Chelsea: Okay, great, so for our first podcast we thought it would be fun to get the three of us, the founders of LEARN Academy together to kind of talk about why we started this thing basically five years ago, where things are going, and what we’re passionate about with the community and what we’re doing with our students and the companies and things like that.
So today I have with us Rob Kaufman, one of the founders of LEARN Academy, also the founder of Notch 8. And Matt Clark, our third partner at LEARN Academy. And I’m excited to kind of tell everyone about the origin of LEARN. I think that I’m mostly excited, because I don’t think that three of us have actually told the story at the same time in the same room. So I’m mostly interested in seeing how that all meshes together.
Because I think that I’ve heard … like I’ve heard Rob’s individual experience of like his version of how LEARN Academy started and how Matt’s version of how LEARN Academy started, and I obviously know my own version. But I think it’ll be interesting for the three of us to kind of hear what our thoughts are and where things got started.
So Rob, I think that you should probably start this off.
Rob: Thanks, Chel. Yeah, I think to understand how LEARN came about like you have to actually take a step back to the sister company, the Notch 8. So back in 2005 I went to work for Matt at a little start-up here in San Diego that’s still kicking around, and we worked together for about two, two-and-a-half years. During that time my big life goal was to start my own company, the goal was to do it by the time I was 30. At 26 I was working for a start-up which is 60 some hours a week, and then doing about 20 hours of consulting on the side to try and kind of up leverage it.
And I sort of realized (1) that I was making about as much money working 20 hours a week as I was 60 hours a week, that’s a problem. And (2) the money at the start-up got tight and you learn a lot about people you’re working with when that happens.
Chelsea: For sure.
Rob: So we both went our separate ways, and I hung out my shingle and thought I’d try consulting for about six months, and then reevaluate. There were a lot of compromises in my personal life to make that work, probably the big one was the person I was living with at the time would have been insanely jealous if I had got to sleep in every day, so every morning I would wake up at 6:30 and still shower and dress and like go into the office.
Chelsea: The office being your living room.
Rob: Yeah, no, when we moved so that she would be closer to her work, it cut her commute in half but a tripled mine because we got staircase. So it was much further to get to the office every day. So for the first four some years of Notch 8 it was just me doing my own thing. And then fast-forward to some life events and a lot of things happening, Matt talked me into coming out to Wisconsin to work on the re-launch of photos.com for Getty Images which is the team he was leading at the time.
So I spent … I came out in August, it started snowing in September that year, February of that year it never reached your degrees Fahrenheit, it was negative temperature, all …
Matt: The coldest year in Madison I think in like 70 years.
Rob: Month long. So I was moving back to the west coast, going back to consulting, and Matt mentioned that he was interested in learning more about consulting. At the time I was really torn about what to do with Notch 8 and had been thinking about shutting it down. I usually am long to make a decision, but once I’ve decided I just go full force on that decision. But not this time, this time I went back and forth and back and forth, I would decide in the morning that I needed to shut Notch 8 down and go get a real job. And then by the afternoon I’d be like, “I can’t do it, it’s my baby, I can’t, I can’t do it.”
Matt: Let’s be clear, my goal in having you in Madison was to give you that real job up there. And that backfired terribly for the company I was working for, because I left them with you.
Rob: Yeah, so I took him back home with me. And I’ll let you pick up the story there, kind of the next couple years of Notch 8.
Matt: Yeah, so from there we grew Notch 8 to … it was just you and I for a couple of years, but we quickly realized we needed to build and add more folks, more and more folks, until kind of fast-forward a little bit, until we were working with another code school up in Portland, Oregon.
Chelsea: Well, at that point you had two offices, so you had an office here. And Rob was working here in San Diego, you were up in Portland.
Matt: Right. Yeah, I was living in Portland at that point, yeah.
Chelsea: And so you were at that point decided to kind of grow the office up in Portland and take up some more people.
Matt: Right, exactly. So we partnered up with a code school up there and brought in four interns and started … essentially started an office with those four people. And it worked out great and we really, really enjoyed working with them and helping them get started in their careers.
Rob: When Matt says we partnered with this code school, like our office was their conference room.
Rob: Like, we took over their conference room and that was our office for the first year.
Matt: Right, exactly. And from there was then the conversation started between you guys that there’s nothing like that code school in San Diego. And so we started to pick Michael’s brain who was running the (Epic Code?) up in Portland, and he’s a great guy and really a mentor to me, and I think a big part of the foundation of LEARN down here on what it takes to run a school and try to start putting that idea together down here and realized that there’s a real need for that in the community, that San Diego is a growing tech community and we could be a big part of that and become a central piece of it.
Rob: And so I kind of … we throw in the idea back and forth, and maybe chat about it a little bit, but it hadn’t really sold on me. At that point I was working for Notch 8 and working full-time for another start-up. And Matt was running the team in Portland, and I was just kind of barely keeping my hand in. So the last thing I needed was another venture, and so it kind of dragged me kicking and screaming towards it.
But Chelsea and I had this weird week where one of our close friends was talking about giving up this really cool apartment in North Park and moving to Omaha to go to a code school, because there wasn’t one in San Diego or Southern California at the time. And then, Chelsea, one of your cousins reached out to us and wanted to have dinner with us to talk about going to a code school.
