The Cheap Ticket Into the Elite Class

elitekidsIf you ask a modern member of today’s American Elite to review Mr. Money Mustache’s childhood and educational history, the report would probably come back dripping with sympathy and disdain.

I went to public school (the only school, really), in a lower-middle income small town. I didn’t join many extracurricular activities or attend any private lessons.  I traveled by airplane only twice between birth and age 20. My parents didn’t buy me a car or act as my personal chauffeur and I paid for most of my own University education by banking the proceeds of minimum wage jobs starting at age fifteen. And I would never expect anyone to pay for my wedding or leave me an inheritance.

But despite this painful shortage of luxury and privilege, I always felt very well off. And now I have somehow ended up with a life that sits at the very pinnacle of good fortune. Swimming in an incredible surplus of wealth, happiness, energy, ideas, and a support network of other fortunate people.

As much as I’d like to chalk this up to some superior combination of personal moral character, amazing intelligence and Badassity, the truth is that much of it comes from a gift that my parents gave me as a child: an absolutely Elite education.

How Important is a Fancy Education?

A recent round of complaints in the East Coast media has been making the rounds recently, sparked off by an article in the Atlantic called “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans“. In that lengthy tale, the notable and succesful author Neal Gabler reveals that he is actually broke, and has been for decades. He admits that his fate is self-imposed: he just spends money without thinking about the long-term implications.

But he also reveals a very common bias in US society: that spending an absolute shitload of money on your children is a necessary and advantageous thing to do. You could sum up our generous but financially suicidal belief system in this quote from his story:

“I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses. But, like many Americans, I wanted my children to keep up with the Joneses’ children, because I knew how easily my girls could be marginalized in a society where nearly all the rewards go to a small, well-educated elite. (All right, I wanted them to be winners.)”

A later article in the Atlantic called “The Circles of American Financial Hell” suffered from much the same bias: the story reviews the common sob story that the US Middle Class can’t get ahead. And its thesis is that the problem is not really our spending on personal luxuries, it’s our valiant attempt to sacrifice everything for our children:

“…parents will spend down their last dollar (and their last borrowed dollar) on their kids’ education: In a society with dramatic income inequality and dramatic educational inequality, the cost of missing out on the best society has to offer (or, really, at the individual scale, the best any person can afford) is unfathomable.”


Although I feel both of these authors are out to lunch financially, I have to agree with them that a top-shelf education is incredibly valuable. But not the type of education that comes with a $200,000 tuition bill. The best part of my education cost almost nothing to acquire, and yet it seems to have delivered a much greater benefit than any Ivy League curriculum. Are you ready to learn my secret weapon? Brace yourself.

Simply Knowing how to Use a Goddamned Computer.

To the average person, this would sound like a bizarre claim. Almost every rich-country resident uses computers in some form, and yet most of them are still broke. What they’re missing is that actual deep knowledge of computers and technology is still incredibly rare. And although it can take many years to develop, it costs almost nothing to do so.

This missing tool is so powerful and yet so overlooked that I consider it a loophole in society. A ticket to a more prosperous life that most people don’t understand, because they have never experienced the effects.  Let’s resume the story of my own cheap elite education to see some of them.

My Secret Advantage through Technology

Almost every one of the few million dollars I’ve earned in my life so far has been directly related to being unusually good with computers.

Sure, there were a few bucks around the side earned by operating gas pumps and cash registers as a teenager, and table saws and nailguns after retirement. But the rest of it comes from being able to take these machines and make them do valuable things.

If you have any rare skill, you can then easily create value that companies and individuals are willing to pay for. But if you have the rare skill of technology, you can also apply it to your own life, creating an automated money and happiness machine.

As a student, more comfort with computers allowed me to get better marks in less time and organize my life’s information. I could use the early versions of the Internet (which used to be difficult to use) to harvest ideas from Stanford students and professors while more traditional students were stuck with textbooks. Then the advantage helped me get better, more technical jobs and present information more clearly to the bosses, which led to even better jobs. From that vantage point I could research career opportunities in other countries and figure out how to do an international move. Using computers to get things done, and getting paid to write software for them, was an incredibly lucrative career path back then, and it’s even better today.

Even after retiring from the tech industry, computers help me automate my finances and purchasing, so I can keep more money at work with less wasted time and fewer expensive mistakes. They let me create better photographs and descriptions on Craigslist and real estate websites, which let me sell or rent things for more money, and buy them for less. Even this Mr. Money Mustache website, which makes money even as it persuades you to waste less money, is only possible at this scale with relatively complicated computer fiddling.

The Business World is Still Mostly Clueless

Earlier this month, I was booking a concrete truck so I could pour the foundation for my new garage. I did some online research to figure out which companies operate in my area, but I found that every one of their websites was just an online version of a Yellow Pages ad. There was no way to place an order and their contact page was a list of telephone numbers. Telephones!

So I called one of the bigger outfits. A guy named Joe answered.

Me: “Hi, I need to order 15 cubic yards of concrete for next Wednesday”

Joe: “Look, if ya need to order concrete for Wednesdee, ya call me on Tuesdee after 12 noon. Until 12, I’m workin’ deliveries for that same mornin'”

So I called back the following Tuesday. I thought I’d be an early bird and call at 11:45 just to make sure I got my order in.

Joe: “Naw, naw. If ya need concrete for tomorra’, ya call me back after twelve ‘a’ clock this afternoon!”

Concrete is not a niche cottage industry like homemade salsa – this is a $35 billion chunk of the economy that is critical to building almost everything. A single loaded truck carries $1500 of the stuff, and there are 50,000 of these trucks in circulation in the US. And yet not only have they not discovered computers, even the concept of a notebook with two separate pages (“today’s orders” and “tomorrow’s orders”) was foreign to this outfit.

This story is just an extreme example of a market opportunity that is still fresh and ripe in our society as a whole. We have computers, but a deeper understanding of how technology works is still rare. Almost every big company that I’ve observed is still clunking along, trying to adapt to technology rather than fully benefiting from it. Think about the concept of a car dealership network, for example. Millions or billions of dollars of land and inventory in every single city, devoted to.. letting people see cars they could easily buy online and have delivered?

On an individual level, if your phone starts acting funny after you return from a long vacation, do you call Apple support for help, or do you look at the at the device’s internal storage to see if you need to delete some stuff to free up space? Is it wiser to transfer music files over WiFi or Bluetooth? If your computer starts crashing right after you get a sprinkler system installed, do you start shopping for a new one, or go outside to verify that the ground cable from your power panel wasn’t accidentally disconnected? Mustachians probably know things like this, but what about the average person?

Everybody uses technology. But those of us who truly understand it down to the core have an immense advantage in all areas of life: making money, keeping that money, absorbing information, and even communicating ideas with other people. Whether you are an investor or a filmmaker, house builder, engineer, or attorney, mastery of this rare skill will multiply your efforts more than a technophobe can even understand.

When you apply this idea to a large group of people working together, you end up with companies that very easily vacuum up all of the business in their industry (Google, Amazon), while their less technically savvy competitors wither in a puddle of fax machines and expense accounts of traveling salespeople.

Computers aren’t just for nerdy introverts any more – they can be a ticket to wealth, success, even friendships and romance. In other words, the core of a truly elite education is becoming an absolute badass with computers.

Bringing this around to our middle class Expensive Wannabee Elite educational expenses, I believe that deep technical badassity is an even more useful part of an education than an expensive degree.

