The John Lamb perspective: University of life's degree of success

05 Aug 1997 View Comments
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After saying that bright youngsters with a bent for business IT are side-stepping the traditional university route to a career, I ended a column last month on the improving prospects for IT start-up firms by asking the British Bill Gates to stand up.

At least one young contender has just done so. Corin Hartland-Swann is a 19-year-old who has every intention of running his own company before he is 25. With an IQ of 150, he is currently working for Virtual Internet, a start-up Internet service provider in London.

An A-level school leaver, Hartland-Swann has been configuring Unix systems to act as Web servers and setting up services for users on them for just 10 months. Inspired by Jason Drummond, the 28-year-old managing director of Virtual Internet, Hartland-Swann is keen to start a Net-based business himself.

'The market for the Internet is so wide it is possible to make a handsome profit,' says a confident Hartland-Swann. The company he currently works for has recently set up a domain name registration service for addresses with the Gibraltar suffix. There are plenty of other countries without similar registration services.

In the meantime, his next step is to become a systems administration contractor. There is plenty of money in it and he can broaden his experience, too.

At present, university plays no part in his plans, although he has a place at Umist. While his father Jocelyn may worry that his lad is missing out on a valuable educational experience, Corin has no doubts. 'It seems to me that universities are just not up-to-date in computer science,' he maintains. 'A computer science degree would just bore the hell out of me.'

Reluctantly, his father, who runs a company called Knowledge Warehouse, agrees: 'I've often downgraded interviewees with a computer science degree unless they showed evidence of team-work and networking skills.

'Although universities have increased the business breadth of computer science courses and focused more on presentation skills, standards of literacy are often woeful and they offer no experience of working in teams. They teach perishable technical skills which bright kids pick up by themselves at home anyway.'

Does it matter that an ambitious youngster wants to opt out of higher education? There are plenty of successful entrepreneurs without any initials after their name.

But university is more than just learning a narrow set of skills. It is a broad experience and includes things that may come in useful later in a career: habits of thought, working with like-minded people, and friendships.

It is very difficult to persuade someone like Hartland-Swann that clapped-out kit and lecturers not up on the latest ideas will be of any help at all. To him, they probably seem like a distraction from the important things in life, like clubbing, sex and making money.

John Lamb can be contacted at johntlamb@msn.com

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