In this episode we talk to Ben Nelson, the Co-Founder of Lambda School. Among the wide variety of topics, we discuss the future of education, the story of Lambda School from small code bootcamp beginnings to leading educational resource, building a team, and much much more!
Lambda School is a revolutionary educational resource where students only pay a portion of their salary after they find a high paying job (over 50K annually), and the total amount charged is capped at 30K total. We talk about how the model has evolved and how this way or learning has enabled a huge group of people who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to study programming and online skills the resources to do exactly that. Along with this fascinating and effective approach to learning, Lambda School is innovating to ensure they are being as inclusive as possible by removing as many biases to and barriers to entry that typically exists for parts of the population in the technology space. Their Summer Hackers Program is a great example of that!
Ben also had one of my favourite answers to our closing questions: "What is the best advice you've ever been given?"
For more on Lambda School, please visit: https://lambdaschool.com/ For their Summer Hackers Program, please visit: https://www.lambdaschool.com/summer-hackers/ Make sure to follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin also!
[00:00:00] Matt H: Hello, everyone. My name is Matt Hollingsworth and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.
[00:00:26] My guest on today's show is Ben Nelson. Ben is the co-founder of Lambda School, a revolutionary new way of learning marketable online skills such as computer programming at no upfront cost. Instead of paying tuition, students can agree to pay a percentage of their income after they're employed, and only if they're making more than $50,000 per year. With the growing number of successful alumni, Lambda School is quickly becoming the most reputable name in the space by offering students who otherwise wouldn't have access to this training the chance to be successful professionals in tech.
[00:00:58] Ben, thanks so much
[00:01:00] for being on the show.
[00:01:01] Ben Nelson: Yeah, thanks for having me.
[00:01:02] Matt H: Really appreciate you taking the time.
[00:01:03] Ben Nelson: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Matthew.
[00:01:05] Matt H: So why don't we start with just going through a little bit of the history of Lambda School for those listeners who don't know? And then we can go from there. But I'm sure everybody's curious about how you got started and what your role is it.
[00:01:16] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So Austin and I, we both grew up in Utah in the same rural community, and there were a lot of smart people that we knew that didn't have a lot of educational opportunities based on the geographic constraints. Just based on where we lived. Two years ago, Austin and I, we were starting an online coding bootcamp. So initially, the thought was, "Let's make a three-month coding bootcamp and we will really focus on the online delivery and we'll do that right." And that was something that we hadn't seen a competitor really do well. A few others had a tacked on online version and hadn't really created a great experience with that. So that was how we got started. We got started out with just a bootcamp, seeing if
[00:02:00] we could really make this online delivery work, and we taught a bunch of free classes and that's how we are able to create a lot of leads for our paid costs. At the time, it was paid up front. At one point we had up to 20,000 people signed up in our slack channel for these free classes. Without any ad spend we were able to market it pretty well.
[00:03:00] talented, hardworking people that loved our material, but it was just too much risk for them to take the leap. And we started testing out this idea of, well, if you could pay once you'd got a job, would you come to Lambda School? Would you come study? People were very receptive to that. We emailed lots of students individually, and started working on it.
[00:03:19] And anyway, that's when we came to this idea of an income share agreement. That if we can thoroughly de-risk it for the student, it's nice because it makes it so the student doesn't have a lot of risk for going to school. They're only paying if it works out for them. And then, also there's a lot of power in it in that it aligns the incentives of the school with the students. And the more we thought about it, the more we just loved it and realized that this is the way to structure a school. And that if a school's outcomes are tied directly to the outcomes of the student and the school doesn't make any money unless the student has a great outcome and the student's happy and the student's employed, then it creates this really powerful incentive structure that just strategically changes
[00:04:01] And that pure incentive alignment from the very beginning has led to us constantly iterating and adapting and changing the structure of the school over the last two years to where now it's starting to really solidify around a model that's extremely effective, and we wouldn't have made those same changes without that same financial structure. And then that led into us supplying to Y Combinator and the combination of being online with our student body's totally remote, and then the income share agreement and our ability to advertise and market extremely well without a lot of ad spend. A lot of those different factors help us get into Y Combinator and grew from there.
[00:04:34] Matt H: Right. Very cool. How long ago did you guys actually launch Lambda School officially?
[00:04:40] Ben Nelson: So we're coming up on our two year anniversary.
