Posts from hacking education

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.

The First Annual AFSE Fundraiser

AVC folks will know that my first foray into K-12 Computer Science Education work, which has now become almost a second full-time job, was the effort four years ago to open NYC’s first dedicated computer science high school. That high school is called The Academy For Software Engineering (AFSE) and this year they will graduate their first class. Here is Tylor Fields, AFSE’s first student to be accepted to college.

Tylor Fields

There will be many more college acceptances at AFSE over the course of the next few months. And a number of AFSE students will be going on to study computer science in college.

Students at AFSE receive 4 years of computer science courses, opportunities for internships and real work experiences, and 4 years of one-on-one mentoring with professionals in the tech community. 

In addition to graduating its first class this year (with a graduation rate in excess of 90%, which is off the charts for an unscreened high school in the NYC public school system), AFSE is also doing it’s first annual fundraiser this year.

The fundraiser is on February 3 from 7-10pm at Suite36 on 16 W. 36th Street. AFSE is seeking to raise $125,000 which will give the students in the Class of 2017 the following:  

  • Each student is matched with a professional, college-educated mentor from iMentor for all 4 years of high school. This means an email each week, an in-person meeting each month,  and a go-to person for each phase of high school including completing college applications.
  • Each student receives personalized college counseling through junior and senior years, as well as financial support for SAT/ACT exams, public and private college application fees, college visits and college deposits.
  • Each student who is on track for high school graduation but not on track for college graduation is invited to participate in an intensive OneGoal course for the last two years of high school and first year of college.
  • Each student has access to job shadowing, internships, and other work-based learning experiences to build their personal resumes and apply their learning in a real world context.

If you would like to buy a ticket to the event or donate to it, you can do so here.

What Happened In 2015

Last year in my What Just Happened post, I said:

the social media phase of the Internet ended

I think we can go further than that now and say that sometime in the past year or two the consumer internet/social/mobile gold rush ended.

Look  at the top 25 apps in the US:

top 25 apps

The top 6 mobile apps and 8 of the top 9 are owned by Facebook and Google. 10 of the top 12 mobile apps are owned by Apple, Facebook, and Google.

There isn’t a single “startup” on that list and the youngest company on that list is Snapchat which is now over four years old.

We are now well into a consolidation phase where the strong are getting stronger and it is harder than ever to build a large consumer user base. It is reminiscent of the late 80s/early 90s after Windows emerged as the dominant desktop environment and Microsoft started to use that dominant market position to move up the stack and take share in all of the important application categories. Apple and Google are doing that now in mobile, along with Facebook which figured out how to be as critical on your phone as your operating system.

I am certain that something will come along, like the Internet did in the mid 90s, to bust up this oligopoly (which is way better than a monopoly). But it is not yet clear what that thing is.

2015 saw some of the candidates for the next big thing underwhelm. VR is having a hard time getting out of the gates. Wearables and IoT have yet to go mainstream. Bitcoin and the Blockchain have yet to give us a killer app. AI/machine learning has great potential but also gives incumbents with large data sets (Facebook and Google) scale advantages over newcomers.

The most exciting things that have happened in tech in 2015 are happening in verticals like transportation, hospitality, education, healthcare, and maybe more than anything else, finance, where the lessons and playbooks of the consumer gold rush are being used with great effectiveness to disrupt incumbents and shake up industries.

The same is true of the enterprise which also had a great year in 2015. Slack, and Dropbox before it, shows how powerful a consumerish approach to the enterprise can be. But there aren’t many broad horizontal plays in the enterprise and verticals seems to be where most of the action was in 2015.

I’m hopeful that 2015 will also go down as the year we buried the Unicorn. The whole notion that getting a billion dollar price tag on your company was something necessary to matter, to be able to recruit, to be able to get press, etc, etc, is worshiping a false god. And we all know what happens to those who do that.

As I look back over 2014 and 2015, I feel like these two years were an inflection point, where the underlying fundamentals of opportunity in tech slowed down but the capital rushing to get invested in tech did not. That resulted in the Unicorn phase, which if it indeed is over, will be followed by an unwinding phase where the capital flows will need to line up more tightly to the opportunity curve.

I’m now moving into “What Will Happen” which is for tomorrow, so I will end this post now by saying goodbye to 2015 and hopefully to much of the nonsense that came with it.

I did not touch on the many important things that happened outside of tech in 2015, like the rise of terrorism in the western world, and the reaction of the body politic to it, particularly here in the US with the 2016 Presidential campaign getting into full swing. That certainly touches the world of tech and will touch it even more in the future. Again, something to talk about tomorrow.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year and we will talk about the future, not the past, tomorrow.