Chelsea: Yeah, but he was looking for his next thing and wanted to get into technology but didn’t really know how. And so we sat down and had dinner with him and tried to talk to him about his options. But like he said at that point there were no code schools in Southern California, and so there weren’t … that wasn’t really an option for him. So it was like talking about, “Oh, do I go back to a four-year degree or whatever,” and so that’s when there were a series of events that kind of brought us.
And I came at it from a really different perspective, because my background wasn’t in technology at all, that like I before LEARN was the managing director of a theater company and was doing some very different things in essence, except that what I was doing at the theater company was building a community and building out their education program and running the business of this theater, and that it turned out that that was the part that we were kind of missing in this team as we got started, which is when I came on to kind of help with that part of it that my experience in education and community and business development was like the last piece of the puzzle right before we launched.
Matt: Right, for sure, right.
Rob: Yeah, and it all culminated for me, and I went to ST Ruby at the end of that week, and it just happened to be that month that there were five companies hiring, and one person that was looking for work. And at that point that person’s like raises their hand saying they’re looking for a job and they’re like almost nervous about being mobbed. And one of the companies here in San Diego is actually considering moving to Austin, because they couldn’t find enough developers or possibly switching from a Rails platform to a PHP platform so they could offer it. And it’s like that’s not okay, right? Like, there’s just too many things happening that say that we have to do this.
So I was driving home from … I usually go and have happy hour and stuff after ST Ruby, this is like 1:00 in the morning, I’m driving home and I’m like, “I think we have to do this, like I think that the universe is just like screaming at us that this has to happen.”
And I remember talking to you in our … because obviously Friday run down every week on the company, and telling you about it and you said, “Well, crap, Rob. There goes my weekend.” And all weekend long you’re like texting me business plans and like people who owned code school-related domains in San Diego.
Matt: Right, right.
Rob: And so from there it was a matter of like going … I mean, I came out for a week and hung out with the folks at (Epic Code?), I went to San Francisco and talked to some people that were running code schools there. A friend of mine runs … was running Galvanize at the time so I went out and talked to him a little bit, just sort of started doing the research.
And then Chelsea and I went somewhere special to spend the whole day doing business planning for it, and like really talking about the rubber meets the road part.
Matt: Right. Yeah, the Notch 8 experience I think came back into plan being really important, because we realized that the school really is a connection between developers and the business and industry. And so how … of course, how Notch 8 works with clients is very different, but those relationships are still important and something that we leveraged in those early days and, “Okay, what do our clients need? What do we need as Notch 8 who hires employees?” And so we really structured those early LEARN classes around specifically what we saw a need for in real business and real development teams.
Chelsea: Yeah, I think that’s still true that today Notch 8 is such an important part of how the classroom is shaped, not just in those first few years but still that like Notch 8 has been a place where we can tap the industry and have our finger on the pulse of what’s happening, what are people building things in, what tools are they using in their day-to-day workplace so that we can make sure that the students that are coming out of LEARN are coming out with those skills and can be productive on day one of the job.
Because one of the big problems I think we realized early on was that people were finding new employees that were maybe coming out with a CS degree and things like that, but the on-boarding process of getting them up and going was so long and so hard, that it wasn’t worth it, that they needed people that were more productive faster. And that was one of the problems I think we went out to try and solve.
Matt: Yeah, that was it for sure. I mean, it was an opportunity for us to really get … to know people coming through the program first, so Notch 8 has continued to take advantage of that and we really love the opportunity to work with folks who graduate from the program. In fact, way more than half of our employees at this point are our graduates.
Rob: We actually have to work to hire people that aren’t from our …
Rob: And I say all the time that we’re probably the only consultancy or only software house in San Diego that doesn’t have a hiring problem. Everyone when I talk to, every CTO meeting I go to, every time I’m out in the community people are telling me how hard it is to find developers. And I think to go back to what you were saying, Chel, about the Notch 8 and LEARN kind of being mirrors of each other, like it goes down to the day, right?
Like, in the morning you come in at Notch 8, you do a stand-up, figure out what’s going to work on, you pair up, you do that work for the afternoon, maybe you touch base a little bit in the evening. And then you go home, and every day it’s sort of that cycle. And at LEARN we come in in the morning and we do stand-up, we figure out what challenges we’re going to work on, maybe in the afternoon you get back together and have a little discussion about it and see how that they went, answer questions.
Rob: And like that we want the last day of group projects and the first day of your internship, it should feel like the exact same thing in a different place. And the last day of your internship and the first day of your full-time job should feel like the same thing, and maybe it’s a different place but for a large percentage of our students it’s the same place. And that’s a huge difference from … like I work for Johnson & Johnson, and they expected three to six months to on-ramp a CS person before they made their first commit to the code base, like the first like approved thing to go to production, right?
And we see our interns are … day two they’re taking code live, and they’re freaking out on Slack because the code they wrote yesterday is going live now, and that that’s both really exciting for them but also a little terrifying.
Matt: Yeah. For sure. I think though that like that early mission of how do we get to no developers, that was certainly true but it’s evolved to so much more than that. I think the sustaining mission of LEARN at this point and why we do what we do and why we grow in the direction we grow in is for me at least very personally, it is very, very different, it’s very … it’s much more about changing people’s lives and the impact we have in the community.
Just this morning we do stand-up in the class every day like you mentioned, and the question was rank in order in accordance for your first job – is that money, is it location, is it the company mission, is it your daily tasks? And of course I was in part of that set up and had to answer that question, and for me undoubtedly I know that my answer would have been different a year ago, but undoubtedly now that I’m in the classroom every day is the mission of the company, I think that’s unbelievably important … an important role that we play and to see that people’s lives are changed for the better every single day. I think it’s what LEARN’s all about, at least for me.