[00:04:44] Matt H: Okay. Excuse my ignorance. It seemed like you guys are pretty well established already, so I assumed that it was longer, but.
[00:04:50] Ben Nelson: Yeah, it's been pretty fast. About two years ago exactly was when I started teaching our free online classes. It was about this time.
[00:04:57] Matt H: Very cool. And at the time, was there
[00:05:00] anything similar to this model of revenue sharing and only get paid if people get jobs? Was that something that you guys took the model from in a different context and applied to education? Or was there somebody that was doing a similar thing? How did that start?
[00:05:15] Ben Nelson: Yeah. There were a few other boot camps that had toyed around with this idea, like MissionU at the time was getting a bunch of press for trying to do that. But they were on-site, longer, and data analytics focused. So that was very different. Yeah. There was another boot camp or two that had an income share agreement but they required a deposit and just had some differences around that. Purdue had been playing around with one. So the idea of an income share agreement has been around for a while, and it's been used internationally moreso in the US. It's pretty new in the United States. But Australia and Europe, this type of financial instrument is used quite a bit more. So that wasn't really a new thing and we were able to just
[00:06:00] adapt that for the needs of our school. And we looked at Purdue pretty closely and followed their lead a little bit for how we structured it, but ours is a lot shorter of an income share agreement.
[00:06:10] Matt H: Interesting. From what I saw on your website, it looks like you mostly focus on programming jobs, and there's design. And it looks like you're branching out now into different spaces. What is the roadmap, I guess, in terms of types of education on Lambda School?
[00:06:26] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So we like to think of it as ... Like with Amazon they started out ... The longterm vision for Amazon and Jeff Bezos was to sell everything. They started with books because that was logistically the simplest piece to start with. And that's how we feel about Lambda School. So really, we want to reimagine education in the 21st century, higher education and what that looks like, and technical training is the easiest way for us to start because there's a huge delta in the supply and demand. There's a huge demand
[00:07:00] and not enough developers, and they're relatively high paying as well. So you can have someone that can come in and with some additional training they can go and 10x their income or 4x their income up. We'll see that a lot. We'll have people that will come in making minimum wage and they're smart, they're hardworking, and they do well in class and they can come out of it with a great job and get a pretty high multiple on their income.
[00:07:20] And so, it works well. Boot camps are proven out. There's a lot of inconsistency in the bootcamp space. It's muddy right now. It's the wild west. There's not a lot of regulation around it, and so it's very hit or miss with the quality. But generally, boot camps have proven out that idea that there is demand for technical education and there's demand on the employer's side to hire more developers, and they're willing to hire people that come from nontraditional backgrounds. So we used that bootcamp as a starting point, and now we're very different.
[00:07:47] Initially, we were three months. Now it's a nine month full-time program. We go much more in depth into computer science fundamentals. We work backwards from our employers to really define the curriculum. We looked at what were a lot of the common
[00:08:00] deficiencies in bootcamp graduates and worked to fill that. So we can offer a nine month program because we don't get paid until the student is in a great job, and so it's a more premium experience for the student and they would have a hard time paying for that up front. But because of the income share agreement model, students can afford a more premium educational experience because they're only paying for it once they're making 60-100K or in that range. That's where most of our students fall, 60-100K.
[00:08:29] I guess something too I want to clarify is ... So I didn't explain this earlier, but an income share agreement is that the student agrees to pay a percentage of their salary once they get employed. So once they're making at least $50,000, then they pay back 17% of their salary for 2 years. If they lose their job, their payments pause. Their payments don't start until they get a job. They don't pay any interest. And then the total amount that they could pay is capped at $30,000. So if they go and get 120K job, they're not going to pay back $40,000 on that. So we
[00:09:00] limit it to make it so it's not indentured servitude, which is a negative comparison that gets thrown out. But really they're quite different.
[00:09:07] Matt H: Yeah, that's definitely a misunderstanding, I guess, of the model. But I think that might be where people go to when they hear of that 17% for the next couple of years. But it definitely doesn't seem that way. And I think from my perspective, for those who don't get those jobs, then ... There's no risk involved for the user, or for the student in this case, which I think is really cool. Have you seen any other major or reputable bigger universities that have programs that are similar in terms of the content show any interest in moving to the style of Lambda School? Or is that something that you've thought about at all moving forward?
