Jordi Muñoz became President of prominent early drone company 3D Robotics at age 22, having made himself a world-leading expert in drone design and manufacturing, teaching himself through the universe of resources available through the web and his own experiments. He says:
“I come from a generation where we have Google PhDs, we can virtually figure out everything by just Googling around and doing some reading online”
Sci-Fi author William Gibson became a deep expert in antique watches by dint of five years research for “the sheer pointless pleasure of learning this vast, useless body of knowledge.” He notes that:
“Now you can be a kid in a town in the backwoods of Brazil, and you can wake up one morning and say, “I want to know everything about stainless steel sports watches from the 1950s,” and if you really applied yourself, to the internet, at the end of the year you would have the equivalent of a master’s degree in this tiny pointless field. I’ve totally met lots of people who have the equivalent of that degree.”
If you take this path you don’t get a piece of paper or certificate to put on your resume. But you may well have the same degree of knowledge, potentially even more up-to-date, than many with a formal advanced degree in your field of study, and likely faster.
It is fair to acknowledge that there are definitely trade-offs for the autodidactic path compared with the academic route, over and above the socially-recognized qualification, but these may not matter much to many people.
A fundamental issue now is the degree to which employers care about the piece of paper as against the knowledge and capability. That is rapidly shifting as companies realize they will often miss out on exceptionally talented people if they insist on formal qualifications.
Entrepreneurs of course only care whether they have the knowledge to do what they’re undertaking.
It is a shifting landscape. Traditional advanced degrees have their place and will not disappear.
But “Google PhDs” will in some cases be as good, if they result in an equivalent level of expertise.
Image: John Walker