Rob: When we see real impact, right? Like, one of our goals at LEARN is to grow the community, and that’s our mission statement.
And fundamentally one of the ways we’ve talked about envisioning that, like Chelsea led us on this really good exercise where we like figured out what that was and try to distill it down, but that it doesn’t just mean more people, it means lots of different kinds of people. And things like code meet-ups that used to be 60, 70 people, maybe one female participant in the entire group, and now they’re trending more towards like 20, 30%. And that’s not a solved problem by any stretch, no one thinks it is, but that’s huge progress, right?
And that the same people coming over and over again as opposed to having one person of an under-represented minority show up one time and get freaked out and never come back, like that we’ve seen like really tangible change in the San Diego ecosystem from LEARN alumni like being involved and getting out there. So that’s been really huge.
I think that … like what we said, that the whole purpose of doing Notch 8 was I wanted to learn how to make products, I want to learn what made products succeed and what made them fail, and I wanted to make a living while I did it as fast as possible. And if you would have told me 15 years ago, 10 years ago, that the first product to spawn out of Notch 8 would be a face to face in person service – I’d have been like, “No, no, I’m on the internet, maybe you’ve heard of it, I’m definitely doing things at scale.” But the way that LEARN has scaled has been really phenomenal, and it is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Matt: Oh, 100%.
Rob: Everybody says about their business that they’re changing lives, right? Like, that’s such a trite statement, but at LEARN it really does seem like we’re empowering people to change their own lives, which is a much more lasting effect.
Chelsea: Yeah. So what would you guys say now that we’re four and a half years in, what would you say are the biggest surprises?
Rob: From the get-go the biggest surprise for me is the percentage of non-technical stuff that goes into the LEARN curriculum, right? I thought as long as we nail the coding part that everybody was good, high five, we’re done here. And that’s really only about 75, 80% of the journey.
We spend a lot of time on impostor syndrome, we spend a lot of time helping people like find their confidence, teaching basic study skills sometimes, like helping students find their voice not just … But you can tell when you’re interviewing somebody and they’re trying to pretend to be somebody else to get the job, and so like finding ways to package their story in a positive way.
Like, I’ll talk to somebody, I talked to a student the other day who told me their story, and they basically said, “Well, I did this, and then I got laid off, so then I went and did that other thing, and then that was okay, but then I got laid off from that too, and so then I decided to be a programmer.” And I’m like, “No, that’s not your story, like that’s …” I mean, like that’s a version of your story, but it’s not the right version of your story to tell somebody in a job interview.
“Let’s try it again. Like, you we’re really excited about math and so you decided to become a teacher. Well, it turns out that that’s a really tough gig in the State of California or really in America in general. And that it was draining so you wanted to find a way to like be more hands-on, and so then you moved on to this other thing, and that was really hands-on but it was really grueling on your body, and so now you’re trying to find a way to combine those two things. And programming takes all that passion for math and teaching and learning that you have, it combines it with like actually building real things that are tangible in the world, and that that’s where you see your future,” right?
Like, it’s the same story, it just has some energy in it and isn’t sort of that like, “I’m terrible,” sort of perspective. And I think that one of the things we spend a lot of time on at LEARN is the career development piece and helping people like really craft their things. And there can be … I don’t know.
I’ve learned that questions are the biggest like barrier to getting a job, right? So you go to an interview and then you walk out of the interview and the three people that met with you go, “You know, what was with the pencil in that person? It’s behind the person’s ear,” right? Like, they just have like some random question. And especially if it’s a question that they can’t answer easily or something that they can’t like tell you is the reason that they didn’t hire you, like you had broccoli in your teeth or whatever the whole time.
Those things are the real barrier, it’s not like, “Oh, I don’t have X skill or I don’t have Y skill.” We know we’re going to teach you things, we know you don’t know things, right? Every programmer in the world doesn’t know everything, and anyone that thinks they do is the worst person to work with, like that’s not what you want on your team. We know that it’s going to be full of training and learning, and so it’s not that. That’s not what keeps you from getting a job. It’s often some little thing, right?
I tell the story of a student who just had a really angry thinking face, and had gotten … he worked in finance and had had trouble finding a job in finance, came through the program, their first interview, the feedback was they seemed like they were pissed the whole time. We talked about that and tried to do it in a supportive way. And the next day he’s sitting in the classroom and he’s like looking to some of his … the other people as co-workers, students, he goes, “Do I have an angry thinking face?” And the woman saying next him goes, “Oh, yeah, totally. You definitely have a resting bitch face, like all the time, we thought you hated us.”
And so like those little things can be deal-breakers in an interview. You don’t call somebody … had the HR call somebody after an interview and be like, “So were you pissed when you were talking to us, you seemed really angry,” right? And it’s not, it’s just the expression he wears on his face when he’s not paying attention. And so like finding a way to … literally with him we finally had him bring it up in an interview, right? We said, “The first time somebody asked you a technical question, the first thing you say after they asked you a question is, ‘Just so you know, everyone tells me I have an angry thinking face. I’m not angry, that’s just how hard my brain works.'”
And I can’t tell you for sure that that was the solution, but he did get that job. So those things surprised me. That’s not what I was expecting, right? I thought it was all going to be the technical side, and it turns out that the journey is a lot more complicated than that.
Chelsea: Yeah, that’s for sure. There are so many different paths into it, that it’s not linear in any way.
Rob: Well, it is such a huge thing for the students, right? Like, they’re giving up substantial time and money. They’re asking their friends and family to cover for them, right? Like, you don’t have time to do a lot of the other things you’re doing when you’re trying to do a boot camp. We call it a boot camp because we’re going to kick your butt.
And so it’s a huge investment, and it’s terrifying really. When we get down to the internship picking, you get students that are agonizing, they’re up all night, they’re like asking everyone like, “Well, there’s these three companies, which one should I interview with and like which one do I rank first and which one do I rank second?” And you sit down and you talk to them and you’re like, “Well, what’s the worst one?” “Oh, no, they’re all awesome, I’d be super happy to any of them.”
You spent three days freaking out about which one’s first, and they’re all great, like what’s the penalty there? It’s because it feels like it’s the most important decision in their entire lives or they feel like that everything they do in the future hinges on this moment, and so it becomes this really huge thing. And so trying to help them get perspective on … like if they’re all good options, they’re all good options, and you’re not going to have buyer’s remorse if what you do works out. And so I think that that’s been really interesting. Just the emotional investment has been big.
Matt: Yeah. I’d say the most surprising thing for me and beating off that a little bit is just the diversity of the stories, the people’s backgrounds and the places that they come from, and the ability for change in every person that I’ve met and seen go through the program. It’s a small thing and it’s a subtle thing sometimes, but it’s truly foundational and groundbreaking I think to see somebody who you wouldn’t typically expect to be a typical software developer who decide this is what they want to do and then they give you these amazing compelling reasons for doing it.
And just through sheer gut and determination and grit make that happen for themselves, like that … I’ll never stop being surprised about that, every single time I hear one of those stories and see one of those stories. And we see 20 of them every cohort, so it’s a pretty amazing place to be.
Rob: Yeah, it’s really awesome to meet a young single mom whose whole goal is to be able to work from home and find some sort of peace or balance. It’s really awesome to see folks rearing the workforce that have been out of it for 10 or 15 years for whatever reason. It’s folks that went down the business tract and have been managing developers for a long time and that are having a hard time finding technical founders, just want to understand the language.
Matt: Yeah, it’s places you don’t expect. People come from just every single industry, every single level of experience, which is great.
Chelsea: Yeah, and I think for me the … going a little off of what Rob was saying with the emotional weight of it all, that from the beginning we have been really fortunate to have people work for us who are equally emotionally invested in the people that are coming through, that the people who really care and want to help them through this journey, that we recognize that weight and want to get them where they want to go.
But for me as one of the founders and the person that’s running this team, the thing that was surprising to me was how to help the staff manage those emotions, like how do we make it so that the staff isn’t burning out, because they are constantly holding the weight of all of these people, and like going home every day going, “Ugh, how can I get that person to like go through the job interview process in a certain way and help them fix?” And so there’s all of these people within the organization that are also holding all of that, and what can we do as leaders of the organization to help them do it successfully and to not burn out.
Chelsea: So to me that that’s been a really big challenge in creating the culture of this organization, so that people can take on that weight, because we can’t not have that because that was such a big part of the community we were building.
Matt: And those inflection points aren’t where you think they are. They come … they’re fairly common places where students get nervous or impostor syndrome or things like that, and the staff know to jump in and help. But it’s not … it was surprising to me, I agree, that just the ability to adapt and rise to what’s going on in the classroom. It’s hard, but our staff does a great job.
Rob: We had some early discussions when we were first doing group projects about how … We had a conflict resolution unit that’s better to teach in the moment of conflict, right? And so there was some discussion about like do we need to figure out a way to manufacturer conflict or whatever. And every group projects the answer is no, we don’t, we don’t try and like put certain people together because we know they’re going to get on each other’s nerves or like go in and like mess up the codes so that there’s merge conflicts or any of that kind of thing.
But that conflict always happens in your projects, and you can’t, to my knowledge, guess who it’s going to be, right? It can be the most laid-back people in the classroom or people that you think would never ever get along in a million years, and they go on great. And people that you think should never have a problem with each other, and they’re like on each other’s last nerve.
Rob: And that that’s an important part, because when you’re working with co-workers there is conflict, and knowing like real ways to resolve that as opposed to just like rage quitting is important and is a big part of working life, especially when developers on the whole don’t have the reputation for being as emotionally intelligent, so your co-workers may not have ever had … like I went through a CS program, we didn’t have projects conflict resolution section, we had to do projects, we have plenty of conflict in them but there was no like this is how you navigate that. And so it’s really interesting to see how little you can predict the class and the way it’s going to turn out.
Matt: Right, and like you were saying the classroom is really structured after a normal workday, and so there’s pairing and there’s all the typical or the normal things that you would find in a company setting. And so getting those skills to handle working with your co-workers I think is a big part of what you come away with.
Rob: For sure.
Matt: So Chelsea, what … I’ll ask you questions.
Matt: What are some challenges you didn’t expect that we now have identified as really important to our mission? What do we solve for our students or what do we help our students achieve that we didn’t expect to be doing in those early days?