[00:09:43] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So there's a couple of pieces to this. So as far as universities go, we're not accredited and we're not pursuing accreditation because we have no intent of taking student loan money. We don't want to be part of that at all, and we feel pretty strongly that in many cases that can be quite predatory and we're trying
[00:10:00] to fix that, trying to solve that problem. And so, with the universities it's great getting a CS degree. It's not a bad thing at all, and that's great. So I'm going to say a couple of problems that I see with that current system, but it very much depends on what you're studying and what school you're going to. And there's just a ton of variables. So it's hard to make a broad statement about the entire industry.
[00:10:18] But generally with universities we see that it's a bottom up approach. Often you're starting with C++ or something like that, and ... Not every university, but that was at my university with C++ was the first semester and I was doing calculus and things like that and if I was to go on and become a web developer, a lot of that is not very practical. And with Lambda School, we start from more of a top down. So we start with HTML, which is so much easier and more fun and engaging for a new student just entering the world of programming to learn HTML and CSS. Some people think, well, what about the academic rigor? Well, we build up to that. By the end of the course, then they're learning C and they're learning about operating
[00:11:00] systems and writing code, like building an operating system and stuff like that to understand lower level systems and memory management and data structures and algorithms. And all that stuff. So we get into that, but it's top down. We start with stuff that's easier, that's more fun, more engaging, and students have a better experience.
[00:11:14] Another big piece is we use a system that's called mastery based progression, and this is something that (inaudible) Academy, they've popularized that term a little bit. There's been a lot of research around it. And right now it's generally considered the best way to learn. And what it is, is that our students ... Everything that they're learning, we've deemed that necessary that they need to know to be able to get a job and we've defined that through participation from our hiring partners. And so, if a student doesn't master every single concept any given week, they redo the week. And we work really hard to remove that stigma of failure in that it's not just this arbitrarily defined group of students that need to proceed in lock step at the same pace. And really it's we're all trying to climb a mountain. They're all gonna go at different paces.
[00:11:55] And so, some students get held back a little bit. We don't really use the term held
[00:12:00] back, but if you're coming from outside that's the context that you have. But really we don't want the students to finish unless they have mastered every single concept that we've deemed as necessary for them to be able to get a job. And that's extremely difficult to emulate in a traditional university environment because all majors, they're fitting within their four year time span, and students, they have their semester that they have to take the class for. And that traditional structure doesn't lend itself very well to this type of a model.
[00:12:26] Other pieces like a lot of universities, if you talk to them about what their purpose is, and depending on who you talk to and what professor and what program, a lot of them don't feel like it's their duty to really get students jobs. And they don't see the university's purpose as doing that. And I mean, you go back far enough, many universities, it was for people that didn't need to work and work was almost a dirty word a little bit. You go back into the 1900's, lawyers and doctors weren't even part of the universities for a long time. If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend (Salman)
[Kahns] One World School House. The guy who started Khan Academy. His ideas have influenced a lot of how
[00:13:00] we structure our education.
[00:13:01] But yeah, a lot of these universities, they're balancing this cultural idea that you have to get a degree to be able to get a job, but then on the other hand, universities don't see their purpose as providing people with jobs. And again, a lot of it depends on the university. There's a lot of pieces, and universities, they get their money up front through the loans. To go to an income share agreement model, that changes your cash flow and everything significantly, and I'm sure there'll be financing solutions around that.
[00:13:27] This is a pretty long winded answer, but the university system, it's good, it works and it's better than nothing, but there are a lot of places where we need to change and really rethink why we're adhering to some of these practices. I think it's just habit at this point in what does a 21st century education look like?
[00:13:42] Matt H: Yeah, for sure. One thing you mentioned there too, and it seems like such a no brainer when you think about it, is the idea of working with the employers to find out what skills they want the students to have once they graduate. It seems like an obvious thing to do, but at least in my experience that's certainly not the
[00:14:00] case. I don't want to downplay or degrade the education of a university either. I think there's value in that in terms of just general knowledge of what the world and learning how to learn and all that stuff. But this model for practical skills, and especially in this job market with a real need for developers and things you guys offer, it seems like a no brainer option for people that are looking for an alternative to universities for sure.
[00:14:22] Ben Nelson: Yeah. And that's really what we're going for. I mean, a lot of our students are people that are further into their careers, they've gone to college and they don't like their job. They don't like the career path they're on. Going back to school for four years while supporting a family, that's just out of the question. Or the amount of debt that they would have to take on would set them back such a long period of time. And so, that's a lot of it.
