A screenshot from when I Skyped with Rebecca Goldman to tell her I got the fellowship.
This Saturday marks the close of my two-year stint as a Thiel Fellow. I sat down to write Danielle Strachman, Jim O’Niell, Mike Gibson, Deepali Roy, and Jonathan Cain a thank you letter, but I decided to expand this letter to include the many other wonderful people who have been part of my journey the last two years.
The last two years have been a whirlwind. In the spring of 2011 I was sitting in my drom at Hendrix College staring at my computer screen as emails kept flowing into my inbox. One of those was from Danielle with a message inviting me to fly to San Francisco as a finalist for the Thiel Fellowship.
The first week in April that I did. I left with a renewed sense of energy. It felt at home. Danielle, Jim, and Jonathan welcomed me with open arms. I jumped off the ledge into one of those ball pits that you find in the children’s area of McDonald’s and I was supported from all sides.
My path has had many twists and turns in the last two years, and I am grateful for the explorations we made together. I’m honored that relationships have been both personal and professional. I’ve grown in both ways. I loved every minute of my reviews as a fellow as much as walking home at 4am at Davos with Jim or tasting the breakfast cocktails with Jonathan at mission bowling. These were the best of times that we shared together.
When I look back, I’m stunned and how much support I’ve had on this journey. Somehow you turned from strangers into friends and then lovers.
While I really only left school and started the fellowship and Uncollege two years ago, I feel as though the journey started the year before. I was working in San Francisco, for a company called Zinch for Mick Hagen and Anne Dwane. I had no experience, but they took a chance on me. I recall that summer, Mick, who had dropped out of Princeton, asked me: why are you going to college? Mick and Anne, thank you for believing in me.
I realized I didn’t have a good answer. I think I mumbled something like “I’ll at least give it a try.”
I related this story to Rose Broome, whom I love dearly. She asked where I was going. I said Hendrix, in Conway, Arkansas. She began laughing, and when she regained composure finally spit out her words – “You won’t last the year.” Rose, thank you for always speaking the truth.
I didn’t. When I came home for winter break, I went down to Palo Alto for a conference. I stayed with a friend who happened to be employing Rebecca Goldman. We spent a few hours complaining about college. Then we figured out we’d both been unschooled and it clicked.
The next week I went back to college. It was cold and rainy. I was in the dumps. I emailed Rebecca, asking how we could change college. She asked “Why don’t you star your own?” A few days later I registered uncollege.org. Rebecca, thank you for pushing me.
And thus began the journey.
Two days later, I emailed Audrey Watters asking what she thought. She interviewed me for her blog, hackeducation.com. I had no idea what I was doing. Audrey asked – and continues to ask – important questions. I adore her, and she has continued to push me to be a better person. Sometimes what makes us better can be hard to swallow, but that’s the stuff life’s made of.
In May, an article in NY Mag came out about me. They said I was writing a book. I suddenly had agents chasing me. I called Sandra Aamodt, who I have known since I was 16, and asked “What do I do?” She was the only published author I knew, and she helped me calm down. Sandra, thank you for always brining me back to reality.
Long story short, I ended up writing a book. I didn’t realize how much work that would be. At first I though I’d be helping to build a software project at the same time (Radmatter) but I didn’t understand just how much work writing would be. I owe it to Aron Solomon for helping me to figure that out. Aron, thank you for asking the tough questions.
Around that time, Michael Ellsberg had emailed me to interview me for his book and to ask if I would blurb it. Somehow my quote ended up on the back of his book. How, I don’t know. It was crazy to me – in the span of six months, I’d gone from a random student to an authority blurbing books. I struggled with my identity. I’ll get back to that in a second.
At the same time, I saw my best friend from college, Sophie Denofrio, starting her second year at Hendrix and hating it. Totally hating it. It made me sad and gave me empathy. I’m so happy that Sophie has escaped to a place that now makes her happy. Sophie, thank you for being you.
That summer I also met two people who have been extremely influential in my life, Elizabeth Stark and David Dalrymple. Elizabeth really helped me become comfortable with myself. She taught me to dance, and that extends to other aspect of life. Thank you for that.
David and I met in Dolores park in August of 2011 and started an ongoing Facebook conversation. This continued through the year and in May 2012 we were talking and he asked if I wanted to get lunch. I didn’t realize that he’d left grad school for a startup. An hour later, we were talking about our growth the past year. We had no idea of what was to come. David, thank you for always being open.
