Eric Schmidt, the 19th-richest person in the tech industry, has one big piece of advice for students: to pursue what they believe in and to do it passionately.
On Monday, the former CEO of Google visited UT to offer advice to young entrepreneurs based on his personal experience in the business world.
“If you are not intellectually curious, you will fail,” Schmidt said. “Everyone that I have seen fail in this business were not intellectually curious enough to question everybody else’s ideas as well as their own.”
As the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., from 2011 to 2015, Schmidt was in charge of external matters relating to all of the holding company’s businesses, including Google, as well as consulting their CEOs on business and policy issues. He has spoken about self-driving cars, virtual reality, fake meat, 3-D-printed buildings, machine learning in education and any other technology he thinks will change the world in the next five to 10 years.
“My outcome and career has derived from the advantages I’ve had in life,” Schmidt said. “Students need to use their advantages and ask themselves what kind of luck they have and do something with it.”
The first piece of advice Schmidt gave had nothing to do with entrepreneurship, but the ability of students to question the world around them.
“From birth, we are told what to believe by our parents, friends and society,” Schmidt said. “The ability to listen to what other people are telling you to think and still choose what to think for yourself is the greatest challenge faced by anyone.”
During the talk, Schmidt put a lot of emphasis on learning and earning a college degree. He said the leaders today are going to be pushing harder for people who want to learn and build on current technological innovations.
“The only way to grow and prosper, as an entrepreneur and as a human being, is to want to answer hard questions,” Schmidt said. “I fear none of the major tech organizations these days are actually answering all the questions about how to help people. It’d be great if young people could come up with new ways to help people in need.”
While serving as the CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, Schmidt watched as the company grew from a Silicon Valley startup into a multinational technology company. According to Forbes, Schmidt functioned as Google’s global ambassador and visited some of the world’s most tightly controlled regimes, including Cuba and North Korea, in an attempt to promote open Internet access.
Economics sophomore Christopher Head said one of the most interesting topics Schmidt brought up was the invention and use of machine learning, where computers are able to learn without being programmed.
“The fact that this machine has the ability to determine what you like and dislike and then create stuff based on it makes it extremely clear that our privacy isn’t as safe as we think,” Head said.
Joshua Baer, who served as the moderator for this UT Distinguished Speakers’ event, is the co-founder and executive director of Capital Factory, a center for entrepreneurs in Austin that provides funding, mentorship and co-working for tech startups.
“I think Austin is the best it’s ever been for entrepreneurs in terms of funding and accessibility to mentors,” Baer said. “I only see great things for future Austin entrepreneurs.”