Saturday, October 14, 2006

The University of Illinois -- A Millionaire Factory?

Congratulations have to go out this week to a couple classmates of mine at the University of Illinois. Former U of I students Jawed Karim and Steve Chen are two of the three co-founders (along with Chad Hurley) of YouTube. As I have mentioned previously, YouTube is a free web-based video sharing site.

Founded in February 2005, this week it was purchased by Google. For $1.65 billion. Yeah, that's a lot. So it seems that my former classmates are now amongst the wealthiest people in the world my age. Wow.

As it turns out, Jawed, who attended high school in Minnesota, lived across the hall in the dorms from another one of my former classmates, who is now one of my co-workers, at Allan Hall. He and Steve, who graduated from high school in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, both initially didn't finish school as they went to work with Illinois alum Max Levchin at the company he co-founded, Paypal. During that time, Jawed continued coursework and got his B.S. and so he's a fellow U of I alum. He currently is a grad student at Stanford and of course now has a little more cash.

What this points to of course is the quality of students Illinois is attracting, especially in engineering. When you look at the list of accomplished alumni, it truly is amazing. The University of Illinois continues to prove itself as one of the premier universities in the country. Just in the last 15 years alone, graduates have included the founders of Netscape, Paypal, and YouTube. Other famous companies formed by Illinois alums include Oracle, AMD, Lotus, W.W. Grainger, and BET. Jerry Colangelo, Roger Ebert, and Jack Welch are all alums.

Its history seems to suggest it is as likely as any place in the country to produce future millionaires. I probably won't be one of them, however.


Anonymous said...


B.E.T.? Check out today's Boondocks cartoon :-)

I still think that many of these folks really cut their teeth elsewhere, outside of the Champaign-Urbana doldrums. Having spent many years in both the engineering and business school here, there's something missing about the environment that keeps us from having that environment of creativity and entrepreneurship. After all, the most technically adept folks tend to scoff at the "entrepreneurial" classes that are often only offered in General Engineering (which has to be the weakest of the group of ME, ECE, and CE), and take them as blow-off courses.

Another possible hypothesis is the attitude toward students among faculty. On one side, you hear about how faculty members at Stanford and MIT encourage their students to go off and make things happen in the real world. On the other hand, at Illinois you see many engineering faculty often ignore their students' best interests, and end up with a very jaded view of the field. Similarly, for whatever reason, we are having a very difficult time maintaining our top business faculty, as well. A very real part of that is the relatively backwater environment that is Champaign-Urbana.

My question is - given the quality of the engineering programs, do you think that our beloved U. has actually underachieved in commercializing cutting edge technology?

And Westy - you should set your eyes a little higher than being a millionaire. As long as you don't go off an do something silly like have kids, you'll be worth a million bucks within a dozen years :-)


Westy said... hear about...
Might it be that the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence? With as familiar as you are with the U of I, of course you're going to see all the cracks in the sidewalk.
But I think the positives are just as strong as most of our competitors, for whom it's harder to see negatives because we're viewing from afar.