Google was founded by two Stanford graduate students, Instagram by two Stanford alumni, Snapchat by a Stanford dropout. WhatsApp, Netflix, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard were all founded by onetime Stanford students; the earliest investors in Facebook and Amazon were Stanford graduates. Even Elizabeth Holmes, symbol of Silicon Valley self-delusion and fraud, was a student at Stanford when she dropped out to found Theranos. About the only two famous tech founders with no immediately apparent Stanford connection are Steve Jobs and Bill Gates — though is it a coincidence that each had a daughter attend the school?
Stanford, nestled south of Facebook and west of Google, is more than a kind of finishing school to the burgeoning independent commonwealth of tech. It’s already to the 21st century what Harvard, or maybe the University of Chicago, was to the 20th: the institution that grooms an elite class for power and imbues it with the reigning ideology. And for the students destined to rule over megaplatforms and other digital fiefdoms, Stanford can be less a college than a kind of incubator or accelerator — a four-year networking opportunity for the next Systrom, Spiegel, or Thiel, as everyone who goes there knows. “I don’t remember there being that much emphasis on serving others or what is the broad philosophical points of a Stanford education,” a political-science major from the class of 2017 told us. “It really always felt like it’s that gold mine, like you’re just there to find that random idea and hop on that train and have $100 million by the time you’re 30.”