[00:14:40] And another piece too is the opportunity cost. So if you attend a four year degree, a lot of people, they don't factor in the opportunity cost of those four years being out of the workforce and then all the debt on top of that and how that's going to eat into your future earnings. And an example I like to use when I'm talking about this is if you imagine two people that graduate doing high school, and again if we're purely just focused
[00:15:00] on them getting jobs as developers and the outcomes to their future career and ignoring the argument for social fulfillment or networking at college and stuff like that, you still get that at Lambda School but maybe it's a little different. You're not living in a dorm with people.
[00:15:12] But purely looking at the financial outcomes, if you have someone that goes to Lambda School for nine months, and let's say it takes them a year from start to finish to get a job. If they're making 70K as a developer after that, and then you add on three years of work experience, you have the wages that they gain, you have all the work experience that they gain. They're probably promoted by the end of that. And then you have somebody who, if they graduate on time, which ... A lot of people don't even graduate on time. They go to a four year degree. They don't graduate on time and they come out with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They're really several years behind someone that can pursue what they want to learn in this type of a form of Lambda School. So it's something that we try to get people to think through, that there are a lot of other hidden costs with going to a university.
[00:15:52] Matt H: Yeah. Just out of curiosity, and this ties into the theme of remote work but in the context of education and
[00:16:00] learning, within Lambda School and the cohorts that exist in each of these programs. Is there any effort, or what processes and procedures do you guys have around learning as a group and giving each other feedback and having this as a community that you're moving through together rather than just going on and doing a bunch of tests and checking the boxes on requirements for a specific certification? How is Lambda School different in that sense? Because I assume everybody's doing this remotely, there's no in class interactions. So is there anything that you guys do that helps in that process?
[00:16:33] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So in the beginning, one of the biggest things that people thought would kill us was our dropouts. Because it's online, we did not want to require a deposit, and we were really hoping that we can make it work without requiring a deposit. And that just changes the selection bias and there was a lot of people who couldn't teach with that type of model. Anyways, so we've tried to really make it work without a deposit, and one of our earlier classes, we had around 50% of the students actually drop out. And that was when we were first figuring out our processes and what it
[00:17:00] looks like. Now it's less than 10%. A lot of that was really making sure that we have good mechanisms in place to make sure that there's lots of social interactions and accountability, and this ties into managing any type of a remote company or operating in a remote environment. You don't have the same social interactions. Everything has to be done very intentionally. You don't have the water cooler conversations or people going to lunch together or people just chatting. You don't have that organically and you have to be very intentional with that.
[00:17:27] So our students, they work on many different portfolio pieces with teams where they're constantly collaborating. So we'll take a student in the UX track and then a student in the data science track and a student in the front end portion and a student that's in the back end. We'll put them together and we'll have them work on a group project.
[00:17:45] Matt H: Oh, interesting.
[00:17:46] Ben Nelson: Yeah. And so, then they're getting this collaborative experience working with people with other skillsets, and they do that many times throughout the course. They're constantly teaming up and working together on different homework assignments, and we use a bit of a flipped model of our classes because
[00:18:00] passively receiving a lecture isn't necessarily the best way for someone to learn. Some people, they learn much better if they're active. If it's hands on. If they're writing code, interacting with an instructor, interacting with their peers. And so, they'll watch videos to prep them on the concepts before they come to class. And then when they get together in class, it's a lot of I do, we do, you do. So the instructor demonstrates and then does a thing with the class and then turns them loose to work on things, and this is good because it helps with attention span. Most people's attention span is 10 to 18 minutes.
[00:18:30] Matt H: Mine's less.
[00:18:31] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So we try to mix that up and get them working together, and really try to make this interactive experience because they learn so much better and they're so much happier. So that was one of the things that we thought would kill us if we didn't solve. And it's taken a lot of work, but we've reached a point now where we don't worry about dropout rates and students are much happier, there's a lot more participation, and it's still something that we're constantly experimenting with and it's not solved. But those are some of the key insights that we've had.
[00:18:57] Matt H: You answered my question, but do you
[00:19:00] have any specific modules or parts of the program that are specifically about working in a remote team and the dynamics that will probably pop up? And how do you distribute information? How do you communicate effectively? All those things that people have come to realize that are more difficult with remote work, and there's difficulties that come with remote work for sure. Is there a part of it that you integrate within the course itself?
