Entrepreneurial students don’t have to fear Big Tech layoffs


Many of my students dream of working in Big Tech after graduation. Regardless of whether the student is a computer science or marketing major, the desire to work for Google, Meta or Amazon – or any of the major tech companies – is deep and serious.

When high-tech crackdowns began dominating the news — about half of Twitter’s 7,500 people, followed by 11,000 at Meta and 10,000 at Amazon — it initially concerned students at Northwestern University, where I direct the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. . I also questioned my decision to take 20 Farley undergraduates to San Francisco this fall quarter. A key part of the program’s objective is to expose students to the technology scene that has been thriving over the past year.

But students who once competed for jobs at household-name tech companies will be fine. Industry experts don’t expect Big Tech layoffs to cause a tsunami in other sectors, meaning opportunities will simply go elsewhere, in financial institutions and theaters, climate and health care technology, and other areas that need a lot of innovation.

Entrepreneurship continues in existing companies of all types and sizes, through “intrapreneurship” and increasingly – and vice versa, given today’s lack of venture funding – new companies. If San Francisco loses some of its luster, many of these companies may start in cities like Chicago.

Each academic year, approximately 1,000 Northwestern students study in Farley’s classroom, which unites students and faculty from different corners of the campus, including the School of Engineering, as well as the School of Journalism, the School of Business, and even the School of Music.

Our goal is to equip Farley students with problem-solving skills that will serve them well no matter what they do after graduation. Most prefer the relative security of a job in a well-established company rather than forging their own path.

I remember one such student, a natural-born entrepreneur and son of immigrants, struggling to pay for Northwestern. As much as he wanted to continue building his promising startup, he feared his parents would be worried if he passed on a six-figure offer from a major tech company. Rather than risking financial hardship, he chose the safe route.

What would have happened if he hadn’t had such a wild idea to pull him from chasing his own entrepreneurial dream? We may soon find out when many of the best students are forced to look for alternatives to Big Tech jobs.

At the time of the pandemic, I wrote about how difficult times have historically led to transformative innovations. In the late 1700s, for example, French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte needed a more efficient way to transport food to his troops. He set up a contest asking people to come up with solutions. A Parisian chef has won the grand prize for boiling sealed pots. The invention spread to mason jars, tins, and many other products two hundred years later.

College students often return to graduate school during difficult times. My colleagues at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management are appealing to laid-off tech workers, too: The school recently offered to waive test score requirements for applicants to its Master of Business Administration program.

But I’m hearing Farley students and recent grads suggest that Plan B for them might not be taking on debt to get their MBA, but instead starting their own company. Alumni from our program returned to Evanston after spending time on the West and East coasts. The Chicago area’s appeal for this young entrepreneur comes from low housing costs, a supportive network of investors and mentors, and a tight-knit community of friends.

For those looking for a quick refund on their college education, there are still options.

Financial institutions that have been competing for star tech talent coming out of Northwestern and other top schools are losing out. If big banks continue to pay well — and other things demanded of this generation, such as work-life balance and balancing values ​​— students who once headed for Amazon or Twitter may instead use their engineering skills at Goldman Sachs. JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Regardless of whether recent events push students to do their own thing or push them toward a career in banking or graduate school, innovation will continue — and perhaps even increase.

Until we move to San Francisco, my students may not have the experience we originally envisioned for them. But in such a critical time, you learn more by living in Silicon Valley.

At Farley, we teach problem solving, which includes adapting to change. And that’s exactly what we’re doing as we prepare ourselves and our students for our inaugural San Francisco program. Some of the companies we planned to visit told us they were too busy to accommodate us. So we look for other experiences that might be more useful for the time being.

It’s another piece of the puzzle that helps develop a talented and ready pool of future innovators.

Hayes Ferguson is director of Northwestern University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and clinical associate professor at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. She lives in Evanston.

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