Posts from hacking education

The Scratch Effect

Last night the Gotham Gal and I attended the annual benefit for the Scratch Foundation which provides financial support to the Scratch programming language and learning environment.

Mitch Resnick, founder of Scratch and leader of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab (I love that name so much I had to find a way to get it into this post), shared some numbers with the attendees last night:

In the last year, over 200 million people have used Scratch to make something, share something, or learn something.

I realize that not everyone who uses Scratch is a child, but the vast majority of them are.

There are roughly 2bn children on planet earth, so that means roughly 10% of our children used Scratch last year.

Think about that.

At our table, there were four high school students who I had invited to join us at the event. Two of them are ninth graders, just starting to learn to code and they are learning with Scratch. Two of them are seniors, experienced programmers who are experts in Java and a number of other languages. Four years ago, they learned to code on Scratch.

Scratch is the one ramp to learning to code. There really isn’t anything better to engage, excite, and inspire children to code something up and share it with the world.

And, right now, in 2018, 10% of our children are using it. I am confident that in a few years that number will be 30-50%, and I pray that some day it will be 100%.

FINOS

In December I wrote about the Symphony Software Foundation as it was launching the NYC Open Source Fintech Meetup.

Yesterday the foundation announced a new name: FINOS.

FINOS is about supporting open source software efforts across the financial services industry.

Financial services has often lagged other industries in adopting open source software related development practices, but that situation is changing quickly. Quantitative trading firms like Jane Street have built entire businesses based on open source. And perhaps there is no better example of the degree to which open source is impacting financial services (and other industries of course) than bitcoin, ethereum, and other crypto projects.

FINOS Executive Director, Gabriele Columbro, described the FINOS mission as follows:

In the industries where open source has succeeded, independent entities such as foundations and trade organizations have played a critical role in fostering success. They have facilitated cooperation among players (often hard to do between fierce rivals) and encouraged dialogues necessary to solving common problems. This is precisely the role FINOS is playing in financial services.

Many of FINOS’ members are large global finance and tech companies such as Goldman Sachs, UBS, JP Morgan, GitHub, Thomson Reuters, and Red Hat. The accelerating adoption of open source in fintech is important not just for major financial institutions but also for emerging startups and younger companies looking to service incumbents or compete against them (or both). Examples among FINOS members include OpenFin and NodeSource.

Because financial services has always had an oversized impact on tech here in NYC, this is likely a huge boost to the NYC open source ecosystem too.

If you’re working in fintech I encourage you to get engaged with some of FINOS’ programs, either by just evaluating and checking out some of the work, or by getting actively involved by contributing code to a working group. If you’d like to hear more about FINOS and its work, you may want to attend their FinTech in Open Source Event Series this evening at 6:30pm where Gabriele Columbro will be interviewed by Spencer Mindlin of the Aite Group.

Finally, fintech is no different than any other “tech” sector in that we need more women, people of color, and other traditionally underrepresented communities at the table. The transparency and contribution models of open source projects can be a great on-ramp for anyone interested in a particular technology or problem domain. Together with K-12 CS education for all, open source can increase access to careers and opportunities historically all but closed to large segments of our society.

Video Of The Week: Computer Science Education For All

I heard the news last night that the $6mm that Governor Cuomo was seeking for K12 CS Education was not included in the final NY State budget. I had blogged about this issue at the start of this week.

UPDATE: It appears I heard wrong and that the $6mm did make it into the budget. If that is the case, then it is great news.

In this short (50 sec) video, NYC Mayor de Blasio explains why this is so important. We need more leaders like him who will put themselves out there on this issue, make it a priority, and fight for it.

K12 Computer Science Education In NY State

While NYC is committed, and well on its way, to getting computer science teachers in every school in NYC by 2025, the situation across New York State is bleaker.

Many schools in New York State do not have computer science teachers and do not offer computer science courses to their students.

Governor Cuomo recognized this shortfall in his 2019 budget by proposing $6mm of funding for computer science education across New York State.

But neither the NYS Assembly nor the NYS Senate has followed through and included this $6mm (or a single dollar) in their proposed 2019 budgets for CS education.

The budget process is scheduled to close on April 1st, so this week is the week to get movement on this.