[00:19:22] Ben Nelson: Yeah. And a lot of that is not necessarily taught with the objective of, here's how you'd be ready for remote work. But here's how to make Lambda School work, because we have to use all of those pieces to make the school work. So from day one, we're constantly coaching and training the students on best practices or things to stay engaged, and the way that we structure the schedule to accommodate that. But that's just baked into the entire experience, and that's something that's continually taught and emphasized.
[00:19:50] Matt H: Right. And I guess in the student's case, they've been working remotely from the get go. They've been learning remotely. So working in a remote work company would then come second nature at that point, probably.
[00:20:00] Ben Nelson:
[00:20:00] Yeah. We encourage our students to not get a remote job for their first job, actually. But they are very qualified for it because they've had that experience. We try to get them to be in person and onsite because that can be a little more challenging for a junior developer to work remotely at first, because it's a little easier to get help and those in person interactions are very valuable to their development.
[00:20:20] Matt H: Well, that's interesting as well. Yeah, it makes sense. I hadn't heard that perspective, but I suppose that for a junior it is easier to tap somebody on the shoulder if you need to and ask for help. But yeah, that's interesting.
[00:20:31] Ben Nelson: Yeah. Because one of the big things is it's extremely difficult to avoid distractions, because often you're in a room by yourself and you're on a computer, and command T and enter, you're on Netflix. And what happens a lot if you get stressed, it's human nature. If you're stressed or if you're with something to procrastinate or seek some dopamine hit to alleviate the stress that you're under, and that's something that if you're in person, if you're in an office, people can see your computer. It just removes
[00:21:00] that temptation and it helps them be more focused. As they get more mature and into their career and they're more confident, and the work is less stressful for them generally, they seem to do a little bit better. But yeah, we encourage them to work in person for their first job, but we still see about 10% of our students do get remote jobs for the first job.
[00:21:18] Matt H: Oh, interesting. You brought up a good point there, which is distraction, which with all of my guests that I've had on so far, it seems to be a recurring theme. And I think that's for good reason because I think one of the ongoing challenges of working remotely is the constant distractions, like you said. Within your team and maybe you personally, what do you do to get around that? Is there tools that you use? Processes and routines maybe that you do?
[00:21:41] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So I'll talk about the team, then I'll talk about personally.
[00:21:44] So Lambda School. We're 90% remote, so all of our instructors are remote. All of our software engineers are remote. We have an office in Utah and we have an office in San Francisco, and some of our back office staff are onsite. The company will
[00:22:00] always have a very large piece of it that will be remote. We'll never be completely on site and we'll never be completely remote. We'll maintain this hybrid, and we need to dog food it. If we're going to run a school with thousands of students, we need to understand those challenges and insights that we gain from operating. It helps us run a school better. And so, with our engineering team we try not to be too big brotherish, monitoring everything they're doing on their computers, stuff like that. We don't do that, but we are very clear on what the expected results are and holding people accountable. And managers have to be very clear with their staff that if somebody falls short they may need to respectfully call them out on it, so that way it doesn't set a new precedent and set the norm, and we have to maintain a high standard and there has to be accountability.
[00:22:45] So really we focus more on the outcome. And so, if someone does take an hour ... An engineer does take an hour in the middle of the day to play video games, but they're getting all their work shipped on time and they're doing a good job, that's not as big of a deal and we're not going to handhold them around that. So that's very outcomes focused. And if they're not producing,
[00:23:00] then we put them on a performance improvement plan and we track that progress. And so, really it's just being clear with accountability and not being afraid to give feedback both ways on that.
[00:23:10] A good book about this is Radical Candor, if you've heard of that. Fantastic book. A lot of those ideas ... I think they're especially needed in a remote environment, but personally I use self control.
[00:23:21] Matt H: So do I.
[00:23:22] Ben Nelson: Yeah. You've heard of that?
[00:23:23] Matt H: Yeah.
[00:23:23] Ben Nelson: I recommend it to all my direct reports as well to use it, just because it's human nature. If I get stressed about something, I jump on Twitter just out of habit. So I turn on self control, and ... There's ways to get around it, but it just stops that reflex, knee jerk, jump on to social media reaction that then wastes 20 minutes if you're lucky, and it can be more.
