When I was in school, we had sessions with our Careers teacher. She was nice enough but if you had an idea about being specialised in any field then she was out of her depth. I guess she had a book that may have been Dick and Dora’s Guide to Careers. You know – teacher, fireman, policeman, vet, doctor, farmer. I wanted to be a scientist at the time and she entertained me with ideas of maybe being a doctor, or a lab technician in a school. The disparity of those choices was not lost on me at the time.
Not once was enterpreneurship mooted as a career option. It just wasn’t considered in late 80s careers workshops in Northern Irish grammar schools.
Looking back I can see why my careers teacher hadn’t considered it. For one thing, the barrier to entry was huge. There were very few computers and those there were were immensely expensive or really just used for games. I hadn’t studied Computer Science in school and it probably wasn’t a bad thing as the CS lab was very primitive. Outside of computing, there was a primitive service industry but to a sociology teacher who was forced to take the careers classes for surly fourth and fifth formers, it was just too risky.
Another reason was her own experience. She’d had none and probably had never entertained the idea of going it out on her own. Things were a little different for me. Ever since I was about 4 years old, my Dad had run his own business. He owned a record store at one point, a tyre-fitting business at another, a tyre-exhaust-and-other-car-bits-and-bobs business and finally a pub. Did his life give me a taste for running my own business? Possibly though my mother maintains I was always a headstrong and determined child who liked things his own way. (Gee, mum, couldn’t you just abbreviate that to “brat”?) I know when I was in Nortel I planned to stay 5 years and then go out as an independent IT guy but that was much much later.
A lot of these barriers to entry are no longer present. A year ago Rich Segal wrote an article on how to make a corporate butt pucker. He began by refuting the most basic paradigm of the corporate:
Now, son, we have tons invested, the best people, a lock on the market, a pile of customers and we just donâ€™t waste time worrying about somebody that canâ€™t out spend us or have all of our people or systems. As long as we just keep pressing on, we will be fine.
and demonstrated how a web-app could be built in a short amount of time by someone in their bedroom using free, trial or cheap software. His demo is contrived and misses some of the hard parts like what to build and how does it really work but it illustrates the change in thinking. The barriers to entry are shifting. I still don’t know many young entrepreneurs but I do know a lot more young self-employed persons doing contract/servicing work especially in the designer or coder space.
Google is doing a lot of good work in this space with their Summer of Code program. Paul Graham, similarly, with Y-Combinator, is helping younger people get focussed on starting a technology business.