How To Become a Computer Badass

You don’t learn technology by taking courses or reading instruction manuals. You need to be immersed in the stuff. Using it constantly, and understanding not only how to use things, but how they were designed and what the person who designed it was probably thinking about as they came up with each aspect of the product. Only if you understand the designer, can you truly understand the technology they invent.

For example, if you’re a computer badass and you get a new gadget or program or an app, the first thing  you do is to try every single option on every single menu and submenu, and find out what it does. You don’t just dive in and start playing a new video game – first you have to check the graphics options and make sure you’ve set the resolution and texture levels to the very best that your video card will handle smoothly. Then you poke around on discussion boards and fan websites to see what the “modding” community is up to, and make some modifications yourself.

You don’t want an analog speedometer on your car, you want a spreadsheet showing every parameter that the engine computer is measuring, updated at least a few times per second, with complete graphable history since the car’s date of manufacture. To a technology badass, understanding how things actually work brings joy, power, and peace.

To provide an elite education for our kids, I suggest that we spend less time thinking about prestigious neighborhood and school districts, and more time giving kids access to complicated stuff early, and often. Then bringing these lessons, in the form of suggestions, presentations, donations and volunteer time, to your own school district.

My gift came in 1984, in the form of a Commodore 64 system my parents stretched the budget to bring home. My siblings and I worked that thing until its keyboard was blank and polished, and it kicked off a life of deep comfort with technology. I was given the freedom to spend hours connecting with these machines, and by extension the people who invented them.

Then in 1990 I found a Commodore Amiga for sale on a BBS newsgroup, a nerdy precursor to Craigslist that only technical people knew how to use. I traded $800 of my earnings from working at the gas station, for what would eventually be another six-figure quantity of computer experience.

Throughout high school, in addition to the normal curriculum of calculus and physics, pool parties and girlfriends, beer and marijuana, I also had countless late nights with my Amiga, which were getting me ahead in life far more than I could realize.

So in my house, I’m hoping to try the same trick.

The Mustachian Elite Education (for children and even adults)

  • No broadcast TV service, but very fast Internet access and a computer (and phone) you maintain yourself
  • Minimal access to cars, but always a very nice bike kept in perfect repair
  • Limited access to tourist attractions and gift shops, maximum access to Nature
  • Support but do not mandate sports teams or formal lessons. But keep sports and musical equipment handy around the house.
  • Less scheduling, more opportunity for self-guided activities. Boredom can be the trigger for creativity.
  • Whenever possible, say yes to  friends, sleepovers and late bedtimes.

Cost: Less than most families seeking elite status spend on their house cleaning service.


After a childhood education like that, college is more of an afterthought. Living a Mustachian lifestyle while raising kids will ensure that you would have plenty of money to pay for any education they want. But then again, so will your kids, so why not give them the advantage of paying for it themselves?

But they’ll also already have access to an unlimited supply of people, money, ideas and knowledge. Visiting a campus to take some classes in person is just one of the many options available at that point, rather than the desperate lottery ticket to the good life, as portrayed in the Atlantic.

Further Reading – a great Susan Cain book called Quiet recently made the rounds in our family. It’s about why introverts are great, and how to support their joyful and creative lives (especially if you are raising one, or are one yourself).


  • Julie May 16, 2016, 12:42 pm

    Love it! Google and YouTube are a virtual university of everything, and all their “textbooks” conveniently compress to the size of my laptop. Bonus: they’re open 24 hours a day. This year we learned to repair a treadmill, repair a heater, repair our toilets, and survive a long-distance backpacking trip, among other adventures. Success!

  • Amy May 16, 2016, 12:48 pm

    Hi –
    Great post, as always, MMM.

    I’d like to offer the following to this community:
    The Computer Science Education Coalition and Code.org have drafted an open letter to Congress in support of Computer Science being included in public school curriculum. You can find our more and support this effort by signing the petition:
    https://code.org/… Code.org has free videos and fun online tutorials for you / you and your kids to learn how to code.

    If you want to explore more and learn about the power of the public cloud at a deeper level – anyone can set up free accounts on Amazon Web Services (http://aws.amazon.com/free/); Microsoft Azure (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/) and/or Google Cloud (cloud.google.com).

  • Alex May 16, 2016, 12:48 pm

    Interesting post, but I think it’s an oversimplification in two respects.

    First, not everybody can or wants to be a computer expert. It’s a good thing that our society has doctors, novelists, lawyers, musicians, etc. etc. There are many fields where expensive educations are necessary- the author of that Atlantic article’s daughter, for example, is now training to be a doctor. She was also a Rhodes scholar. I’m not saying that he needed to bankrupt himself to send her to a private high school, just that elite educations do have benefits that can’t be matched by just saying “here’s a computer, have fun and p.s. you’re on your own at 18.” Clearly getting an elite education opens a lot of doors for people, especially at the very top of whatever profession they might choose, so I don’t think it’s per se crazy or irresponsible to want your kid to have that option. We don’t have a single supreme court justice who doesn’t have a degree from Harvard or Yale, for example. At least two of them are from dirt poor backgrounds and did everything for themselves, so I’m not saying you have to be a pampered rich kid to be successful, just that we shouldn’t think of elite, traditional educations as useless outmoded garbage.

    Second, I think MMM was incredibly lucky to be born when he was, and I wonder whether computer programming will quickly become a more traditional field with more traditional barriers to entry as time goes on. For example, computer science is now the most popular major at Harvard (this was far from true even 10 years ago). When Google is looking for engineers, do you think they’re going to pick a Harvard grad who’s learned from the best of the best for four years, or a guy who didn’t go to college but says he’s been fiddling with his home computer since he was a kid? In the 19th century there was a time when it seemed like anybody with a pickaxe, a rudimentary understanding of geology, and a healthy dose of grit could go out and make a fortune hunting for gold, oil, silver, or what have you. Now those industries are dominated by century old, billion dollar corporations staffed by people with extensive formal education. Maybe one day we’ll look back on today’s computer programming boom in the same way.

    But I do absolutely agree with the bottom line points here: 1) we shouldn’t assume that our kids need us to bankrupt ourselves to buy them the most expensive education we can find, 2) there are other skills you don’t necessarily learn in school that are incredibly important to long-term success (like curiosity), and 3) computers are extremely useful things and learning to work with them will serve you well.

    • Bill May 16, 2016, 2:27 pm

      The number of CS grads per year in the US is on the order of 40k, for about 140k job growth per year. We’re a long ways from a glut. For example one of our lead developers at our mid-sized software development company is a poet by education. It’s still possible to do the bootstrap thing if you immerse yourself and work with others critiquing your work, like open source.

    • Allison May 19, 2016, 9:56 am

      Google actually doesn’t look for the Ivy league college degree in their recruiting. They looking for high school graduates for 10% of their team spots. The ability to problem solve effectively is a stronger indicator of success at Google than an Ivy League degree.

      • Aimee May 19, 2016, 10:46 am

        But even doctors, novelists, lawyers, musicians would benefit from being computer experts. Knowing how to actually use the computer and the software that comes along with it is a great advantage to all of those people. Computers are the backbone to a million occupations now. Just because someone isn’t actually using a computer all day long doesn’t mean they should ignore how useful they are.

        PS Took me probably 6 months but I finally have read everything from day 1. Now I’m off to tackle the forums!

      • doug June 4, 2016, 11:25 am

        I agree with the gist of the “let’s not get so hung up on elite education and focus on practical skills.”

