Posts from hacking education

Some Thoughts On Workplace Diversity

Intel made news yesterday when they announced a $300mm fund to “to be used in the next three years to improve the diversity of the company’s work force, attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there. The money will be used to fund engineering scholarships and to support historically black colleges and universities.”

The diversity reports coming out of the big tech companies in the past year have shown very little inclusion of african american, latino, and other “underrepresented minorities” in the tech sector’s workforce. And we all know that women are very much unrepresented in the tech sector, particularly at the top levels of leadership.

There are many, including plenty of AVC community members, who will say “so what?”. And there are many who will debate the reasons for this. I don’t think either of these things are particularly debatable. Diversity is a good thing for many reasons. It opens up a company to a multiplicity of ideas, opinions, and connections to the market. And the reasons for this lack of diversity stem from two primary (and related and self reinforcing) things, not enough women and underrepresented minorities setting themselves early enough on a career path in tech and societal biases against tech as a “proper career” for women and underrepresented minorities. These two issues have to be tackled head on and in parallel.

I applaud Intel’s move and the leadership they are showing. I have no doubt that the other big tech companies will follow their leadership in some way.

I have been working on this problem for about five years now, mostly in NYC, and in partnership with many people and many efforts that are doing great work. There are too many to list in this post. There is no shortage of effort and impact. We just need more of it.

If I have one learning and one piece of advice for the big tech companies who are likely going to start making big investments here, it would be to start as young as you can and invest all the way up from there. What I mean by that is look at early childhood education, look at elementary school, look at middle school (this is really important), and look at high school.

While Harvey Mudd has been able to achieve gender balance in its undergraduate computer science program, I think its a big ask of higher education to solve this problem all by themselves. Too many women and underepresented minorities have made decisions that take them off the pathway to a technical career long before they get to college.

I believe the biggest impact we can make is in our K-12 system, where kids first find their passions, figure out what they are good at, and start learning the skills that will set them on their way. We need to invest in STEM (or STEAM) programs that work in the K-12 system, we need to overinvest in targeting them at young women and underrepresented minorities, and we need to sustain these efforts from elementary school, through middle school, into high school, and we need to guide these young people to a pathway that can give them challenging work and a good income throughout their careers.

The guide part is important. I’ve met a ton of guidance counselors and parents who don’t think “this is the right path” for someone, when it clearly is. That’s part of the societal bias at work. I don’t think we can change the societal biases without creating role models and we can’t create role models without opening up opportunities more broadly for the underrepresented. That is why we have to attack these two issues in parallel.

I will end with the observation that there are many terrific people and organizations working on these problems and having a big impact but in a few small pockets. We need to invest in them and help them scale. This problem is being solved already and the strategies and tactics are fairly well known and validated. We don’t need to invent new things for the most part. We just need to find, fund, and support.

If anyone out there wants to get involved in doing that, you can reach out to me and I will point you in the right directions.

College and Entrepreneurship

After I tweeted out a link to yesterday’s post, I had this twitter exchange:

I took some time today to look through our portfolio and estimate the percentage.

I believe 21 founders out of a total of 72 that we have backed in the history of USV did not graduate from college. That’s about 30%.

However, I believe 17 founders have advanced degrees, including a few PhDs. So roughly a quarter of the founders we’ve backed have invested heavily in their higher education.

There are no specific credentials required to get funded by USV or most other VC firms. You need to be credible as an entrepreneur. That means being able to see, recruit, make, and sell. If you can do that, and if you can prove you can do that to investors, you’ve got a great shot at getting funded.

Holiday Giving

Every year at this time of the year, my office piles up with gifts that people send me. I don’t drive back and forth to work so it’s not easy for me to bring them home. So a big pile builds up and sometime in January or February, I get a big bag, come in on the weekend, and pick everything up and bring it home. As you can imagine reading this, I get annoyed by this. I know the gifts are sent with the best intentions. But sadly they are not received that way.

What I would massively prefer is a donation be made instead.

– Back a Kickstarter.

