How He Made Learning to Code Completely Free (Quincy Larson) - KNN Ep. 101
Updated: Jun 8
Quincy Larson is the founder of freeCodeCamp. A Non-Profit with a mission to make learning to code free to everyone. Currently over 40,000 freeCodeCamp graduates have gotten jobs in tech. Quincy worked as a teacher and a school director for a decade before learning to code at hackathons and makerspaces around California. He enjoys reading history books, taking his kids to the park, and trying to teach anyone who will listen to him. In this episode, we learn how Quincy went from being an English teacher to now running arguably the largest free coding non-profit in the world. We also learn the benefits and drawbacks of running a non-profit vs a private enterprise, and Quincy's secret technique for his incredible output. I loved this conversation with Quincy, he is down to earth and clearly cares about his mission. I'm so happy I could share this one with you.
[00:00:00] Quincy: I had what their skills were. I had what courses were available. And then I had what skills were required based on the job postings for each of the different fields they wanted to go into. And the idea was it would kind of like compute like the shortest path through all these different online courses and textbooks and stuff so that you could go from wherever you were in your career to wherever you wanted to go.
[00:00:28] Ken: This episode of Ken's Nearest Neighbors is powered by Z by HP. HP's high compute workstation-grade line of products and solutions.
Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing at Quincy Larson. Quincy is the founder of freeCodeCamp. It's a non-profit with a mission to make learning, to code free to everyone. Currently over 40,000 freeCodeCamp graduates have gotten jobs in tech. Quincy worked as a teacher and a school director for a decade before learning to code at hackathons and makerspaces around California. He enjoys reading history books, taking his kids to the park and trying to teach anyone who listened to him.
In this episode, we learn how Quincy went from being an English teacher to now running arguably the largest free coding non-profit in the world. We also learned the benefits and drawbacks of running a non-profit versus a private enterprise. And we hear about Quincy's secret technique for his incredible output.
I love this conversation with Quincy. He is so down to earth and he clearly cares about this mission. I'm so happy that I could share this with all of you. Quincy Larson, thank you so much for coming on the Ken's Nearest Neighbors Podcast. Obviously, I am familiar with all of your work with freeCodeCamp. One of the best free platforms to learn coding, to learn some data, to learn all of these different things.
And it's such a privilege to, to again, have you on the show to talk about the origin story and what some of the goals are for the platform, but also get to know you and your motivations and your story a little bit better. So again, I appreciate you. You're just chatting with me here today.
[00:01:56] Quincy: Absolutely. And Ken, I gotta say, man, it's really cool talking to you in real time.
We met like a week or two ago and we talked about this, but like having watched your YouTube channel so much over the past year, and then being able to like, actually talk and interact with you is it's like a really cool experience. Also. I love the name of the podcast.
[00:02:17] Ken: Thank you. Well, to be honest, I cannot take credit for it. It was crowdsourced. So the community is responsible for the name, but I absolutely took it and ran with it because I quite enjoyed it as well. You know, I think something we both have in common right. Is our love for education. I mean, to me, we're, you know, we're both producing a lot of free content online and I'm really interested in when you started getting interested in the educational space, you know, and the technology space for that matter. Was it a pivotal moment or was this something that sort of snowballed over time?
[00:02:53] Quincy: Yeah, so I have always been interested in education, particularly adult education. I have kind of like a, I guess like a somewhat unique I'm sure a lot of people actually have this type of background, but I dropped out of high school and I didn't really like, I wanted to unschool myself.
So I was just hanging out at the library all day. With the lots of books and things like that. And eventually I did decide to go to university because working at Taco Bell is not very fun. And I did that for a couple of years and, you know, slept on my friend's futon and stuff like that. It was just no fun being broke.
And I went to university and then I kind of discovered like, Oh, okay, like actually university is not bad. It's not like high school where it feels quite as regimented and patronistic if you will. And so I was like really intrigued, like, Oh, Wow. Education can actually be really cool. I went to like the Dean of the liberal arts college, where I studied like like the liberal arts college with him, with him, the state university that I was at, I was at this pretty small state university who is like one of the least expensive universities in the entire state of Oklahoma, which is one of the least expensive states to live in the United States.