That summer I also met Lisa and Joe Betts-Lacroix. They homeschool their children, and that was our connection. Lisa and Joe have been fantastic people to know. They have pushed me and supported me, hosted way too many dinners in the honor, and given me so much respect. Thank you for that.
The other people I met that summer that I am thankful for are numerous. Kevin Roose asked me hard questions about my identity as someone writing a book. Jenny 8 Lee was an amazing resource as I was writing my book, introducing me to interviewees and editors. Dave Hoover and I had coffee at 6am before a flight to NYC. I’m so proud of his growth into Devbootcamp. Thank you, Dave, for always being willing to be proven wrong. That’s an inspiration. Olof Mathe really pushed me to think about my identity, particularly as someone who dates men. He encouraged me to get rid of labels and replace them with factual questions such as “What gender do you date?”
That summer I also met Asha Jadeja who has become a second mother. Literally. Her daughter in my sister on Facebook. The love that Asha has extended to me is glorious. Thank you, Asha.
Asha brought me to DLD, where I met Cindy Gallop. I’ve always been an independent person, but Cindy pushed me. She pushed me to think about what I value, and why. Thank you.
In September I was starting to write my book and to travel for conferences. I met Holly Epstien Ojalvo at one and Suzanne Walsh at another. I’d known them both online, but this was our first real world meeting. They have both become friends. Holly, thank you for first writing about me at the NYTimes. I’m so proud of your new journey. Suzanne, thank you for encouraging me to stay the course instead of swaying to the bias of Silicon Valley. At a time when I felt judged for writing a book, you helped me embrace my identity as a writer.
In NYC, I caught up with Pierre Valade who I met at SXSW. We spoke French and ate croissants. We promised to stay in touch, and we did. Pierre, thank you for being an example of someone who makes a commitment to Friendship
When I returned home, Tyler Driscoll was just moving in to my apartment. Meeting Tyler was interesting. Here was an awesome, kind, talented person who happened to date men. (Seriously,Tyler is awesome and designed my book cover). But he said something that made me think. He’s just moved from DC, and wanted to make more gay friends. I wondered why, and it made me insecure when I realized that I didn’t really have any gay friends (aside from my boyfriend). More on this in a second.
I met Ryan Holiday and Michael Ellsberg’s book launch party. I went on to interview him for my book, and Ryan helped me understand how to relate to the media in more ways than I can count. Ryan, thank you for always being patient.
Roy Bahat emailed me, asking to have coffee. I agreed. Such began a friendship that began to include his wife, Sara. Together, they ask interesting questions. Thank you both for supporting and pushing me.
My first relationship was coming to a close, and I ended up flying to London on Christmas day to break up with my boyfriend. Fate was at play, and I sat next to Derrick Carter. Derrick has constantly provided a healthy dose of perspective. Thank you for that, Derrick.
In Berlin, I welcomed Nik Baron into my home. We became fast friends. Those were some of my happiest days. Thank you, Nik, for always being yourself. While in Europe I visit Clement Epie in Paris and met Raghava KK in Munich. Both have become amazing people who love and support me. Thank you both for being you.
When I returned from my two months in Berlin, I went to SXSW where I met Kyle Macdonald who went on to become my roommate. Thank you, Kyle, for keeping reality in check. Around that time, I had a conversation with Michael Staton, who I’d met a year earlier, about where UnCollege was heading. I didn’t know. He proposed a 5-year program. I fired back with a 1-year program. That became gap year. Thank you Michael for always having ideas. I also Met Bay McLaughlin at that time. In the last year, I have learned so much from Bay about how to be open and willing to learn. Thank you, Bay.
At SXSW, Nicole Patrice helped me learn how to be myself. She has continued to challenge me, and I love it. Thank you.
In June, I went to the wedding of Scott and Jo Phoenix. I met the pair through Rose, and for the last two years we’ve had fairly consisten monthly dinners. I respect both immensely, and I thank them for their commitment to consistency.
That summer, I hosted the first Hackademic Camp and my friends Natalie Warne and Tiffany Mikell came from Chicago for it. They are both awesome and beautiful people. I want to thank Natalie for always reminding me how ridiculous I can be, and I want to thank Tiffany for having such a optimistic view of life. It was a conversation with Tiffany that sparked me to talk publicly in November about the advantage of being a misfit. I promise, I’ll get to this in a second.
In August, I took a vacation with Todd Perry. I want to thank him for engaging me to think different about gender in society. It is so engrained, and it needs to change. It was a book that I read while on a feminism bent that sparked a conversation with Deanna Macclellan in October. Thank you, Deanna for helping me like Los Angeles again.
The two women I still need to thank are Eden Full and Kristina Varshavskaya. Both have been amazing friends, and have really helped me be myself over the last two years.
Personally the biggest change I’ve seen in myself in the last two years is starting to develop loving relationships, and in my particular case those have all been with men. I don’t think of this as a coming out phase but rather as a process of discovery. To come out, you have to be in a closet. I never felt like I was in a closet, rather as I got older I discovered new things about myself, who I wanted to love and the desires I had. When I got to college I met gay people for the first time, and I discovered what it meant to be gay. I thought perhaps I was like those people in some ways. In January 2011, I got my first boyfriend. I would happily tell people I had a boyfriend, but I refused to be called gay. I didn’t like the label.
It was interesting that this discovery of an identity occurred at the same time as my discovery of my identity as a dropout. In a similar way, I didn’t use to like being called a dropout. Now of course I’m fine with being called a gay dropout, but it took some time to learn to embrace that.
I think what really helped me embrace that was a conversation with Thom Dimmock, a now friend who I dated last summer. Thank you for that. What I discovered was that I actually really didn’t understand what it meant to be different because I was so used to being the odd one out. I’d been out of school of six years. I was caught up on semantics. What I came to understand that semantics don’t matter. As long as you’re different, you’re different, it doesn’t matter what name you call yourself. You can be a dropout, or a stopout, or an unschooler, or a lifelong learner. You can be gay, or bi, or queer. At the end of the day, you’re still different. You’re a misfit.**
What I’ve learned over the last two years in how to love, share, and nurture that difference, because there is no greater loss than authenticity.
**Special thanks to Tiffany Mikell and Nick Terzo for helping me write the talk I delivered at TEDxBrussels.
Written by Dale Stephens. This piece is a response to Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz’s article “Online Courses seek a Business Model” in the Wall Street Journal.
If you were told of a MOOC had 1.5 million learners and 250,000 graduates worldwide, the names Coursera and Udacity would probably come to mind. What if I told you this MOOC was founded in 2007, has over 20,000 favorable testimonials on its website, is based out of Ireland, and is profitably educating millions for free? Would you know who I am talking about?
In contrast with celebrity MOOCs who are struggling for business models — and yet have raised millions of dollars in funding — ALISON has become successful with less than $2 million in capital. It is growing faster than ever.
Unlike newer MOOCs, ALISON doesn’t seek to educate the elite. Instead, it focuses on the working class, students who may never have gotten the chance to attend college and who need to develop certain skills. It caters to people marginalized from basic education and training, especially those in developing world countries.
With learners in every country worldwide, ALISON’s business model might suggest where others might go to in time; it is supported by advertisements. After all, if advertising can support the development of radio and television, why not education?
A wonderfully equitable aspect of advertising-supported education, as founder Mike Feerick explains, is that when someone clicks on an ad on ALISON while studying basic accounting in Yemen, Indonesia or India, the income is next to zero. When an American in California clicks on an ad, however, he or she pays for the next hundred students in those countries. The challenge, says Feerick, is that his content must be of high-interest to the learner in USA. It’s a challenge he and his team are very willing to accept.
As I travel around the world, I come across innovators in education from all different countries. Many of them have international impact: ALISON, for example, has 200,000 learners in the USA. Although not high-profile, they are making an impact all the same, and with a free certification system that really should get more attention. Celebrity MOOCs are great, but there are some less-tinseled MOOCs out there that we can learn a lot from – in more ways than one!
Written by Dale Stephens. This piece is a response to Leon Wieseltier’s article of The New Republic.
When I look back at my education, I am struck by how little I was taught.This is, apparently, the opposite experience of Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic. While I certainly had a unique experience — I left school at twelve — it is inevitable that education will become more self-directed in the future.
