College was my biggest mistake

When I turned 18, my parents expected me to go to college- it was the only option, the only way to be a successful adult. I’m a 2nd generation Italian. My mother and grandparents came over to America and bootstrapped themselves from nothing, so needless to say, I would be the first in the family to get a degree and it was kind of a big deal.

We were middle class, but not rich, so I had to borrow to afford a $44,000/year RIT tuition. It’s what everyone else does, right? $44,000 might as well have been a million dollars, because in my mind they were equally unfathomable- with only $300 in my checking account, I had to make a decision whether or not to borrow $176,000. Makes sense.

No one could tell me why I was wasting my creative energy, focus, and life on something I didn’t want to do. Classes didn’t hold my attention- I could teach myself more in an afternoon than I would learn in a 10-week class. My classes appealed to the lowest-common denominator. The bottom of the barrel.

Eventually, I stopped going to class. I didn’t care. I despise squandering my time and classes felt like the ultimate waste. The culmination of my second year was a 0.33 GPA.

Do you still put a GPA on your resume if it’s 0.33?

Eventually I dropped out. Well, actually, I failed out. And they told me not to come back. I was living with a roommate and scraping by making 10 bucks an hour doing web design. I lied to everyone in my life, including myself.

“I’m just doing an internship for the summer!”

But truthfully, I was too embarassed to tell them I failed, that I had let them down. Because, you need a degree to be successful, right? And now I’d never be successful.

I got stuck for a little while, and I think this is where many people end up their entire lives. $400 a week is hardly enough to live comfortably, but I made it work. Like, I could pay for rent and food, but had to sleep on the floor for 3 months because I couldn’t afford a bed. How could I possibly do better without a degree? I was lucky that I even had a job as a college dropout.

I hustled. I taught myself Rails and Linux. I freelanced on the side. I resold computers and camera lenses on Craigslist and eBay. Whatever it took.

I sold myself like a used car salesman

When it was time for a new job, I shot for the stars. I left college off of my resume, let my experience speak for itself, and sold my passion. And when college came up in the conversation, I had a story ready to go.

I’m still pursuing my degree in Software Engineering. All of my relevant experience is self-taught and I prefer to spend time teaching myself instead of sitting in a classroom.

Just a couple of interviews and the first job offer came in- $45k. When you’ve been living off of kidney beans and rice for a year, it’s equivalent to winning the powerball.

A second job offer, for $60k, arrived the next day. My belief that you’d be restricted to minimum wage jobs without college was absolutely not true. And the worst part was that it was self-limiting, a figment of my imagination. Success had been sitting in front of me all along.

Take the job, don’t be stupid!

Surely if the company was willing to pay me $60,000, they’d be willing to go higher. “Take the job”, everyone said. “Don’t be stupid. Now’s not the time to negotiate”. But I’ve never been one to let fear drive my decisions.

A 20-year old kid that was hardly scraping by on $10/hour turned down their $60,000 offer- reason?

“Unfortunately, I’m only able to consider offers over $100k at this time. If you’re in a position to negotiate, I’d love to talk more.”

Eventually, we settled on somewhere in the middle. Talk about hustling.

Years later, I started working at Twitpic. College didn’t even enter the conversation. Since then, I’ve been heavily recruited and created some of my own products. And the only thing that’s mattered has been my passion, knowledge, and experience.

Success is sitting right in front of you. You don’t need to have a bachelors degree to reach out and take it- to think anything else is a limiting belief that exists solely in your mind. Hustling = passion + ability to sell yourself. No degree required.

“All college taught me was how to pay off debt. I’m still learning.”