A theory as to why many startups are done by college kids.

It’s rather simple, really.

College age kids are not better programmers: age and practice generally makes you better, not worse. One doesn’t lose one’s ability to write code at 40 if one keeps on writing code from the age of 20: 20 years of practice is for any skill better than 2 years of practice, assuming one keeps on trying at the same level at 40 that one used at 20.

College age kids are not better business people for pretty much the same reason.

No; college age kids have two advantages over most software developers. One, they’re young and unattached: they don’t have kids and a mortgage and the trials and tribulations of life to distract them from being single-focused on a task. Sure, it may take even a really good hot-shot college age programmer four times as long to solve the same problem as someone with experience. But they have the time and the lack of distractions.

Second, and on a related note, they’re cheap: Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator is able to provide the initial funding for two college-age students to start a startup company for $20,000. For someone who has an established career and some modicum of success, $20k represents maybe two months pay–or even less if one has a good stock sharing program with a tech company on the way up. But for two college-age kids, $20,000 is enough seed funding to start running a startup.

With so little to risk, relatively speaking, it makes sense that someone who doesn’t have much to loose and who can live on so little can then run a startup.

But it has nothing to do with age per se: the guys who founded Adobe were in their 40’s.

Well, it’s time for me to put this idea to the test. After the past 6 years of working at Symantec and Yahoo! (and you can tell I work at Yahoo! because I remember the exclamation in the company name), I’ve managed to save enough to keep me going for a while without drawing a salary. So it’s time to quit my job, start my software project, and build something for myself.

We’ll see how quickly I can come up to speed doing Objective C++ on a day by day basis, though my idea involves data both on the desktop and “in the cloud”–which implies that I’m also going to be doing some web programming in Java. And we’ll see if after a year I either run out of cash without a single thing to show for it, or if I can make my savings stretch long enough to achieve some degree of success.

Because the reality is, in the tech world, you don’t get promoted without changing jobs, and you don’t reach upper management without running a startup.

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