9 People Who Work at Netflix That Didn't Graduate College
In my role in employer branding, I talk to a lot of my colleagues to understand their journey to Netflix and their story both inside and outside of work. One thing I began to notice, was that many of my coworkers were thriving at Netflix without a college degree. While some roles within Netflix do require degrees, I thought it was important to highlight those who carved out their own path to success. College is inherently tied to socioeconomic access. My hope and message through this piece is that we begin to look at resumes and backgrounds differently in assessing if someone can be successful in a certain role and that we should be more open-minded. Here are 9 people from Netflix that prove that point, along with anecdotes of their personal experience.
1. Kimberly Hodgdon, Stock Program Manager - 2.5 years at Netflix
“I first watched Wolf of Wall Street June of 2014 and I had absolutely no idea what that movie was about. I went to the library to get 7 books (that was the limit) about stocks to try to figure it out. A few days later, I was 3 books deep in a lunchroom when someone walked up to me and asked if I was interested in stocks. Long story short, I was offered an opportunity: if I could pass my series 7 in 30 days, I could work for this brokerage firm as a stockbroker. I spent what little money I had on cases of red bull, stayed awake for a month, and passed the test. I originally became a stockbroker to help me pay for college but at some point, I realized that I was really good at this ‘stock thing’. I decided to leave school, go all-in, and it was the best decision I ever made.
Five short years later, my amazing team and I teach employees around the globe about their equity compensation. I always joke that this is the dream job I never knew I wanted. I actually did end up finishing my bachelor’s degree just this June (hooray for getting my weekends back!) but I would never have gotten here if a few people hadn’t “taken a chance on me.”
As we look to make our teams more inclusive, consider adding some educationally-diverse individuals to your pool of candidates! Don’t think of it as hiring an uneducated individual; think of it as hiring an entrepreneurial-minded individual.”
2. Ken Florance, Vice President Content Delivery - 17 years at Netflix
“I’ve always loved learning, but not necessarily being taught. I need to investigate for myself, to try to understand something holistically. When you have learning traits that are not compatible with the way the system teaches, it can be challenging.
I dropped out of high school half way through my sophomore year and moved across the country, eventually working in a warehouse at a community college (which I was not attending), where I got to play with my first computer. From there I migrated to the college computer support team, and eventually to an internet infrastructure startup. The common theme of my career has been a longing to learn new things, a passion for the way the internet helps to transcend boundaries of time and space, and the enjoyment of working together with colleagues to solve interesting and challenging problems. Similarly, having now hired many people in my 16 years at Netflix, I find that curiosity, passion and experience are far better indicators of success than education.”
3. Chris Saint-Amant, Director of UI Engineering, 7 years at Netflix
“This is easily a topic I could talk about at length. I’ve tried to pull a few short thoughts together:
At Netflix, we generally strive to hire talent with maturity and good judgement. Typically, this means that we look for people who have some years of professional experience that give them a good foundation in refining those skills before coming to Netflix. In my opinion, once you’ve worked for a few years in an industry, the professional experience is far more relevant than the education you started with. When I’m recruiting for my team, I typically focus on the last 3 or 4 years of experience, and/or the last two jobs. The degree no longer has any relevance once you have that experience. I’m hiring for people who have demonstrated the professional experience and adaptability we need, not for folks who’ve demonstrated they can pass a series of courses.
When I was initially evaluating what I should do for college, I already had a high level of certainty on where I wanted to start my career. It was a huge turn-off to me that many of the 4 year degrees I looked into didn’t go deep into the area of specialization I wanted to learn until sometimes year three. As someone who would have had to borrow almost the entire cost of tuition, it seemed irresponsible and impractical to go into massive debt to make it through a bunch of “general education” requirements. Instead I chose to do a two year associate’s degree at a technical college that allowed me to focus most of my time and money on the specialized skills I was looking to develop.
I benefited from several people early in my career who took chances on me, by identifying potential and connecting me with opportunities. Without those people looking at me as a person, rather than a piece of paper, it would have been much more difficult (or even impossible) to achieve success with the non-traditional route I took. These people were teachers, local small business leaders and bosses/mentors who coached me and connected me to opportunity. This is a clear privilege I benefited from.
Throughout my career, I’ve been in conversations where leaders are talking about candidates, and praise or denigrate the school that someone went to, and look at it as a significant factor when comparing candidates. As someone who didn’t have the full Bachelor’s degree, and went to a technical college that no one had ever heard of, it was often painful and embarrassing to hear those discussions, and I didn’t have the courage to speak up. Similarly, I would always grimace inside when someone at a work event would casually ask “so, where did you go to school?”. It was only much later in my career where I had enough self-confidence that I was able to call out people in the moment, or share my own experience comfortably.”