The Hour Of Code

This is Computer Science Education Week. Two years ago, the folks at code.org organized something called the Hour of Code to help celebrate CS Ed Week. The idea was to encourage schools, students, and really anyone to spend one hour writing code during this week. That first year roughly 10mm people did an hour of code. Two years later, during this week, almost 200,000 different groups will do an Hour Of Code, meaning that something like 50mm people will spend an hour writing code this week.

The point of this is not to turn 50mm people into software engineers. The point is to demystify computer science, make it seem approachable, and most of all encourage schools and students to do more with computer science. The Hour Of Code is the gateway drug to a more comprehensive computer science effort in schools.

I have spent much of this week in NYC schools and with students celebrating CS Ed Week and the Hour Of Code. I thought I would share some of my favorite moments. As you look at these pictures, what I most want you to see is what our software engineers will look like in the near future.

This is Luna Ruiz, a 17 year old student at the Academy Of Software Engineering explaining why she likes coding to Hadi Partovi, the founder of code.org, at an event at the Apple Store in NYC on Tuesday:

This is a classroom in Ditmas Park Brooklyn (central brooklyn) doing an hour of code:

2015-12-08 13.20.24

This is a young man explaining to the School Chancellor Carmen Farina why free software is better than expensive software (possibly my favorite moment of the week):

2015-12-08 13.37.50

This is me and Amina Dualeh (a 12th grader at AFSE) ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq yesterday:

This is a map of all the schools in Brooklyn. The green ones are the ones that did an Hour Of Code this week. If Brooklyn was its own school district it would be one of the top three or four school districts in the country.

codebrooklyn

If you want your students to have this on their whiteboard this week but have not yet done an Hour Of Code I have a suggestion for you.

2015-12-08 13.42.09

If you are a teacher, check out this page on how to get going with an Hour Of Code in your school. It’s actually really easy to do.

Video Of The Week: The Unbundling Of Education

Here’s a talk my partner Albert gave at NYU Stern last year. I hadn’t seen it before. It’s a short (6 1/2 mins) discussion of the unbundling of education, which is a thesis we’ve been investing against at USV for the past half decade and one that we continue to invest against.

Quizlet

There are some investments that take years to make. They are often our best investments. Quizlet took something like five years to go from a company we got interested in to a USV investment.

In March 2009, we hosted an event we called Hacking Education. That was the official start of our focus on education. From that event came a thesis on how we would approach investing in education. We would invest in lightweight services and networks that allowed anyone to learn anything. We would not invest in services sold top down to the existing K-12 and higher education system. We wanted to obliterate, not automate.

We started hunting around for services and networks that fit our thesis. One that caught our attention was Quizlet, the leading web and mobile studying tool. We got an intro through Christina. Eventually Andy got a meeting. We found out that Quizlet had been bootstrapped, was profitable, and was not interested in raising outside capital. But Andy did not take no for an answer. He kept calling on them. He brought me to meet the two Quizlet leaders, Andrew and Dave, in September 2012. We got the same story in that meeting but we did make an impression. We started inviting them to our events in SF and they usually would come. So we kept doing that and kept stoping by to say hi when we were in SF.

Earlier this year Dave called me to say that they were going to raise outside capital. He and Andrew had concluded that the opportunity to build and develop peer to peer learning and studying tools for web and mobile was so large that they could not continue to bootstrap. So we jumped onto the opportunity and threw ourselves at it. That process had a number of fits and starts but we hung in there and eventually the financing came together the way Andrew and Dave wanted it to and we joined our friends at Costanoa, Altos, and Owl in a $12mm Series A round for a ten year old company. Just writing those last few words makes me happy. You don’t see many Series A rounds for ten year old companies. But when you do, they are generally good ones to do.

So what is Quizlet? Well if you have kids in middle, high school, or college, they probably use it. Quizlet is a studying/learning tool written by Andrew Sutherland for his own use ten years ago when he was studying for a french test. He put it out on the web a bit later. He was joined by Dave Margulius who helped him turn Quizlet into a business by implementing an elegant freemium business model. Quizlet is free for anyone to use. But if you want to do certain higher value things, you can pay a small amount every month for access to them.

Quizlet lets anyone create a study set and practice it online and on mobile. And it also allows anyone to use someone else’s study set. Quizlet is peer to peer learning. Over 100mm study sets have been created by users and over 1bn study sessions have been done on Quizlet. Quizlet has been a top ten education app in the mobile app stores for years, a fact I was constantly reminded of every time I went to look at the education category in the years we were chasing this investment.

Here are some examples I just found by searching around:

Just imagine a massively open database of 100mm study sets like that which is growing by the day. And you get why we have been and continue to be so interested in Quizlet.

