Oxford has educated some of the giants of British history: Walter Raleigh, Margaret Thatcher and C.S. Lewis are just a few examples of alumni who will go down in history.
Yet, no matter how aware we are of the past heroes of our university, we now live in a world that often looks to the future, dominated by ‘new media’: the means of mass communication in the digital age. Nick D’Aloisio—the south Londoner who sold his app Summly to Yahoo for $30m when he was only 17-years-old—embodies this era. He also happens to be an undergraduate at Hertford College.
Googling D’Aloisio’s name will result in a variety of articles: you can learn about how he has launched apps in Las Vegas, or how he won the Apple Design Award in 2014. What has attracted this teenage tech supremo to go back to work, to study, and to learn more? “I’m not at Oxford for the degree”, he once insisted, “It’s more just environment, you’re meeting others, really intelligent people who have completely different interests.”
If you head to Hertford, and marvel in the history and architectural distinctiveness on show, exemplified by the famous Bridge of Sighs, you can comprehend what D’Aloisio says. Oxford has enabled him to explore the philosophical side of his work and shown his deep-rooted competitiveness. He could already be considered as one of those Oxford figures who have shaped the tech world, such as Tim Berners-Lee or Reid Hoffman.
D’Aloisio’s views of new media have also been influenced by recent events. He’s referenced how news initially reported on social media, such as Twitter, or through WikiLeaks and other user generated sources, can lead to the proliferation of ‘fake news’.
However, Oxford is itself leading in the development of New Media. As D’Aloisio has said before, it’s not simply the computing behind New Media that is important—but those classical disciplines on offer at Oxford too.
D’Aloisio believes that Oxford has shaped him and will continue to influence his career. New Media is always evolving, and one can almost imagine D’Aloisio’s next big idea coming from the hours spent in the Computer Science department, or in a brief break when reading about design (specifically, 1960s modernism) in his spare time in one of Oxford’s libraries. Speaking in a newspaper interview, he described how it was “refreshing” to take computer science here compared to somewhere like Stanford. “In Oxford, it is seen as very theoretical or mathematical, it’s not seen as entrepreneurial”, D’Aloisio added.
D’Aloisio wants to learn in an age which is always changing and does, to a large extent, revolve around money. He could have been snapped up by Stanford or MIT, but clearly the Oxford experience is what D’Aloisio is looking for: “In the [Silicon] Valley everyone cares about making money; at Oxford they’re the opposite.”