Alumnus, Affirm CEO Max Levchin visits campus

Computer Science at the University launched its celebration for two major milestones this week — the 50th anniversary of the Computer Science department and the 10th anniversary of the Thomas M. Siebel Center, known as the home of computer science.

The Computer Science department will host a number of events with a variety of visitors throughout the week, said Rob Rutenbar, head of the Department of Computer Science.

To kick off the celebration, Max Levchin visited the University on Monday to host a media roundtable discussion, lead a tech talk and recruit prospective student engineers. 

Levchin graduated from the College of Engineering in 1997. He then co-founded PayPal, a payment processing service; helped start Yelp, an online review service; and he is now the CEO and co-founder of Affirm, which is an online credit service that allows consumers to repay their debt over a period of time. 

Levchin held the roundtable and tech talk at the Siebel Center.

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Levchin described himself as “pro-entrepreneurship and pro-startups,” and he said that starting a company is amazing on a variety of levels, but also horribly stressful at times.

“You’re either ready or you’re not,” Levchin said. “You don’t get to find out if you are made of that in any other way but to try it. It is not something you can model in your head.”

Levchin recalled his experience when he started his first company during his time at the University. He said that one of the easier things he had to deal with was not going out to drink with friends on a Friday night because he felt there was really no place for him to be other than his own little monitor office. 

Levchin shared how other students can follow a path similar to his by joining a startup as an early employee or starting their own company.

“For most people these days, the choices of well-founded, great, interesting startups, not only in Silicon Valley, but kind of all over the U.S., all over the world at these points, are so plentiful, it’s almost silly not to join,” Levchin said.

During the roundtable discussion, Lechvin also shared his view on the gender gap in the tech industry, calling it a “self-perpetuate problem.” He said the gap in men and women in the tech industry is apparent in the education process. Even at the University, out of 1,114 undergraduate computer science majors, only 179 of them are women. In order to fix the problem, Levchin said more girls need to be pushed toward programming or computer science related work at a younger age.

“Once I had a girl, I realized that I want her one day to not be in anyway pressured in gender-appropriate role,” Levchin said.

Levchin said Marrisa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is one woman in the tech industry that deserves more recognition for her work running what Levchin described as “a massively important fundamental piece of Internet infrastructure.”

“People called her out for being a woman role model, they do that in a context of how great she looks in an Oscar outfit,” Levchin said. “There is probably a more interesting story to be told that she is a woman who has gotten exactly where she did.”

Levchin said that students interested in entrepreneurship and startups should do what they want to do before they’re older and have more responsibilities such as a family.

“My advice to many people is if you know this is for you, and you just know, then just go for it,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to do when you have more things to lose.”

Edwin can be reached at [email protected].