Or at least it was around the year, 2001. I was going to school. But that like really like inspired me. I was like, Wow. Like the Dean invited me to this seminar and we just read the economist and we talk about all the different articles we read each week and get people from Zimbabwe. There are people from India, Sri Lanka, like all over the globe, like people hanging out and talking about like current events and stuff.
And I was like, Wow, there's so much more than just like being in a classroom, watching somebody at the front with the chalkboard, like basically handing you knowledge and you having to like pay attention and then like, show that you've learned it on the final exam. Right. so that's where that, that really got me interested.
And so I went into education. I I taught a tutor whole-school kids during school to like help pay the rent. And then when I went overseas, I lived in China for about six years. And basically the entire time I was there, I was teaching English mainly to. Adults from like Brazil, but also a lot of local Chinese people who were just coming to participate in the big Chinese economic boom boom of the early two thousands.
So I really liked teaching and I, and specifically teaching English. I want to move back to the states. I was able to get a job as a school director at an English like an intensive English school training people to be able to go to, you know, grad grad programs people from overseas. So that's really what got me interested in education.
And at the time I was really scared of technology in general. I didn't spend a lot of time creating anything with technology. I just mainly consumed. I think that describes a lot of people like, you know, the phone, the iPad things like that. Those were kind of more for consuming other people's software and things like that.
I mean, it wasn't really, until I was like 30 years old. Working as a school, right. Trying to figure out ways to optimize the school that I even even occurred to me like, Oh yeah. I can actually maybe like use some of this technology and actually create some scripts that accomplish some of this. So that, that was kind of how I got interested in technology.
But once I saw what technology could do to a school in terms of revolutionizing, how things got done and freeing teachers from their desks. So they could go into more time with students. Like I just immediately like it immediately made sense, like technology education, it's like the marriage of the two things that I'm most interested in right now. and so that's kind of, that's a very long answer, but that's how I got into the technology education.
[00:06:54] Ken: No, that's amazing. It seems like technology was something that helped you to optimize or improve the performance of something you truly cared about, which was, you know, what placing people, helping people to learn.
Skills, whatever it might be and make education, just a better system, which is a system that in some sense failed you before, which I think is really cool is like, you know, you dropped out of high school because it sounds like it, like, it wasn't a good place to learn. It. Wasn't fun. It wasn't, it wasn't constructive.
You don't see the end goal when people are just telling you to do something. And I'm really interested in, Okay, you see the value of technology, where did you start to pick up those skills? Where did he, where does he, where do you even start with coding when you're coming from? I wouldn't say an opposite background, but a background that is pretty far departed from what most people would be traditionally considering associated with technology.
[00:07:52] Quincy: I didn't know where to start. So I think I started probably where a lot of people start, which is just Googling things. And I wasn't sure exactly what I just had kind of a goal in mind and I was like, Okay, I need to accomplish this goal, which in my case was to automate. Immigration forms. Like I was spending a lot of time because most of our students were coming from overseas, dealing with student visas and dealing with like just the different, different paperwork.
You know, of course this was after 9:11, so there was tremendous paperwork and oversight. And we had like the FBI visiting our school and all this stuff just trying to, so I was constantly like trying to just get all the government stuff, always psyche, you know, teach. And so I just had this very specific goal, like, Okay, I want to automate this form.
It takes forever to fill up this every month. And let's just see if there's something that can like click on these different buttons. Cause I know it's always a deterministic process. Like you're always gonna check these boxes. You're always going to click. Is there a way I could script that? So I found this tool called auto hockey.
It would basically do kind of, kind of the equivalent of like screen scraping or something like that, where like, we'll look at the different Dom elements and stuff and like. Yeah, it was even simpler than that. You could actually just like, say, move the mouse, these many pixels over and then click and then move it down.
