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In The Media

Mowing Lawns is a Sequel to Lemonade Stand Businesses #ENGR145

by Larry Chiang on September 23, 2014

After Chiang’s Harvard Law keynote, Harvard Business wrote: “What They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School“. It’s the same title as his NY Times bestseller which he somehow managed to backdoor :-). If you read his hilariously awesome articles from Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, “What a Supermodel Can Teach a Stanford MBA” and “How to Get Man-Charm”, you will like his latest post Mowing Lawns and Taking Startup CEO Advice from Glenn Kelvin.

By Larry Chiang

So, here is an article that speaks to ‘interns’. It is written by a startup CEO. Pay attention to exactly what I previously blogged about in “How to get three legendary internships in a row”

One thing I’ve noticed working at startups over the past two decades is that the job applications of college students have changed: they’ve gotten much, much better. A summer coding internship before your senior year of college was once a mark of distinction, but now we see students with “a royal flush,” three internships from companies like Palantir, Dropbox, Facebook and Google following each year in college.

A generation hence, we’ll likely get the same resume from a high-school student. There’s now a phenomenally successful board game for three year-olds to learn to code,kindergarten classes on coding at Chicago Public Schools, anda graphical development environment for seven-year-olds. Redfin just gave a permanent position to a 17-year-old who skipped high school completely to study computer science in college.

In a society where machines could do far more good if only enough people could program them — and with high rates of unemployment among recent graduates — this is progress. There are probably hundreds of people with Bill Gates’ talent all over the world today who won’t get what Gates got at an early age, access to a computer, and the educational foundation to master it. That’s changing, and it can’t change soon enough.

Max Levchin speaking about internships Max Levchin speaking at Cory Levy’s Internapoloza (photo credit Larry Chiang)

Yet still I feel mixed that many of the interns we’re hiring now have never had a job flipping burgers or trimming hedges. While I can’t quite recommend these jobs,having had them myself, I wonder how it will affect society that a new generation of creators and entrepreneurs won’t get many chances to meet the people I met each summer of my college years, the ones who poured beer into their breakfast cereal, or lured me into a dumpster and then activated the compactor.

Pay attention to this section if you are an engineering student at a really good college:

And it’s not just me. Redfin’s chief technology officer graduated from Stanford at the age of 20, but first worked in lawn-mower repair. Our senior vice-president of engineering got a perfect score on her SAT, yet still a year later found herself dressed up as Lucky the Lion at Circus World Pizza.

These dreary experiences may have taught us something about ourselves, but mostly they taught us about others, people trying to scrape by, working and raising children. Any software companies just starting out today have nothing to do with those folks because the founders of those companies have, for so long, had nothing to do with those folks.

The latest winner of the industry’s premiere startup contest is a company that will deliver butlers via an iPhone; other startups will help you rustle up task rabbits and clothes-washers; despite the dizzying number of online tools around exotic travel and fine dining, more software entrepreneurs attack these problems every year. Of course it is good to solve these problems, just so long as we remember they aren’t the only problems.


Pay attention to the fact that you will be a CS major CRO (chief revenue officer) #csMajorCRO as an intern. What I mean is that as an intern, you will get paid and be sorta in charge of revenue. I mean old people are kinda dumb and are super focused on paying some money to make more money. Thus, you will get a paid internship doing revenue related activities. I have curated them to be #csMajorCRO. For example…,

The greatest challenge faced by Silicon Valley and its outposts in Seattle and Boston is to create products not just for ourselves, but for the mass market. Eventually, the most-exclusive of services reach the broadest of audiences: Uber began by offering fancy town-cars but now has made all private transport more affordable. The question is how many teams have Uber’s common touch.

That touch is important when building software. A generation earlier, Tom Wolfe argued that a different kind of creator, the novelist, had an obligation not simply to focus inward on his own craft, but to go out into the world to learn how people live and what they do. Wolfe admiringly cited a 19th-century French writer who discovered that the horses working in the mines of that age were brought down the shaft as foals, never again to see the light of the day. This kind of real-world understanding, he said, was the proper subject of the novel.

We have the same chasm to cross in Silicon Valley: not merely to understand better how computers work, but to understand how the rest of the world works. What’s encouraging is that there are organizations promoting that kind of understanding today.Code for Americahelps technical folks in the private sector get temporary government gigs building applications for local governments, so citizens can adopt a fire hydrant to shovel out in a snowstorm, or find government food and housing programs for their area, or communicate with city officials via text messages.

This type of cultural exchange could go beyond city and federal governments to bring more computing power to schools, hospitals, research labs and many other parts of our society. At the same time, it could spawn hundreds of new business ideas.

One of the best reasons for optimism about our society’s future is this: when we teach kids from all walks of life how to code, the software they’ll grow up to build will help people from all walks of life. We just have to be careful to make sure that Silicon Valley’s opportunities and technical expertise don’t separate us from the rest of the world, at an earlier and earlier age, because we can sometimes link the rest of the world to a better future.

For more, see…

Glenn Kelman is the CEO of Redfin, a customer-first, technology-powered real estate broker. Follow him on Twitter @glennkelman.

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