(written in september 2016 for an application)
What impact do you want to have on the world and why?
It’s undoubtedly a big task for an 18 year old college freshman to answer this question — and I’m going to be completely honest: I have no idea.
In the past few years as a high schooler in the Bay Area, I was pretty heavily “sucked into” the Silicon Valley tech world — learning how to code iOS apps launched me on path where I’ve been lucky enough to attend numerous collegiate hackathons, tech conferences, and work directly with extremely successful entrepreneurs inside top startups/startup studios as well as large tech corporations. While looking back it’s all been incredible, I’ve started to think — what did I really get out of all this?
I considered writing about more concrete things I’ve done in the mental health space, or the location based social app I’m working on right now (well aware this sounds like yet another useless SV app) and the vision/long term impact I see it having. But I think that’s rather shortsighted. At age 18, do I really know what my life thesis is? It’s easy for me to fall back on a cognitively simple path of going to college to study CS, find a lucrative software engineering job, and work my way up, but it just seems so… rat race like. And from a more macro perspective, it’s easy to hitch a ride on the Silicon Valley rocketship and get caught up in the endless, tunnel visioned pursuit of success in arguably the most meritocratic and innovative place on Earth.
There’s that Peter Thiel line, “we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” which just shows that innovation is often different than what’s expected. While I admire my peers who ambitiously say they are set on doing/accomplishing/curing XYZ in their life, I wonder how much of that is fulfilled — lots of things can change, especially in our world today. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg was set on connecting the entire world to the internet or curing all diseases when he built Facebook in his dorm room. Likewise, I don’t think any “impact” I say I want to have on the world will be the same by the time I (maybe) graduate college.
I’d say my “premature” experience in tech has really helped me with two things: I’ve been able to observe how top startups operate, which has given me a good product, design, and programming sense. Having already had the SF summer internship experience, I also now know that I don’t need to follow the same default path that many students in tech pursue.
I hate using over-quoted lines, but what Steve Jobs said about “not being able to connect the dots looking forward and having to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future” really resonates with me. I don’t know the impact I want to have on the world yet, but I do know some things: I like building things, I’ve gotten to be pretty decent at it, and there are many many years ahead of me.