Posts from hacking education

AFSE Commencement Speech

Four and a half years ago, in January 2012, I announced on this blog that New York City was opening a new high school called the Academy For Software Engineering (AFSE).

Yesterday, AFSE graduated its first class. 110 of the 120 students who enrolled four years ago made it to graduation. And each and every one of these students took four years of computer sciences classes on their way from enrollment to graduation. It was a proud day for me as it was for them and their families.

Seung Yu, AFSE’s founding and current school principal, asked me to give the commencement speech. That was an instant yes.

So I stood in front of the graduates yesterday and talked about three things that have helped me in my professional life.

Here is the draft I wrote. As I got into it, I ad libbed a fair bit, but this is certainly the gist of what I said to the graduates yesterday:

Now for some parting advice for all of you graduating seniors. Listen up, I am going to tell you my secrets of success in business. This speech isn’t really about your family life. I could go on and on about that too but I would just say that you need a balance between your work life and your family life. You need to focus on both and they support each other. A healthy home life makes for a healthy work life. You need both.

So with that, I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things, take risks, work hard, and get lucky.

You are all risk takers. You chose AFSE as eighth graders when the school literally did not exist. I remember what it was like back then. Parents would tell me “I can’t send my child to a school that doesn’t exist”. Guidance counselors would say “I can’t recommend that school to my students” I would hear people say things like “girls can’t go to a school like that” or “you can’t teach coding skills to every student”. And I am sure you heard the same things. But you came anyway. And standing here today, I will tell you that you attended and graduated from one of the top 25 high schools in NYC. I don’t know if there are actual rankings, but it is my belief that if you measure high schools on things like attendance, graduation rate, regents scores, AP scores, SAT scores, colleges attended, and reputation, AFSE would be an elite high school. One of the very best. And you went there and graduated from there. You took a big risk and it paid off for you. Keep doing that.

I have taken a bunch of risks in my life. I grew up in an army family and I broke ranks and decided not to go to West Point where my dad and his dad went. Instead I went to MIT, even though my parents could not afford to send me there. I worked in a research lab and sold donuts and coffee every morning to pay my way through MIT. I followed my wife Joanne and moved to NYC after college when my dad told me it was too expensive to live here. I went to business school and paid my way by teaching computers to my classmates. I took at job in venture capital when nobody knew what that was instead of going to work on wall street with the rest of my classmates. When the Internet emerged in the mid 90s, I left my safe job and started a new venture capital firm after my wife Joanne had quit her job to raise our three kids. When the Internet blew up and we lost most of our money, I started another venture capital firm and spent almost two years flying around the country spending money we really didn’t have trying to convince people to give me money again to invest in the Internet. I invested in social media when people said you could never make money in it. I invested in crowdfunding when people said that nobody would do that. I invested in Etsy when people said you could not compete with eBay. All of those risks paid off. Every single one of them. Thankfully my wife Joanne backed me every single time when I wanted to take those risks. She believed in me and believed in those bets. She hung in there when times were tough and made it possible for me to take these chances. We are an example of what happens when you hang together and take risks together.

I am not suggesting you take silly risks. I am suggesting you take calculated risks. Each and every time I took a risk there were people telling me not to do it. I listened to them. I did not disregard their advice lightly. I thought about it. And many times I have decided not to take a risk. But when, after listening and carefully considering the risks, my gut tells me to take a risk, i do it.

And then once you do that you have to work your ass off. I get up every morning at 5am. I have worked half a day by the time I get to the office at 9am. I still do that at age 55 when I have no need to anymore. It is what I do. I work hard. Because if you are going to take these risks, you have to work hard to make them pay off. This is not the lottery. You don’t just buy a ticket and sit back and see what happens. You take a risk and you work every day to make sure it comes through for you.

You all have worked hard. You have studied for the regents, the AP exams, the SATs, you have learned hard things like writing software. You have seen that hard work pays off. Keep working hard. It’s the only way to get somewhere.

But taking risks and working hard is not enough. You have to get lucky too. Luck is not just catching a lucky break. You have to be able to recognize it as such. You have to prepare your mind to recognize the lucky break when it comes your way. The Internet emerging as a massive financial opportunity in the mid 90s was my biggest lucky break. But I had put myself in a position to take advantage of that lucky break by deciding to work in venture capital ten years before that, by working hard to get better at my craft, and by paying close attention to the emerging areas of technology. I saw the Internet for what it was long before most people did. That was my luckiest break but I also knew it and jumped on it.