So assuming that you had like your browser and a fixed resolution and stuff, it was really kind of cloogy, but you could basically just like rerun you could like go through the form and do that, and then we'll do that for you. And I can just get it from my desk and it was just do that for everybody at night, it would click, it would tab over to the spreadsheet, grab the name and like, just go grab it, put the stuff.
[00:09:50] Ken: VBA is still common in Excel. Although most people would tell you that VBA is terribly structured, but it is still used.
[00:10:02] Quincy: Yeah. So I just learned some of that stuff, you know, and I think that anybody, this is where I got it in my mind, like, Wow, probably virtually anybody could benefit from learning at least a little bit about programming technology. Like there may be diminishing returns depending on what your job involves, but you could, if you learn enough, you get a better job, right.
Like a job that not necessarily better, but that incorporates more of your technological skills. But I think it's almost certain that people would benefit from learning at least some programming technology, in my opinion. So and I think that if I could learn this as like a 30 year old office worker who didn't really have any prior enthusiasm for this stuff you know, I think people that are sufficiently motivated could probably.
[00:10:54] Ken: I love that. And I completely agree, you know, it's funny you bring up, Oh, I'm looking for ways to automate this task. That'll save me time. There's this ongoing meme right now where a data scientist, a software engineer will spend like three days automating a task that takes them five seconds to do every day.
It's kind of funny that you're on the other side of that when you were just starting out is like this, these processes taken me a really long period of time to do. And just putting in the upfront cost of learning. Some of their technical skills dramatically reduces that time. and it's directly useful to what you're doing right now.
I think that that concept of thinking about how technology is related to your job is almost the opposite of a lot of people in the data domain or technology domains, right. That is their job. It is technical, but thinking about the end goal and thinking about, Okay, how can this facilitate what we're doing?
Often cuts through a lot of the noise. It helps us from implementing things that are not overly complex or things that are just inefficient or wasteful. I'm interested from this experience where you're actually applying tools that are useful. How does freeCodeCamp come out of that? How do you go from, Oh, this technology is really useful.
It's valuable in the situation I'm in to, Hey, I have this gigantic non-profit that's helping, you know, hundreds of thousands. I might even be millions now of people learning how to code. How do you make that jump and what happens in that void?
[00:12:21] Quincy: Yeah, so I built several different like education technology tools, and there were too complicated people didn't really adopt them.
So just a little bit more background. Like, so after I did that job, that's when I, when I had that revelation, I was like, all right, I'm going to really learn to go properly. I spent like nine months longer than. Going to hackathons doing that. And then just like every day, going to a local hackerspace, just sitting down by myself while everyone was at work and just going through lots of different textbooks and stuff like that.
And a lot of online courses like MOOCs from Stanford, places like that. So I worked as a software engineer for about a year and then I felt ready, like, Okay, I know enough. and getting the job by the way, you learn so much more after you've gotten a job, then you're going to learn before. That's when the real learning starts, because you're working on a team, you've got accountability, you're working with real life legacy code that other people have written, not just your own, you know projects that you've built yourself.
But so I just started iterating on different projects and like, Okay, I want to teach people how to learn to come in. And for me, I was just like, Okay, well, I'll just envision somebody like myself, like, you know, a busy office worker, who's got a job. And like all the other things that. Keeping them from really being able to like drop everything and go back to grad school.
Right. Or something like that. Right. So I just kept throwing stuff at the wall and like showing people demos, I'd like get like an iPad and I'd, I'd get the app running on that. And then I just go and like, show people like, Hey, let's like kind of a hallway usability testing. Right. And a lot of people would go through and they'd be like, Oh, this is really cool.
But then they would never go back. Right. Or like, so you can do like kind of this user research and you find out what works, what doesn't. And very quickly I discovered, Oh, like you want to make things as simple as possible. So after having spent like, Oh, 18 months maybe working on this really sophisticated thing, that was it like downloaded about maybe like five or 6 million job postings from indeed.com.