If you live in New York State, please reach out to your Assemblyperson and/or Senator and tell them how important computer science education is to you and why you want them to follow the Governor’s leadership on this issue and put $6mm in the 2019 budget for Computer Science education in New York State schools. If you don’t know how to reach your representatives in Albany, click on the two links in the opening paragraph in this post.

To put that $6mm in context, New York City is spending $8mm a year on training existing teachers (math, science, etc) to teach computer science. And they are doing this every year for ten years in order to get over 5,000 CS teachers in their ~1,700 public schools.

Surely New York State can do the same. Every kid needs the opportunity to learn new ways of learning, making, and earning. Computer Science is the first new subject that has been added to most public schools’ curriculum in the past fifty years. Most states and large urban centers have already committed themselves to this effort. But not New York State. It’s time that changed.

The Fifth Annual NYC Computer Science Fair

Once a year, tech companies in NYC run a fair for high school computer science students in NYC.

This was last year:

Tech companies set up booths and the students come by the booths learning about what it is like to work in a tech company. Colleges and Universities that offer undergraduate computer science majors also set up booths to recruit these students to attend their schools and major in computer science. And extra-curricular programs that offer computer science education after school, weekends, or over the summer also come and set up booths to solicit interest in their programs.

It is the one time each year when all the stakeholders in the NYC K12 computer science movement come together and it is a fantastic day. I have attended every year and I plan to attend again this year, in our fifth year.

This event is called the NYC CS Fair and it is happening on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, from 9:30am-2pm, at the Armory Track, 216 Fort Washington Ave, New York, NY.

If your company wants to help build a pipeline for a more inclusive and diverse talent pool, you should come and host a booth at the fair.

If you want to do that, please reach out to Bryan at Tech:NYC, [email protected], or Aimee Rosato at TEALS,[email protected]

Quizlet – The World’s Largest User Generated Learning Platform

On the occasion of our portfolio company Quizlet‘s announcement of a new round of funding today, I thought I’d talk about what led us to Quizlet and why it is poised to be a game changer in education.

Quizlet is the world’s largest user generated learning platform. Founded in 2005 in founder Andrew Sutherland’s bedroom (he was 15 at the time), Quizlet has become the wikipedia of the education sector. Over the last twelve and a half years, users have posted over 200 million study sets to Quizlet. A study set is a list of things you want to learn. Think of what happens when flashcards meet the Internet and mobile devices. A study set can be French Adverbs or Heart Muscles or a Pre-Takeoff Flight Safety Checklist. You can study these things anytime and any place that you have a mobile phone on you.

That was all already in place when we invested in Quizlet in the fall of 2015. I wrote this post talking about Quizlet at the time.

What wasn’t there, and is now, is the machine learning team to make sense of all of these study sets. Take 200+ million study sets and 30+ million monthly users and you have a ton of data about what people are learning, how they are learning, and how their learning evolves over time on Quizlet. From that data will come new modes of learning on Quizlet and a lot of help figuring out what study sets are best to learn something.

The other place Quizlet plans to invest in is expanding Quizlet internationally. Over the last year, the Quizlet team has localized into 18 languages. Now, over 90% of the world’s population can use Quizlet. And because Quizlet is free to use for everyone, that means this user powered learning model can be used by students all over the world. Quizlet intends to aggressively expand its content base and user base internationally in the next few years.

Just because Quizlet is free for anyone to use doesn’t mean it is not a good business. Quizlet has two primary revenue streams right now, advertising and subscriptions, both of which are performing very well and there will be more revenue opportunities for Quizlet as they build out their content base and user base around the world. Quizlet was a profitable business when we invested in it back in 2015 and has remained at or near profitability even with the significant investment we have made in the business since then.

Quizlet is a great example of how you can build a very good business while expanding access to knowledge dramatically around the world. One does not have to come at the cost of the other if you architect your product and business model appropriately.

Audio Of The Week: Empowering Women with Tech – Fereshteh Forough

A few weeks ago on the Gotham Gal’s podcast, she had Fereshteh Forough, founder of Code to Inspire, an organization that teaches women in Afghanistan to code.

There is so much to like about what Fereshteh is doing. It’s a great podcast to listen to this weekend: