The 1% Rule …and Software Predictions for 2014

You’ll agree with me when I say…

There’s too much information online. And not enough understanding.

Ready for your fill this week?

  1. Which huge online retailer thinks Bitcoin is the future?
  2. Dying startup… comes clean!
  3. Software Predictions for 2014

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The Case for Online Education


The honeymoon is over. People are writing about online education will never replace offline education. I’d like to challenge that view: not only will online education eventually be as good as offline education, it will be better.

Saying that online education will never be as good as offline (because it’s not currently as good) is like taking one look at a Model T, saying that it’s unsafe, and urging everyone to switch back to horses.

The reason online classes will eventually be better than offline classes is simple:

We can measure and respond to students’ behavior much more easily and quickly when education is digital than when it is analog.

On the other hand, what makes for a good teacher in a classroom setting? A good teacher is someone who can:

  • come up with compelling content that explains complicated topics
  • take in a lot of information about how students are responding to that content
  • quickly adjust the style based on that information quickly

A good teacher can see the look in a student’s eyes and tell immediately whether a particular topic is resonating or not. He or she has the ability to reiterate a point and respond to questions in real time. That’s what we mean when we say that an in-person classroom experience is more “personal” – and it’s hard to imagine online education being able to match that anytime soon.

But let’s suspend disbelief for a second. In theory, a computer can take in vastly more information than a human can and respond to it much faster. According to Scientific American, two years ago the fastest computer could store almost ten time as much data as the human brain and process it almost four times as fast.

Companies in the online education space are not currently taking advantage of even a fraction of the data that they could be.

Imagine what a good teacher could do if he or she knew where exactly a student was getting confused during a lesson, how long it took that student to complete an exercise, or even the student’s physiological responses to the content (say, for example, by tracking heart-rate or eye movements via webcam – forget about the creepy-factor).

There are a handful of education startups already tracking some of this data, but they’ve barely scratched the surface of how to use it to make education more compelling.

This brings me to my second and more pressing point:


The biggest problem with in-person education is that it forces a linear, one-size-fits-all teaching style.

In any classroom, there will be some students are behind and some that are ahead.

Even the best teacher in the world must deal with this tradeoff, which boils down to the following question: Should I slow down to help more students understand, or speed up to cover more material?

And so they inevitably end up settling on a pace and an educational approach somewhere in the middle.

As a result, in-person education is always suboptimal for a large number of students in a classroom.

Online education can solve this problem because it allows for personalized learning. Educational content and style can adapt to a particular student and that student’s response to a particular lesson.

Imagine a world in which no one person experiences the same class in the same way. One that adjusts a lesson on computer programming depending on whether a student already has previous experience with programming, or is a total beginner – why not use concepts a student may already have to allow them to learn something faster?

Or one in which the way the material is delivered is different depending on whether the student is an auditory, a visual, or a kinesthetic learner.

Or one in which the order of the lessons themselves are rearranged. (Or A/B tested!)

Or one that can identify early that a student might get stuck in an upcoming lesson and takes him or her on a learning detour to reinforce important concepts and avoid frustration that might otherwise lead to abandonment.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine this world, because Salman Khan is already doing it with Khan Academy (watch 13:35 if you still don’t believe in the value of personalized education).

Finally, advancements in online education allow teachers to treat classes in the same way that startups treat products.

There are tons of amazing tools out there for a/b testing, onboarding, gamification, email campaigns, measuring user satisfaction, and so much more that startups use. Why not apply the same tools to education? It’s going to happen, it’s only a matter of time.

That’s why it’s frustrating to hear people brush off online education as a failure that will never amount to anything. Let’s see the current batch of online educational classes and platforms as what they really are: a first attempt.


Hacker News is Dead?

Lessons learned from the Hacker News outage…

1) THE big mistake Hacker News made this week
2) One quick trick to check less email in 2014!
3) How did RapGenius get it’s Google SEO juice back?

All that in less than 18 minutes.