– Or participate in the Crowdrise Holiday Challenge (which The Gotham Gal and I helped make happen).

– Or help a teacher on DonorsChoose.

If you are in the giving mood, I have a specific suggestion. CSNYC, our non-profit that funds computer science classes in the NYC public schools, has a holiday wish list up on Crowdrise.

If you want to see a map of what CSNCY is funding, you can see that here.

Our wishlist was built with our existing donor pool in mind and AVC readers might find the specific asks a bit steep. So if you don’t find any of our wishes to your liking you can make a donation of any size here:

Fundraising Websites – Crowdrise

Attention All Software Engineers: Please Volunteer During The Hour Of Code

The Hour Of Code is a great hack that introduces coding to students in K-12 schools all around the country. Most schools don’t have CS teachers and CS classes. But any teacher in any classroom in any school can find one hour to get their students in front of a computer writing code. And so that’s what the hour of code does. Last year 15mm students did an hour of code. Think about that for a second. 15mm students wrote code for an hour last year. That’s a gateway to something more for the students, teachers, and schools. Which is exactly the point.

The Hour Of Code happens during CS Ed week which is December 8-14 this year. And the numbers are going to be even bigger this year. And so here is my throwdown to all of the software engineers and coders and hackers out there. Please take an hour out of your work week and go to a school and code with the students. It’s one thing for a teacher and her kids to code for an hour. It’s entirely another for them to do that with a real life software engineer.

There are many ways that you can do that, but here’s an easy one:

The TEALS program, a CSNYC grantee, is organizing an effort to bring tech industry professionals into schools to help lead Hour Of Code activities during Computer Science Education Week. The volunteers will give career talks and then help students with their first programming experience. If you want to volunteer, or know a school that should host a volunteer, visit tealsk12.org/hourofcode to sign up.

And finally, here’s a 3min video of a teacher who works in an all boys public middle/high school in the Bronx talking about CS, his students, coding, and the importance of role models in the classroom. Please watch it. It’s inspiring.

Orbital Boot Camp

One of the things I am most proud of is the alumni group at USV. It is an outstanding group of men and women who have gone on to do some awesome things. We don’t have a career trajectory at USV. We bring talented people in for a while, we learn from them and they learn from us, and then they head out into the world and do great things.

One of these alums is Gary Chou. Everyone who has met Gary knows he is an incredible person. He is generous to a fault. Which is an asset in my book. He is also very talented. He operates at the epicenter of making, coding, designing, building, and managing product. And I mean product in the broadest sense.

The product Gary has been making for the past year is Orbital, which is in three floors of a tenement on Rivington Street which formerly housed our portfolio company Kickstarter. It’s a space with excellent karma. What Gary has built at Orbital is a school where people can learn skills from those who have mastered them. But it’s not a typical school. It is also a place talented people work and meet and collaborate on projects. Everything is highly considered and curated at Orbital. Gary is not maximizing for revenue. He is maximizing for soul. I do not use that world lightly but in this case it is true.

Right now Orbital is hosting the fall semester of the School for Poetic Computation, which is an awesome thing. Click on the link and check it out.

And this winter, Orbital will be doing the second Orbital Bootcamp, which is a “twelve week course to help you launch your side project”. Gary wrote about Orbital Boot Camp here and I would encourage you to read his post if this is at all interesting to you. Applications are due Monday, December 8th at 11:59pm.  If you or someone you know has a project that they’ve been meaning to launch, they should consider applying.

Finally, Gary is running a Crowdrise campaign to fund scholarships because not everyone who should be in this bootcamp can afford the $4500 it costs to attend Orbital Boot Camp. I donated and maybe you will too. The Crowdrise is here.

A Great Job At CSNYC

As many of you know, CSNYC is  a non-profit I helped start a few years ago along with some colleagues. We are attempting to bring computer science education to the 1.1 million children in the NYC Public School system.

The organization is still quite small but has been growing slowly and steadily since we formed it. There are five or six people working at CSNYC depending on if you count people working on it part time.

