Monday, January 24, 2011

PhDs and the Future

I just finished reading an interesting book on the founding of Google, called The Gooogle Story. Although it´s mostly a celebratory account (and maybe there are mostly good things to say about the search engine giant) I came away with one strong impression.

The age of the MBAs is over. The age of the PhDs is here.

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were both doctoral students at Stanford when they began working on their search engine. They ultimately took leaves of absences as their project became all consuming. But they are academically grounded through and through. And they hired many people with doctorates in their fields. They wanted the best in their fields in terms of knowledge, a questioning attitude, the ability to focus, a sense of vision, and on and on.

People who exploited other people´s ideas, even in a good way, just weren´t enough. When Google went public, Brin and Page stiffed the big Wall Street firms and did it their way, slashing fees paid to firms to handle the IPO, making the stock available to small investors, and so on.

Google continues to search for the best talent it can find, even if that means going into Microsoft´s back yard. The two giants even went to court over whether Google could hire someone away from Microsoft. Imagine, big corporations fighting over people with PhDs, once derided as people who deal only with abstractions and can´t do anything in the socalled real world, except create a whole new economy built around the Internet.

To add even further insult, Google makes a point of saying it runs its company like a university rather than a business. That includes giving employees 20 percent time, one day a week to work on whatever they find interesting.

What all this adds up to is the importance of higher education, and the importance of contininuing to invest in it even in tough economic times.

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