[00:23:43] I also like to use rescue time, which is another tool. They have a free tier and I just use that. And so that monitors everything you're doing on your computer. It gives you a breakdown report and divides your time up into distracting and productive uses of time, and so that's helpful to look at that. And there's times where
[00:24:00] maybe you think you were productive and then you look at it and you're like, "Wow. I only did three hours of solid work." You know what I mean? Yeah. So that gives you a good benchmark to improve on. And those are side packs, but the ultimate goal I think is making sure that you have work that is meaningful, that it's engaging, and that it's something that you're wanting to do. There's always hard things you have to do for work, but if you have stuff that you're excited about, it's easier to avoid those distractions. And I think that's one of the biggest challenges with remote work. It's an extremely distracting environment.
[00:24:30] I guess another thing too is we'd like to get everyone together for meetings within the different teams. We're trying to get people together once a quarter, sometimes more, because with brainstorming around a whiteboard, that's really hard to do over a video call. It's not the same energy as when you get people into the same room, and so I think you do have to have a bit of a hybrid approach where you are getting people together and getting people face time and going out to dinner together and getting them together for three or four days and working together. Just being in the same room is really good for team morale and
[00:25:00] people are more energized and ... So it's accountability, focusing on outcomes, making sure that you are getting people together occasionally. Those have been the big things that have moved the needle for us.
[00:25:10] Matt H: Yeah. A couple of things there that I wanted to go into a little bit more. So the culture piece you touched on, which is getting people together as much as possible and having those interactions that are not related to work necessarily. Do you have anything that you would recommend to remote workers or a remote team? Somebody who's managing a remote team? Other than the get togethers. And is there anything online that you do to manage and build culture within a remote team, or is that something that you haven't thought about as much?
[00:25:38] Ben Nelson: Yeah. We're experimenting with a bunch of different things. So right now we have a bot, a slack bot that randomly pairs people up, and so every two weeks ... And so then you go and chat, and we call it a doughnut chat, and the idea is just get a snack, chat together for 10, 15 minutes or so and just get to know each other, like a water cooler chat. So we try to do things like that to really get people to interface. To
[00:26:00] be very clear about it, I think people need to keep their videos on. You (inaudible) if people are doing video calls and they're not turning their video on. You lose a little bit of that interaction. Again, this is all anecdotal, but I feel like it's very important to make sure that staff in their meetings are keeping their video on, make sure that you're getting face time, make sure that you're meeting with people every day. There should be some a standup. I'd be very careful about having an employee that goes an entire day without having a video call or something like that, just because it's motivating and it's good and they're getting that human interaction. It's good for the manager to get a sense of how they're doing. You can't walk the floor in a remote company.
[00:26:35] Yeah. Some other things. We pay for our employees to go to a coffee shop once a week. As many times as they want, but it's really once or twice a week is generally what it comes out to. And so, then they can get out of the house. Because you can have an engineer that realizes they haven't put pants on or stepped outside. I've had that happen. I haven't seen the sun in eight days. Sp you have to make sure that people are healthy. And we do a health
[00:27:00] stipend. And again, there's research around how effective that really is or not, but we try to encourage people to get out and exercise. We have a cleaning stipend, because their home is their office. And so, we try and help them treat their space professionally. They need to have a professional workspace that they can have free from distractions. If they have kids, they should have a lock on the door. They should have a designated space where they can have some quiet focused work time. So we'll give them a stipend towards setting up their office when they first come in.
[00:27:28] Matt H: Right. It's relatively early days for you as a team. Has there been anything that you've run into in terms of scaling and building a team, especially a remote team, that you didn't foresee happening? Or roadblocks that were more difficult than you maybe thought they were going to be? And, how did you get around those things?
[00:27:45] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So first thing I'll talk about a positive aspect actually. So I think one of the big competitive advantages that Lambda School has had in the beginning is our remote course. It's made it so we've been able to hire elite instructors
[00:28:00] that we don't have to pay nearly as much as if we were going to have them relocate and live in San Francisco, or come out and be here. And so, that has saved us so much money. The employees are happy. They love it. And we've been able to get some just incredible instructors that are like, "I want to buy a house. I want to move out of San Francisco." So we'll hire them and they've maybe taken a 40K pay cut or something like that, but then they go move to Oregon or Utah or something like that and get a house five times as big as the apartment they had out here and saving money. Anyway, so that's been great from a recruiting perspective.