And then I like downloaded the entire, like. All the different boot platforms and built this giant, like basic index. And the goal was, Oh, I'm just going to take whatever the person's current skills are. If they sign it through LinkedIn, then I can get kind of a feel for like what their skills are.
And I can just go through and analyze the text and figure out like, Oh, okay. They have 10 years of experience with this. Or they've worked with this technology at this company. So kind of builds like a map of what they, where they currently are and then ask them, Okay, what field do you want to go into?
And it'd be like business intelligence or like user experience designer, you know, all these different fields. And then, so I had this, I had what their skills were. I had, what courses were available. And then I had what skills were required based on the job postings for each of the different fields they wanted to go into.
And the idea was it would kind of like compute like the shortest path through all these different online courses and textbooks and stuff, so that you could go from wherever you were in your career to wherever you want to do. And it was really efficient, like within like two or three seconds, it would do all this.
And then it's been like, Okay, just do this course, this course, this course. But that would be like, you know, maybe depending on, like, if you trace back the dependencies and everything, I mean, that might be like 30 courses. And one of the revelations is people don't want to spend, you know, two years of their life learning a bunch of books that you're out of the spout in terms of seconds.
So it was like totally over engineered. And I was like hanging on my head in shame because nobody used it. Like we had like 500 signups or something like that, but nobody ever came back. And I just felt like, you know, destroyed. Cause it's kinda like 18 months building this and then I just stripped everything away, everything, except I was like, we need to make this simpler.
[00:17:13] Ken: So, I mean, obviously there was this over engineered solution, but how did you go about stripping in a way to its core? I think that that's a problem that a lot of, a lot of people interested in technology or working in technology have is we just like to keep adding features. We think complexity equals value. I mean, are there specific steps you use to get to that condensed kernel of what's really valuable or is it sort of a little bit of lock? A little bit of conversation and, you know.
[00:17:41] Quincy: I mean, it was just intuition and it luckily turned out to be correct intuition that like, I mean the high concept pitch, like, can you describe your, what your business does within six words?
Right. Like and I just kept trying to like shrink it down, like I mean, this is like a useful exercise in my humble opinion is just sit down and write out a paragraph. Okay. What problem do we solve? Right. And see how few words you can get it down to without using fancy words, just like playing on English words and ultimately.
Instead of it went from like learn whatever skills you need to be able to work in whatever field you want to work in. You know, like that's not that complicated, but it was too complicated I think. And ultimately it came down to learn to code for free. And that was, that was, that's what we still use to do.
That's still for your capes, ..., learn to code for free. And so I think a lot of it is not, it has nothing to do with the technology. It has everything to do with how do you communicate the problem and the solution? You know, obviously you've learned to code for free, like people already want to learn to cover, which is a benefit.
Like people understand that. Like if you learn to code, you can go on and you get interesting work. You could potentially start a company and not spend your entire seed round, just hiring developers. You can build useful things that you can share with your friends. You could do. Coding coding is a prerequisite.
If you want to get a lot of jobs in science, like people already have an intrinsic like, understanding, like, Okay, I should learned to code. So instead of having to like argue why your project exists, you can just kind of explain what you're running. Does that make sense? So again, there was no fancy complicated methodology or anything like that. It was just a matter of like a revelation. Like if I just make this simpler, maybe that'll work.
[00:19:41] Ken: Oh, it seems like it worked out very well. I think simplicity, there's some, some beauty in that, especially like learning to code for free. I don't think you can get more straightforward about a mission and a value statement than that.
Something I am interested in is after you scaled it down, you now it starts to spin around and start to scale it up. You know, you look at different programming languages, something that I think is possibly unique to you guys, as you operate as a non-profit, I'm really interested in: What the philosophy is there in terms of growth, in terms of access, you know, how do you make that decision to operate as a non-profit rather than a for-profit company or things along those lines?
[00:20:22] Quincy: Yeah. The decision to become a non-profit was a pretty easy one because being an education, like, I think, you know, people don't generally go into education unless they care about learning and wanting to help people improve themselves and things like that. And there's definitely room for like for-profit endeavors within education, especially in like corporate training and like more advanced learning and skills.
