As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An NBA star. But once I realized that was unlikely, I switched to a new dream: to be a professional baseball player. That turned out to be even more ridiculous.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
Structured Liberal Education. It’s all these super nerdy people at Stanford who live together freshman year and read great books and discuss them. Some of my best friends are still from that program.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
My mom told me I was never going to be a professional athlete and should stop spending so much time playing sports and instead focus more on math and writing, where I have more potential.
How did majoring in philosophy as an undergraduate lead to you getting your PhD in economics and working for Google as a data scientist?
Basically, I realized I was unlikely to end up with a job as a philosopher, so I transitioned – over a three year period – to economics. And, over the past five years, a huge percent of economists have started calling themselves “data scientists” because it is a hot field and our training is sort of related. I just copied them.
Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded liberal arts & sciences education are important in today’s society?
I am really, really happy that I had a well-rounded education. It started with Structured Liberal Education at Stanford, but I also took classes in a wide range of subjects – communications, psychology, philosophy, economics, biology, math, physics. I really feel like I have a broader understanding of the world than, say, my friends who just took all computer science classes. Although, to be honest, the people who just focused on computer science are a lot richer than I am.
You’re the author of Everybody Lies, a New York Times bestseller and Economist Book of the Year. What was your inspiration and motivation behind writing this book?
I became obsessed with all the information available about people thanks to the internet – and how that would revolutionize the social sciences. I was writing a column for the New York Times
about this, and then some people reached out suggesting I write a book. I thought that writing a book would be really hard and painful – and I tend to say yes to opportunities that seem really hard and painful.
What do you want to learn next?
I want to keep exploring ideas in the same space – what all the information available on the internet can teach us about human beings. I think there is so much more to learn.
What book are you reading right now? Anything you'd recommend?
I am reading The Way to Love
by Anthony De Mello and would highly recommend it. I am always reading Buddhism-inspired books. I get really excited by the ideas and start telling all my friends how I have figured out the path to happiness. But then I always fail to implement the advice.