4. Michelle Duffie, Recruiter - 1 year at Netflix
“I didn’t think I would drop out of college. I truly love learning, and I figured that continuing on in school was the best place to do that. But I was accruing debt that I could not manage, and the stress that caused made my grades suffer, jeopardizing my academic scholarships…which caused more stress. As proud as I was for prioritizing my mental health by leaving school, I felt like a total failure for not completing my degree. I would avoid discussing school when interviewing for jobs, and casually duck out of conversations with colleagues when they would discuss their college experiences. I didn’t want people to see me as a quitter, or think I just was not smart. Thankfully I have never seen a negative impact in my career from not having a degree, but I am also very fortunate to have been able to attend college in the first place to decide for myself that it just wasn’t for me.
I hope that people who didn’t attend college or graduate college know that there isn’t anything to be ashamed about, and the lessons you’ve learned in life are just as valuable as the ones you learn in a classroom. I hope that people who are in positions of leadership and build teams also understand that, too.”
5. Bryan Cooper, Video Creative - Creative Studio - 4 years at Netflix
“I’m a self-taught video editor. Getting to where I am today took self motivation, using my time wisely, and saying yes to nearly every opportunity that came my way. I focused on doing what I love and surrounding myself with like-minded friends. We all had a shared goal - to find success in the film industry - and we supported each other. When opportunities came, we’d done the work and were prepared.”
6. Rich Smith, Senior UI Engineer - 2 years at Netflix
“Dropping out of college was emotionally difficult for me, but I believed that I could still succeed as a programmer despite that. Earning a degree is a requirement to be successful in some fields, but as a software engineer, it’s a lot more important to prove you can do the work. At the time, I resolved to master the skills required to be a competent UI-focused engineer, because I wanted to be so good, they couldn’t turn me down. Ultimately, that bet paid off, since I was able to continually leverage my experience to land better and better opportunities until I wound up at Netflix.”
7. Jacek Ambrosiewicz, Marketing Manager Poland, 3 years at Netflix
“There is this conviction in Poland, that if you want a job, you need to have a diploma. No matter the field. It’s because when our parents were entering the jobs market there were not that many jobs, so higher education was a significant advantage. Everybody wanted to send their kids to University. And I was excited about college before I went there, but after a year, I noticed that I’m bored most of my time at the campus. While one or two lectures a week were interesting, the rest of it was pointless from my point of view. I drop out of Informatics at the University of Technology and started the Academy of Physical Education. And while it was much more interesting, I still had the same feeling - that I could learn more by working instead of sitting in a classroom. I dropped out of this as well and started working; first in stores as a salesman and later in agencies. And in my free time, I read a lot of what the internet had to offer including courses, lessons, and blogs.
Just before I started my first ‘real’ position in an agency - Community Manager - I came back to my first college to collect my papers that were required to sign a contract. I bumped into my old classmates that were defending their thesis to get the diploma. Even though everybody told me to get a degree to have a headstart in the job market, I got the headstart by dropping out. I do believe that a college education is important and that everybody should try it for themselves. At the same time pressure to finish and get the diploma, whatever the costs, is not needed. We are individual beings, and we need and want different things. There is no one solution to being successful. Think, feel, go with your gut, take chances. That’s what I did.”
8. Molly Korman, Rights Analyst, Legal, 2 years at Netflix
“Someone I grew up with once told me I was going nowhere in life because of the education decisions I made when all of my other friends were in college. I always believed in myself, and with the support of my friends and family, I knew I would eventually be successful. I moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles without a job lined up and as my mom says, dug in my heels, and put myself out there. After months of part time jobs & interviews, I accepted a full-time position at CBS. My boss told me it was my eagerness to learn & persistence that he was most impressed with and not my specific experience in that department. I’m forever grateful to him for giving me a chance which eventually led me here at Netflix where I am proud to share my story.”
9. Johnny Sanchez, Manager Talent Operations - 1 year at Netflix
“Growing up, getting my degree was something I aspired to, but could not prioritize. I had to work first, school second. That made it difficult to gain any momentum coming out of high school. After a year in college, a need to work full time put an end to my efforts in obtaining my degree.
Shortly after, I landed a job in the field that I’m currently in now. After gaining experience and realizing this is what I want to do, I applied the time I had to learning - as much about my field as possible. This informal education was much more targeted, and directly impacted my work. Over the years, I realized that while there is value in a college degree, it does not define you, and definitely does not limit you from being educated in your field. I am proud to work for a company like Netflix that values and understands the importance of diverse experiences and educational paths.”