Posts from October 2017

AP Computer Science Exams In NYC

The NYC Department Of Education announced yesterday that almost 4,000 high school students took an AP Computer Science exam in the school year that ended in June. This news was part of a larger announcement that total NYC students taking AP exams increased 7.5% last year to almost 50,000.

The NYC public school system is the largest school system in the country with about 1.1mm students, about one third of which are in high school. So moving the needle in a system that big is hard but when you do it, you can really have an impact.

The AP CS news was particularly gratifying to me as I have been working for most of this decade to get computer science broadly offered in the NYC public school system. I see this work as an important investment in the children of NYC and in the NYC economy and business community too.

When I started this work, about 600-700 students from the NYC public school system would take the AP CS exam each year. And most of them were from the top schools in the system (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech). That number slowly grew, to 926 students in 2015, and to 1,137 in 2016.

So what happened this year to cause an almost 4x expansion in one year?

Well first and foremost, the The College Board added a second AP CS exam, called AP Principles of Computer Science. That opened up the AP CS population to students who are not deeply skilled/schooled in Java (which is a big part of the AP CS exam).

But equally important, the CS4All program in NYC, which is bringing CS to every school and supporting 40 middle schools and 40 high schools to offer full multi year programs in CS, is starting to kick in. Over 90,000 NYC public school students studied CS in their school last year. That is starting to have an impact.

So where do we go from here? Well I expect we will see over 10,000 NYC students take an AP CS exam within another few years and that number will get even larger before the ten year CS4All program is fully deployed in 2025.

We are also seeing the AP CS test taking population starting to more closely mirror the demographics of the NYC public school system. More girls are taking it. More black and hispanic students are taking it.

AP CS exams put students on a path to attend college and study CS. They will do that in NYC where the local colleges, including CUNY, are upping their CS game significantly. And they will do that at leading engineering schools around the country.

And that, in the end, leads to a more diverse set of skilled talent for our economy, both locally in NYC and around the US, in the coming years. And god knows we need that. Badly.

CS4All is a public private partnership between the city government which is putting up half the funds for it and private donors who are putting up the other half in a $40mm capital campaign that I chair. If you know of a person, a foundation, or a company that would like to support this work, please have them contact me or my colleague Jennifer Klopp who is the Director of the CS4all Capital Campaign. We will gladly come talk to them about our work and how they can support it.

Swinging For The Fences

A number of our portfolio companies use scoring systems to prioritize projects on their roadmaps. I like this one called RICE (reach, impact, confidence, effort). There are similar versions of this out there. The important thing about these systems is that you need to include probability of success in your analysis. Just looking at effort and impact isn’t enough.

But one thing I’ve seen about these scoring systems is that they can lead your team to do lots of low and medium impact things that have a very high probability of working.

I generally would like to see our portfolio companies taking at least one or two big swings a year. These are high impact, often high effort, and often low confidence. They don’t score that well as a result.

But if you aren’t going for it with at least some of your resources, you can get mired in a rut of small wins and that can be a problem for your growth trajectory, morale, and overall business mojo.

So while I like it when our portfolio companies use scoring systems, I generally suggest they add a requirement to take at least one big swing a year. Over the course of several years, they will get at least one of these right and it can make a huge impact on the business.

The Conversational Pitch

Lately I have noticed an increase in entrepreneurs coming into USV (or videoing into USV) and talking to us about their business without the use of a deck.

I don’t know what to make of that to be honest.

But I like it for a bunch of reasons.

It allows for more conversation and less presentation.

It also shows that a founder or a team can talk about their business intelligently without the “crutch” of a deck.

I am NOT recommending that anyone take this approach. I like to see our portfolio companies use decks when they raise rounds and we help them improve these decks as part of helping with the fundraise process.

But as a receiver of pitches, I do like the unscripted conversation.

It tells me a lot about the team.

Locked and Unlocked Phones

We landed in Vietnam yesterday and immediately got a text from TMobile that they don’t offer data roaming in Vietnam. They do offer basic voice and SMS.

So we bought two 10GB data only SIM cards in the airport for 300,000 dong (about $13 US) each.

I took out my TMobile SIM of my Google Pixel and inserted the 10GB SIM and was good to go. I can use data for voice and messaging so the data only thing is no big deal to me.

I did the same on the Gotham Gal’s iPhone and after going through a restart of some sort it reported that the SIM card was not supported on the phone. I suspect her iPhone, which she got from TMobile a couple years ago, is locked.