        Just for the record, Google in its heyday was *intensely* biased towards Ivy League graduates. There was a period when they were requiring an Ivy League education for admins. I kid you not.

        They’ve shifted from that focus because… they weren’t getting great results. So, it was a data-supported decision.

        I haven’t heard about this 10% high school grad thing, and I seriously doubt it. Probably it’s a misinterpretation of this article: http://www.businessinsider.com/google-hiring-non-graduates-2013-6 which admits that Google *has* 14% non-college grads. The article doesn’t specify what job functions these are for. I know that represents some of engineering, but it’s still pretty unusual and probably the numbers are made up mostly from the ranks of data center techs, people who manage real estate assets, etc.

        (I’ve worked at Google for ten years, so I watched the whole shift from its Ivy League focus. I got in despite not having an Ivy League education myself, by the way. At the time they when I interviewed they did want to see both my college and high school transcripts… that was nearly a deal breaker for me [they weren’t bad, I’d just had it with proving myself worthy]. Push came to shove, they hired me.)

        Ivy League educations get you something. One of the things they get you is access to certain kinds of “elite” opportunities. There are lots of other opportunities in the world and you need to make sure you are actually making a wise investment, based on your means going in and your (or your kids’) likely outcome. Anyone who drains their 401k to send their kids to an elite school isn’t looking at things right.

    • Josh May 19, 2016, 9:23 pm

      I have actually had the advantage of being mentored by someone close to google (thanks to a veterans’ program). I was surprised to here that they weren’t super interested in where you went to school or what your degree was. The more important factors was (according to one guy who worked there) your ability to show that you were flexible in your thinking and could problem solve. I think this goes along with MMM’s observation on the rise of the billionaire nerd; there is a shift towards results and ability away from connections in the emerging information economy.

  • Danny May 16, 2016, 12:56 pm

    Former Stanford student checking in. I took STEM classes at The Farm and later post-bacc classes at the University of Houston. Here’s what I found:

    There was no damn difference between the subject material. In fact, I liked the UH classes much more because they weren’t going at an insane pace. All my Stanford classes just consisted of a professor writing on a chalkboard as fast as humanly possible. I honestly didn’t understand why I couldn’t just read that same text from a book.

    There was recently a study done that if you look at two different groups of students, one who got into elite colleges, and others of similar credentials who went to state schools, they did equally well. You ask, why are Harvard grads typically so smart and hardworking? Because they were smart and hardworking before they went to college, too. Harvard is good at picking the winners. But it can’t teach all of them.

    Elite schools are helpful for the hyper-ambitious. If you want to get startup funding at 21 or start working at Goldman Sachs after graduation, the elite school connections will help you.

    But I personally didn’t give a shit about any of that. I went to a great school because I wanted to learn, and I’m not sure I got a more enriching education there. Now I’m just a normal programmer at a normal company. Life is great, but I could have just as easily graduated from UH or any middle-of-the-road school (I could have gotten a full ride to Texas A&M, damn!).

    • Sarah May 16, 2016, 2:16 pm

      Thanks for this, Danny!! I started skewing my GPA down in early high school from the 3.9/4.0ish to a solid 3.5 so as to avoid even being recruited for the Ivy League after I saw all the work my hyper-ambitious friends were putting into their march to the best. I thought, god’s speed to them, but I just want time to learn and discuss in college without all the world-changing by 22 things. Went to a normal college and loved it; no regrets!

  • Mira May 16, 2016, 1:06 pm

    I think this is fantastic advice. I was so fortunate to have a dad who was always obsessed with the latest technology. I was surfing the internet at age 6 (and I am almost 32 now). We had CompuServe and then AOL on dialup. I was downloading and working on games a program called ZZT (with its own object oriented program language) as a kid. I was downloading music and burning my own cds when many of my friends were still using cassette tapes. Most importantly I spent a ton of time meticulously creating digital art in various programs as a kid. This comfort with technology has helped me immensely…I went on to get a bachelor’s in digital art and animation and a master’s in interactive design. I design graphics and code websites for a living. Today my kids have access to a nice computer, and I’m about ready to get my 7 year old (my oldest) his own laptop. They play minecraft and other games, create their own skins for their characters, and have their own youtube channels (where they livestream their gameplay) already. Hopefully they will continue to explore and figure stuff out on their own :)

  • Lisa May 16, 2016, 1:17 pm

    Bravo! I read the above mentioned article “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans” and became queasy. I could not believe that actual people have that type of mind set towards life and money. I have a huge problem wrapping my head around why parents would have to spend so much $$ on an education. I feel like I had a wonderful upbringing around Heathkit, Lincoln Logs and musical instruments! And, I went on to pay my own way through college.

  • Angela May 16, 2016, 1:25 pm

    Every time I think I want a house with a pool, no I would never actually go through with it, I remind myself that my kids would do nothing but swim in that pool all freaking day. Every time I’d call home to check on them, they’d be in the pool. In other words they would grow up without ever having to find something to do. Boredom really is the best teacher, don’t you think?

    I live in Texas so please excuse my desire for a swimming pool.

    • Embok May 18, 2016, 10:02 am

      We live in SoCal, and have a pool. Our kid thought it was great when we moved in, but after she got used to having it, tended to take it for granted and only use it when it is very hot. She is at college now, and we are looking to downsize. Next house I’ll have a hot tub but not a pool – smaller, and we use the hot tub lots more.

      • Angela May 19, 2016, 8:49 am

        Thanks for your comments. :) Maybe I’d be the one always in the pool. Always hot here starts now until October. We live in Houston so it’s very humid.

        • Aimee May 19, 2016, 10:51 am

          Growing up we were on the lower side of middle class (just above qualifying for free school lunch), but somehow my parents managed to get us an above ground pool. (got the deck and a bunch of stuff from some neighbors that were getting rid of theirs).

          We used that pool all the time, but it wasn’t just about fun. I was only 7 years old but I had to learn how to check and adjust the chemicals, run the filter, vacuum the bottom, etc. It became a gathering place for the neighborhood kids which was great because my stay at home mom got to keep an eye on us (from inside the house) and what we were doing without hovering.

          Definitely way out the pros and cons but it could turn out to be better than you expect!

  • Girija May 16, 2016, 1:33 pm

    Another inspiring article and thanks MMM!! I grew up in India and in the 80s the state government banned the use of computers in government departments because they though it will create job loss!! My father used to be the director for the state treasury department at that time. When computers were delivered to his office, he got orders from his superiors to return the computers stating “lack of space” as the reason.So he had to follow orders. Later private banks took over all the government money transactions and state treasury ended up in such a bad state that banks refused to accept checks issued by the state treasury. So much for turning the back to technology. However my father knew computers were going to be next thing. At that time, a PC was not affordable for a middle class family. My father sent me to one of the first computer institutes in our town where I learned the programming language BASIC and database program called dBASE. It created the spark in me and after my graduate degree in Physics, I went back and took a post graduate degree in Computers which helped me secure jobs with some of the big names in the Software industry. Even though my father couldn’t help his department embrace technology, he didin’t think twice when it came to decide whetherhis children should be given exposure to the newest in technology.

    Thank you MMM for the cheatsheet – The Mustachian Elite Education (for children and even adults). It summarizes the core message of many of your articles you have published so far.

  • Angela F May 16, 2016, 1:33 pm

    I LOVE this. We have a 2 1/2 year old, and this is basically what we’ve been planning (and are doing already). Get her outside every day, take her out in the bike trailer, get her around other people as much as possible, minimize paying for stuff. When I read the above-mentioned Atlantic article I had the *exact* same reaction to the author and his wife paying through the nose for all the kids’ education (plus the fact that they drained their only 401k for one daughter’s wedding?? BARF. and a discussion for another thread). This country has gone insane when it comes to education. Find the best local public school for your kid (and if there isn’t one, you might really need to consider moving). Stop spending on all these “enrichment” classes from the time they’re born! Find local free stuff, like story time at the library, and Meetup groups where parents hike with their kids! Find other like-minded folk! C’mon!!

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher May 16, 2016, 1:46 pm

    My husband and I were talking about this concept over the weekend. Not about technology, necessarily, but about using true skills to make money. I think we all rely on expensive higher education and diplomas when we should be learning actionable, marketable skills. It looks like it worked quite well for Mr. Money Mustache.

    It’s funny because if you know how to leverage the internet, you can learn almost any skill for free. That sounds better than taking out student loans. If I had to do it all over again, I would have considered forgoing the traditional 4-year degree for actual work experience. I would have started adulthood with significantly less burdens and more useful work experience.

    • Bill May 16, 2016, 4:07 pm

      I don’t regret one day of my 30 years overall of schooling. On the other hand, I did most of it part time while working full time from senior in high school onward to PhD.

  • ks May 16, 2016, 1:51 pm

    Hmm, MMM seems to describe exploiting data and turning it into insight and foresight as elite education and opportunities that are ripe for economic gain, not technology itself. Of course, most optimization is achieved through applying advanced mathematics to data – which of course needs computational power – and human brain cells to decipher, interpret and act upon.He is also emphasizing function over form – in a society that worships and publicizes the reverse.

  • G42 May 16, 2016, 1:57 pm

    That is very similar to how my brother and I were raised. We had decent but small public schools and my parents brought us up to be continually learning outside of school. We supplemented school with classes at museums, camps, encyclopedias, an early Apple II+ (my Dad was an early mainframe programmer), and lots of DIY figure it out as you go activities… we didn’t have a lot of money, so it was mostly what was free at the library and what we created.

    One other very important early skill was learning how to type!!! It’s significantly more efficient to type with all ten fingers (if you have them) and the hunt & peck routine.
    Reading a variety of books improves your knowledge of the world, but also the mechanics of spelling and grammar.
    That combined with typing makes communicating at school, work, your own business, etc. more professional and more efficient overall.

  • EDSMedS May 16, 2016, 2:03 pm

    BOO!!!! BOOOOO!!!!!! Luddites unite!

    That said, I am wealthy b/c I am constantly one-level more savvy than my coworkers on whatever machine I’m forced to adore. If I’m not, I hunt down the leader and learn. Only when getting paid, though. Otherwise, machines are the enemy (especially that big cold one in the kitchen).

    In summary: boo but yeah.

  • opnfld May 16, 2016, 2:04 pm

    Douglas Ruskoff wrote a book a few years ago “Program or be Programmed”. It was a treatise asking readers to recognize that all systems are software and can be hacked. He observed that the invention of the printing press transformed the public into readers (not publishers) and the internet transformed us into writers and publishers (not coders), but that empowerment lies in the ability to direct technology in our interests. We either direct technology or be directed by it. Mustachianism is like the ultimate self-directed economic hack on the software of our economic system.

    I’m really looking forward to having the spare time to guide my kids in a similar direction to the one you describe. Possibly adding some garage-based bio-engineering to the curriculum. And mandatory piano lessons.

  • Scott May 16, 2016, 2:04 pm

    Ok – So I agree that comfort with technology is critically important to scalable success in today’s economy. However, I think that this misses MMM’s greatest actual advantage.

    It is the educational mindset that you do NOT need a job, can become an independent person, and do NOT need to hire out easy chores and routine maintenance that is the real key to the this problem of “financial impotence.” This is an education that MMM, through one means or another, developed for himself and which allows him to be so successful not just with technology, but with finances, charisma, and even his unique writing style on this blog. MMM does not subscribe this whole “call a specialist” thing that people have in this country.

    They believe that just because they aren’t a doctor, they can’t figure out what is wrong with their bodies on a basic level. They believe that just because they aren’t on wall street, they can’t invest safely. They believe that just because they aren’t mechanic, they can’t figure out how to change their oil. The list goes on. All of this is EASY, and FUN to figure out, learn, and do. MMM has figured THAT out, and enjoys an enviable lifestyle.

    MMM understood the POSSIBILITY of financial freedom and why saving money makes so much obvious sense. Plenty of people are able to earn high wages, do their own work to maintain their technology, or otherwise succeed in business without having anything to show for it, as the Atlantic articles seem to articulate.

    MMM also understands that at a very basic level, human wealth, health, and happiness boil down to doing the OBVIOUS SHIT THAT EVERYONE KNOWS correctly in the major aspects of your life. Want to live a long time, feel better, look better, be smarter, happier and healthier with the best medicine available in human history? Exercise A LITTLE BIT to the point where you aren’t a sad slab of blubber! Want to feel like your life is meaningful and that you are productive? DO SOME HARD WORK OCCASIONALLY! Want to be rich? SAVE MORE THAN YOU MAKE, INVEST, and make that gap widen forever!

    This might sound like basics, but I really did not understand this to my core until I read this blog. People are literally trained to find financial shortcuts, spend MORE than they make, and to do everything possible to avoid hard work and exercise. You have to untrain yourself from these things to be successful according to MMM principles. And he is right – this is the solution to the problem here in America.

    MMM – you’ve given me this education through your blog – or at least jump-started it. I’ve spent the last three years applying it systematically and have hundreds of thousands of dollars in wealth, fewer obligations, and greatly expanded skills. Thank you!

  • DIY Money Guy May 16, 2016, 2:04 pm

    Good thought provoking article. Kids and the use of technology is definitely a controversial topic nowadays. Like many others, my wife and I are concerned about too much screen time (TV’s, computers, and tablets) for our kiddos. Up until recently the American Academy of Physicians (AAP) suggested completely avoiding screen time for kids until they are two years old. But in today’s world we have interactive screens everywhere from Subway to Doctors office. Now even the AAP is starting to come around on the issue. They recently released a statement saying, “In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time, our policies must evolve or become obsolete. The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle.” The statement went on to acknowledge that scientific research and policy statements with official guidance do lag behind the pace of digital innovation. Heck, the last guidance from the AAP on this issue of technology and screen time for kids was put out in 2011 when iPads were just being introduced to the world!

    My wife and I have one-year-old twin girls and we are always discussing how we can better prepare them for what will inevitably throw at them. But the core of parenting and raising children still hasn’t changed no matter what new technology comes out: play with you kids often, encourage creativity, and teach kindness. Although, if we truly think about it, we should really just approach this topic like everything else in our lives and realize just how important it is for us to be a good role model for our children. Looks like l need to start spending less time with the hammer and drill and more time learning how to improve my computer skills and leverage technology!

