Random Reader Question

A reader asked this question:

I started reading your blog years ago with my mother – I was just a kid. Fast forward to now and I am 1 year away from a business degree which was absolutely influenced by you and your start-ups.

However, I have always found it interesting that you opted to graduate with a political science degree and throughout my college career I kept it in the back of my head. I had always used it to remind myself that what I am learning in school is not necessarily going to make me successful – I have to do that on my own.

I am finally writing to you about this because I just have to know why. I have spent many sleepless nights in the past few weeks deciding what to do with my final year of school. My best friend and I are one summer away from having our own website and I am endlessly battling with myself between majoring in marketing or finance.

As far as careers go, I am much more interested in a marketing career, but with my research I find time and time again that for an entrepreneur, or really anyone attempting to become financially independent, that finance is essential knowledge. I would like your advice on the matter because I know you have developed your own projects without majoring in either of these subjects.

I would like to know your stance on a situation like this and any advice would be much appreciated.

From all the experience I’ve had with “successful” people is that the educational background wasn’t necessarily the reason for the success, but definitely helped in it’s own unique way.

We can take a familiar example like Adam McFarland who graduated with an engineering and programming background, but has ended up being part of a very successful car oriented ecommerce site. Did his engineering and programming education itself make this happen? No….but it sure helped when he created and then re-vamped the site using his coding background.

So here’s what turned me off business school:

First and foremost I just didn’t get it.
What does that mean?
Isn’t everything technically business?

Dig a little deeper and it breaks down into things like marketing, finance or accounting. None of those seemed particularly interesting to me at the time.

Second, I took a look at what the graduates did after school and where they went to work. It just didn’t seem exciting to me (keep in mind that’s simply my opinion). Our business school at The University of Texas had a very high out-of-college job rate, but that didn’t interest me as I was more into starting a company.

Third, I was originally a computer science student (but eventually couldn’t cut it…apparently a huge percentage of computer science students are WAY better than I am at coding). I was interested in building a talent which I could build something with….something that would give me an advantage over others. I was already into computers so it seemed a natural fit. If I could do it all over again, I would have worked harder towards getting a computer science or engineering degree. That stuff takes years of education….business lessons can often be picked up in a few good books.

Perhaps this might work well for you:

  1. Piece of paper with “Marketing” vs. “Finance”
  2. Write down the names of the associated classes you must take for each major
  3. Which one appeals to you more?

If reading financial statements and learning the intricacies of banking/accounting are interesting to you, then finance might be better. And if whatever the hell it is they teach in marketing is more interesting to you…..well you get the point.

My conclusion is this:
Marketing or finance….which one appeals to you more? There’s really no one-size-fits-all answer here. I think either of them will provide you with valuable experience you can apply to other situations or businesses in your life.
You might also find my advice to a college grad an interesting read.
What might interest you even more is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech about “Connecting the dots” later on in life….how things he learned early on had a serendipitous way of helping him out later on in life:

Blog posted on: May 12, 2009

5 comments on “Random Reader Question

  1. Adam McFarland

    Nev -

    Thanks for the mention :)

    I think you nailed it on the head here. I feel like people sometimes put too much emphasis on their degree and lock themselves into a potential career because of it. A degree teaches a certain set of skills and can open up opportunities for you, but it’s up to you to take advantage of those opportunities, especially the ones that are maybe a little different than what you expected. A lot of times though, you learn your most valuable skills outside your degree (which was the case for me), and that’s OK too. Some employers absolutely have to have someone who majored in X at University Y for a position, but most are more interested in someone who is passionate about their mission and has some experience…and experience comes in a lot of different forms (running your own business, blogging, doing an internship, a project at school, etc).


  2. Autumn

    I have a materials engineering degree and I run an online store that sells wedding invitations. For an entrepreneur degree is irrelevant. It’s drive, the ability to learn new things, and taking action that really matters.

    My mom told me to study the hardest thing I could in school to get my money’s worth – I could learn anything easier on my own. I resented her advice at the time because I really wanted to study photography, but looking back at the way things have worked out for me I think it was very wise advice.

  3. linda

    Nevvy poo.
    I quit my job on Monday and have two more weeks with nothing lined up. This blog entry was motivational. Your blog entries are always great and I wish you would blog more ;)

    your buddy,

  4. Jason

    here is a suggestion to your reader. Remember that all talent can be bought and people are willing to sell their expertise quick cheaply.

    Be an entrepreneur… create ideas and learn to execute them by using the talents of others. Allow your talent to be not finance or marketing… but rather dreaming of stuff that isn’t yet and making it a reality.


  5. Making of a millionnaire

    As a comment to the question asked by your reader I’ll say this: no matter what you choose to graduate in, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT! join the Corporate America ranks of salary slaves. Start a business on your own, start a web site, just what ever idea to make money. But believe me. Stay away from the cubicle prison. I know by experience, and trying to escape now once and for all.

    Good luck in you endeavor.



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