Software Publisher Proves College is Unnecessary

Princeton University, where Vembu earned his Ph.D. Photo courtesy of Yakinodi via Flickr.

Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho, developer of applications such as word processors and spreadsheets that competes against Microsoft Office and Google Docs, recruits employees using a unique process that gives them an advantage over his wealthier competitors. Instead of hiring employees based on credentials, Vembu attempts to employ the software engineers most likely to increase the profits of his company.

Harvard University, former home of prominent dropouts Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Matt Damon. Photo courtesy of Will Hart via Flickr.

Zoho was founded in 1995 and employed 700 by 2008. The company earns money and Vembu believes that recruiting and retaining quality employees is one of his most important tasks. He claims that people learn more on the job than at a school, and while most executives agree, very few implement a process to recruit employees based more on merit than pedigree and credentials, although some require applicants to take IQ and aptitude tests.

The Taj Mahal, where Indian students will attend college someday after subsidies are increased. Photo courtesy of Tony Oliver via Flickr.

Vembu did not start Zoho hypothesizing that a large pool of quality engineers without college degrees is waiting to be exploited by a clever capitalist. Instead, he believed that cheap engineers from India could make office applications such as word processors and spreadsheets that could compete against Microsoft.

People from India and Chile value pedigree and the prestige of famous brands. Silicon Valley convention was similar in 1995; the founder of Netscape, Jim Clark, asked a dozen people to work for his new company, but only Marc Andreessen was willing to work at a startup. Vembu earned a Ph.D. from Princeton, so he values pedigree, too; but Zoho found it difficult to recruit degreed engineers willing to work for an unproven new company, so he was forced to create an innovative system to generate productive engineers.

Vembu hired degreed engineers with poor grades and Indians unable to afford college and taught them to develop software. The training program lasts two years and is called Zoho University, although it is not convened in a traditional classroom or accredited by any government.

I look forward to watching innovators like Sridhar Vembu and Peter Thiel pierce the higher education bubble during the coming years.

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