Everyone gets lucky breaks in their life. I can’t tell you when your lucky breaks will come. But I can tell you that they will come. You must be able to see them for what they are, you must be in a position to act on them, and you must not miss them. Pay attention, look carefully, and be prepared for your lucky breaks.

So that’s it. That’s my secret for a happy and productive career. Take risks, work hard, and get lucky. You have already done all three. Keep doing it.

A Nice Way To Celebrate Memorial Day

In addition to remembering those who gave their lives serving our country today, it’s also a nice thing to assist those who made it home and are transitioning to civilian life.

I just backed a Kickstarter project which is attempting to rase the funds to build a “digital library” of educational videos to assist veterans in obtaining the necessary skills to transition to a job in the high growth tech sector.

Here’s the project video. Check it out and if you like the idea as much as I do, hopefully you can support it.

Feature Friday: Learn To Code on an iPhone

Hopscotch is a visual programming environment, like Scratch or Blockly, that runs on an iPhone.

If your kids like to grab your phone and watch videos or play games on it, put Hopscotch on your phone and encourage them to make games instead of just playing them.

Here’s a piece from Wired that explains how it works (with some screen shots) and why it is so cool.

You might ask, why should my kids learn to code? And there are many great answers to that but I always like to answer that question by reminding people that instructing machines what to do is becoming an important life skill. And it will only get more important in the coming years. So getting your kids comfortable doing that at a young age is a great thing and Hopscotch is a great way to do that.

Help Teach A High School Computer Science Class

I have written about TEALS here many times. TEALS is a program where software engineers volunteer and support high school teachers who have limited or no computer science background so that their schools can offer computer science, and eventually continue the program without volunteer support. In its third year in NYC, TEALS supports 20 teachers in 19 high schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Queens. Last year, 7 NYC TEALS teachers reached “hand off,” a milestone indicating they can continue teaching independently or with diminished support. To learn more about TEALS, visit their website.

If you are interested in doing this next year (Sep 16-Jun 17), you can attend an info session. The next one is in Brooklyn on Wednesday, May 11th:

Brooklyn, NY:
May 11th, 2016 6:30 – 8:30pm
Williamsburg Preparatory High School
257 North 6th Street (Brooklyn)
REGISTER HERE

Many AVC readers have done this over the last three years. And I’ve heard from many of them that it is a very rewarding way to give back and help build a more diverse pipeline of software engineering talent here in NYC. I hope you will consider doing it this year.

MIT Digital Currency Initiative

My alma mater is doing some really good work in the area of digital currencies. MIT, via its Media Lab, has built something called the Digital Currency Initiative. The basic idea of the DCI is to bring together researchers and scientists from all over the world and from many different disciplines (cryptography, economics, privacy, distributed systems, etc) to collaborate on research and efforts to promote and develop digital currency and distributed ledger technologies. This is a institute wide initiative at MIT though its center of gravity is in the Media Lab.

Earlier this week, MIT’s DCI announced a $900,000 Bitcoin Developer Fund. The Gotham Gal and I were one of the financial backers of this fund which will pay the salaries of developers who work on the open source codebase that is at the core of the Bitcoin protocol. It is important to note that as a financial backer of this fund, we do not have any influence over these developers. That is true for all of the financial backers. In the true sense of “academic freedom” the Bitcoin Developer Fund has a “hands off” approach to the developers it supports. This quote is from the announcement:

The establishment of this fund enables us to offer positions in a neutral academic environment. This allows developers like Wlad, Cory and Gavin to work on code and develop new ideas that may be controversial, but can do so with the assurance that they won’t be fired for diversity of thought.

I would love to see this fund grow in size over time and be able to support a larger group of computer scientists and developers to work on forks of Bitcoin and other digital currencies like Ethereum. Diversity of thought is badly needed in this important new technology sector and we don’t have enough of it right now.

While I’m on the topic of diversity, DCI also announced $100,000 in “diversity scholarships” this week. Here are the details:

The MIT Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) is excited to announce more than $100,000 in scholarships and support for underrepresented minorities and women to attend Consensus 2016: Making Blockchain Real. In collaboration with CoinDesk, a news site specializing in bitcoin and digital currencies, the DCI will be selecting 50 Consensus Scholars to attend the event on May 2–4 in New York City. This will be our second year collaborating on a scholarship effort for the conference–we are excited to continue to foster a more diverse community of attendees at Consensus. Click here to apply!