[00:28:37] Some of the challenges, though. I think some roles lend themselves better to remote than others, and you really have to have strong leadership to make it work. If someone's not delivering, if the stuff is coming too slow, you have to be willing to give constructive feedback and you can't just be too passive about it. So you have to have strong leadership to make that work. I mean, scaling generally. So we raised a
[00:29:00] series B, a $30 million series B a couple of months ago, and so now we're really hitting growth stage with our company. So we have over 60 employees now and we're hiring just so many employees and it's growing very quickly, and I think generally, I think one of the most challenging things with that is I've never been in this situation before. I've never run a company. This is the most leadership responsibility that I personally have ever had, and so I don't have a playbook to go by. And so, I can try to be really smart and work hard and try to think and come up with the best way to do all these things, but that's unrealistic.
[00:29:33] And so, one of the challenges is really finding good leaders that can come in, that know what to do, and that can tell you what to do. They know the people that need to be hired and they see the problems that the company has and they know the types of roles that need to be hired. We didn't realize that we needed a chief of staff to help with a bunch of different HR things. We just didn't even know that was a role that existed. And there's a bunch of roles like that that investors have helped us figure out,
[00:30:00] and then also some of the strong leaders that we brought in that have previous experience running organizations that can help us see that and identify a lot of our blind spots.
[00:30:09] Matt H: Very cool. Well congrats on the growth. It looks like it's going really well-
[00:30:12] Ben Nelson: Oh, thanks.
[00:30:13] Matt H: And it looks really exciting. So kudos to you. I think the mission is obviously a great one. But if you make strides towards your goal, it's going to be a net positive for everybody. So I think that's really cool.
[00:30:23] Ben Nelson: Thank you. One of the biggest things that helps with recruiting and ... So anyone listening that's looking to start a company, I mean, it's ... Something that has been so powerful for us is this mission. Our incentives are aligned with the students. We don't make money off of the debt that our students are taking on, and we're not a burden to our students. And we only succeed if the student succeeds. And it's extremely powerful to see these people that come in that didn't have any other opportunities and didn't have good job prospects, and they never went to college. Some of them never finished high school. And they're able to come out, and they're smart, they're hardworking, they're willing to put in the
[00:31:00] effort. And they pass through our assessments and screenings and things, and they come out the other end, they get a job, they do well, and the impact that has on them and it has on their children and their family and how that ripples out. And that's really a powerful thing.
[00:31:14] If Lambda School died today, we've already helped a lot of people. And if we're successful, that's going to bless so many people's lives. It's a powerful motivator. And if you can work on a company where you can have that type of a motivation behind it, your work satisfaction is so much higher, it makes it so much easier to recruit the excellent people that are out there that can help make your company work. So it's fun. It's fun to work on and it's cool to see it help people.
[00:31:37] Matt H: Yeah. And I also think too, with people seeing the success of the initial few years of cohorts that have gone through Lambda School, it makes it more accessible for people who maybe didn't think of themselves in that role before. Because I think a lot of people, and myself included, and I'm not a developer myself, but I always saw those roles as something that was just out of
[00:32:00] reach for me. They were speaking a different language. I wouldn't be able to do those things. What you're doing as well is you're allowing people to see the success and say, "Hey, maybe I can do this myself." And with the structure of the incentive with you and the students as well, it makes it more accessible than it ever has been. So I think that's really cool.
[00:32:18] Ben Nelson: Thank you. I mean, that's something that frustrates me so much about at least the university that I went to with intro to computer science or intro to computer programming, CS142. It was weeding people out and making it so difficult, and difficult in arbitrary ways that don't have any relevance to the job. And I think a lot of that is the education system, and people are taught to think that they can't do it or they're told that they're not technical or they don't have that aptitude for it, and testing which has so many issues in and of itself that makes people believe that they can't. And it's just like anything else. If you put in the effort, if you work, if you're interested, if you're
[00:33:00] curious in it, you can learn it and you can do it well. And we see so few women that go into it. You have all these artificial barriers that maybe are unintentionally constructed that divert women from going into it, because it's seen as something more masculine, or my wife and her calculus class in high school was told that she didn't have the technical aptitude for math.
[00:33:20] Matt H: Yeah. Is there anything that you guys, that Lambda School does specifically to be more inclusive and to try to get the people that maybe wouldn't have access to it otherwise? Outside of just the regular structure of Lambda School. Is there any programs that you have in place for that thing?