  • Ed May 16, 2016, 2:19 pm

    My first machine was a Timex Sinclair 1000. I banged away on that, aged 10, wrote my own programs, dissected other peoples’, hacked into the guts of some of the games… When I wanted to take (the only) computer course at high school a few years later, my parents refused and the guidance counsellor told me, “there’d never be any jobs in computers”. Years later, after flunking out of university history, I was still banging away on the things. I’ve now had an IT career for 25 years. A brand new MacBook Air does not impress me anywhere near as much as some whacko who’s managed to connect a Raspberry Pi to his coffee maker. Hell, yes–my people! Parents out there–if you want your kids to be tech savvy, you are not doing them *any* favours by buying the latest and greatest. “The best,” does not work in this case. If you get them something simple, inexpensive, and they learn–getting into the guts, the code, the prompts, the operating systems, they will let you know when they are ready to upgrade. If they start speaking words like Linux, Unix, Ubuntu. Windows 3.1, Debian, Raspberry, FTP, Telnet, SMTP, etc., then you know your kids’ learning and you have a little computer genius on your hands and not a Facebook status dilettante.

    But, tragically, to most people a computer is still a device to screw around on at work, to send multiple annoying e-mails to somebody who didn’t answer within an hour, and to watch cat videos.

  • Anthony May 16, 2016, 2:34 pm

    I am surprised MMM didn’t mention this: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

    Technology + MIT open (free) courses = unimaginable potential

  • Invert May 16, 2016, 2:59 pm


    Good post and my story would be remarkably similar and I agree it’s still an option today. So much so I have graduates (I don’t select them) who can’t even code and don’t know how to structure data. I personally worry that consumption devices like the iPad are likely to reduce literacy even more and kids don’t have access to them yet.

    Any suggestions for an gentle way to get started on computers for 4 to 5 year old?

    I think this article has made me think it’s nearly time to start.


  • CSN May 16, 2016, 3:46 pm

    Dead-on, the sad thing is how many equate computerized consumption with technological mastery. In all areas there are the consumers and there are the creators. (The sellers are just consumers too if they’re not also creating.) That is the big divide and what I read MMM as being all about.

    I wouldn’t de-emphasize the value of non-computerized technical mastery either. I never would have made it at Tesla and it wouldn’t be the car it is if there wasn’t a deep streak of mechanical competency working hand-in-hand with the bits and bytes. I know plenty of adept programmers who struggle to apply their skills to humans and the physical world. I would limit car access by buying one’s kid a basket case and having/helping them rebuild every nut and bolt. Even when the cars drive themselves, knowing what’s under the hood (behind the frunk) will benefit the world’s creators, just as with today’s user- (consumer-)friendly software!

    Cheers pow(M,3);

  • Stockbeard May 16, 2016, 5:10 pm

    My childhood took a completely new turn when “Santa” brought us a computer at home, in 1990. I was 9, and I got hooked. I tried games first, and loved them, I still do.
    What my father did, and I don’t know if it was intentional or not, was leaving a “BASIC” programming manual on the shelve close to the computer. I think 4 years after we got the computer, I finally started to understand it.

    I started programming at 13, got better at English thanks to all the (back then, pirated) video games, and turned into a computer Science Engineer, which, I couldn’t agree more with the article, is a great and fun way to make lots of money.

    Also went to the (only) public school in my small town, so I can fully relate to this whole article!

  • mike May 16, 2016, 5:12 pm

    Just read today Google hires without necessity of college degree. This is staggering. If more kids get their education via computers and not traditionally, we’ll see a massive defunding of universities.

  • Daniel May 16, 2016, 5:46 pm

    It’s interesting, I had a Commodore 64 when it came out too. But I just played games. My folks sent me to some rudimentary BASIC programming class, if memory serves. But it didn’t take.

    Can anyone make specific suggestions about how they learned deeper technology/coding/design? I have a lifetime around computers but I haven’t delved in.

    • Stockbeard May 17, 2016, 10:18 am

      In my case:
      at around 13 I started playing with the BASIC manual that my father had lying around close to the computer. Started making some dumb games, 100% self taught. Without bragging I need to emphasize that I was passionate about it and the possibilities it brought. I don’t think it would have been the same in a classroom honestly.

      At 14-15 my best friends and I were heavily playing LAN games. One of my friends’ older brother was getting all these cracked games (“warez”) for free and I got fascinated about how all these hacking teams operated and how they cracked games. This got me into a bit more programming and debuggers for a short period of time.

      After high school I had to choose between mechanical engineering and computer science engineering classes. We got to try both classes for about 2 months before making our final choice. The Computer class was so easy it didn’t even feel like work to me, so the choice was easy. From there I had 2 years of heavy mathematics/physics/computer science classes, followed by 3 years of computer science engineering.

      During those 3 last years I got into websites. I maintained the student’s sci-fi/anime/rpg library website and database for about 2 years, after creating it from scratch. After that I still maintained a couple websites for my school/friends for a few years, then my own blog.

      Technically since I was 9 there was never a time in my life where I didn’t have a side project that wasn’t related to computers one way or another.

      The 5 years of studies are what brought me the theoretical knowledge, but I think to become really good at computers it takes passion. I wish I could be the MMM in the room to tell you over-optimistically “anyone can do it”, but really if you’re not attracted to computers and how they work I think it’s going to be hard.

      Playing games on a commodore64 involved typing stuff on the keyboard to run the binaries, I’m sure. Didn’t it pick your curiosity to try any of the other commands? It’s how it started for me.

  • Mike May 16, 2016, 5:59 pm

    Hi MMM:

    A thought came to mind on your experience with the concrete guy? While it was most definitely frustrating he doens’t seem tobe planning for the days ahead, maybe that’s his way of keeping stress down. Maybe he knows he will always get calls to bring out concrete, and it’s a way of slowing down in this mad rush of a world we live in, where everything is so god damned scheduled down to the minute. Maybe this is his way of allowing boredom to possibly enter his own life (to allow for creativity), or to only serve those first few that abide by the rules he sets, not the other way around.

    Now I’m pretty sure, that’s not the concrete guy’s intent, and we all are assuming he’s in the typical financial situation of the average American. But my quirky brain just thinks, “what if he’s a millionaire too?” And this is how he’s living life on his terms, not to be an PITA, but to live his life and run his business the least stressful way he knows how. It sorta makes me want to reach out to the guy, just on the .00001% chance he is actually a badass mustachian living out his retirement business in a different, but hopefully, much more fulfilling and happy way.

    What do you think of my crazy hypothesis?

    • ArmyDoc May 19, 2016, 8:19 am

      Agree with the above hypothesis, but obviously it has dangers. Here are my $0.02:
      1) The education that saves your kids could be economic theory rather than tech… especially the psychologic impact “hedonic treadmill, self-defeating biases, etc” that are often discussed in these posts! Working hard, saving, etc will be valuable regardless of your passions…
      2) Re: the concrete guy – for right now – if he has all the business he wants, AND his market is saturated (he has no room or desire to expand his business), then any spending on office reorganization/modernization/overhead may be wasted money. Sure – YOU don’t like the inconvenience of calling tomorrow as a one-time customer; but for him it may be just fine. His big recurring customers play golf with him, go bowling with him, and let him know when they have a big order pending (city street, apt building, whatever…). Meanwhile he doesn’t have some front office kid with an online scheduler letting smaller customers screw that up – he just deals with you when he has enough excess capacity.

      Just a thought…


  • Charlie Albacore May 16, 2016, 6:31 pm

    Nice photo! Those kids are learning for sure.