We are doing a lot with a small crew and this year there will be over 100 public schools in NYC (high school, middle school, and even a few elementary schools) with CSNYC funded classes in them. We do this by partnering with the very best computer science programs around the country and funding them to come to NYC and train teachers and get their curriculum into classrooms.

We also do a bunch of other things and possibly the most impactful of all the things we do is community development. We run meetups and other events to bring NYC public school teachers (and other teachers too) together to talk about how they are using computer science and programming in their classrooms.

Our largest meetup, the CSNYC Education Meetup, has almost 600 teachers in it and has quadrupled in size in the past year. My great hope is it will quadruple in size again this year. Each monthly meetup has a theme, such as Careers in Computing, CS Across Disciplines, Showcase of teacher resources and student work, etc. There is a meetup today actually. It is a meetup today about Teaching the Next Generation of Tech, a symposium led by panelists from ScriptEd, TEALS, AFSE and Flatiron School. Anyone who is interested in learning more about CSNYC, the programs we fund, our teacher meeetups, or teaching computer science to K-12 students is welcome to attend.

So that is a long lead-in to this job opportunity. We have opened another job at CSNYC and this role will be dedicated to running and coordinating all of our meetups, our events, and our communications efforts, including our website and social media efforts. The job posting is here.

This is a great opportunity for the right person. You will get to meet and work with hundreds of teachers who are embracing computer science and bringing it into their schools and classrooms. The right person will enjoy meeting new people, and will be organized, web savvy, and passionate about the CSNYC mission. If you are all of that, and more, please send an email to [email protected].

And if you know someone who would be great at this job, please send an email to [email protected].

This is an important effort that is doing great work and I’m proud to have been part of making it happen. If you would like to support it financially, you can do so here.

Freemium In Education

We’ve been investing in the education sector for a few years now. We started our exploration of online education in early 2009 with an event called Hacking Education. The takeaways from that event have informed a lot of what we’ve invested in since then.

One of the key takeaways was that learning could and should become free. Our friend Bing Gordon said this at Hacking Education:

From an economic point of view, I would say the goal… is to figure out how to get education down to a marginal cost of zero. 

We have invested with Bing in online education. Bing and his partners at KP led the most recent round in our portfolio company DuoLingo. DuoLingo is the most popular language learning mobile app in the world. And one of the reasons for that is that DuoLingo is free.

So you might ask “how can you make money giving away a learning app?” This past week DuoLingo answered that question with the commercial release of the DuoLingo Test Center.

The DuoLingo Test Center is currently free but it won’t be for long. Give it a try if you’d like to see how it works. Once the DuoLingo Test is accepted at schools and employers, the company plans to charge $20 to take its test.

There’s an established incumbent (monopoly) in this market called TOEFL. If you’ve come to the US to study, you’ve probably taken this test. It’s a lot more expensive than $20 per test and DuoLingo is out to prove it can do this testing less expensively and better.

But what this example shows is something more than how one company plans to monetize its free app. It’s a model for freemium in online eduction. Provide the education for free but charge for the certification (testing). This is a very elegant implementation of freemium as its an easy on ramp and the customers who get the most value are the ones who pay.

I am pretty sure this will become the dominant monetization model in online education. We are already seeing it emerge in other sectors. A number of the attendees at Hacking Education predicted this over five years ago. It made sense to me then and it makes even more sense to me now.

Reading Rainbow

If you were a child growing up in the 80s and 90s, you probably remember Reading Rainbow, a PBS television show that encouraged kids to read.

Well Reading Rainbow is back as a tablet app and is headed into homes and classrooms. The actor and now entrepreneur LeVar Burton is behind the resurgence of Reading Rainbow.

And LeVar is financing this new version of Reading Rainbow with a Kickstarter campaign that is its final stage (32 hours to go).

The initial goal of the campaign was $1mm and when they hit that in the first few days, LeVar raised it to $5mm and as of right now, they are about $300k short.

I backed this project a while ago and I think it is fantastic. I encourage everyone from AVC to check it out and back it if you are so inclined.