But if you're just trying to help a whole lot of people for example, the countryside in India, Nigeria even the U.S. like middle America, there's not as much money to be had. Like if I were going to do a for-profit, it would definitely have like, probably. Some sort of a enterprise angle to it where there were deep pockets.
And I wasn't trying to say, you know, people like myself that don't have a lot of disposable income and like try to convince them, like you have to sell so many more people, if you do business to consumer type things. But anyway, like, because we expected like very few people are actually going to give us any money at all.
Like, let's just do it as a non-profit. So the ones that do give us money, at least they get a tax deduction and also they'll feel better about it because there's, it's not like free cocaine, isn't going to be sold or anything. That's another thing people don't necessarily understand about non-profits is at least in theory, like a non-profit can only be acquired by another non-profit.
And you know, there's not the same pressure because like, I don't own any equity and freeCodeCamp. Nobody does, like, you know, can you home as much freeCodeCamp as I do all the people listening to this, I mean, it's a public charity, right? It's like the red cross, like the blind. It's like doctors without borders, any of those NGOs.
Right. So it was a good fit ideologically and you know, it just, it just didn't make sense to do it as a for-profit in my mind. so that was the main distinction. And if anybody is interested in learning how to do it, take the non-profit route, it's basically the same. you create like a C Corp probably in Delaware, maybe in like your state if you want to do it locally, we did it in California initially because California waived the fees for the first year is knowing that I moved over to Delaware.
But you run it just like a business, except there's no equity and there's no shareholders to this first money to like there's no dividends there. There's like no exit strategy. The goal is you just continue to grow it. And I think it's good because I do think that in many cases, like people will make short term decisions based off of their ability to like make a stock price go up or to, to quickly exit their position in a company and essentially reduce their own personal risk.
And I think those are rational decisions to make, but in a non-profit, it just simplifies things because you don't have to worry about that. Which is why in the United States, there are like more than a million non-profits that are registered, many of which are just, you know, Trisha is most synagogues, but also a lot of food banks, a lot of schools most universities are non-profits.
Yeah, so it's kind of like not talking about it. And there isn't a lot of good documentation about how to create a non-profit or how to be a good non-profit executive director, which is kind of the non-profit pro bono, the seat. But I will take a moment to plug a podcast that is rupture. It's called the whole well podcast.
It's just a consultancy and they help non-profits like learn how to use free Google AdWords. You get like up to $10,000 worth of free Google ads every month, if you want them. We did initially try them, but we just, it was kind of a hassle to keep configuring someone, not use them, but like other little things like can get discounted you know, troubled tax and like all these different things as a non-profit, there's like a website called tech soup that if you're a non-profit, you've almost certainly heard of, you can get discounted AWS credits and things like that. The discounts are not as significant as you would hope, but it's better than nothing.
[00:24:55] Ken: This episode is brought to you by Z by HP. HP's high compute, workstation-grade line of products and solutions. Z is specifically made for high performance data science solutions, and I personally use the Z Book Studio and the Z4 Workstation. I really love the Z workstations can come standard with Linux and they can be configured with the data science software stack. With the software stack, you can get right to work doing data science on day 1 without the overhead of having to completely reconfigure your new machine. Now back to our show.
That's incredible. I mean, it seems like that was a really good fit for you guys. I am interested if there are any challenges associated with that structure. I mean, this is anecdotal. I I'm obviously not an expert in this, but there were some things with like like company savings or reinvesting in the company that if I understand correctly, it's a little bit difficult to do in a non-profit. Has that been a challenge for you guys at all?
[00:25:48] Quincy: So the biggest challenge with being a non-profit is when people give you funds like When people donate money to you, they don't really have a strong, personal incentive to, I mean, yes, there's like a tax deduction that they get, but they'd have to meet a certain threshold even for that, to even affect their bottom line.
I think the main challenge is just you can't raise VC funding people like who, who care about, like, if they're focused on trying to increase the size of the portfolio, like if they're like an angel investors, they have less incentive to help you less personal incentive. If they care about the mission, then they potentially have more.
