How Hannah Maruyama Built a Six-Figure AI Career Without a College Degree

May 2, 2024
How Hannah Maruyama Built a Six-Figure AI Career Without a College Degree

Hannah Maruyama's journey to a six-figure income in the AI industry is a tale of resilience and unconventional choices. At 29 years old, Hannah has transcended traditional educational pathways to achieve remarkable success in a domain where college degrees are often considered essential.

Born and raised in Georgia, Hannah's initial foray into higher education was uninspiring. She enrolled in classes at Georgia Southern University during high school but soon realized that the traditional college route was not for her. "I remember thinking, 'I'm going to go into debt for this?'" Hannah told CNBC Make It. With that realization, she left college after a few semesters, worried about her future career prospects.

Hannah's career path was anything but straightforward. From working as a lifeguard to bartending and even serving as a deckhand on a dolphin-watching boat, she explored diverse roles but never earned more than $30,000 annually. It wasn’t until a significant move in 2018, when she and her husband Ryan relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii, that her career trajectory took a decisive turn. In Honolulu, they pursued their dream jobs; Hannah became a licensed cosmetic tattoo artist, opening Yama Studios, while Ryan became a firefighter.

The venture into cosmetic tattooing was inspired by a documentary about a Saudi Arabian woman who helped acid attack victims. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought unforeseen challenges, leading to the closure of their tattoo studio. This setback forced Hannah to reconsider her career options, particularly as they faced the financial pressures of dual rent responsibilities in an expensive state.

Undeterred by the lack of a formal degree, Hannah began applying for jobs that did not require college qualifications, emphasizing her eagerness to learn and adapt. "Even if I didn’t meet the educational requirements, I applied and would note in my application or during the interview that I'll learn anything I need to as quickly as I can," she explained. Her persistence paid off, and she soon found herself diving into the world of AI.

Hannah’s journey gained public attention when she started sharing her experiences on TikTok. Her candid posts about finding meaningful work without a college degree resonated with many, attracting around 500,000 views each. This success on social media led to the creation of Degree Free, an online platform dedicated to offering career coaching and educational resources for young people looking to forge their own paths without a college degree.

Today, Degree Free is not just a platform but a testament to Hannah's vision and hard work. In 2023, the platform generated approximately $128,000 in profit through coaching services and brand partnerships. Hannah and her husband share the earnings, which have solidified their financial stability and proven that alternative career paths can indeed lead to success.

Reflecting on her journey, Hannah believes that the traditional notion that success is tied to a college degree is outdated. "Growing up, I was often told that college was the end-all-be-all, that you couldn't be successful without it," she recalls. Yet, her own experiences illustrate that the world offers myriad opportunities for those willing to think differently and seize them.

Hannah Maruyama’s story is not just inspiring but also a crucial reminder of the evolving job landscape, where skills, adaptability, and determination can outweigh traditional educational credentials.

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