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[meshcon] Ryan Carson of Treehouse

Ryan Carson [twitter:RyanCarson] of Treehouse at the Mesh Conference is keynoting the Mesh Conference. He begins his introduction of himself by saying he is a father, which I appreciate. Treehouse is an “online education company that teaches technology. We hope we can remove the need to go to university to do technology.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Treehouse “treasures personal time.” They work a 4-day week, 8 hours a day, although they pay for a full 40-hour week. He asks how many people in the audience work for themselves or run their own company; half the people raise their hands. “We have a fundamental belief that people can work smarter, and thus faster…We use a lot of tools that decrease drag.” E.g., they have an internal version of Reddit called “Convoy.” It keeps conversation out of email. “We ask people to never put anything in email that isn’t actionable.” A 4 day week also makes recruiting easy.

“As a father, I realize I’m going to die, sooner rather than later. If I work four days a week, I can send 50% more of my life with my wife and kids.”

Q: Why not a 3 day week?

A: It’s a flag to say “We believe personal time is important.” We’ll do whatever we have to. I’ve told people not to send email over the weekend because it makes work for others.

Q: How about flex time instead?

A: We have tried that, and we let people work from home. “People are smart and motivated and want to succeed. We presume that about people.” We’re demanding, and we’ll fire people if they don’t perform. But you have to institute practices, and not just say that you believe in personal time.

Q: Do you have investors? How do they respond?

A: We have $12M in investment. But we didn’t raise money until after we were profitable. I used my experience running 3 prior companies to give investors confidence. And no one asked about the 4 day week. It doesn’t seem to matter to them. My prior company was an events company and it got bought by a company that worked 5 days a week, and it was messy. I think our team there is now working 5 days.

Q: How do you provide 7 day a week support?

A: Our support team time shifts.

Q: How do you control email so that it’s only actionable?

A: It’s a policy. Also, we use Boomerang which lets us schedule when email is sent.

Now Ryan talks about the tools they use to facilitate a distributed team: about 30 people in Orlando, 8 in Portland, and the rest are distributed in the US and UK. “We don’t have a headquarters.” We are an Internet company. We use Convoy: part water cooler, part news distribution. Notes from meetings go there. It took a dev about a day to create Convoy.

We also use Campfire, a chat program. And Trello for task management. And Google Hangouts. (He notes that you have to be wired, not wifi, and have good gear, for Hangouts to work well.)

Q: Do you have to work over the weekend when there’s a hard deadline? And do you put more of an emphasis on planning?

A: Yes, we sometimes have worked over the weekend. And we’ve sometimes had a problem with people working too much. I think some people work without telling us, especially developers and designers. But if they have to work, their managers have failed. And it does mean we have to plan carefully.

Q: What are your annual meetups like?

A: It’s a full week. No agenda, no working. Pure get drunk, have fun. People work much harder if they like each other and believe in each other.

Now on education. By 2020, there will be 1,000,000 jobs in tech than students. Nine out of ten high schools don’t even offer computer programming classes. [Really? Apparently so. Wow.] Treehouse tries to address this, along with Udacity, CodeAcademy, Code School. In a video, Ryan says that Treehouse will cost you about $300 for an entire course of tech education, making you ready to enter the workforce. “The education system is a racket. Universities have milked us dry for ten years.” 40% of jobs in STEM are in computer science, but only 2% of STEM students are studying it. “In 41 out of 50 states coding classes don’t count toward high school graduation math or science requirements.” “In the future, most students won’t get a four year degree, and I think that’s a good thing. We are moving toward a trade school model.”

Q: Many companies use college degrees as a filter. How do you filter?

A: In 5 yrs there won’t be enough graduates for you to hire anyone because Google and FB will pay them $500,000/year. At Treehouse we apply points. You can see someone’s skills.

Q: What will people miss out on if they don’t go to college?

A: People will miss out on the social aspect, but people can’t afford to go into debt for that. College as the next step is a new idea in the past 15 years. [Really?] You’ll have free liberal arts education available through free online courses. You’ll pay for trade school training. “We’ll just have to have faith that people can be responsible adults without going to university.”

Q: How do you help people who complete your courses find job?

A: We’re rolling out an entire department for this. As you learn on Treehouse, you get points and start to establish your rank. Employers will be able to search our database saying, e.g., “I want someone with over 1,000 points in CSS, 800 points in Javascript, and 500 points in business.”

Q: How are you going to mesh these ideas into traditional education?

A: Sub-par universities will die. Education will be completely different in 10 years. We don’t know what it will be.

Ryan says that he’s not doing this for the money. “People who need education can’t afford it.”

[Judy Lee tweeted that Ryan should have asked us how many in the audience have a university degree, and how many of us regret it. Nice.]

3 Responses to “[meshcon] Ryan Carson of Treehouse”

  1. [...] Treehouse looks like a really interesting educational company. Anybody know anything about it? [...]

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  3. [...] initial reflections on research findings would be a start (David Weinberger does some nice live blogging of talks which shows how this might work), as would openly sharing the data that underpins what we write [...]

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