science/engineering and startups

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Hi Philip,

I am an applied physics student looking for some career advice. My
goal is to go to graduate school, develop some innovative ideas, and
become an entrepreneur. I have enough courses in computer
science/electrical engineering to make the switch to engineering
(which will allow me to take project courses in product development).
On the other hand, the school I attend is relatively unknown for
engineering, but recently received CAMPEP accreditation for a graduate
program in medical physics. I�m equally interested in both physics
and engineering; what�s a more plausible route to entrepreneurship: a
graduate degree from an unknown school in electrical/computer
engineering or an accredited graduate degree in medical physics? Is
it possible to found a Startup in a field with high capital costs?
(I�d imagine it�s different than creating a startup based around a web
2.0 application).

On the topic, can you recommend any resources for entrepreneurial
hopefuls? I�m halfway through �Principles of Corporate Finance�, and
would love some other suggestions. Do you know of any online
communities for high tech entrepreneurs?

And lastly, if I do go the physics route I�ll miss out on some compsci
courses. Could you recommend any useful courses/texts for someone
wanting to self teach the basics of computer science (I feel like no
matter what I do career wise, understanding the basics of databases,
data structures and algorithms will be important.

Thanks for all the free information. Even if you don�t answer my
questions, I�ve learned a lot from you.

-- Greg Leroux, October 23, 2010


There is a lot more money for biotech and medical device startups than for IT/CS/Web startups. There is also much less competition due to regulatory barriers, e.g., a clever person in India cannot easily build a medical device for the U.S. market. So I would say that medical physics is a better route. You can pick up whatever computer science you need whenever you need it.

I'm not sure if there are online communities for folks who want to start tech companies. Really there is no trick to starting a company once you've identified a set of customers who aren't being served well by current products and services.

You're worried about missing out on CS courses? You haven't said how many you've already taken. I still like (free online) for programming per se. Algorithms are indeed important and the standard MIT text is good: (sadly not available online and I don't know of any good free online alternatives). I would skip the data structures course. Modern programming languages have lists and hash table built in. There aren't any great RDBMS books because academics tend not to have much experience with real-world software development. I think you're best off downloading Oracle (free for development) and building a few projects for friends or local businesses. The Oracle documentation is excellent. You can start with Concepts and then look at the administration guide.

-- Philip Greenspun, October 23, 2010