The book Outliers written by Maclolm Gladwell is a book about success. Throughout the book he gives numerous examples of how people have achieved and in some instances, not achieved success. Popular belief would suggest that people who are considered outliers have gotten there through hard work and innate talent. Gladwell however, suggest that something is contributing to people being able to seek the levels of success that would make them an outlier. Gladwell believes that hidden advantages, extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies are the main factors of predicting success.
Gladwell makes strong arguments to back up his claims chapter after chapter in the book. While I was reading Outliers one theme continued to be emphasized. To be able to have an extraordinary opportunity one doesn’t necessarily have to be from a particular culture or have a specific background. One just has to be in the right place at the right time. In the 2nd chapter Gladwell tells the story of computer programmer Bill Joy. Joy was not from a prominent family. The book did not give much insight into Bill Joys upbringing.
I would assume that he was from a middle class family as his family was able to afford tuition to the University of Michigan. Nobody will deny the fact that Bill Joy was talented, after all the book says he got a perfect score on his SAT. While Bill Joy at this point in his life was gifted he wasn’t an Outlier. The book even goes onto say that Bill Joy was one of the type of gawky math wiz’s that schools like M. I. T attracted by the hundreds. What set Joy apart from those other students was that he was in the right place at the right time. Not to say that he didn’t work hard, Joy put in countless hours programming.
However he would not have been able to do so if he was not taking computer science classes at the University of Michigan 1971. It was at that time that the computers switched over from using punch cards to time- Pg. 2 sharing and University Of Michigan was one of the few colleges in the country that had one of these computers. On top of that, since it was so early in the time-sharing era of computers Joy was able to find a bug that allowed him to practice programming without spending a dime. Granted, this was at a time where where it was extremely expensive to program on any computer.
This bug allowed Joy to receive far more practice time then almost anybody else in the world. His hard work and dedication payed off as now Bill Joy is one of the most powerful people in the computer industry as a Founder of Sun Microsystem. Joy’s being at the right place at the right time with the desire to learn how to program was a huge advantage in him getting ahead. If for whatever reason Joy did not end up at the University of Michigan in 1971 one could make a good argument that he would not have become an outlier; there is a chance that he might have turned out just like Chris Langan.
Chris Langan was another very gifted individual that Gladwell discusses in Outliers. The 4th chapter starts out telling about Langan hard upbringing. Langan grew up in a household with barely enough food, tattered run down clothes, a mother that worked too hard and an abusive stepfather. Langan encountered a lot more adversity then Bill Joy growing up. However, while both of these individuals possessed very gifted minds;there stories couldn’t have turned out any more differently. Langan was not at the right place at the right time.
The way the book tells it he was usually at the wrong place all the time. Not matter how hard Langan tried reach his goals he just couldn’t catch a break. He lost his scholarship because his mother didn’t feel out the proper paper work for him to continue receiving his scholarship. When he finally made the money to come back to school his car broke down. When he found a way into town albeit at 11 o’clock and his classes were in the early morning, the dean of students was unwilling to switch his classes.
Langan then dropped out of college and spent the rest of his life doing odd jobs and wondering what could have been. If Langan had been Pg. 3 in the right place at the right time with his skill set like Bill Joy was, the sky would have been the limit and Langan would have be an Outlier as well. Some will argue that Langan was not in the right place at the right time because he grew up in poverty. This however is not true, the story of my life will help me illustrate that. I grew up and lived