What the top US engineering schools have in common with Hogwarts

The “Silicon Valley Skrewts” in the very real Quidditch World Cup.
The “Silicon Valley Skrewts” in the very real Quidditch World Cup.
Image: AP/Phelan Ebenhack
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Despite the outsize myth of the college dropout founder in Silicon Valley, top university engineering programs are significant feeders to the companies in the region. A Quora question asks which of the top schools might be best for an extremely talented high school computer scientist.

By far the most popular answer, from Airbnb engineer and Stanford grad Christopher Lin, described some of the most prestigious schools out there by their equivalents in the Harry Potter series of books, specifically the four houses at Hogwarts, all of which select for different traits. (Descriptions of each house comes from the books.)

Going to Stanford is like being sorted into Gryffindor. “Their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindor apart.”

Going to Caltech is like being sorted into Hufflepuff“For Hufflepuff, hard workers were most worthy of admission.”

Going to MIT is like being sorted into Ravenclaw. “For Ravenclaw, the cleverest would always be the best.”

Going to Harvard is like being sorted into Slytherin. “Power-hungry Slytherin loved those of great ambition.”

We took a looked at LinkedIn data on people who majored in computer science at these schools from 2008 to 2013 using the site’s new field of study exploration tool to see if students fulfill that stereotype.

The data reveals, maybe more than anything, the sheer recruiting power of Google. But though the same companies tend to crop up repeatedly in large part due to sheer size, there’s some truth to the Harry Potter characterizations:


Stanford is likened to Gryffindor in that it emphasizes Silicon Valley culture and risk taking. But recent graduates have seemed to cluster at major companies in the area. One more recent entrant is Palantir, a data mining startup partially funded by the CIA, which is headquartered a few blocks away from the University.

It’s worth noting that as heavy a Google contingent as Stanford produces, they only make up about 3.56% of the company’s total employees:

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Harvard is likened (perhaps uncharitably) to Slytherin, a place full of social climbing where the privileged tend to head to banks, consultancies, and large technology corporations. Many of the same companies as Stanford employ its grads, but McKinsey and Goldman Sachs also make an appearance, giving some support to the characterization:



MIT’s reputation for valuing raw intelligence over anything else earned it a comparison to Ravenclaw.

The school has another outsized Google contingent, as well as a number of people that stick around at the school to work at its famed media lab. Dropbox ends up being a bigger employer than many much larger tech giants, likely because the company’s founders went to the school.

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Caltech has one of the smallest class sizes of these schools, and one of the smartest reputations, so it was tough for Lee to avoid picking Ravenclaw for the school instead of for MIT. But the reputation the school has for producing hard workers helped make Hufflepuff the right choice.

If anything, it lives up to the bookish reputation better than MIT, albeit with a smaller sample size, sending many more people into academia and graduate school, as well as to Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has had a longstanding relationship with the institution.