Chelsea: Well, I do think that a lot of it we worked through the curriculum, and we have this like stack that we teach and they get the technical side of it, but I do … I agree with Rob that it’s the emotional, it’s the soft skills, it’s the like how to be a part of a team, how to collaborate, how to be a part of a community that I think was bigger than I thought, and more important than I originally assumed, that I was like, “Oh, great, we’re going to train developers, they’re going to go out and find jobs, and it’s going to be awesome.”
But what I think we realized along the way was that we needed to create a bigger community of people that were passionate about learning and passionate about development. And I think that we found out pretty quick, and we were able to really bring in some great partners and that we work with a lot of different organizations.
And I would say probably a big portion of what I do every day is making those connections in the community and bringing those other organizations in to LEARN or LEARN into those opportunities, that like if I can bring a speaker into our classroom to talk to our students, that the students then see that person out in the world, out in the community, them getting a job is going to be a million times faster because they were able to kind of make those connections and feel good about going to a meet-up and being like, “Hey, you spoke in my class, and that was really great, and tell me more about what you’re doing.” It makes it that much easier to get a job.
But like helping … That community, it wasn’t something that you could just go to a meet-up and you would all of a sudden like be a part of everything, that we needed to create that bridge for them in either us being at the meet-ups or bringing the meet-ups to them, that it was a bigger process than I think I was initially thinking it was going to be.
Rob: Yeah, I mean, there were some early wins there that … like we figured out that one thing that was a barrier to getting ladies to go to some of the technical meet-ups is they don’t want to be the only woman in there. And if everyone doesn’t want to be the only woman there, then there’s no women that show up.
Rob: And so that one of our instructors was like, “Oh, yeah, I think that it’s like …” Like, originally she said it was like going to the bathroom, it’s better if you do it together. And so she basically said …
Matt: It’s my philosophy on that subject.
Rob: “I’m going to ST Ruby, and does anyone want to go with me?” And then they would set up a carpool, and especially when it was at UCSD it would be hard to find the first time, and so like they would all meet outside of UCSD together and then carpool in. And so it just gave everyone that sense of belonging and that safety, that’s really good.
And so things like that that seem … again, they seem obvious in retrospect, right? Like, “Oh, yeah, if you get a group of people to go, they’re more likely to show up than if you’re trying to get people individually.” But that wasn’t something that was necessarily clear at the time.
The thing that I think that’s actually been surprising that’s gone easier than I thought it would be, is the internship part. I think there’s a ton of work that goes into it, I don’t want to downplay that, right? But the first set of intern partners were literally the people I was having lunch with one day, at a conference. So I was at Ruby Con when I was in San Diego, and like I’m at lunch, and like my whole goal that day was to start talking to people about intern partners. And so I pitched what we were doing and what the internship program would look like, and that the commitment I needed was I needed some logos to put on the website and to have the first set of interviews booked, right?
And so for that first group of six students like we had five or six possible intern partners. We knew that we weren’t going to … And I walked away from that table with that set, right? And from there it’s grown to be this big … Like, it takes constant gardening and it takes constant work, mostly because getting like busy developers and CEOs and CTOs to do things is like herding cats, but most of the intern partners are people that I don’t personally have any network connections to, right? They’re working in platforms that we’ve never worked with, they’re … We’re … Notch 8 is now getting business from people that come in and know about LEARN first and then find out about us.
And so that’s been a really cool transition that I thought would honestly take longer than it has, that we’ve worked with so many more companies than we thought we would get to. And then we see class after class now where there are as many or more intern opportunities as there are interns. And that that is a huge thing to see the community perpetuating.
And I talked early days about how one non-monetary marker for success will be the first time alumni answer the students’ question in Slack, right? An event that now happens a couple of times a week. And in fact, we’ve seen students and alumni answering former instructors’ questions in Slack which is super cool.
And the next big milestone that I thought was in our five to six year range, was alumni hiring each other, right? The first time you get alumni hiring interns or coming back and participating in the internship.
Matt: That happens.
Rob: And that happens a lot now, way sooner than I thought I was going to. And as we creep in past 300, like it’s going to just keep going bigger and bigger. And that network is a big thing. And not even first job, second, third and fourth jobs – people reaching out to their classmates and saying, “Hey, what are you doing right now? We’re looking for developers.” Or sort of bringing along the next generation is that’s really exciting.
Chelsea: Well, to me that’s a testament to the community that’s been built, that our students are coming through the program and it’s not just like, “Hey, I’m going to sign up for this class and take this class and then go do my thing.” They’re like coming into this group of people that all want to help them, and so they as students are getting all of this support from community members, from former alumni, and all that. And by the time they graduate they’re so excited to then be the person that gets to give back.
Chelsea: That like when we … on the first day of class we provide lunch for everyone, not just the class that is starting, but the class that’s halfway through. And so the class that’s halfway through gets to be the experts in that moment, and it’s such an exciting point that like they then get to give back. And I think that that’s what we’ve seen with our internship program, that the students are now not just answering questions but hiring each other and creating this community of, “Hey, we all like went through this thing together, and now I want to help the next person do that because someone helped me.”
Matt: Right. Yeah, we have an unbelievably diverse community, don’t we? It’s not people who graduate high school and went to a computer science program and then went out and got a job, right? We’ve got people who come from sales and designed and marketing, and like a lot of accounting sort of backgrounds and things like that. And so they’re just interesting people to talk to. And then that leads to taking interesting career paths once you get out of LEARN. I think that just where people go we build off of … What was before LEARN, we kind of build that into LEARN and then build off of that as you launch out, so it’s amazing many different things people go on to do which is great.