Check out this week’s episode of Hacker News Nation #8…

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Behind the Scenes: Our Interview with Paul Graham + RapGenius gets Penalized by Google!

You’re smart right? Sure. But can you answer these questions for me…

  1. Why did RapGenius gets penalized by The Google?
  2. How much $$$ does a senior Rails developer make?
  3. What 2 coding languages did Paul Graham tell Y Combinator and startups to avoid?

Don’t know? Then you better watch Hacker News Nation this week…

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An Interview with Paul Graham: Hackers & Painters 10 Years Later

Paul Graham Hacker's and PaintersWhen Hackers & Painters came out in 2003…  hacking was not cool.  Computer science was not cool. Having a startup was not cool.

That same year, I was learning to code.

But that same year: I failed Computer Science. Failed hard, like a big fat: F.

My confidence was at an all time low. And I quit.

Then I read Hackers & Painters and thought, “Oh this guy totally gets it. It’s not that I’m doing it wrong… it’s that my college is teaching this the wrong way”.  I realized that as a developer I didn’t need to know EVERYTHING! Instead, I could be creative and learn from the process! It was liberating.

Hackers & Painters gave me permission to rethink my job as a developer. I wasn’t a scientist, but an artist.

A decade later… here I am teaching programming. And left wondering:

  • Has computer science changed in 10 years?
  • Should everyone learn to code?
  • Has Paul Graham’s prophecy for less elitism in coding come true?

I went to the source to find out. Here’s my interview with Paul Graham….


Paul Graham at Y Combinator's Demo Day

Paul Graham at Y Combinator

It’s been 10 years since you wrote the essay “Hackers and Painters”. In the essay you imagine a future where computer science could become less of an elitist thing. And that it would be broken up into many niches. In your opinion, are we there yet?

PG: That does seem to be happening… for sure. A lot of what used to be computer science research is now just happening on GitHub amongst people who don’t think that what they’re doing is computer science research.

So yeah, it’s true.

There’s niches all up and down the stack: there’s front and and back end hackers, and operating system hackers, right down to hardware hackers.

Programming in the last 10 years is much more system administration. It’s largely installing things and piecing them together. You used to have libraries you’d have to call and stuff like that, but now you build your app by piecing together these big chunks of open source code that other people have written.

And that used to be the thing that sys admins did, they installed things and programmers wrote things. But now programmers are good at installing things. And they’re proud of it, at how they can tune them properly.

If I have a startup, but can’t code… what should I be doing?

PG: You have to do sales. There’s two things startups need to do early on: you need to build stuff, and talk to users. So if you can’t build stuff, you have to talk to users.

And what you want to do [by talking to users] is get them to use your stuff. So whether you’re good at sales or not, if you can’t program, then sales is what you’re doing.

Can a non-technical founder hire developers? 

PG: It depends. There are now startups working on things that aren’t very technical at all. For example: retail businesses where the technology used is fairly generic. So yes, to some extent you can be a non-technical founder and somehow get programmers to do that stuff for you. But it’s very hard to hire programmers if you’re not a programmer yourself, because you can’t judge them.

We have had non-technical founders who have run into EXACTLY this problem: they are worried if their programmer is any good and they can’t tell.

So… how can you tell if a developer is good?

PG: There’s not really any good solution. Of all the startups with solo non-technical founders that Y Combinator has funded… it’s possible that none of them are doing very well. It’s hard, very hard.

You would have to have a friend who’s a really good programmer. But then, how would you know if your friend was a really good programmer? (laughs)

If you had this friend he could jump start the process to ensure that the first couple of people are good. Then they can hire the rest. You could even get JUST ONE good person. But how do you get that one good person?

If you don’t have expertise in hiring programmers then you need to get someone who does.

At One Month Rails we believe that knowing a few months of programming will help you communicate better with developers. What do you think? Does knowing a few bits of programming make you more proficient at running a digital company?

PG: I think it would help! I think it would help a lot.

