I say this not as a negative statement on my academic abilities: Although my GPA and transcript showed a fair amount of negative grades, I could have explained those away if I ever got to the interview stage. They were early on in my High School career, and everyone makes mistakes.
It's not a negative statement on my testing scores: They were high. I was very good at taking standardized tests, and even without the SAT II subject tests, I wouldn't have had a problem convincing anyone that the 1540 I got on the SAT was representative of my skill level in the fields it tested on, and I'd probably have taken and done well on SAT II tests had I felt the need to.
It is a commentary on my interests at the time. During my Senior year at STCE, I was a great student, but I was not interested in learning. I was not someone who went out and managed gigantic projects relating to computers on my own, I was not someone who spent all day being passionate about something.
I would work on things for long periods of time, making them work however I felt worked best. I managed my own web server from my dialup connection, learning how to best set things so that viewers of my 24/7 webcam would get an adequate performance without completely destroying my connectivity.
It wasn't until later that I got the spirt of adventure that is really necessary for accomplishment. I started with support on LiveJournal in the summer of '02, and started with coding on LiveJournal towards the beginning of 2003. It was then that my urge to create things that *worked* really kicked off. My interest in coding led to a lot of changes in the way things worked, and this became even more the case around Feb of 2004, when I moved from LiveJournal coding to working on my own projects as a primary way of expressing that desire to create.
Now, when I hear about interesting projects, I don't just comment on them, I help them. I contribute code, patches, documentation, money. I work with the best and the brightest in the industry via my employer, and I also work with some of the best and the brightest in the Geo field in my spare time. I have a lot of energy, but I devote almost all of it to projects that I love for various reasons.
Getting into MIT, or into any high-powered college or even being employed with the best and the brightest, at places like Google or Yahoo, is not about being smart. There's too many smart people out there. Smart people aren't all innovators.
It's about getting things done, and having a drive to continue getting things done. It's about finding the people who take advantage of the world around them -- whether it be an electronic world of communication, or the world of people living right next door -- and finding some new and interesting way to do things with it. About people with drive to succeed, to be the best, and to stay there.
I didn't have that drive for a long time. I had a drive to do well, but I didn't have a drive to be the best. I didn't have to prove anything to anyone, in my mind.
Since I dropped out of school, that changed. Although it may seem silly, dropping out of school made me all the more determined. I want to be able to answer every question, I want to be able to find every solution without even thinking about it. I subscribe to a number of mailing lists, and I am interested in being well known as a Smart Guy on all of them.
I want to make a name for myself. This isn't a specific desire for fame -- I don't care if they know Christopher Schmidt. I care if they know what I've done. I care if the Open Guide to Boston gets national coverage as an interesting example of what a group of people can do when they're motivated. I want to see people pulling together around efforts I've started.
That kind of attitude is the kind of attitude that places at the top look for. They're not looking for the people who can write the most lines of code per hour, they're looking for the people who are going to come up with new and exciting ideas. They're looking for the people who have the drive to get what they want done.
I'm sure that MIT has lots of people who aren't like this, but it isn't coincidence, or lots of smart people alone, that makes MIT a great environment for startups. What makes it that way is that they specifically pick people who apply that seem like they will be most likely to achieve. Achieving may mean many different things, but most importantly, it is the attitude that anything can be done, and that the students who are picked by MIT are the ones to do it.
With that in mind, I know that I would not have made a good MIT student 4 years ago. Without a specific set of circumstances that have arisen only due to fate, I don't think that I would be a good student there today. However, because fate did fall the way it did, I think today I have a demonstrably much better chance of being an MIT student at some point in the future. I have the drive to succeed, and that drive is the most important thing that a potential student can show.
Resistance is Futile. You will be assimilated. Or I will. Or something.