Chunks of Change

Chunks of Change

The knowledge that a mess of Solo cups, pizza boxes and excruciating headaches awaits you tomorrow doesn’t have to dampen the party tonight.

Untold seniors at area colleges have been demonstrating that point as conclusively as my neighbors did during a bacchanalia last Friday night, spending their post-finals, pre-commencement days reveling, relaxing and otherwise savoring these precious few moments before they take up the responsibilities of that ominous “real” world the rest of us keep talking about.

Of course, things really are about to get real. Compared to student life, the structures, pathways and objectives of professional life won’t be as clear. Guidance may be in short supply. Tests will be constant and more subtle, and the subject matter might never have been covered. Bottom lines will often supplant higher values. The learning curve will be asymptotic: never-ending.

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On the plus side, the possibilities are also infinite. And while students must pay (or be paid for), workers get paid. Here are a few New Haven-area graduates—Yalies all—who demonstrate that last point particularly well.

Ben Silbermann ’03
After abandoning a pre-med track and graduating from Yale with a political science degree in 2003, Ben Silbermann briefly went to DC to work at a consultancy, then headed west to work on advertising projects for Google. Inspired by the company’s “audacity to think at a really big scale,” as he said in a 2012 interview, but discouraged by the limitations placed on his role there, Silbermann left in 2006 to develop his own products, almost all of which failed. Even Pinterest, the now well-known social pinboarding tool Silbermann cofounded in 2010, looked like a failure at first blush, attracting a “catastrophically small” number of users in its first nine months. But Silbermann and his cofounder kept pushing, and today, Pinterest reports more than 450 million active monthly users, while Silbermann, the company’s CEO, is a billionaire three times over.

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Anne Wojcicki ’96
Anne Wojcicki played varsity hockey, coordinated activities at Jonathan Edwards College and worked in a research lab on her way to a biology degree from Yale in 1996. Instead of continuing in academia, as her parents had hoped, she swerved hard towards Wall Street, where, over the course of a decade, she worked as a healthcare analyst for a series of investment firms. This set the stage for her career-defining turn as a cofounder of 23andMe, a revolutionary and much-discussed provider of personal genetic testing and analysis. The company, started in 2006, touts its ability to help people understand their roots, identify potential health concerns and even connect with long-lost relatives. It’s also embarked on a program to develop new treatments for cancer and heart disease with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. And according to recent reports, the company is preparing to go public at a valuation that would price Wojcicki’s shares at more than a billion dollars.

Justin Kan and Emmett Shear ’05
If you’re of a certain generation, there’s a good chance you’ve spent some time on Twitch, a livestreaming platform that’s cornered the growing video gaming broadcast market. But you probably didn’t know its founders met right here in New Haven. Emmett Shear, Twitch’s longtime CEO, graduated Yale with a degree in computer science in 2005. Justin Kan, namesake of Twitch’s precursor,—which at first saw Kan “lifecasting” via a camera mounted to his head—also graduated that year, with degrees in philosophy and physics. A mere three years after Twitch’s founding, Shear and Kan’s passion for technology, entrepreneurship and, of all things, video gaming led to the sale of their company to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars in cash.

It’s enough to inspire even those of us who’ve been working in the “real” world for a while.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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