  • Debbie May 16, 2016, 7:47 pm

    Your article reminded me of experiences my son had at Primary school (we live in Australia) about 16 years ago. My son loved computers. Once he had access to a computer at home he wanted to do his school projects on the computer. This was not the done thing back then. I spoke to his teacher and the teachers at his school had a discussion amongst themselves and decided that projects typed on a computer were not acceptable. He was forced to do all his projects by hand, which did not impress him at all. Rather a short-sighted approach on the school’s behalf.
    As an adult, my son considers his computer as his best friend and never goes anywhere without it.:)

  • Brian S. May 16, 2016, 7:55 pm

    This blog post really hits home for me right now as my wife and I are in the middle of a big debate about what preschool to send our son to. In our Metro area there are tons of quality preschools with a huge variation in price. We’ve narrowed it down to two choices but there is a $700 difference in the two schools. The more expensive school offers a language immersion program where he will be able to learn a second language that we can’t provide at home (at least without starting a new language program now). The second school offers other languages, but not an immersion program.

    Giving him the gift of a second language is something he’ll be able to use for a lifetime, and could provide cognitive benefits later in life (such as preventing dementia). Additionally, from a developmental perspective, this is the best time for him to a learn a language in his life. Still, that’s a lot of additional money to spend over three years, particularly if he doesn’t keep up with the language.

    My head tells me to go with the cheaper option, as the town I grew up in only had one preschool and no additional language instruction. Still, it’s hard as a parent to cut off that developmental road.

    • Stockbeard May 17, 2016, 10:26 am

      Hey Brian, look up the Freakonomics podcast about the benefits of learning a second language, from a financial standpoint.
      Unless that second language happens to be English, then the financial benefits are zero. If your primary language is English, Ask your self if there is value in spending money on something that doesn’t put your child on a better financial track.

      Also, your child will *not* use the secondary language unless he keeps learning it his entire life and actually gets to use it. A Friend of mine was born in Germany and spoke fluent German from 0 to 5 year old. Then his family moved to France. Today, at 35, he can’t speak a word of German. So I highly doubt the “he’ll be able to use it for a lifetime” bit.

      I’m sure there are *lots* of benefits to speaking foreign languages, but be sure to not overweight on that.

      For the record: I speak 3 languages. English (which is not my primary language) is the only one that’s helped me move ahead financially.

  • prefixcactus May 16, 2016, 7:57 pm

    This post is not just about computers. It’s secretly also a post about hacking.

    A hacker, in the original sense of the word, is a person who, among other things, strives to understand and creatively use for his own ends everything he comes across. It’s not limited to computers. It’s a general attitude of viewing everything as a potential tool and finding satisfaction in understanding things and putting them to use in ways they were probably not intended for.

    Computers are, however, an awesome playground with an absolutely immense hacking potential. And while becoming a hacker requires you to transform your attitude towards life in general, most elements of it are naturally learned through understanding the computer. The reason is that the computer is, at the core, the ultimate universal tool. You can do almost anything with a computer. Yet, computers as they are used by the consumer are extremely restricted. Some are so restricted, in fact, that for a non-hacker it takes real effort to realize that those are computers at all. All this power, around us, unused. So, understanding how they work and how to REALLY use them serves a dual purpose. First, you suddenly acquire a superpower. And second, using that superpower requires you to know where you can apply it, which in most cases means defying the intended purpose of whatever computer you’re applying it to.

    Now, the best way to understand computers (or anything else, for that matter) is to strip out all the layers of magic (also euphemistically called “abstractions”, “metaphors” and other strange names) and open all the black boxes to expose the internal workings. With your desktop/laptop computer, the best thing you can do is to move to Linux (or any other *nix). While guessing the internal workings of a system that tries to hide them from you (also called reverse engineering) may be a fun exercise for an experienced hacker, it is pointless if you have no idea what they might be. To acquire such knowledge, you have to look at the exposed mechanics, which is what an open, hackable system provides.

    For an easy start, get a “user friendly”, widely-supported distribution, get used to the interface and then dive into the guts. Five years ago I’d have recommended Ubuntu, but the community and resulting support have been rapidly shifting towards magical thinking lately (one of the most egregious examples of this was a 10-page complicated instruction which actually amounted to “download this archive and unpack it into that directory”). Debian is an okay choice, with a similarly large support base which is also reasonable.

    If you want to go maximum mustache, learn the basics and then install Arch or another minimalistic system. Arch was the system that really taught me how it worked, starting with the installation itself (which consisted of semi-manually putting all the right files in all the right places). They have a wonderful community, too, and an absolutely gorgeous wiki (you’ll probably find yourself referring to it no matter which distribution you end up using). Remember that it’s inherently unstable, though, so you might want to keep another system around if your work is time-critical.

    And, finally, I can’t help but notice that such a move mirrors the move from consumerism to mustachianism. Almost every argument for not wanting to even try the *nixes falls into one of two categories: (a) it’s complicated, (b) it involves giving up something the complainer is used to.
    For (a), there’s a dual counterargument: First, that the complexity is always there, it’s just usually wrapped in layers of magic so that the consumer doesn’t notice it and has to go to an “expert” when something breaks. Second, learning complex things is good for you, why would you want to miss such a great opportunity?
    Countering (b), on the other hand, requires you to realise that no, you don’t need any of that. Apart from some highly specialized software required by certain professions (which in most cases runs perfectly well under emulation), everything that is actually useful has a direct analog.

    Happy hacking!

  • Edifi May 16, 2016, 8:56 pm

    Nice one, and great timing heading into CM3!
    “Computers” seems like the symptom, but leadership, drive, and grit are the diagnoses.
    Executing at a high level is truly one of the greatest gifts a person can earn.

  • Mark May 16, 2016, 9:06 pm

    I know MMM is right in what he says about computers, but to be honest, I find them a combination of difficult, frustrating, tedious, and extremely boring. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I just hate dealing with them.

  • telemarker May 16, 2016, 9:39 pm

    While I agree with the general sentiment of this piece, I do think that an education, like anything else, needs to be viewed in terms of return-on-investment. Not all educations are created equal. I was accepted to MIT for undergrad and didn’t go (didn’t want the debt). I went there for grad school (for free!), and saw what I’d been missing. Needless to say, if my son is accepted to a place like MIT, I’ll gladly pay up if I have the money. If I don’t have the money, I’ll encourage him to take the loans. It is a good ROI. And of course, teaching your child how to use a computer, and how the world works in general, is also a great ROI!

  • Steve G. May 17, 2016, 12:08 am

    I thought Neal Gabler was a whiny complainer. And I quit subscribing to The Atlantic because they only print pessimistic/depressing articles (try to find one uplifting or hopeful article or news in their monthly issues).

  • Financial Slacker May 17, 2016, 5:20 am

    When I was growing up, I took things apart. Mostly I took apart electronics, but really I took apart anything I could get my hands on. And I would keep the various parts and wires. I actually still do this today.

    Ms. Financial Slacker used to question why I needed so many boxes of old “junk.” But once she saw how I could use those old parts to fix things up without spending money, she came around to the idea.

    I also built (and still build) my own PCs. You can get a great machine for a fraction of the cost when you put it together yourself. But it helps to have older PC parts sitting around as you build.

    Learning how to build and how to fix stuff yourself is a lifelong benefit. I am passing the skills to my Financial Slacker children so they will one day soon be self-reliant as well.

    Long live Emerson!

    • Evan Lynch June 8, 2016, 12:18 am

      “You can get a great machine for a fraction of the cost when you put it together yourself.”

      Unless you’re building really high end gaming computers, I don’t think this is true any more. I bought my computer for $650 in 2011. Granted, it’s definitely not a high end computer. But that’s cheap enough that the savings would have to be pretty substantial to me to be worth the time it would take to do the research and building the computer from scratch.