Look at the rise of massive open online courses over the course of the past year. Stanford’s experiment in the Fall of 2011 gave birth to two companies: Udacity and Coursera. Not be outdone, Harvard and MIT created Edx. Other universities across the country and around the world are following suit.
Sure, as Leon points out, this is merely information. This is true, but once the gates are opened to the information that Ivy League schools hold, it is up to you what to do with it. And people are doing amazing things — this African teen built his own DJing set using knowledge he learned online, for example.
That is, of course, not an average example, but it is an example of what can happen once you unlock content and start unbundling it from school. The impact will be even more powerful once we unbundle the other parts of school that are currently packed together—namely the community and signal.
Learning communities outside school are already being created. Around the world, there are more than 1200 Hackerspaces that have created in the last four years, places where people come together to work on projects and share knowledge. Companies like General Assembly and TechShop are creating real-world spaces for people to learn in formal environments outside school.
The signaling effect of a college degree — the guarantee of a job if you spend four years in lectures — is a fallacy. Leon would point out that the BLS statistics show that college graduates are less likely to be unemployed than those without degree. That is true, for those over twenty-five.
For those under twenty-five with college degree, 22.5% are unemployed and another 22% are working jobs that don’t require their degree. In other words, even if you go to college, odds are that only 50% of a time you’ll end up a with a job that you need your degree for. Even if you get that job, you’ll have an average of $27,000 in debt. If you don’t get that job, you’ll still be saddled with an average of $27,000 in debt.
The picture of youth in America is not pretty. I am not on a “campaign against allegedly useless study” as Leon says, but rather a crusade in favor of rationality. It seems, then, that Leon is arguing that I am too rational.
The problem is not that people are reading useless books, but rather that they are doing so without thinking, and doing so while spending exorbitant amounts of money. If you think about education as an investment, which I feel we must do in this economy, then how can you justify spending four years and $100,000 to end up right where you started?
In terms of investment, there are exciting startups in the signaling space that offer a much better return. DevBootCamp, for example, offers a 10-week training program for people who want to be professional software developers. 88% of their graduates have job offers starting at an average of $79,000 a year after their program. The program costs $12,200. That is a much better investment than college.
The ways that I describe technology impacting education are not far-flung hypothetical scenarios.They are happening right now. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking university courses on the internet. Those people are using sites like Meetup to form real-world study ground and exchange knowledge.They are finding mentors. They are building portfolios to showcase their work. They are using sites like StackExchange to connect that work to the needs of employers.
I don’t wish universities to disappear, but if academics like Leon don’t take note of the rapid changes in education, they will soon be out of jobs. That would be a tragedy.
Written by Alexander Berger.
When I tell people I quit school, I get one of two reactions:
“That’s stupid, risky, and reckless. Go back or you’ll regret it.”
“That’s awesome! Hands-on experience is more valuable than a degree.”
Most reactions are positive here in Silicon Valley, but are not so in other parts of the world. For good reason — not all students should leave school.
You might want to stay in school if…
You’re happy there.
At school, you find yourself happy more often than not. Far from discontent with the system, you thrive in it. Lecture-based learning may not work for other students, but it works for you. You consistently feel inspired and excited to go to class.
You’re developing skills you’ll need for your future career.
If you’re a humanities student who finds yourself making leaps in terms of critical thinking, stay in school until you can replicate that progress outside of classroom. If you’re a student who needs access to specific resources (e.g. you’re a science major with lab work), stay in school until you can find other ways to get the materials that you need.
You’re learning a lot, and while a degree would be nice, it’s not why you’re there.
You see college not as a means to an end, but as a legitimate way to learn new things. If you feel intellectually stimulated (and wouldn’t if you were a self-directed student), don’t drop out. This path is working for you.
You got a good price for it.
It’s not unreasonable to stay if you’re attending a good school on a scholarship. Just make the most of your college experience — Scott Young wrote a great article about this here.
You like the structure that college provides.
Having a school environment can be powerful. It’s easy to stay on track, make friends, and understand what you have to do to achieve your goals.The prospect of being on your own is scary; the pressure of knowing that your education lies in your own hands makes opting out of the system even more difficult. Stay in school if freedom sounds to you more paralyzing than it does empowering.
You want to be a doctor or a dentist.
