Apprenticeship: Aligning Educational Incentives

Computer science education is a hot field, and rightly so. Even with the economy reeling, experienced computer scientists work two and three jobs to keep up with demand. According to the laws of Developernomics:

[T]he only thing potentially more valuable than a relationship with a great developer is a relationship with a survivalist who is good with things like guns, bunkers and cabins in woods

Barring a major catastrophe (and perhaps in spite of it), computer scientists will continue to demand a premium as technology reinvents entire sectors. No matter how staunchly opposed to a technological revolution, the realms of government, higher education, and even farming will eventually feel the touch of this steampunk Midas.

However, not everyone is on the same page with the importance of CS education. When founding NextStep Tech in 2009 to teach software engineering and entrepreneurship to middle- and high-school students, my co-founder and I pitched every educator, mentor, and parent in the NYC area who would listen. Surprisingly, many people didn’t “get” CS education. A principal actually suggested that the students might be better off studying Latin. Luckily, Robotics coaches got it. Math teachers got it. We did eventually find a foothold and have expanded classes to the San Francisco Bay Area as well as online via Skype. More importantly, we continue to invest in the students by helping them find jobs, internships, and summer programs.

Programs like NextStep are excellent for beginners and a new paradigm of educational platforms and programs are appearing, perhaps informed by the 10x effect in software engineering, that cater to professionals who want to hone their programming chops and become so good they can shed monikers like rock star and ninja. These “apprenticeship” programs are notable because they begin to properly align educational incentives. While traditional universities (and especially the creditors that make university attendance possible) have little motivation to see you gainfully employed post graduation, programs now offer to actively find you a job and get paid when you do. Similar models through which universities take an equity stake in students (via taxes applied after graduation) are being attempted in Europe and help ensure that graduates don’t move back in with their parents. This is not to say that universities have no incentive to get you a job. Many endowments are driven by graduate donations. The point I want to make is that the apprenticeship model better aligns the incentive to get you a job.

Riding the wave of aligned educational inventives are Hacker School (free), Code Academy ($6K/12 wks), and Dev Bootcamp ($12K/8 wks). While some of these courses are pricey, they each invest in students by helping with job placement. No doubt the educational space will continue to evolve as more courses and programs adopt these models. The learning spreads, incentives align, and everyone wins.