In fact, if someone wanted to start a startup and had a choice of going to business school or learning to program I’d say, “learn programming”. Because what’s business school going to teach you? Just how to be a member of the officer corps of a large company, to manage people, to do spreadsheets… but that’s not what you need to do at a startup anyway.

Do you have a language of choice for companies coming into Y Combinator?

PG: I would be worried if someone was writing their stuff in COBOL! I would ask why. (laughs)

Other than that not really. I mean, we have had startups writing their code in PHP – and that worries me a little bit. But not as much as other things worry me.

Would you hire someone who was a really good developer, but didn’t finish college?

PG: Oh yeah! ‘Would I hire Bill Gates?’, yeah. Although Bill Gates might be a little bit difficult to have as an employee. But my god of course.

It’s good for you to go to college. But it’s certainly not necessary for having a startup.

Going to college expands your vision of the world: you can learn about all kind of other things that you might not have learned about. So it’s good to just make yourself smarter in a very general way.

Although, I really can’t tell the difference between people that left college half-way through, and people that have PHDs.

Paul Graham at Y Combinator

Paul Graham addressing the Y Combinator crowd

Would you say being a developer has become more plug and play? 

PG: Well people wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t easier. I don’t think that this is some sign that programmers have fallen from grace. It’s just some natural progression… it’s weird for me, but only weird in the way that the future always turns out to be weird.

We hear many of our students [at One Month Rails] say “I can make an MVP with Rails, but I have no intention of becoming a computer scientist.” It’s almost like they’re putting themselves down for not adhering to this somewhat elitist definition.

PG: Well what’s a computer scientist? Someone who can program and who also took a class in Automata Theory. (he laughs)

In the essay you mentioned that “hacking is not as cool as painting”. Do you still feel that way?

PG: Hacking is getting a lot cooler now. But I think it is probably better for picking people up at parties if you can say you’re a painter.

Would that be a better term to use for our students? It’s certainly much better than “developer” or “computer scientist”, no?

PG: Hacking is certainly cool. Even the White House uses the word “hacking” to describe stuff. And not just to describe doing stuff to software, but as a general purpose verb.

Hacking in the narrow and broader sense is all the rage at the moment.


“The Two Biggest Challenges all Startups Face”, Advice from Y Combinator

You’re pitching the big idea. You know what you WANT to say, but you’re struggle to give the “right” answer.

In this week’s Hacker News Nation we’ll prep you for an investor interview, “Quick you only have 15 seconds!”. Hopefully this will get you thinking and talking clearly. Plus…

  • 3 tips for motivating your team
  • The two biggest challenges all startups have! (Straight from Y Combinator)
  • Dating advice from the richest man in the world: Warren Buffet

All that, and special guest Danya Cheskis-Gold (Spark Capital / Former Skillshare).

Stop online shopping! It’s time to relax and learn a few things in the process. Here we go…..

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Chris Hacks JCrew…and Mattan drowns in sea of JavaScript (yuck!)

This week we learned the hard way to make our own site run faster, but luckily we have an easy fix. Wayyyyy easy.

And we’ll show you how. Is your site slow? Not sure? That’s why we’re here.

In this episode of Hacker News Nation we’ll share a few tips to make your site faster, as well as…

  • Why are software estimates always wrong??
  • How beginners can cheat at the Command Line
  • Ben Stiller eats success for breakfast (AND how to win Mattan’s favorite book!)

Ready to drop everything and get your fill on this week’s hacker tips? Watch this week’s Hacker News Nation!

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Ooops. Where did $147,000,000 go?!

Think you’ve heard it all? This third installment of Hacker News Nation will blow your mind.

  • $147,000,000 in Bitcoin. Where did it go!?
  • Mattan gets his DNA tested at It’s like the movie Gattaca in real life!
  • The Motherfucking website you need to see to believe!

Ready to take a break from the family this holiday and have some me-time?

Watch this week’s Hacker News Nation:

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