In 1950, the American Dream looked like a white picket fence and a collared shirt, but what does it look like in 2011? It could be in iPod, a Live Strong bracelet, or a YouTube video. But, if Gen Y had to pick a person – or group of people – to stand in for their vision of the American Dream, there is perhaps no better emblem than the social media mogul: young, smart, entrepreneurs who are millionaires before they turn thirty. While Mark Zuckerberg – creator of Facebook – might`ve been the most recognizable face in social media in the first decade of the new millennia, two new young men have burst onto the scene: Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo – the co-founders of question and answer site Quora. Smart and driven, these two young men have launched a successful start up. What is their story, and could they be the new face of the American Dream?

Charlie Cheever

With his dirty blonde hair and defined cheek bones, Charlie Cheever looks like the typical all American boys. Except, instead of baseball cards, Cheever collected computer knowledge. He graduated from Harvard with an AB in Computer Science. After graduation, he went on to work at Amazon – not bad for a 24 year old. But, a job many would consider their “big break” was only a warm-up for Cheever; the big stuff was yet to come. In 2005, he was sent an email by Facebook, recruiting his talents. At first, Cheever ignored the request.

Not only was he unsure whether or not Facebook – still growing at that time – was a legit company, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to work for people younger than himself. However, when Cheever went to a party in Seattle, he ran into two old Friends: Dave Fetterman and Andrew Bosworth. They were both quitting their jobs with Microsoft to go work for Facebook. It was the push Cheever needed, and by the end of the night, he replied to the Facebook email, accepting an interview. Cheever ultimately got the job, accepted the offer, and moved from his job at Amazon to work for Facebook. It was in the Facebook offices, where he worked as an engineer and manager, that Cheever would meet Adam D’Angelo.

Adam D’Angelo

High school can be the worst time of your left, or, the world’s best networking opportunity. D’Angelo met Mark Zuckerberg while attending the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire. He helped Zuckerberg with Facebook while he earned a degree in computer science from Cal Tech. Never has staying in touch been such a good career move. With his boyish face and slim frame, D’Angelo might’ve looked like any other computer geek, but he was quickly becoming one of the top names in social media development and technology. By the time he met Cheever, he was Facebook’s first CTO.

The Pairing

It’s hard to imagine conversations behind the scenes at Facebook between 2006-2009. Young computer whizzes – mostly men – sitting in the same office creating the biggest internet phenomena of the decade. However, somewhere between programming and coffee breaks, D’Angelo and Cheever formed a bond. Or, at least, we assume they did. Details about their personal partnership are sparse, but what is clear is that they both dreamed big – not just in terms of paycheck but in terms of responsibility. In an interview with Venture Beat in January of 2011 – before the site went public, when it really was “starting up” – D’Angelo said: “When companies get big, they slow down. They’re not as exciting. If you want to get something done, it takes a lot of time and a lot of meetings.”

And, nobody likes meetings, so whether they’ve ever said it or not, Cheever and D’Angelo – always looking forward – were thinking: what next? What would excite them? Challenge them?

The answer was questions. Cheever claims the idea was pretty simple, “I’d catch myself at every point in the day when I wanted to know something and I tried to imagine what life would be like if that information was available… Most of the important things fit into the [Facebook, Twitter, etc.] model. But there is no real place for all the stuff you think about,” he says. “So we decided to make one.”

So, they did. With brains, connections and drive, the two set out to create a “knowledge base” and that knowledge base is Quora – a constantly growing user generated collection of questions and answers. The site was first launched in June 2009 with a private beta version going live in December 2009; this was followed by a full public launch in June 2010. By December 2010, Quora was generating an immense amount of buzz, seeing 5-10 times as much traffic as the previous month, and by early 2011, the site’s estimated worth was more than a billion dollars.

Gen Y’s American Dream

So, what about this story could potentially make Cheever and D’Angelo the face of the new American Dream? From Gaga to Glee, people might think of Gen Y in terms of its consumption habits, but nothing is as definitive for the generation as social media has been. Constant, mobile, interaction is the corner stone of Gen Y. But, do creators of social media sites matter?

They really really do. Cheever and D’Angelo’s story defines a generation – a generation that believes that smarts, drive, and connections equal success. A generation that believes in being rich before you’re thirty. A generation that believes in YouTube sensations, reality television stars, and networking. In short, Gen Y is a generation that believes in their ideas and their dreams (for better or for worse), and there is no better example taking an idea and turning it into a reality than Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever’s Quora.