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Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian: Studying this is 'the most valuable thing you can do for your career'

Co-Founder and Executive Chair of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian
Jerod Harris | Getty Images
Co-Founder and Executive Chair of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian

If Reddit and Initialized Capital co-founder Alexis Ohanian could give his 20-year-old self one piece of advice, it would be to stick with computer science.

He took the one CS class offered at his high school in Columbia, Maryland, and even thought he might become a programmer, he said during a Facebook Live Q&A hosted by 1850 Brand Coffee. But when he got to the University of Virginia and met a few computer science majors, he lost confidence.

"I felt like the kid who's actually pretty good at their high school sport and is like captain of their team," Ohanian recalled. "And then they get to college and realize they're not even going to make it on the bench."

Looking back, "I wish I had the confidence and the conviction to actually stick with it and keep with it," said the 35-year-old, who ended up majoring in history and business.

"I'm thrilled I got the history major, but I think if I had done the computer science major instead of the business major it would have actually helped me a lot more, career-wise," he said.

The major worked out for Ohanian, who sold Reddit within two years of launching it and became a multi-millionaire at age 23, but his advice to students today is to take at least one computer science class and try it out.

"I took a bus when my book came out and visited 82 universities — this was back in 2013 — just to evangelize to as many college students as I could, learning to code, even if it was just for giggles," said Ohanian. "It's the most valuable thing you can do for your career."

Bill and Melinda Gates agree. As Melinda said in 2017 during Computer Science Education Week, computer literacy is an "essential skill" and computer science has the power to change the world: "The more we encourage different kinds of people to get interested in technology the better that future will be."

Her husband said something similar in an interview with LinkedIn Editor In Chief Daniel Roth: People with backgrounds in science, engineering and economics will be "the agents of change for all institutions." This doesn't mean you have to be an expert "writing code," the Microsoft co-founder said, but "basic knowledge of the sciences, math skills [and] economics" will help you out tremendously.

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