It’s an extraordinary academic achievement to be admitted to Harvard University. It’s arguably an even bigger accomplishment when you’re only 15 years old.
When he entered Harvard, Patrick Pan was a 16-year-old student from Texas, armed with a 2400 SAT score and a plan to graduate in four years with a degree in biomedical engineering. Among his other accomplishments was graduating fifth out of 568 students at Clear Lake High School and being named a 2014 US Presidential Scholar, one of only two in the state.
Now, he’s taking time off from the Ivy League university to be the third employee at GIFYouTube, a San Francisco-based website that allows users to convert their own uploaded videos into GIFs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the startup was founded by two other Harvard dropouts — brothers Rory O’Reilly, formerly Harvard Class of 2016, and Kieran O’Reilly, formerly Harvard Class of 2017.
Harvard is known for its lenient leave of absence policy, as detailed in a recent article in student newspaper The Harvard Crimson called “The Dropouts.” Famous Harvard dropouts include Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, as well as more recent success stories, such as Annie Wang, one of the founders of the online women’s interest magazine Her Campus.
“With supportive faculty … and an accommodating return policy, students considering dropping out have few reasons not to do so. While entrepreneurial and artistic opportunities are often time-sensitive, Harvard, these students believe, can wait,” The Crimson reports.
During his first semester at Harvard, Pan took CS50, Harvard’s introductory computer science course and the most popular class in the college. While presenting his final project — a program called Rhyme Genius that analyses rap lyrics to find rhyme schemes — he met the founders of GIFYouTube, who were recruiting CS50 students to come work with them in San Francisco.
After an internship with the startup this winter, Pan got an offer to leave school and work for GIFYouTube as a full-time coder.
Harvard approved his application to withdraw halfway through the second week of winter semester, and he said he’s learned a ton on the West Coast he couldn’t have picked up in the classroom. (He’s still probably going to Harvard in the fall, since he’s enrolled in a joint program at the New England Conservatory of Music that makes it difficult to take too much time off.)
“It was definitely a huge decision [to take the semester off], but I realised that this environment would ironically better equip me to gain the most out of college the next few years,” Pan said.
The intense work schedule of a startup is part of what drew Pan to GIFYouTube.
“I saw their motivation and drive every day — working for hours straight, cooking a very simple quick lunch of just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, exercising in the afternoons,” he said. “I was inspired by how dedicated they were.”
The former Harvard student said his time in San Francisco is also helping him explore his independence.
“Besides the concrete skills that I’m learning from coding every day, there’s definitely the idea of finding out if I can live by myself, cook for myself, when I don’t have a 9 a.m. class,” Pan said.
Pan believes his work for a startup will better prepare him for the rigors of Harvard.
“It’s sort of like when hikers train in low oxygen masks, so when they’re actually up in the mountain they don’t feel anything at all,” Pan said.
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