If you are a woman or a minority with an interest in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other blockchain related technologies, you should apply for one of these 50 scholarships at the link above.

I am pleased by and proud of MIT’s efforts in this area. Entrepreneurs and investors are doing a lot to move the state of the blockchain technology sector forward, but there is a big role to be played by the world of academia. And MIT is certainly doing its part.

Path Forward

Our portfolio company Return Path built a “returnship” program a few years ago to help stay at home moms and other men and women who have left the work force to take care of children, sick parents, etc figure out how to get back into the workforce. This program, which involves a 20 week paid internship and a bunch of training in new tools and technologies, has been incredibly successful at Return Path where they have run several cohorts and hired many of the interns into full time positions.

Recently Return Path started helping other tech companies start these returnship programs. They found that these companies had similar success with it.

So this week Return Path spun out the team, the systems, and the curriculum into a new non-profit called Path Forward. The Gotham Gal, who has written a lot about the challenges women face in getting back into careers they temporarily left, will be joining the Board and helping them grow this new effort. She wrote a bit about it on her blog yesterday. And Fortune has a great piece on Path Forward too.

This topic has been near and dear to our family for a long time. Our daughter Emily wrote her college thesis, Life Sequencing: A Viable Solution To Work-Life Conflict For High-Achieving Women, on this topic and her work has further encouraged us to work on this issue.

If you have a company in NY, CA, or CO (they are starting in those three states) that would like to start doing returnships, go to Path Forward and fill out this form. If you are ready to restart your career after taking time off, go to Path Forward and complete this form.

And if you think this is awesome and want to support Path Forward financially, go to Crowdrise and hit the big donate button.

ScriptEd Internships

One of the questions I get a lot from people about our K12 Computer Science Education work is “where are the pathways to a job?” and right now there aren’t enough of them. Some of it is that not enough students have the skills that employers want in an employee or an intern. But some of it is that we haven’t built enough of these pathways. We are fixing both of these issues and I am very confident that within a few years we will have thousands of students a year in NYC that have the appropriate skills to get a software engineering job or internship and we will also have built the programs to connect these students with these employers and these jobs.

But in the interim there is ScriptEdScriptEd creates pathways to careers in tech for youth at under-resourced high schools. In 30 schools around the city, students take a year-long class which covers HTML, CSS, and Javascript and is taught by software developers who volunteer their time twice weekly. ScriptEd also offers an Advanced Class for second- and third-year students, hosted at companies around the city.

One of the most unique and impactful components of ScriptEd’s work is their internship program. In the summers, students put their skills to work in paid internships at companies like About.com, Rent the Runway and Thrillist. This year, ScriptEd aims to place over 120 highly qualified interns, giving these students real-life opportunities to launch careers in tech.

This is where you come in: ScriptEd is growing fast and has many qualified students seeking internship opportunities. In order to expand the internship program, they need to find new companies to host student interns. ScriptEd is looking to partner with companies with at least 40 NYC-based employees and at least 3-4 developers on staff. Companies commit to host students for 5 weeks, from July 11th to August 12th, to pay students a stipend, and to provide mentorship as the students work on projects.

Participation in ScriptEd’s internship program is an investment in NYC’s tech community. This is a concrete way for companies to help create a larger, more diverse tech talent pipeline, all while offering students a life-changing opportunity.

In addition to contribution to a long-term solution to the tech talent shortage, there are immediate returns on company investment:

  • Employee Development: 87% of volunteer teachers say they are better at their jobs as a result of volunteering with ScriptEd.

  • Past internship partners report that team members working with interns gain management skills, critical experience learning how to explain technical concepts clearly in plain English, and exposure to diversity.

  • Employee Retention: 91% of ScriptEd’s volunteer teachers feel that they have made a significant and meaningful impact on their students’ lives. Internship partners report that team members enjoy the creative outlet of working on new and interesting projects with the students, and feel pride in sharing their passion for technology with the next generation.

To learn more about ScriptEd internships or sign up to host, contact Kate Holzman at kate@scripted.org. You can also check out their Internship Brochure and Annual Report.