Rob: Yeah, we have lots of really unique stories and both pre-LEARN, during LEARN, and after LEARN, and I think it’s just … It’s been really fun to see now that we’re four years in to the program being live that people that are going from junior to mid or moving into senior that are starting their own things and then looking to get LEARN support for that and it’s just been really cool to watch that continue to blossom. And some of the little tiny start-ups we worked with in that first segments are gone, and some of them are 200 people now. And so like that’s a really fun thing to be in the thick of for sure.
Chelsea: Yeah, I think that another really exciting part of it for me was that we have all these great stories from our students, which are as Matt said they’re so diverse and they’re coming from so many different backgrounds, but the other side of it is that we have these organizations that we’ve been able to help grow. And so you can see the impact on that side of it as well, that we have the ones that started out in the beginning and took on a couple interns. And maybe they kind of they hire them on and they keep going and they kind of disappear for a while, but then a year later we like get this message that’s like, “Hey, we’re hiring again, let’s come back and go through the process.” That it’s exciting to be that kind of a resource for growth on both sides.
Chelsea: And helping them, we had one company that we worked with early on that was struggling to find somebody. They did interview after interview and were probably a year in and just couldn’t find the right fit for them. They come through our internship program, and actually that first round they didn’t get any interns, because the process … none of the students really wanted to be there.
And so after that we like sat down with the CTO there and we’re like, “Okay, I think we need to talk about your interview process.” And so we helped him, like we gave him some tips, we got feedback from our students, and helped him fix that problem, because it turned out that the practice of hiring was so cold and not welcoming, and that he wasn’t even really giving a good glimpse of what the company was like to work there. And so we helped him kind of see that. And the next time around he ended up hiring two students from the program through the internship program. And then a year later came back for more when they are ready to hire.
Matt: That’s awesome.
Chelsea: And so it’s been a really cool experience to kind of help companies not just find talent but help them in the process of hiring and doing it in a way that’s going to allow them to build a diverse team and get different types of people in there, that’s been really cool.
Rob: Almost no one has ever had a class on how to give an interview, right? We mostly just draw from our experience having had a couple interviews. And the number of times when students or alumni are headed into an interview, and the person they’re interviewing, it’s their first interview that they’ve ever conducted. And so I think that being able to talk to companies that maybe you’re struggling and say, “Hey, maybe there’s something going on with your process, like we can talk about it, right?”
Like, “Oh, you throw harder and harder whiteboard challenges at the person you’re interviewing until they cry, because you want to find where their breaking point is. Well, maybe we can find another way to figure out what someone’s breaking point is by instead of actually breaking them during the interview,” right? Like, let’s try and solve that process differently. And so that’s been a really cool side part of the thing, it’s sort of outside of the scope of the in the classroom piece. But really an important part of building those partnerships.
Chelsea: Well, it’s helping our eventual goal of like helping to shape the community at large, that like if we are training people that are from different backgrounds and are a really diverse group and used to working in this very like collaborative and inclusive space, if they’re then going into these interviews where the people there don’t know how to interview for that kind of job – then that’s a plug in the funnel that isn’t going to allow us to like really grow the community.
So I think that what we’ve seen is that we have to help companies in that area in order for our students to be successful. And so for us, it became a really important part of the journey that if companies aren’t changing the way that they are hiring, then they aren’t going to be open to the kinds of people that we are training. And so we needed to be a part of that process. And I think that I’m excited as we grow to like continue that kind of work to make it so that companies are more open and more inclusive and more collaborative in their hiring process to help them reshape their teams.
Rob: Yeah, I think it’s interesting to see especially companies that are the traditional developer shop type companies or groups in companies that aren’t that way, like for example, we have several alumni that work at Intuit as part of the design team, and the design team talk to us about the fact that they needed really technical people, but they have a hard time doing it because they’re not the main engineering focus, right? They’re not one of the developer groups, they’re the design group. And so their ability to bring folks that have a design background, who have gone through the LEARN program to have enough technical expertise to truly be boots on the ground and do that sort of intersection between the two empowers that team to move forward in a way that they couldn’t move forward with the traditional program, right?
Rob: They need both, you’d have to find and only hire people with dual degrees which is pretty rare, right? And so like that difference is really, really valuable. And it’s cool to see a group that has struggled with that hiring … like suddenly kind of unlock this new market, even in a company that often … like if you go to HR at Intuit often they will tell you that they don’t hire boot camp grads, and you’re like, “Really? I don’t want tattle on anybody, but …”
Chelsea: You have at least four there.
Rob: Yeah, so I think that that’s really cool to see companies sort of changing their song there a little bit, and that the perspective’s changing.
Matt: And that’s the … well, that’s the industry as a whole is broadening and becoming more diverse, and we’ve been focused on that for more than ten years, so I think that our community is a huge part of that.
Rob: One, I think that if we can help hasten the death of the whiteboard technical challenge, that that will help everybody, that … It’s the Boogeyman under the bed of every junior developer, and that ultimately it’s not the right way to find out whether somebody can code is to ask them if they’ve memorized some algorithm, and if they can draw it on a whiteboard.
Matt: Right. One of the … before we … I don’t know for as in a different direction before we move away of our internship partners, one of the things that I thought of when we are talking that I’m really happy to see is that first company where you and I met is an internship partner now of LEARN, and they’ve got two of our alumni working there. So to be still contributing to their success and their growth is pretty exciting to me.
