Why I'm going back to graduate school

What is an entrepreneur doing in a classroom?

Posted on August 24, 2015

When I tell friends that I’m leaving my executive role at a company that I spent ten years building to go back to school, some react with surprise, some without any surprise at all.

In Silicon Valley dropping out of school is a mark of pride for entrepreneurs, a mark that I earned myself back in 2004, when I left my Physics Ph.D. program at Stanford to build a business in social networking. My self-taught computer science background was not substantially limiting, and common wisdom says that most of what we learn in school is useless for real-world business challenges, or for the sort of software development used to build typical products.

Still, here I am, today is my first day as a graduate student in the computer science M.S. program at Berkeley. Those who know me well will recognize that I’m excited to be here because I value systematic understanding, theory if you will—that’s just the way my brain works. I’m also excited because I see that academic computer scientists are in a position to look ahead further than industry practitioners as, in addition to intellectual fruits, so many foundational technologies with near-universal industrial use originated within academia. The Berkeley EECS department history only hints at the list.

My hope is that I will come away from the program here with the solid computer science foundation that I’ve been inching towards reading textbooks on nights and weekends, as well as with the insights on current research that will carry into applications over the next decades. Also, I enjoy learning, so if nothing else this should be fun.

Leaving the executive team if(we) is a move I could only make knowing the company remains in good hands. Our management team includes veterans with an extensive mix of experience earned both working on our products and in related areas, and I look forward to continuing to work with this group in my capacity as a board member.