[00:33:32] Ben Nelson: So it helps that the income share agreement is available to everyone. We do our best to remove any biases that may be unconscious in the admissions process. That's extremely complicated to really make it totally unbiased, and there's a lot of new research on this. We're doing everything we can to remove all bias from that to make that inclusive. We train our staff around that and the student success coordinators and ... But it's hard. We have an extremely diverse company and student body from every part of the political spectrum, every race,
[00:34:00] every gender orientation, every religion. We're scattered all over and they're all put together, and so we have a lot of work that we put into that to help make sure that it's a safe community and that it is accepting of everyone.
[00:34:12] But something cool specifically. So by the time this goes live, we will have announced a partnership that we're doing with Jessica Livingston, who was one of the creators of Y Combinator. She's donated some money as a scholarship for women and we're providing a full tuition scholarship. So she's providing a living stipend, and then we're providing a scholarship, and it's for 40 women this summer of 2019. It's a 15 week summer program that if the students want, they can stay on and attend all of Lambda School. But the idea is that it's a 15 week deep dive, and that the practical aspects of web development for women. They could do it during the summer, but we've made it so it could work for anyone in that area. And the idea is that we want to give women that are interested in this program the technical skills needed so they can build out an MVP or something of a product for starting a company. The idea is giving women the technical skills they need to be able to go and start
[00:35:00] a tech company and get their prototype built out and get things going.
[00:35:04] Matt H: That's very cool. Once that's live and if people are interested, we'll have any links to that in our show notes as well. We'll include them. Might want to make sure that people are aware of that. That's a really, really cool program. So I know that your time is valuable here, Ben, so I appreciate you coming on. I have a couple more questions for you as closing questions. You may have already touched on a few of them. But to start, what is the best advice you've ever been given? I keep this vague on purpose. So it could be career or otherwise, but what's the best advice that you've ever been given?
[00:35:38] Ben Nelson: Yeah. So this wasn't specifically given to me, but it was something that I read on Twitter. General advice to everyone, I guess. But they were talking about their kids, and this guy made the inside that one of these days he's going to pick up his child and hold that child for the very last time, and he's not going to realize that it's the last time. Not, "This child's going to die," but
[00:36:00] then the child's going to be too big, and that was the very last time, or that's the last time the child sat on your lap or the last time you read them a story book. And just thinking about that just made me realize that there is more to life than work and money. And those things are important, but making sure that you're enjoying life as you go along and making sure that you're taking time for the things that are most important.
[00:36:23] And so, I have two kids. I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and I try to remember that every time that when they ask me to read a story at night and I'm tired and I don't want to, I try to remind myself to say yes because pretty soon they won't want me to read them stories. That really helps keep my priorities in line. It helps me remember what's most important.
[00:36:40] Matt H: Yeah. I came across that quote as well. I'm not a parent myself, but even just seeing that and not having been a parent, it was still pretty powerful. So that's really cool. So the last question here I have for you, and I wish I had done this in reverse order because I liked that question better. What is your favorite unplugged activity? So what do you do outside of work to unwind and
[00:37:01] Ben Nelson: I love to cook. Yeah, it's great because I have a family. Wife and two kids. And so it's helping out around the house, but it's incredible because it doesn't occupy your mind. It's like manual. So I can be thinking about what I want, I turn on some classical music ... And it sounds so pretentious, but I love to have classical music on and cooking, and I love how it engages every single one of the senses. I just like the way it feels and smells and tastes and the way it looks and the sounds as you're cooking it. Anyway, I love cooking and doing stuff like that. And that's my way to unwind, more than probably anything else.
[00:37:40] Matt H: Very cool. That's great. Well, Ben, I really appreciate you coming on. It was really great to talk to you. I think there's a lot of stuff here that's pretty valuable to the community, so thanks again and I will point everybody in your direction. Was there anything specifically that you want to point out, or any events or things that you want people to know about here in the foreseeable future?
[00:38:00] Ben Nelson:
[00:38:00] Yeah. Thanks very much for having me on, and if you're interested in hiring some Lambda School graduates, go to LambdaSchool.com and send us an email. Or if you want to come to school, we'd love to have you.
[00:38:13] Matt H: That's great. Ben, thanks so much again.
[00:38:14] Ben Nelson: Yeah, thank you, Matthew.
[00:38:17] Matt H: Thanks so much again for listening to the show today. Be sure to check out WeWorkRemotely.com for the latest remote jobs, and if you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone that we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to sponsor the show, please reach out to us at podcast@WeWorkRemotely.com. That's podcast@WeWorkRemotely.com. Thanks so much for listening and we'll talk to you next time.