If you’re pursuing a career in a highly regulated field, dropping out is not for you. There’s no way around it — for the safety of the public, these professions simply require a degree. Fun fact though: if you want to become the next President of the United States, then yes, you can leave.
You should consider dropping out of school if…
You feel increasingly frustrated and disillusioned by the homogeneity of your peers. You’ve read and fervently agree with William Deresiewicz’s “The Disadvantages of An Elite Education.”
You can use other resources to develop the skills that you need for the future.
There are cheaper ways to get the education that you want — whether it’s through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), alternative school-like programs, or your own initiatives. In this case, college isn’t cost-effective, and you should really check out the UnCollege resource page.
You’re not really learning, and you’re only there to get a degree.
If your plan is skip class, get straight Cs, and do the least amount of work possible to get a degree, you need to seriously reconsider how you’re spending your time. There are more effective ways to get credentials (e.g. by building an online portfolio of practical experience). You might even learn something along the way — something more tangible than the ability to cram for finals exams.
You’re piling on student loans that will limit your career choices to investment banking (or something equally soul-sucking).
This one is self-explanatory.
You crave the freedom of designing your own path.
You know you can learn faster and more effectively outside of the classroom. You feel limited by college if anything; even actively participating in out-of-school activities isn’t cutting it for you.
You can hack your way into the field you want to work in.
In fields like entrepreneurship, computer science and art (of all kinds), your ability to execute your ideas is infinitely more important your ability to brag about where you graduated from. You should be getting as much practical experience as possible.
Written by Catherine Stevens.
Hackademics: We Have A Problem
College students have it easy: school offers both content (your classes) and community (your classmates).
Hackademics, on the other hand, need to embrace a certain “I’ll-do-it-myself” mindset. Although we now have access to the content we need — through online classes, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), the library, and so forth — we don’t have a built-in community. Instead we have to build our own.
Why They’re Important
Real-life discussions facilitate learning. Although MOOCs offer forums for students to talk to each other, pertinent social cues can get lost in online dialogue. You don’t get the sensory feedback that you would get if you met and talked in person.
You’ll meet people with similar interests as you. Forming in-person study groups will help you expand your network. With these like-minded people you can develop lasting friendships and possibly collaborate in the future.
Student-directed groups often work better than professor-directed classes. In college, the professor might ask for questions right after a lecture, when students haven’t yet had the time to grasp the material. If you create your own study group, you can ask your peers for help at any point. Learning becomes a group experience, instead of a solitary one.
Starting Your Own
One way to get in touch with other learners is to create a Meetup group, which can be about almost anything. Many MOOCs have a Meetup page (e.g. Khan Academy’s one here). Ask other students to meet with you to have heated debates about things you’ve learned or just to help each other out with problems you’ve encountered. Being able to explain a concept to someone else will help you understand the material better as well.
Check out http://www.uncollege.org/resources/ under “Study Groups” for more learning communities.
by Jean Fan
The Harsh Reality of Paying for School
I’m worried. As I apply for college, my biggest fear is not “Where will I get in?” but rather, “How will I afford all of this?”
Already the costs are accruing. We have to pay to request transcripts, and then pay more to send our SAT scores. Don’t forget the application fees — one for each of our schools, upwards of sixty dollars. I haven’t even made it to college yet, and already I’m falling behind on my dues.
At college, it won’t get any better: going to a top school easily costs $100,000 in four years. Spending this amount of money seems absurd, especially since I don’t have a solid plan to pay it back. Why is that investing $100,000 in a startup venture is seen as a risky move, but investing the same amount in a college degree is seen as necessary or even inevitable?
What I’m most concerned about is this: unlike other loans, student loans are unforgivable. They go with you to the grave (or even beyond).
The Student Loan Bubble
Right now, students owe more than $1 trillion dollars in loans, and that number is expected to increase by $60 billion a quarter. Unfortunately, not only are students taking out more loans, many are defaulting on theirs.
This has created the next subprime crisis — remember the one in 2007? Homeowners in the United States took out mortgages far bigger than they could pay back, which led to the severe downturn in the U.S. (and the global) economy.The scary thing is that right before the crash, the amount owed was $1.3 trillion dollars. The amount of student loans owed will surpass that in just a year and a half.
Is This What I Want?
