Interesting facts about software industry

The most interesting thing about software industry is many top companies were founded by college students. Steve Jobs was a first year student at Reed college when he started Apple Computer. Bill Gates started Microsoft when he was a third year student at Harvard University. Jerry Yang and David Filo formed Yahoo! when they were students at Stanford, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin formed Google when they also were students at Stanford .

A study of millionaires under the age of 30, found that 78% of them were college students, many studied Computer Science or Software Engineering and they all shared a common character: They all have passion on what they do and they are fearless. The study concluded: “Probably because of their youth, they are not afraid of failure, and they keep on pushing until they succeed. Many started their own companies after invented something new and they all wanted to see if they can make it on their own”. This independent spirit is quite unique in America because there are very few “Entrepreneurs” like them anywhere else. Europe with a similar culture and good education does not have someone like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Another study of top executives of technology companies by the Wall Street Journal also found that over 80% of them had bachelor’s degrees. About 15% had master’s degrees and few had doctorates degrees. More than two third of the degrees were in science, technology, and engineering with only few were in business and finance. Another interesting fact was a majority of them earned their degrees in private schools. The schools where these millionaires earned degrees were 1) Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 2) Stanford University; 3) Carnegie Mellon University; 4) California Institute of Technology; 5) Harvard University; 6) University of California, Berkeley; 7) University of Southern California; 8) University of Pennsylvania, 9) Georgia Institute of Technology and 10) University of Texas, Austin.

Another interesting fact about these software millionaires is they don’t look like other millionaires, they don’t dress like other millionaires, they don’t eat like other millionaires, they don’t act like other millionaires. Most of them do not own expensive clothes, expensive watches, expensive cars, expensive houses and other status artifacts. In fact, they look like any typical software developers that people saw, busy working on their computers. The richest, Bill Gates drives a 1999 Lexus and frequently eat at Mc Donald. Steve Jobs is well known for his fade blue jeans and black sweater. Before his face was on newspapers, the founder of Google, Sergey Brin used to tell a story: “My office does not look pretty, my clothes is not nice and when a Japanese executive first met me, he thought I was a janitor. He looked in my office, looked at everyone there but me, until someone introduce me. He was so surprised and said: “Oh, I forgot I was in the U.S”.

The study also found a very interesting fact regarding the term “Wealthy”. The Webster’s dictionary define wealthy as people who have an abundance of material possessions but most software millionaires define wealthy differently. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Steve Jobs said: “We do NOT define wealthy in terms of material possessions. We do NOT select a high-consumption lifestyle that have little or no investments in intellectual assets. What we possess is “Brain power” and a “fearless passion” to do whatever we chose”.

Another interesting fact is most of these millionaires are first-generation rich. How is it possible for people from modest backgrounds to become millionaires in one generation? Why is it that so many people with similar backgrounds never accumulate even modest amounts of wealth? The study found that most people who become millionaires have confidence in their own abilities. They do not care about whether or not their parents were wealthy. They do not believe that one must be born wealthy. A French newspaper wrote about them as “These “Nouveau riche” having reached the top without the benefit of inherited wealth and we do not know why.”

The answer could be because software is still a new area and is still changing, it creates more opportunities for people who has skills and a passion to make a difference. For example, the new iPhone opens more opportunities and helps create more millionaires in the U.S just in the past year. Apple encourages people to create applications for the iPhone then they sell them in the Apple stores. Many applications sell for less than $1 but with several million users, it is not too difficult to make a million dollar. Today Apple has more than 200,000 applications and the list continues to grow everyday. With the new iPad, the list probably will grow bigger and probably create more opportunities than before. Mobile applications is a very hot area for young people today for both creating new things with new opportunities.

With globalization, and as Information Technology continues to progress, I believe that more opportunities will become available for people around the world, especially to people who possess “Brain power and a fearless passion to do whatever they want”.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University