

I model ambition/excellence as a spectrum. One end is "getting ahead" and the other end is "getting a bonus". Canonical "getting ahead" would be graduating early, getting promoted quickly and rising to the top of your org in record time. It's hard to describe what "getting a bonus" might be like since it's by nature dependent on things one might not expect to have done. It can be summarized as "doing the things no one else has had the chance to do".

This is a wavy spectrum, and the range shrinks and ambiguities increase when you apply it to any individual. Regardless, I contend that "getting a bonus mentality" helps make it such that one can't be "not good enough" to skip college.

While they're two ends of a spectrum, I think few would argue that both approaches can lead to excellence, success, ambition, or whatever it is you want for yourself. However, with "getting a bonus", there is much less "not good enough" barrier. Instead of getting a job at Google after dropping out, you can work on a side project, take the time to pursue another career path, work at a non-profit or train to climb Mount Everest.

In my first year not going to school, I learned to juggle, taught programming bootcamp and suprised myself by moving to a "city" with less than a million people for my first experience living away from home. The time I saved allowed me to further pursue an interests in the arts I found too late because I was obsessed with getting internships in high school and gave me flexibility to travel. With the money I saved (and employment) I was able to donate over 25% of my pretax income.

Becoming an adult means access to many more measures of success. It's often the sense for students that not that many things can measure success. Leaving school gave me so many more successes to seek than academic performance, number of skills and resume lines.

Falling behind

If "getting a bonus" is the opposite of "getting ahead", then certainly that means you fall behind right? Perhaps! But you will have earned four years of doing things that no one else will have had. Given tech, you won't be a full-four years behind in your career, though it's possible you won't be as well off as you would be if you had gone to school. Additionally, I think that not being in school often helps accelerate your "goodness", though that's a separate "why get out of school" post.

Not going to college definitely put me behind in a lot of things. When working on TruffleRuby at Shopify I got burned by not having taking an Operating Systems or Concurrency course. Not having a degree put me in a very difficult spot in immigrating anywhere (I'm Canadian though got a US visa, but hadn't at the time this was published). It takes out the character I would have built struggling through courseloads (I was not good at school, and it's unfortunate I may never be able to correct that). It certainly cuts down some my job opportunities.

So yeah, falling behind is a thing. One path is to just accept it with the other less-measurable experiences you have achieved, another is to convince yourself that it's not quite as real as one might think.

Once you get out of school, the number of different axes on which you can succeed grows quickly. Some may end up caring only about their salary, others on their social lives, others on their ability to start a family. It gets drastically harder to compare who is more successful, if you were even worried about that in the first place. The farther I get away from the school-scene the more apparent it is that I am not behind on valuable experiences. Without counting the years of school and exams rolling around every semester, the concept of being "behind" becomes much less real.

Joy affects your success

I wish I could point to some source here, but hopefully you already believe me a bit? If you enjoy your work, you can be better at it. That means that if you think you're good at school and not that great at having a job, but also you hate school - you might have a better chance than you think.

If you are interested in not going to school, then the much harder question is what on earth to do. I don't have many coherent thoughts about this that is suitable as general advice, but if you want to email me at [email protected] we can chat~

<3, Kipply