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The discovery that Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson has been claiming to have a Computer Science degree for years, and did not correct statements that identified him as an “engineer” is not surprising given the strong “cult of the engineer” that is prevalent in Silicon Valley.
According to Kara Swisher at All Things D, Thompson did not deny he had a computer science degree in a 2009 interview:
Moira Gunn asked him a direct question about his college degrees, specifically noting they were in accounting and computer science.
“And that’s really the background that I have, and it started back in my college days, and I think that’s really the wonderful part of being an engineer is you think that way,” said Thompson.
Being an engineer in Silicon Valley is essential is you want to lead a tech company or if you want to raise money at a startup. Most VCs, and the majority of Angels will not invest in companies that don’t have tech “lead.”
Also, being an engineer doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a Computer Science degree. Many top engineers are dropouts, many are self-taught, or took some computer science courses but majored in different subjects.
Thompson clearly felt enormous pressure to play up his engineering credentials because that’s what’s rewarded in Silicon Valley. Yet it’s not academic credentials that mark success in Silicon Valley, it’s leadership and successful exits that matter the most.