Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods

A Silicon Valley Story

Book - 2017
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Each year, young people from around the world go to Silicon Valley to hatch an idea, start a company, strike it rich, and become powerful and famous. Wolfe follows three of these upstarts who have "stopped out" of college and real life to live and work in Silicon Valley in the hopes of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. No one has yet documented the battle for the brightest kids, kids whose goals are no less than making billions of dollars - and the fight they wage in turn to make it there.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2017.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781476778945
Characteristics: 261 pages ; 24 cm


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Feb 24, 2018

Excellent. Raises crucial questions about the college education industrial complex

This book is a lot of fun, really informative, and a quick read. Alexandra Wolfe compiled this book by aggregating various articles/essays she had written for Vanity Fair, Departures, Marie Claire, Conde Nast Portfolio, and the Wall Street Journal. The stories from one chapter to the next show continuity and follow through. Actually, this is one of the better written business books I have read since the books written by Michael Lewis.

So, she befriends Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal (with Elon Musk) and she follows several youngsters who got selected by the Thiel Foundation within the program “20 Under 20” to receive a grant of $100,000 not to go to college and instead learn what they need to learn within a start-up incubator environment to start their own company.

The two main protagonists are Laura Deming, a young prodigy from New Zealand, who will create a biotech company focused on expanding lifespan and John Burnham who wants to create a company to mine rare elements on asteroids.

While Laura Deming goes from victories to victories remaining 100% focused on her goal to expand human lifespan; John Burnham finds his goal totally unachievable. He “pivots” towards other unrelated concepts and fly from one cooperation with other “20 under 20” members to another. And, he becomes completely burned out, and becomes detached from the whole hi-tech scene to eventually turn to religion to soothe his disillusionment.

Reading this book leads you to ask a couple of questions. The first one is… is our existing college system sustainable? And, the second one is: could we really do without college?

Back to the first question, our college system is the longest, most inefficient, and least effective mean of conveying knowledge. For brilliant kids selected for the 20 under 20 program, 4 years of college may be a cognitive wasteland. When considering your more average or even below average kid, college often is not a very effective mean to impart the knowledge necessary to function in our information age. Many graduate with liberal arts degrees and mediocre GPAs with no prospect of any decent career opportunities. This is especially true in an age where the compounding forces of globalization (offshoring, outsourcing), and automation are replacing expensive American labor with cheaper overseas one or smart machines. This current set of circumstances makes it very difficult for Millenials to launch their career. In this regard, college is not so effective at opening the entry-gate to a successful career. But, in its absence it is unclear what is? Can we all become brilliant autodidact coders? Even if we could, we would each work at essentially automating each other out of a job.

Moving on to the second question, if college is such a waste of time for most (brilliant, average, and below average) what should replace it? As mentioned above, this question is a conundrum. The Thiel Foundation 20 under 20 program is catered only to 20 geniuses per year. This is not a scalable program. What is then the college alternative for the majority?

Back to the core of the book, Wolfe does an excellent job of describing really interesting and quirky characters with IQs that are 3, 4, or even 5 standard deviations above the norm. She does capture the really iconoclastic social culture of Silicon Valley and its many start up incubators.

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