I’m Successful In Tech Because I Managed To Visit The Future Without A Time Machine

Why Being on a College Campus From 1991–1995 Changed My Life

I visited the future and it made me wealthy. Not Biff and Grays Sports Almanac Back to the Future II style, but maybe again, not that far off. You see, being on a college campus in the early 90s was a preview of what the next few decades would bring. A high-speed network and connection to the Internet. A vibrant online campus community using chat, email, LAN/WAN gaming. Status messages and virtual identities. Connections to public research databases and libraries. A text and then graphical browser. Expectations of your own personal computers and connecting to class intranet sites for collaboration and documentation. I experienced multiple ‘holy shit’ moments where it felt like the Internet was going to change everything and I was an early adopter.

One Matrix moment were signing up for newsgroups like alt.music.beastie-boys right before winter break, selecting “receive all posts individually” [not savvy enough yet to always default to digest-mode] and returning in January to a crashed email account with over 20,000 new messages. I saw that the Internet was about people, and creativity, and tribes. And that informed all of my personal and professional choices afterwards.

In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell famously popularizes the ‘10,000 hour’ rule — namely, it takes approximately that amount of time to develop true expertise in an area. The book goes deeper than this soundbite though, talking about the biases which help to influence *who* gets access to the right training and development opportunities. One of the most important points is that it’s not just about the dedication, it’s about the 10,000 hours coming during the right period. The Beatles during the dawn of mainstream pop. Bill Gates during the advent of the personal computer. And so on. It’s a worthwhile debate as to whether people of this talent level and compounding privilege would have succeeded anyway during a different period of time, maybe just in an adjacent specialty that was more of the zeitgeist — eg put Bill Gates in the Renaissance and perhaps he’s Copernicus- but regardless it’s important to remember that it’s not just the individual but the circumstances they find themselves in. And I found myself in a pretty amazing set of circumstances for the first half of the 90s. Also, let me be explicit, I’m not comparing myself to the Beatles or Bill Gates. Well, maybe Ringo.

This all leads me to wonder, what can an 18 year old do today to ‘live in the future?’ Is it a specific geography? For a while it felt like residing in one of the major Asian cities gave you a sense of what urbanization, mobile tech and popular culture could look like down the road. Is that still true? Perhaps it’s not a place but a platform. Is redpilling web3 and spending your life in Discords the best approximation today of what will be more mainstream in 2031? Or maybe it’s actually ethnocultural and being of mixed race today is the best experience to understand the societal true north ahead. I really don’t know. But what I do know is that if you are early in your life and career there’s probably nothing better you can do than try to get to the future ahead of everyone else. It’ll change how you look at everything around you from that point forward.