      I’m still using the same computer. I’ve since replaced the power supply and hard drive for approximately $100 in non-inflation adjusted dollars. So to me, I guess it depends on how much you enjoy tinkering with things. To me, it’s a trade off – I’d rather spend the money on buying a new computer when I have to because building a computer from scratch is enough of a hassle for me that it’s easier to just buy one. But replacing parts in it is generally fairly simple, so that I do myself.

  • Melissa May 17, 2016, 6:04 am

    We live in a rural area with a limited selection of schools struggling to attract students. According to my teacher friends, grade inflation is a real problem. My kids are covered by the good, local school until grade 6, and then we have to decide if we switch from French to English, Catholic to public, and/or public to private. We aren’t religious, but I do want my kids to have a good education.

    A lot of my doctor friends either send their kids away to boarding school or move to a bigger city with more competitive schools. My son doesn’t want to live away from us. We’ve got 1.5 years to figure this out before grade 7. I did want to try online and in-person activities, but both my husband and I juggle lots of activities ourselves, and I’m honestly not sure we’ll invest the time and resources necessary for a stellar combined education the way other Mustachians are. Sigh.

    • Rachel Hershberg May 17, 2016, 10:23 am

      Melissa, in my opinion as a parent of four and an educator, the most important piece of your kids’ education is the people you and your husband are. I wonder what would happen if you made a list of 5-10 qualities or skills you want your kids to have (intellectual curiosity; ability to detect bullshit; ability to think deeply; ability to stick to long-term projects; speaking French, whatever) and ask yourselves if you exhibit these qualities in your day-to-day life, and if you share these parts of yourselves with your kids.
      That being said, what we do is try to supplement in areas in which the schools are weak. (Music and dance.)
      That also being said, even though of course you won’t be able to do this, don’t fret. You’ll be great. Share your passions with your kids. They can’t be well-rounded in EVERYTHING, so just enjoy the ride (when you aren’t going out of your mind).

  • Danny Braswell May 17, 2016, 6:10 am

    Are you familiar with the “maker” movement? If no a good place to start Adam Savage’s 10 commandments of making:

  • Sean Merron May 17, 2016, 6:23 am

    MMM – Have you thought about the right age to introduce computers/phones/tablets? I am trying to figure out the right time because I see too many little ones with their faces slammed into a tablet playing games.

  • Ricky May 17, 2016, 7:36 am

    Though there are many many aspects to a well-rounded life of fulfillment, I definitely agree with you.

    I cringe at how little people actually value having a computer and are mostly just using their dumb “smartphones” doing dumb things.

    I can stay happy all the time knowing that as long as I had a laptop or some other computer, basic housing, and decent food, my life is pretty much set. I can get anywhere with that combination.

  • Aida May 17, 2016, 7:42 am

    The cost of higher education in the US is a specific of this country. I leave in Eastern Europe and I can tell you rarely will find in Europe anything like this. I myself went through Business Administration school with zero tuition. Anyway, I would advise American high school teenagers to look into going to school in Europe, for instance Netherlands, Germany have almost zero costs and amazing schools. There are many programs in English.

    • Rachel Hershberg May 17, 2016, 10:24 am

      Yes. ^^^

    • Kay in Mpls May 17, 2016, 6:40 pm

      I’ve often wondered how going to college in the Netherlands or similar works for US citizens. Anyone know a resource to find out more? I also am curious if adults past normal college age are welcome?
      Thanks for posting this.

  • Rick May 17, 2016, 8:34 am

    For sure computers are important as a technology. So is the ability to read, drive a car, wield a hammer and tie your own shoelaces. It’s part of the whole (a big part of it these days) but let’s not get overly attached to that. It’s a means to an end and not the whole thing. I have subordinates who are brilliant on computers as compared let’s say to my 80 year old mother. The trouble is they are challenged in so many other ways: work ethic, attitude, ability, common sense, ability to show up or show up on time, feelings of entitlement, fear of risk taking with creative solutions, etc. So as time goes on computer ability becomes a “no brainer” even for older people many whom are adept but realize it’s just another tool, like the ability to read, write or speak. Yeah: you can use a computer (but so can I), but I can also build a house from the ground up, organize people to work, speak multiple foreign languages, get the job done and well and lead people towards success in objections. Let’s remember the whole pie….

  • veronica May 17, 2016, 8:46 am

    I’m going to buck the trend here.

    I’ve always hated catalogue shopping. It always looked so good in the Eatons / Simpsons catalogue, and was always such a disappointment when it arrived. After a while I stopped ordering. I found the same experience with internet shopping, so I just don’t, unless there is no other option. I’ll go a long way out of my way and even pay more to go to a bricks and mortar store and touch and feel and evaluate the quality of the product before buying. This has the added benefit of being a great regulator, ’cause I really want to have to buy it to go to all that effort.

    And I love the concrete guy! I would much rather pick up the phone and deal with a human being than order through a computer screen. And as for sticking to his ‘not before noon rule’, well, which part of the very clear instructions did you not understand? I don’t see it as being backwards. I see it as setting limits. Like employees who are refusing to answer their work phones evenings/weekends.

    I’m not a luddite. I graduated from a university that would not grant you a degree unless you passed a minimum of one programming course, irrespective of what major you were in. I enjoyed that course immensely. I appreciated the pure logic that is code. But I had no desire to earn a living doing it.

    What makes me happy and keeps me sane are simple human interactions encountered daily. And since my ultimate goal is to be happy, I’m sticking with that.

    • trisha May 17, 2016, 8:20 pm

      Thank you for this, I don’t feel so alone here anymore.

  • Rachel Hershberg May 17, 2016, 10:12 am

    Totally on the same page about drowning the kids in money and overenrichment– but about the tech — my father TRIED. He really TRIED. I was growing up in the Silicon Valley in the ’70s and ’80s, and he tried to get me interested in programming, and I copied a few simple programs out of Dr. Dobb’s character for character….but I just liked books with a good story better. I was not interested in how things work, I was interested in the worlds of beauty and ideas. Then when I went off to my expensive excellent Ivy League education, he said, “Computers are going to be very important, you should take a class in programming,” but I didn’t want to waste my valuable class time when I could be taking classes in Middle Eastern music, Shakespeare, and Physics for Poets. Some kids/people are just less curious about these things. These classes were not practical, but that wasn’t why I was going to college anyway – you’re all familiar with that mindset.

    Knowing how to cook a meal, put up a shelf, change a tire, and manage your money are all lifeskills that we can teach our kids that will save them money. And certainly, the more self-sufficient a person is, the less he or she will need to spend outsourcing. But fascination with tech, I think, depends on personality.

    Now about Quiet – it had a lot to offer, but ignored both life stage and gender, which are important factors in personality styles, communication, and relationships. Also, I was also kind of miffed that she kept using the phrase “quiet and cerebral.” Implying that outgoing is, well, you get it.

  • Jeff May 17, 2016, 10:36 am

    “the truth is that much of it comes from a gift that my parents gave me as a child: an absolutely Elite education.”

    I hope I’m not taking that statement too out of context, but this is what’s missing from a lot of the discussion regarding income disparity and rich vs. poor people. Sure, rich people can hire tutors and pay for expensive college tuition, but the real difference between rich and poor is that the rich teach their children how to succeed financially in a way that poor parents cannot.

