Zuckerberg’s Harvard moment: What the students are saying

Mark Zuckerberg returned to Harvard for a recruiting trip last year.

Facebook co-founder  and CEO Mark Zuckerberg returned to Harvard University on Monday to talk to a few hundred select computer science majors. But first, he did a drive-by for local media, 300 or 400 of whom packed the Harvard Yard venue. And by drive-by, I mean just that. He took maybe three (largely inaudible) questions.

Here’s what was asked and answered:

Why did Zuckerberg come to MIT and Harvard this week? “There are a lot of smart people here, some of whom are deciding where they want to work.” Will Facebook open an office in the area as Google and Microsoft have done? “Hopefully at some point soon …  but no immediate plans.” What’s next for the social networking giant? “The last five years have been about getting people signed up and connected but the next five and ten years there will be a lot of products and industries that can be rethought now that you have this base of connections.”

Not a lot of meat there. But some of the takeaways from Harvard students who stopped by the Q&A — they couldn’t get tickets to the main event — were more interesting.

  • Zuckerberg, not Gates, not even the Google guys, is The Man.
    Zuckerberg, by virtue of Facebook’s huge popularity, by virtue of Hollywood’s The Social Network, is the go-to tech guy for this crowd. Apple’s Steve Jobs was cool. Seeing Bill Gates “would probably be awesome too,” but Zuckerberg “is one of us,” said one freshman at the event.  As for the Google guys? Impressive, but none of three freshman interviewed could name either Sergey Brin or Larry Page. But then again, the Google guys didn’t go to Harvard and were not featured in a major motion picture.
  • Did The Social Network  make you hate Zuckerberg?
    The consensus was that Movie Mark did come across as a jerk, “but then you went home and used Facebook and you didn’t care anymore,”  said Joseph Botros, a freshman from Terre Haute, Indiana.
  • What did you learn about Zuckerberg from this event?
    “That he’s real,” said Emily Mistick, a freshman from Pittsburgh. That he wants to hire computer science majors not liberal arts students, said another student who did not provide her name and is in the latter camp. She and some others griped about how tickets to the closed computer-science-student-only event were awarded.
  • Would you leave Harvard to attempt a startup?
    Maybe, if it was something really cool, although that might be a problem for the parents. “I think they’d be okay with taking a semester or a year off,” said Botros. But dropping out entirely? Ummm, probably not acceptable.

The Boston-Cambridge metro area has been in a tizzy after comments Zuckerberg made last week that indicated he would keep Facebook in Boston if he were starting it up today. Local tech companies and venture capitalists — who always seem a bit cowed by Silicon Valley’s tech might — clearly took that as validation that Boston can play in the big leagues. (Zuckerberg also spoke earlier at a similar event at MIT.)

Later, an attendee of the closed Harvard event said it was packed and there were questions (submitted before hand) about nitty-gritty coding issues, the state of tech startups in general, and about it’s like to work at Facebook specifically.

And for those who didn’t get enough Zuck from his cameo appearance at Harvard, buck up:  He’ll be on Charlie Rose tonight with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Photo courtesy of Rose Lincoln, Harvard Public Affairs & Communications.

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