Whatever we've been up to
Ruben Almost a year has passed since Sam and I met in Valencia after having both spent several years at Makers, Europe's first to open software engineering bootcamp. Having worked alongside for many years, we both wanted to work on an education project together.
Sam Ruben's an unbelievably great person and friend. He's been a crucial source of advice and strength in tough times and has an amazing ability to understand people, tech, and education together. It's fantastic to build with him.
Sam is one of the most amazing person I know, both as a human, as a friend, as a software engineer and as an expert in Education. I couldn't be more happy to have him as a partner in this journey. I spent the past 15+ years building, running, advising and investing in tech startups and spent more than half of it in the Education space.
I've been a teacher, software engineer and product person in a few startups. I got started with all that at Apple in 2009.
Sam and I are both fascinated about how soul-crushing much of the current Education system is despite all the research and knowledge to make it better. There are lots of inspiring gems out there, the likes of Montessori, Life Learn, Ecole 42, Makers, School 21 and other alternative education systems, as well as platforms like Brilliant.org.
We're also inspired by the creator communities that have exploded in the past decade. They're supported – perhaps driven – by some amazing tools: Instagram's filters, Logic Pro's Quantise feature, iPhone's Portrait Mode. These tools make best practice so accessible that it's quite hard to make something really bad. “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking...give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” Buckminster Fuller So where's the Portrait Mode for learning experience design? Almost everyone has something to teach. It's surprising there's no tool to help them build really great learning experiences; especially digital ones.
In short, we came down to the following problem<>solution statements: Problem Online education sucks and basically can be summarised by the following keywords: Zoom-calls, quizzes, videos, content. Solution Build a platform to be the equivalent of Wix.com for online learning: a platform where you simply can't mess it up because it was built and designed so learning happens in the way it should.
We're starting by trying to capture the amazing world of a real-world classroom in a digital environment. Things like: - How do you run high-quality, open-ended learning discussions in an asynchronous way? - How do you give people the flexibility of self-directed learning in a one-size-fits-all digital workspace? One of the magic things of in-person learning is that "buzz" you get in a really great lesson or workshop. How do you bring that online? This only scrapes the surface, and we only have some initial guesses about this stuff at the moment. It'll take us a lot of iterations to get that right. But both Ruben and I are committed long-term to figuring these things out.
Solving these will take great design, and great design needs clear constraints. So we decided to hold ourselves to ambitious principles when building learning experiences.
These are our first attempts: 1. Self-led: the learner is in control of their journey. 2. Zero-touch: no instructor requirement. 3. Asynchronous: doesn't require learners to all be in the same place at the same time. 4. Time-unbound: can take as long as you need. 5. Compelling: triggers people to return to train. 6. Bite-sized: can be picked up and dropped off in small chunks. 7. Right Challenge: pushes people to be in their Zone of Proximal Development at all times. 8. Holistic: learning hits the core outcomes, but also learning-to-learn and self-understanding: all together. 9. Social: involves interacting with other people. 10. Authentic context: learning happens in the environment the learning will be applied (or a simulation of that environment). 10. Empowering: give people applied powers with the "super-specific how".
Even though we know we're far from being there... yet! Here goes Whatever.
Now enters: TechMap
All of the above is good in theory, but we wanted to build this for a real problem. This is when Generation.org knocked at our door. Generation is an international charity that was originally built by McKinsey to help young people get into work. With the massive skills gap and youth unemployment, there indeed was a need for such a solution and we loved the idea of helping them. So it turns out their BD team around the world in 14 countries didn't quite understand the world of technology, impairing their ability to place tech talents in jobs. Tada. This resonated with our experience at Makers, and our rather annoyed stance vis-a-vis tech recruiters who don't understand enough about technology, the world they operate in every-single-day.
We heard how disempowering it can be to "work in the tech sector" and feel like a second-class citizen because of all the inaccessible jargon. We saw recruiters and HR professionals do pretty zany things to try and level up: they'd learn to code, or attend 7.30am breakfast seminars. It sucks that our industry disempowers people. Tech should empower people to create, not freeze people out.
So we've launched TechMap, our first product to deploy our long-term vision into the hands of people. We think it's the first and only course (AFAIK) dedicated for tech recruiters to acquire the necessary frameworks to learn about technology. To start with, we're focusing exclusively on tech recruiters, in-house or agency-side, or people at tech training companies like Generation.
In time, we hope to offer a way for anyone working in a tech or tech-adjacent field to learn the core models of technology: what it is, who makes it, and how it gets made. How it all fits together in most technologists' heads, how to use the resulting map to dive deeper, and how to connect it with your everyday work. This is a great field for us because we're ultimately trying to build a learning experience engine. The tech world is always changing, so we've had to build a flexible learning experience using our own tools.
There's an enormous need for such a product seeing the demand we're getting. Why? Tech recruiters are winging it and their reputation is in part affected by their lack of tech knowledge. And we don't blame them since it seems nobody has invested much time and energy training them. So that's what we're going to start with: helping tech recruiters do their job better, because they deserve it. If you want to read more about TechMap as a product, check-out this link.