  • Linnie May 17, 2016, 10:42 am

    Thought-provoking as usual, MMM!
    I didn’t realize until now that I did similar things with my two young sons, even though they were in school. We didn’t have a color TV until they were in grade school in the late ’80’s. In the early ’90’s–despite the questions of my non-nerd husband–I took part of my inheritance from Dad and bought our family an HP computer. That lit their respective intellectual fires. Today, one is an electrical engineer making the big bucks in the Twin Cities and the other went crazy for learning code and worked his way through undergrad and grad school in the IT department of each school. Even though the younger one works in a different field, he still has fun building his own tech stuff from odds and ends, and loves amateur radio. Several of my grandkids are taking after their dads. So, this stuff really works well!

  • Dan May 17, 2016, 11:49 am

    That article in the Atlantic left me slightly nauseated.

    Statistically, yes, income disparity has increased, and wages / salaries are stagnant, but it’s also easy to use that as a justification for inaction. Especially when that disparity is spread over X millions of workers, the individual still has a huge ability to be an outlier to those stats.

    The one thing I kept thinking about in the Atlantic article was, “How does it not occur to people to even occasionally give thought to long-term financial issues?”

    It seems that people are amazingly adept at letting time tick away by reading stories in the NY Times about happening in far off lands, puttering around, doing crosswords, memorizing sports stats, learning about types of wines or dog breeds, etc. But it never occurs to them to think about…money? It just seems so strange to me. And then they’re shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you) to find themselves aging and barely solvent.

    Unfortunately, my guess is that the net result of the article will be people lobbying / clamoring for some social policy to narrow the income disparity, which will have only very tiny marginal effects on their own situations. Strange situation overall…

  • Mrs. CTC May 17, 2016, 12:43 pm

    Love this approach MMM!

    I was raised to go to college and get a good job if it’s the last thing I do. For every year added to my education my mother would say “the world will be at your feet after this”. Which is not bad parenting or anything, I’m sure she believed it.

    But boy has that been a deception.

    I fully intend to let our kid to be bored stiff. Only so she has the room to discover the world that is already at her feet, and always will be. As long as you’re willing to try, fail and discover, there’s no stopping you.

  • eileen May 17, 2016, 1:46 pm

    I did have the opportunity of attending both a private school in an affluent area and later a public school in a low socioeconomic area in Canada ( an interesting story in of itself). Let me say it is really debatable as to whether you get a better education or not from an elite school. As I recall there were no more particularly talented or ambitious students at the elite school than there was at the other. The well off did take more expensive trips and got more access to certain adventures. These experiences however were often things they expected and viewed as normal and this developed a sense of entitlement. At the “normal public school ” there was a lot of diversity in both class culture and no one was treated special .
    I am really glad mmm mentioned this particular article as I too read it prior to mmm’s article and was really put off by his attitude that only private schools are the way to best insure a childs best interests for future employment. That is just so limited in his thinking its really sad. Oh and for the record , having known both sets of friends from these schools for now over 40 years I must say hands down to the public school when it comes to more sucessful kids . Hope he wwrites another article in 30 or 40 years reflecting on how much it has not has not helped his kids .

  • Issaqua May 17, 2016, 1:47 pm

    I wonder if this is a subset of the people, process and tools (plus product*) model?

    I use this model all the time at an organisational level and you need all of them balanced and connected for success. I think these also apply at an individual level – what are your people skills (EQ)?, what are your principles and habits? What are your technical competencies? What is your “product” or “story”?

    If these aren’t balanced and connected (or mitigated) I believe you end up with a life of suffering and the examples you cite seem like exactly this; I’d argue their principles and habits are disconnected from their mission. This often happens when management by “story” is used instead of management by “evidence”.

    It isn’t complicated, but it is very hard work because we are emotional beings first and rational beings second.

  • eileen May 17, 2016, 1:48 pm

    I did have the opportunity of attending both a private school in an affluent area and later a public school in a low socioeconomic area in Canada ( an interesting story in of itself). Let me say it is really debatable as to whether you get a better education or not from an elite school. As I recall there were no more particularly talented or ambitious students at the elite school than there was at the other. The well off did take more expensive trips and got more access to certain adventures. These experiences however were often things they expected and viewed as normal and this developed a sense of entitlement. At the “normal public school ” there was a lot of diversity in both class culture and no one was treated special .
    I am really glad mmm mentioned this particular article as I too read it prior to mmm’s article and was really put off by his attitude that only private schools are the way to best insure a childs best interests for future employment. That is just so limited in his thinking its really sad. Oh and for the record , having known both sets of friends from these schools for now over 40 years I must say hands down to the public school when it comes to more sucessful kids . Hope he writes another article in 30 or 40 years reflecting on how much it has or has not helped his kids .

  • Kim May 17, 2016, 3:13 pm

    Oh no! Your first post that I strongly disagree with! I’m a programmer/chip designer of 20 years. I’ve taught cs courses at universities…some of my worst students were the ones that loved computers. To succeed in my field you need to be creative, a critical thinker, and focused self-starter. You need to be a strong and clean thinker – usually this means great at math. Once you gain these skills, then you can own technology. I personally think we have become a society owned by tech. It’s become a distraction from reality – we are all still 3 meals away from anarchy. Personally, I’ve gotten rid of the cell phone and keep my kids off computers. My 8 year old is in charge of answering the landline. So many useless bits of data flowing through our atmosphere every second of every day! We succeed when we do what we are good at and what we are passionate about, you and I just happen to be good with computers at a lucrative time. Thanks for the blog, I enjoy it immensely and recommend it widely.

    • VanDad May 17, 2016, 8:36 pm

      couldn’t agree more. to me the key is curiosity. i have small children, ages 7 and 4, and I hope dearly that they grow into creative, and curious big kids. at our local school, they have ipads, which, no surprise, the kids love. but at home, they don’t need any of that stuff. there will be lots of time to learn it if they wish. technology is ubiquitous, but i really wish it was more inconspicuous.

  • Eddie Jay May 17, 2016, 3:21 pm

    I’d like to reinforce the notion – from my own experience – that teaching kids about computers isn’t just about preparing them for a career as a programmer, but giving them a leg up in the job market across a variety of sectors and disciplines.

    I had crappy computer classes at my public school growing up in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but I learned much more from tinkering with the family home computer- upgrading, troubleshooting, networking, etc. When I was a teenager, my mom started a marketing communications business at home and I got exposed to graphic design software, learning Adobe and other suites just by the magic of a young mind exploring with no lessons or manuals. In college at a big city I worked for minimum wage in the nerdy A/V department operating classroom multimedia equipment, and low and behold before graduating college at age 20 I landed a job as a part-time Support Technician and later Network Administrator for a media production company. That company contracted with the first bubble, but I was quickly able to find a part-time gig as a computer lab technician for the university. After a year, as a 22-year-old without a college degree yet, the lab offered me $60k/year to be the full time Digital Lab Support Manager in 2001 ($80k+ today). I DECLINED that offer because I wanted to finish college, and pursue my chosen path of architecture/urban design.

    I didn’t go back to computers, but my first job out of college was an entry-level position for a company that managed urban open spaces. I was hired mainly because I was able to do graphic design work in addition to other duties. Within a year I was promoted because I was able to help them build a very basic digital system for tracking facility maintenance. A few years later I was in charge of maintenance operations, and long story short I now make well in tho the six figures as a manager of urban parklands. I can credit a lot of this success to learning how computes work and to operate some advanced software – not even much programming beyond HTML.

    So for me the lesson is that no matter what your kids may end up doing, computers are likely going to play a big role, and having a background in operating and programming them will be a big advantage, much more than the very expensive difference between certain school districts.


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