So she’s doing the voice and SMS only thing and I’m roaming on a super cheap data plan.

I know I’ve written about this issue dozens of times here at AVC but I find the idea that the phone provider can somehow dictate what SIM you put into it is nuts.

I also know that it’s easy to buy an unlocked iPhone these days and it is easy to get an iPhone unlocked post purchase. But even so, it seems crazy that this is how the phone market works in this day and age.

Our friends who we are traveling with are on a different carrier, either ATT or Verizon I suspect, and they too are not getting data roaming in Vietnam from their provider.

So if you plan to travel to Vietnam from the US, bring an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card at the airport. The coverage and speed on my data only SIM is great so far and it seems like a bargain, like most everything here in Vietnam which is an amazing country.

Video Of The Week: Tesla Powerwall

I am obsessed with the Tesla power wall product. We are getting them for the properties we own where we have solar.

This video below explains how the power wall works in combination with solar panels, the grid, and your electrical usage.

I particularly like this screen shot from the Tesla app that shows the power flows between the four systems:

Anyway, if you are as into this stuff as I am, you will enjoy this video.

Fun Friday: Jet Lag

I always struggle with jet lag but the Asia trip kills me like no other.

I’ve heard all sorts of suggestions like work out as soon as you arrive, swim every morning, start getting on Asia time a few days before you leave, and take Melatonin or even stronger drugs.

I have tried most of those suggestions over the years and while I feel like they all work to some degree I’ve come to the conclusion that it just takes time.

We are three days in and I’m hoping the worst is over.

Of course there is the jet lag upon return to deal with too.

Since it’s Friday (here in Asia), I thought we could discuss this topic in the comments and see what the AVC community does to handle jet lag.

The NYU Courant MS-CEI Program

I was on the board of NYU for almost a decade until recently stepping down. I learned a ton about NYU during that time and one of the things I learned was that NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences is one of the most prestigious math schools in the world.

In addition to a world class math program, Courant houses one of NYU’s three computer science programs (the others are at the Tandon School of Engineering and the Stern School of Business), and has a top notch machine learning faculty, including Yann LeCun, who also leads Facebook’s AI Research Team in NYC.

Courant is a special place where math, machine learning, and computer science come together.

And now Courant is offering a new Masters degree in Entrepreneurship in partnership with NYU’s Stern business school. It is called the MS-CEI Program.

The MS-CEI program is a Master’s degree in Computing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, combining computer science courses from the Courant Institute (Graduate School of Arts and Science) and business courses from the Stern School of Business…. The MS-CEI is designed for computer science students and technology professionals interested in pursuing entrepreneurship or assuming leadership roles in innovative technology based organizations.

Here is a link to the program overview and sample courses.

The initial class will enroll in the Summer of 2018 and applications are due by December 2017.

If you are interested in this program and want to learn more, please share your contact info with NYU here.

Airpods (continued)

I wrote a post a couple days about how much I like Apple’s Airpods and that I was going to miss them as I head back to Android.

Well it is a good thing I wrote that post and an even better thing that so many smart and informed people read AVC.

If you wade into the comments section to that post, you will see quite a few comments explaining that Airpods can be used with Android as standard bluetooth headphones. I also got quite a few emails from readers explaining that same thing.

I tried that this morning and I worked like a charm. So I get to keep my Airpods as I move back to Android. I’m thrilled. Now if I could only keep iMessage too. Then I’d have everything that is better about iPhone on my Android.

New Time Zone

We are in Asia for the next three weeks and I will likely be posting in the mornings Asia time which means late afternoon/evenings in the US.

As much as I would love to meet regular readers on this side of the world, this is a long planned vacation with my wife and some good friends so I won’t be working or taking meetings.

But I do plan to blog. Some habits die hard and that is one of them.

Guns And Mental Health

Another mass shooting and the outcries that we must do something return.

I do think we need to do something and I am a fan of more gun safety regulation.

But we also need to enforce the laws that are on the books already.

I would imagine that the Las Vegas shooter used an illegal weapon last night.

Why can’t we enforce the laws that are already on the books?

And the people who commit these horrible crimes are mentally ill.

Anyone who could turn a gun on innocent people is clearly not right in their head.

So while we fight for more gun safety laws, a fight that is hard and where little ground has been gained in recent years, we should also fight for better healthcare for mental illness.