I know a lot of college students put themselves through school by applying for scholarships or working part-time jobs. It’s possible to graduate from school debt-free, but often there are costs: choosing to attend a school that offers a lot of scholarship money rather than your choice school, picking up multiple jobs that infringe on your studying time, and so forth.
College, as we know, isn’t a surefire way to a great career anymore. We need to find new ways to set ourselves apart from the pack, since there are now over 20 million other students enrolled in college. That’s what people say, yet everyone goes to college anyways and are paralyzed when they graduate and can’t find a job. The opportunity cost of going to college is that we could be using that time to self-educate, create cool projects, and design our own future. We could be turning ourselves into hackademics.
At this point, I don’t know how I feel about college. I’m sure if I really tried, I could make ends meet and leave with a payable amount of student debt. The real question is this: is that $100,000 the best use of my money?
By Kathryn Cannon
At UnCollege, we recognize that some of our readers choose the college path. Some need it for licensing, some are on a scholarship, some are doing it in half the time; whatever the case may be, they believe it is the right choice for them. But just because you’re in school doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hack your education. Self-learners will propel their way to success no matter their environment. Here are 4 skills you should develop within the university system:
We like to talk a lot about networking. It’s important. College students have access to a massive network, but few use it well.
Connect with other students that are doing something interesting or are vocal about an issue you’re passionate about. Build a network of students who stand out from the crowd. You never know what value you might be able to exchange in the future.
Make friends with your professors, especially in your area of study. They can give you a more stimulating view of a topic, and speaking with them lets you hone your discussion abilities.
Finally, reach out to your college’s guest speakers. Colleges bring in anyone from local business owners to community figures to big name experts from around the country. Introduce yourself personally. Make an intelligent comment about their speech, and, if they’re local, see if they’d be interested in meeting for coffee. If not, give them your card and follow up with an email about why you enjoyed meeting them.
Start a Student Business
Most people don’t realize how easy it is to start a business. Just fill out a form or two and send a small fee to the secretary of state’s office. Then voila, you’re a business owner.
Starting a student business is a smart move: you learn a skill and much more importantly, make money. Additionally, you learn to communicate and sell your ideas; you learn to manage your supply of time and resources.
Make use of the resources around you: your peers might be your customer base, potential employees, or both. Take advantage of advice or feedback from professors. See if your university provides grants or other financial advantages for student business owners.
Lead a Student Organization
College is a great place to develop your leadership skills. Find a few other students who are interested in the same thing as you, and you can start your organization on practically anything and receive the financial support of the university. Then you can cultivate your leadership abilities while advocating something you’re passionate about.
Learn to Write Grants
College faculty often submit grant proposals for local, state, and federal funding. They usually have student assistants who assist with research and writing. By learning to write grants, you open yourself up to the possibility of working at a non-profit organization and helping them acquiring funding. You get to work directly with professors. You get the opportunity to practice articulating your ideas, supporting them with research, and selling them to others.
If you’ve explored the UnCollege movement at all, you know it takes more than a college degree to unlock your success. If you’ve decided to pursue the college route, don’t passively go through the four years. Be an undercover hackademic. Use the resources around you to develop skills and create opportunities, to invest in yourself and add value to your portfolio.
Written by Derek Janis
About 3 years ago, I dropped out of Brigham Young University to work on a startup. Since then, I’ve had mediocre success and about a year ago I decided to finish my degree, while continuing to work at a digital marketing firm.
This was a very hard decision for me. Though I hate to admit it, a college degree still has value. The startup world, however, is unstable: I need to have a backup plan to provide for the woman I love and our future family.
Although I am excited at the progress I have made, it’s become painfully obvious that the college degree system is broken. It annoys me beyond belief to be required to take a biology class when my passion is to build businesses. It makes no sense for me to be required to take a humanities course when I need to be learning how to develop relationships and expand my network.
While there are, of course, definite advantages to being well-rounded and cultured, I shouldn’t be forced to pay to take classes that employers won’t care less about — let me do those on my time, through the myriad of free platforms.
This is why I am so excited about Degreed, a startup that plans to “jailbreak” the degree and create the world’s first Lifelong Diploma. This diploma will allow students to present “everything they’ve learned, from any source, throughout their lives.” The education industry should allow learners to earn degrees by taking classes that they want to take.