#BestSchoolDay

Something amazing is happening today.

A philanthropic “flash mob” is closing out projects on DonorsChoose in states and cities around the US in a single day. The event is being called BestSchoolDay and over fifty philanthropists, actors, athletes, and entrepreneurs are kicking the day off with their commitments which collectively close out about half of the open projects on DonorsChose.

The best part is everyone can join in. If you want to join this flash mob and close out the projects in your school, neighborhood, or more, head on over to DonorsChoose and join in. Your contribution will be leveraged by Sergey Brin and Brian Acton who have committed to match over $3mm of project funding that happens on BestSchoolDay. If we can close out all of projects on DonorsChoose today, we will raise almost $30mm in a single day for classroom projects around the US.

The Gotham Gal and I are participating in this because we want to help the teachers, the unsung heroes of the education system, who get up every day and bring all that they have into the classroom to help students learn and grow. DonorsChoose is an incredible resource for teachers to get the things they need to help their students. The Gotham Gal is closing out all the classroom projects in Montgomery County Maryland where she went to middle school and high school. And I am closing out all the classroom projects in Orange County, NY where I went to middle school and high school.

If you want to see this event unfolding live, check out BestSchoolDay which has a live map of the projects being closed out.

BestSchoolDay is a call to action for people across America to support classrooms in need. By funding so many books, art supplies, field trips, and other resource requests, this act of mass philanthropy sends a message: students in every community deserve the materials and experiences they need to learn. The Gotham Gal and I are excited to be part of this call to action and we hope that others will join in to make this a very special day for teachers and students.

Become A CSNYC Founding Partner

Three years ago, I co-founded the nonprofit organization CSNYC to address the extreme scarcity of computer science education in the NYC public schools. I am proud to say that we are now reaching nearly 10% of the city’s schools and more than 12,000 students. But our mission is to reach every school and every student.

In September 2015, Mayor de Blasio and I announced Computer Science For All (CS4All), a 10-year, $81 million plan to bring computer science education to every student in New York City public schools. The costs of CS4All will be shared equally between the city and private philanthropy, and CSNYC and Robin Hood have each committed $5 million to get the initiative off the ground.

As leaders in the local technology community, we collectively have the potential to support what will be the largest scaling of access to computer science education in the country. Early, meaningful access to computer science can change students’ educational lives and create pathways to future educational and career opportunities. These students are our future employees.

I am reaching out to NYC tech companies to help fund CSNYC’s ongoing efforts by committing to an annual membership of between $5,000 and $25,000. As a CSNYC Founding Partner, you will support our work in the schools and enable us to connect your company to employee engagement opportunities, internship programs, and more.

csnycpartnersPlease consider joining this distinguished group of companies: About.com, AppNexus, Bitly, Clarifai, Contour Ventures, Etsy, Facebook, HyperScience, Insight Venture Partners, Justworks, Kickstarter, MongoDB, Nestio, Postlight, Resy, Return Path, Simulmedia, Tapad, Techstars, Tusk Ventures, Warby Parker, and Yext. I am hopeful that we can add your company to this list.  

If you are interested in joining as a CSNYC Founding Partner email us and we will follow up with you directly, or you can simply fill out our online membership form.

The CS Opportunity Fair

On April 7th at the Armory inWashington Heights, we will host the third annual CS Opportunity Fair which exposes career opportunities in computer science and software engineering in NYC to over 2,000 NYC high school students who are studying computer science this year.

If you work at or run a tech company in NYC, we want your company represented at the fair. We want you to host a booth and bring colleagues so that the students can see and talk to people working in tech companies in NYC. We have over fifty NYC tech companies already committed to come but we need a lot more. It’s a five hour commitment, 9:30-2:30, but it will make a big difference in our ongoing effort to open up tech jobs to a much broader range of talent and bring much needed diversity to the tech sector in NYC and around the US.

The CS Fair also showcases colleges from around the region and the country where students can continue their computer science education as well as extra curricular programs students can enroll in to further their studies.

I hope I have convinced you to get involved in this fantastic event. If so, here are the links you need.

CS Fair website

To register to host a booth

To email for more information on the fair

To email for information on becoming a sponsor

I plan to be at the fair for the entire event and I hope I will see you and your colleagues there.

And props to AVC regular Kirk Love for his work on the CS Fair artwork and website. Thanks Kirk.