There are over 7bn learners on planet earth. Within a decade, the vast majority of them will have a mobile device connected to this massively open database of study set which is available for free. These 7bn learners will be able to contribute and consume these study sets. And in the process the world will become more educated and more literate. That is hacking education and that is why USV is so excited to, finally, be an investor in Quizlet.

Code Brooklyn

If Brooklyn were its own city, which it was until 1898, it would be tied with Chicago as the third largest city in the US. It is the largest borough in New York City.

So I am excited that the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is going to announce Code Brooklyn today at PS/MS 282 in Park Slope.

Code Brooklyn is Brooklyn’s effort to get every one of its elementary, middle, and high schools teaching computer science. It is highly complimentary to the City’s effort, announced by Mayor de Blasio earlier this fall, to get computer science into all of the city’s schools over the next ten years. Brooklyn is stepping up and getting out and leading the city in this effort and I’m really pleased to see that.

The signature element of Code Brooklyn is to get all 500 of its public schools to do the Hour Of Code this year during computer science week which is December 7-13th. For that to happen, they will need a ton of parent and community support.

CodeBrooklyn needs volunteers to help run “Hour of Code” activities in schools. This is your chance to inspire in students an interest in computer science. The commitment will take about 2-3 hours of prep time and then about 3-5 hours start-to-finish on the the day of the school’s Hour of Code. You can volunteer at volunteer.codebrooklyn.org – CodeBrooklyn partners NPower and #NYCEDU will match you to a school based on your interest and experience. I hope you’ll you’ll use this opportunity to start a long-term relationship with the school community with which you’re matched or be inspired to volunteer for a CSNYC supported program like TEALS or ScriptEd.

If you would like to get your child’s school involved in Code Brooklyn and the Hour of Code, you should  connect with CodeBrooklyn to find out how to make that happen.

I’d like to thank my friend and occasional AVC community member Rob Underwood for his leadership in the Brooklyn public school community and his passion for getting computer science into our schools. Code Brooklyn would not have happened without him. I’d also like to commend Eric Adams for understanding the power of computer science education to improve the lives of the students and families of Brooklyn and to change the trajectories of their lives and their neighborhoods.

Computer Science For All

Yesterday Mayor de Blasio announced Computer Science For All which is a ten year effort to train 4,775 NYC public school teachers on the fundamentals of computer science and how to teach it to their students. The goal of Computer Science For All is to have computer science teachers and classes in every one of the 1,700 NYC public schools within ten years.

The budget for this effort is $80mm over ten years and includes the costs to train the teachers, run the program which is the largest of its kind in the US, and a rigorous program evaluation which includes regular reporting on progress and impact.

Computer Science For All is a public/private partnership in which the City of New York​ and the NYC Department of Education is putting up $40mm and the private sector is putting up the other $40mm. The founding private sponsors of Computer Science For All are my foundation CSNYC, the Robin Hood Foundation and the AOL Charitable Foundation. To date, we have raised about 30% of the private money, we have our sights on another 20%, and we are looking for individuals, foundations, and corporations who would like to get behind this amazing effort and round out the balance of the private funds. Please reach out to me or my colleague Cindy if you are or know of an individual, foundation, or corporation capable of making a significant gift to this effort.

Teaching computer science to kids is not just about good jobs for the citizens of NYC and building the talent pool for the tech sector in NYC. It is about helping young students develop a new kind of literacy that they will need to lead successful lives in the 21st century world we live in. I called it “learning how to instruct a machine” in this blog post from a few weeks ago. Coding requires a student to deconstruct the problem they are trying to solve into small bits, think and write logically, and problem solve/debug when the instructions don’t work perfectly the first time. These are skills that are critical and transferable to other disciplines. I believe that every K-12 student should encounter the principles and fundamentals of computer science in elementary school, middle school, and high school and I am thrilled that NYC is going to ensure that its public school students get this instruction in the coming years.

If you can’t make a big contribution to the public private partnership but want to help and get involved, here are some things you can do:

  • Help support CSNYC which is NYC’s partner in this ten year effort. We will be raising the private funds, helping to shape the teacher training and curriculum development, and providing governance, evaluation and research around this effort. If you can make a donation to CSNYC, we would very much appreciate it. You can do that here.
  • Volunteer your time to help teach computer science in the NYC public schools. Here are two great ways to do that:
  • Join and attend our meetups. You can join here. And there is a big meetup on October 21 at Google where 30+ CS Ed groups/programs will be there to speak to educators and volunteers.

I will wrap this post with a video the Mayor’s office put out yesterday. It shows the City’s commitment to this effort and lays out the rationale for it. I would like to thank Mayor de Blasio for his courage and conviction to support Computer Science For All. I believe it will turn out to be a signature element of his equity/fairness agenda.