Y Combinator on Smash Notes

#120 - Austen Allred

Y Combinator

Austen Allred is the CEO and cofounder of Lambda School.Lambda School provides a CS education that's free until you get a job. They were in the Summer 2017 batch of YC.You can learn more about Lambda School at lambdaschool.com.Austen is on Twitter at @austen.The YC podcast is hosted by Craig Cannon.***Topics00:00 - Intro1:01 - Encouraging people to do something that they're scared to do5:16 - Where did the insight for Lambda School come from?6:26 - College vs developer schools10:26 - Building a network12:16 - Does Austen see value in a traditional liberal arts education?14:56 - Steven Klaiber-Noble asks - As competitors begin to copy your model what front do you believe you'll be competing on?17:56 - Why did Austen choose to raise money?20:06 - Fundraising falling through on Austen's first startup21:36 - Moving back to Utah and writing a book about growth23:26 - Why Austen wrote a book26:26 - "Starting a company is by definition saying, I think what I can do is worth more than what other people will pay me for."27:26 - Mispriced human capital30:21 - Other opportunities for Lambda School32:46 - Modeling risk35:36 - David Kofoed Wind asks - When Lambda School is incentivized to take in people that will land high paying jobs, how do you think about the diversity of candidates? One would imagine that it quickly becomes a game of pattern matching the stereotypical SV people.37:51 - Will Lambda School ever not be remote?41:16 - Dave Dawson asks - You appear to be on the successful path now, was there a point early in Lambda School when you wanted to stop?43:46 - Helping everyone become an autodidact46:46 - Rethinking where to start on an online course48:11 - Dave Dawson asks - What keeps you up at night at this point? 49:46 - Dayo Koleowo asks - “I have made remarks I do not agree with” - from Austen's Twitter bio. What is that one remark you wish you didn’t have to disagree with?53:26 - Choosing remote work as a core problem to solve in your company55:56 - Analysts aren't good at measuring product quality57:36 - Teaching taste

Episode notes last updated on August 14, 2019 17:16

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Smash Notes summary for this episode

Who is Austen Allred?

Austen Allred is the CEO and Co-founder of Lambda School, a Y Combinator company that gives you a Computer Science education for free, until you get a job, at which point you repay them with a chunk of your salary for the next few years.

How do you encourage people to do something they are scared to do?

Highest level activity one can have is inspiring other humans to do their best. Massive imposter syndrome often prevents people from taking a leap. In case of Lambda School, many early graduates were great at their work, but they did not feel confident in their new shoes to start applying for jobs right away, so Lambda came up with a few mechanisms to build self-confidence and encourage these folks to leap forward. People don't realize that tech work is in such high demand, they'd get jobs the minute they actually apply.

Is Lambda School and computer science work just for rich people?

Not at all. In fact, one of the hardest thing for Lambda is to convince people who qualify to apply. Often case people don't recognize they have what it takes.

Why do people choose college over code schools?

Colleges do a great job marketing their programs, and our society in the last couple of decades come to believe that if you go to college and get a degree you will be successful, but often that is not true. In fact, many successful people do not have fancy degrees.

What inspired Austen Allred to start Lambda School?

Aftering living in rural Utah and then moving to San Francisco, Austen saw that places with less access to work have just as many qualified talent, but this talent does not have as much opportunity to connect with jobs.

How do help code camp graduates benefit from the same network value that college graduates get?

Code camps are shorter so you won't be stuck studying for years on end. By the time you graduate from Lambda vs a regular university, you have another 3 years to get jobs and experience to get more network than a college student would. Meanwhile, the camp has a full-time team to work on hiring and connecting and educating students. Networking is built into the curriculum.

Is there value in traditional liberal arts education?

Absolutely. There is value in liberal arts. You might not have to do it within the walls of a University though. For example, if you are 35 and you have never had a high-paying career, taking thousands of dollars in loans to take a few years off and go to a University is not a bad thing, but it might not be the right thing at the right time. Lambda School is looking to create vocational curriculum to help you accomplish these goals on your own terms.

What are some reasons why a funding round for a startup might fail?

Sometimes a VC, after doing months of due-diligence, would pull the rug and not fund you. It's a bad move, but it happens and it's something every founder should be aware of. That would be one reason to dislike VC, and to strive towards profitability.

How much can I get paid?

If you can measure how much you are worth, it would be easier to leverage the pay you deserve. There a lot of people who get underpaid every day simply because they don't know their true worth. Don't let people peg you into a specific number, instead figure out your own number.

Is there a ceiling to how high a salary can go?

No, it's whatever you can negotiate. Just because someone is getting paid X does not mean you cannot negotiate 2x or 3x that. Companies are incentivized to not advertise that, but if you can prove what you are worth, you can make whatever your dream number is.

Are there non-tech opportunities to train employees?

Yes, there are many areas where employers are willing to pay a lot of money because of the shortage of labor. For example, there is a huge shortage of nurses, but due to funding restrictions every nursing school is at capacity and cannot produce more graduates.

What made Lambda so successful despite other code bootcamps having difficulties in online education?

Existing bootcamps tried to solve online with the same tools they were teaching offline. When they put their curriculum on the internet and it did not work as expected, they assumed the internet was broken. Lambda realized that in order to teach their students online, and to get them jobs, not just the whole curriculum but the whole ecosystem for the students had to be changed from the ground up.

Why would you persevere when everyone is telling you to stop?

If you don't have another option you either succeed or you die. There's no plan B, so you have to succeed.

Why are some students unsuccessful in completing their education?

It seems that traditional educational models assume that some students are going to succeed and some will fail, and instead of helping those who might fail, they are making sure the other ones are guaranteed to succeed. It does not mean you cannot learn the curriculum, but if a student and the school don't share the same goals to begin with, it becomes even harder for someone to succeed when faced with a challenge.

How is Lambda School curriculum different from a typical University computer science course?

Universities like to start with fundamentals and build a holistic picture over time. That works for some students, but not all. Lambda gives you a project to play with on day one, enabling you to experiment, to change things, to get excited about what you are learning first. Once you are motivated to learn, learning becomes a natural process.