Rob: You just said it because you have stock.
Chelsea: I think my favorite part about that story is that they came back to us just through like our web contact form, not knowing that it was us that did it.
Chelsea: And I was the one that got the email and I’m talking with them, not knowing that they were the company that you guys met at. And so he and I were like having this separate conversation, and all of the sudden I was like, “Hey, Rob. I’m talking to so-and-so, what do you think about them?” And that just like open the door of like, “Oh …” They have a longer history with us than I think they even realize.
Rob: It was good, and it’s really great to reconnect with people that you’ve worked with in the past and see them in different places doing different things. And so that part’s been really cool, just to watch what everyone’s doing and to be so central to the community.
Chelsea: Cool. So why don’t we talk … I think this is a good exercise for us to do. Why don’t we talk about our future? Where do you guys see LEARN going? What are you excited about? Rob’s making a funny face.
Rob: Just trying to come up with an answer that isn’t silly.
Matt: Right. Well, LEARN has such roots now that I think that building off of the community that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about here is we have a lot of options. And then what can we do to further the success of our alumni and to bring more people into that fold – I think are our goals as a company going forward. How do we … How can we be more effective at growing technology in San Diego?
And for me that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about that, and just yet I think that’s … you have the best answer for it, and so I don’t want to give your answer. But I’m really excited about where we’re going in solving that second problem that folks face. So like, LEARN is great for how do you get into the technology space, but there are still some really real and hard challenges to become successful, become a lifelong career change, and to really get solid feet on the ground. So I think there’s lots of opportunities there.
Rob: Yeah. I’ve been looking at the problem of, okay, there’s not enough software developers. So boot camps come on, they create a ton of software developers, they’re all junior developers. Now there’s not enough mentors for those junior developers.
And so the historical average is that it takes about ten years to go from junior developer to senior developer, right? Which if over the span of a 30-year career, that’s not bad, but that time is too long for the world we live in right now.
Chelsea: For the need.
Rob: And for the need that’s out there, for the amount of senior developers that are going to be needed in ten years, right? So I don’t think we’ve solved even the junior problem yet, they’re still saying that demand is out, it’s going to outstrip the growth there. But even … and by they, I mean like government studies still show that there are more software developer jobs in 10 years than there are software developers even with all these changes.
But that fundamentally we’re going to need to find ways to shorten that time. You can’t eliminate experience, experience matters. But if we can find something to reduce the time frame, if we can take that ten year arc and make it five years to make it happen.
Matt: Make that experience count, right? Make it more valuable than going down dead end after dead end.
Rob: Well, condense it, right?
Matt: Yeah, condense it.
Rob: And fundamentally like help people have a more clear path, because if it’s ten-year average and some people it’s four years and some people it’s 20 years, right? And so like how do we hope those outliers get more in line with the average? How do we make the people who could do it in five but get distracted by life, like do it in five consistently, and that that will then be the sort of the next wave for LEARN is that place of acceleration is what really matters.
Rob: And what’s cool about that is it means that we get a chance to hang out with people we already know as part of that process, which is exciting, because we love catching up with the alumni. But also to bring in people from other places, so folks that have gone through a traditional program, gone through another boot camp. Like, we get people that ask us all the time if they can just buy into our internship program, which we don’t do, because we have to guarantee the quality of that person’s education. It’s hard to do that by just meeting them. But I think that finding an avenue for that is really valuable.
And because the thing we hear from our partners is that it’s still really hard to hire people. And so finding a way to sort of share the love there I think is really important.
Chelsea: Yeah, to really understand I guess. For me it’s been a really awesome learning experience to like where the sticking points really are for the people that are hiring. And now that we have this amazing pool of junior developers out there, mid-level and even some seniors out there, that we have the people – where is really the sticking point and how can we help companies kind of get past that so that they have the funnel that they need?
Because, I agree with Rob, from the beginning we wanted LEARN to be a place that we are not just helping you get into this career, but we’re helping you throughout your career, that like we have always wanted to be the place where alumni come back for their second or third job, that they’re like, “Okay, I’m ready to learn more, I’m ready to grow.” And we’ve been dabbling with different types of programs and like figuring out what that is. But I think that finding this combination of working with companies to help them fix where the problem is, that if we know that there’s talent out there but the companies are saying there’s no talent out there – there’s a problem somewhere.
Chelsea: Like, we know that there are people out there that can do the jobs they are trying to hire, and so to me there’s some kind of sticking point that I think we can help companies to do that better. And I think in turn we will then help them too with some of the other problems in diversity and things like that, helping them to bring different people.
Not to mention that interviewing with companies generally makes people feel about as small as possible, right? That you go to an interview, you don’t hear anything back ever, or you hear people you send off resumes, you never … it’s like a black hole. And so it makes you feel as least competent as possible. But to be successful in an interview you need to be your most confident version of yourself, your first date self, right?
Rob: And then that … like the process itself like grinds away at you, and it makes that harder and harder to do. So there’s still a ton of friction, there are a lot of inefficiency. And I go to meet-ups all the time where I’ll talk to three or four people that say, “There’s no developer jobs,” and three to four people that say they can’t hire developers fast enough. And I’m like, “Do you guys want to hang out? Maybe, and we can talk about that.”
