Last night, hundreds of UC Berkeley students like myself sat in a packed auditorium to hear Michael Arrington speak with visiting Berkeley scholar, entrepreneur, and TechCrunch contributor, Professor Vivek Wadhwa. What was expected to be a mild discussion turned into a heated debate. Wadhwa firmly disagreed with Arrington on key topics on the agenda for the night such as the worth of a college education and, you guessed it, women in tech.
Arrington started off the talk saying what a room full of professors and college students dreaded to hear—that a college education can hinder instead of help the path of a brilliant entrepreneur. While he thought that for most of us college is a necessary stage for maturing, he half-joked that for the Zuckerbergs out there “The best thing in the world is to go to Harvard for a year and drop out. Everyone knows you were smart enough to get in”.
For Arrington, great entrepreneurs are fearless daredevils who should be willing to take a risk as big as dropping out of college if they’re passionate about their cause. Wadhwa cited the valid example of small-time entrepreneurs who need a college education in order to survive, with Arrington rebutting that “if you think small, you end up small”.
The normally mild-mannered Wadhwa became visibly impassioned about the dearth of women in technology. Wadhwa argued that Arrington lived in an “ivory tower”, oblivious to the ugly prejudice that Wadhwa has himself faced as an immigrant entrepreneur in North Carolina. Arrington admitted that as a white male, he could not speak about gender or race discrimination firsthand. Yet Arrington did point to his TC colleagues (and boss) as well as women in the audience who are living examples of the success and support women in tech are able to achieve.
As expected, Arrington riled up the crowd with more bold statements and colorful analogies. You’ll have to watch to understand why he thinks “entrepreneurs are like pirates” or why he feels pressured to get a sex change.
Chilean Minister of Commerce Juan Andres Fontaine attended the event and had some news after the debate. He announced a $40,000 grant the government is offering to qualified international entrepreneurs to start companies in Chile. Chile’s impressive pro-business, pro-immigration policy left many students in the audience thinking about packing their bags for South America and Arrington concerned about the potential loss of bright American minds to other countries with greater entrepreneurial opportunities.
The arguing did make for great TV, but the most interesting part of the lecture were the undeniable words of wisdom Arrington and Wadhwa had for their young audience. A piece of advice both panelists agreed on was to never forget the importance of ethics. As Arrington said, “Never hurt anyone to benefit yourself…but do something amazing, however you define it, and change the world”. That advice also serves as an important tip for young entrepreneurs hoping to gain exposure on TechCrunch: aim to change the world, because as Michael said “I’m not interested in the people who aren’t”.
Thanks to CalTV and camerapersons Matt Grobar and Tiffany Hsu for providing the video.