This quote exists at the heart of Degreed’s campaign: “We choose to go to the moon [and do other things],” John F. Kennedy once said. “Not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Written by Jean Fan
As hackademics we choose to establish our own credentials, often at the expense of formal ones. In order to build a captivating online portfolio, however, we need to develop certain skills. Below we’ve included a list of important skills and corresponding resources that will help you build your reputation.
Whether you write only to respond to email or you go so far as to keep your own blog, writing is an incredibly powerful tool. Your writing style conveys your personality. Being able to articulate your thoughts is crucial, yet few can do it well.
If you choose to blog, then writing becomes an even more effective tool. Not only do you have a chance to express what matters to you, you are also reinforcing yourself as an expert in your field, someone we can trust.
Learning the science behind technology is not just a Silicon Valley sentiment anymore. There are now a terrific amount of startups dedicated to teaching non-programmers how to program, and for good reason: programmers are in short supply. The technology sector always lacks technical talent; unlike other fields it is not overflowing with overqualified applicants.
Coding, however, is only a means to an end. The key to becoming a good programmer is not to code simply for the sake of coding. Instead, find a project that you absolutely need to see through, and work backwards to figure out how to make it happen.
- Khan Academy offers an interactive way to learn how to program.
- Udacity offers computer science courses through project-based learning.
People are everything. If you make it a point to meet and help others, you will create a community of supporters who will give you a helping hand when you need it as well. Making connections and connecting other people is an incredibly valuable skill because it is one of few that cannot be outsourced or automated.
That being said, the purpose of networking is not to use people for your own purposes — beyond just adding someone on LinkedIn or Facebook, learning how to genuinely care about other people is far more important.
Thinking entrepreneurially is perhaps the most important skill. Many hackademics want to strike out on their own to build something great, but “intrapreneurs” should also cultivate some of the defining qualities of entrepreneurs — taking initiative, prioritizing execution, soliciting feedback, and so forth.
Treat yourself like a small business. Learn how to market yourself, then leverage your skills to create multiple sources of income.
- $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau, will teach you how to create and bootstrap businesses that you’ve never considered.
- Linchpin, by Seth Godin, challenges you to be “indispensable.” What value do you add?
Last week, Uncollege hosted its Fall Hackademic Camp. Here’s a play-by-play of a few of our workshops:
Tiffany Mikell asked us, “What is the greatest gift that you can give to the world?”
A Chicago native, Tiffany runs a technology consulting firm, helping non-profits expand their reach.
1. What is your mission? Write down the first verb that comes to mind. A few of ours were to teach, to inspire, and to create.
2. What are 5 gifts that you have? Next we were asked to brainstorm 5 skills, again using verbs, that we could use to carry out our mission. If your mission is to create, for example, gifts like writing, connecting, and acting are important skills to develop.
3. What are jobs that allow you to apply those gifts? For each skill, write down 3 applicable jobs. Often we think that we have to stick to one career path, not realizing that our skills can be transformed across industries. Good writing skills, for example, are important not just to bloggers or authors, but also scientists who want to communicate their discoveries clearly, or startup entrepreneurs looking to pitch their ideas online.
4. What educational experiences can you create?
How will you develop the skills that you need, in order to do the job that you want to have? The final step of Tiffany’s process asks you to create your own learning experiences. If I was intent on improving my writing skills, I could volunteer my time and practice writing press releases for a local non-profit organization.
Tiffany’s 4-step process helps you make sure that you’re on track. By writing for a local non-profit, for example, you could be advancing your ability to pitch your future tech startup and carrying out your mission to create at the same time.
Natalie Warne led a discussion on difficulty and community-building.
At age 18, Natalie became an activist, travelling the country to campaign for Invisible Children.
Citing a brief career limbo in Los Angeles, Natalie shared with the hackademics her experiences with failure. “It’s normal to have seasons where things just aren’t working out,” she said.
She showed us a manifesto by Ira Glass, the founder of “This American Life.” Many creatives get frustrated, Glass says, when they go through a stage where the work they produce doesn’t match up with the taste they’ve developed. The successful ones are the ones who break through this roadblock.
For Natalie, the people around her gave her the motivation to drive on even when things seemed particularly grim. Because alternative learning can be lonely without support, we discussed ways to build a more cohesive community of Uncollege readers: suggestions included the creation of a monthly Google Hangout, a peer mentoring system, and smaller accountability groups. (What are your thoughts?)