Matt: That’s the neat part of where we are, kind of at the intersection of developers and industry, is that when we … We’ve focused for the last four years on building tools for developers to become better developers and become competent out there. And this looking towards the future and really growing those industry connections and tools for business to solve their problems, it only helps our community and alumni, and so we’re at the intersection and then we grow together and everybody benefits.
Matt: It’s a rising tide for everybody. And that’s not the normal company-employee relationship, and I think that that’s changing not only in our industry but across all of business. And so we’re doing our part to make both of those sides have a better time hiring and finding great people and being the right person for a job is a really great spot for LEARN.
Rob: Well, I want to say one of the things I love about LEARN as a concepts is that there is that customer alignment, right?
Rob: Like, our customers are getting exactly what they want and being as successful as possible makes LEARN successful. There’s no trade-off there, there’s no like we get more if you get less kind of thing. The more successful our students are, the more successful our alumni are in industry over time – the more successful LEARN is.
Rob: And I love being in a business that everybody can win, right? Everybody can be aligned.
Matt: And the more success that a business has hiring creates more success for us and for students and everybody.
Chelsea: Right. Well, and I think … it’s a little bit of going back to kind of talking about the companies and what Rob was saying about the years of experience and when you’re training people or when you’re hiring people and you want so many years of experience, I think that there’s a change of mindset that needs to happen there. Because the big problem is is that Rob’s five years of experience versus Matt’s five years of experience versus my five years of experience is totally different. And so just putting it out there that you need a certain amount of years is the wrong conversation when hiring.
And so I understand that with companies you want that checklist of like, “Oh, if I can just check off all these boxes I will find the perfect employee.” But that’s not true. That you could find somebody that comes to the interview that has checked every single box off, but is the total wrong person for that job. And so we think that the conversation in hiring needs to be less about, “Oh, I need this many years of experience,” and more about what people have done and what they’re doing and what their experiences and what they can bring to your team and how they can make your team more successful, and therefore your company more successful, that that’s the kind of experience in hiring I think we need to change in the way that we hire people.
Rob: Well, cultural fit is such a big part of the hiring process. It always cracks me up when students are almost upset after an interview, because they’re like they spent the whole time talking about like who I am and like what are my hobbies and like am I cool, and it’s like, “Yeah, they’re going to work with you every day, like having you fit in on the team is really invaluable and really important.” They know what your baseline skills are, they’ve hired from LEARN alumni before, they know like that baseline. Or maybe they haven’t, but they’ve hired junior developers, right?
Rob: And so like that expectation level is sort of this simple baseline. Once you clear that it’s about like who’s going to be like the right person who’s going to help us look at things from a different perspective, who’s going to help us connect with our customers more directly. Like, whatever the thing is that that company needs. So yeah, it isn’t … Often the interviews don’t spend a lot of time on the technical skills, they spend more time on fit.
Chelsea: Or that they shouldn’t, [unclear 56:36]
Rob: And a lot of times they often don’t.
Chelsea: Right. I think that finding … we talked to students a lot that it’s not just about the company’s hiring interviewing you, but you’re also interviewing them, that them asking you, “Hey, are you cool in these certain ways?” You should be asking the same things, right? Because you as a person are going to be spending every day with these people and you don’t want to hate it. And that you want to be successful in your job, and that doing some like introspection of like who I am and how I work and how I communicate, understanding those going into interviews is important, because that’s the way that you’re going to be successful.
Matt: Right. I think to go back to what you said earlier about Notch 8 on having a hiring problem and being fairly unique, and that’s because we stopped asking the question how much experience you have, and started asking the question how successful are you going to be here. And we have that relationship with our alumni and with our students to be able to get a pretty solid answer at that. Let’s not boiled down to one number like years of experience, there’s so many more factors that go into that that are important. And I think that’s why Notch 8 has been successful there.
Rob: Yeah, for sure.
Chelsea: Cool. Well, as we wrap up is there something that you would advice you would give to any students coming in, or really anyone that’s wanting to kind of get into the industry? LEARN aside, just what kind of thoughts would you give them?
Matt: I think my biggest advice would be do your homework and talk to as many people as you possibly can. There’s lots of options out there and lots of ways to learn and get into this industry. And I think boot camps are a great option, but there are others, and so make sure that you’re making the right choices.
And we talked a lot about personality fits and things like that in companies, but it also makes a difference the philosophy of the school that you attend, that you align with their ideas and their philosophy. And their community, is community important to you? Then find a boot camp like LEARN where community is everything. If you’re more into some other goal, then look at those as well.
Rob: Yeah, I would echo what Matt said. But I think that for me the advice I give to people that are just starting out, just starting to think about what they want to do is to play online a little bit. And there’s plenty of free things you can do. And see if you get the book for it. This industry is really exciting and there’s a lot of fun stuff happening, but if you hate it – you’re still going to hate it. And so like it’s to decide that it’s not the right thing for you.
But, so often we hear people say, “Oh, I don’t know anything about programming. I’ve only spent 500 hours doing codeschool.com.” It’s like, “Well, then you don’t not know anything.” Even if it’s ten hours or five hours, that’s still something. And so that having some idea of whether there’s something that’s interesting to you is that’s a small stuff you could take that has no barriers, right? That’s very low entry, and that that often will awaken in people a passion for something they didn’t know that they wanted to do, and that that’s a really cool thing to me.
Chelsea: Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for hanging out with me guys.
Matt: Thank you.
Rob: Thanks, Chelsea. It’s fun.