But because of that, like, you don't get the like, Hey, we're all kind of in this together. And we're all going to get wealthier. If this succeeds you don't get that kind of collaborative effect. Really if a non-profit succeeds, it just makes us. Marginally better. So there's less personal incentive to get involved that that may not necessarily be true for everybody, but that's something I've observed.
I know that, but as far as like running a non-profit, you can still you know, like you can have an endowment Harvard has pretty big endowment. They're a non-profit, it's like, I think it's like $6 billion under management. So that's basically just like, they just take donations and put them into like the stock market.
And then they withdraw a certain amount and year that helps fund developmental or they might withdraw us an extra large amount if they were going to completely, you know, start a new program or something like that. But it's surprisingly similar, I think, to running a traditional like LLC or C Corporation. And I do have managerial experience in the for-profit world. I worked at like this Japanese conglomerate for about five years. So I haven't seen like significant differences between the two.
[00:28:05] Ken: Well, speaking of significant differences, I mean, I think the way that you're approaching education is very different than the traditional like university setting approach.
And I'm interested in how you see freeCodeCamp growing in the future. I mean, is there a clear vision for where you'd like it to go or is it just expanding on programming languages explaining on disciplines, maybe data and those types of things, or is there something greater that unifying everything?
[00:28:36] Quincy: Yeah. Our mission is very simple to create free learning resources. So up until now, most of those learning resources have been self-paced interactive courses that you do on frequent camp.org and. You know, that is about 3000 hours worth of coursework currently that you could potentially work through.
It's so much coursework that almost everybody gets a job before they're even like halfway through the curriculum. And the idea is that you can come back later and you can learn some more and you can keep kind of climbing within your own organization, as you, as you come back to the proverbial giving tree and ask for more wood and stuff like that.
Right. But one of the things we really are interested in doing is helping alleviate some of the issues we're having, particularly in the U.S. with the cost of higher education. So I think particularly undergraduate degrees are prohibited for many people. Many people have to take out a lot of student loan debt.
Or they have to their families have to basically say for like their entire childhood and then have the funds to be able to send them to just even like a state university, right. This isn't even like fancy private liberal arts colleges, like harder or Yale, like even a state university might be tens of thousands of dollars a year in the us.
And what we are trying to do is basically create, I mean, what we're doing, we want to create this degree that is completely free. At least the freeCodeCamp component of it will be completely free. And it's a bachelor's of science and computer science. So you'll be able to earn an accredited four year bachelor's degree not from freeCodeCamp, but from a traditional a hundred year old state university that is regionally accredited.
And what you'll do is you'll do the first two years or so of course, work through freeCodeCamp and then you'll transfer in and those pay tuition while you're doing the remaining general ed electives and stuff like that at the university. So it will not be completely free, but it will essentially have the cost of getting a degree. And then later, you know, it's possible that we'll be able to incorporate our own full-blown and to end university. But that that's the vision. Is there student loans in the United States? It's like $1.6 trillion, I think is the current figure, which has just unfathomably large amount of money with,
[00:31:28] Ken: I feel like I personally go about half of that. So after my multiple degrees, definitely, definitely can resonate with that, you know, overarching theme of like education is too expensive. And in some sense, I think it's a little bit funny on, on a data podcast, because from what I understand from the book by Kathy Neo weapons of math destruction, it seems like data and faulty models or a little bit the cause of that problem to begin with.
So, if I remember correctly, it all starts with the ranking system where schools are being ranked based on how beautiful the campus is, like the exit opportunities and all these things. And the really important thing that they left off of the college rankings was the cost of attendance or cost per value and those types of things.
So universities had this crazy incentive to just inflate prices without actually, you know, and the way that they inflate prices, the way that the reason they're inflating prices is to buy all these things that help go up in the rankings and since price wasn't in the rankings, it created this terrible negative feedback loop that. Tuition cost skyrocketing. And I think it's really incredible that you can be a part of a solution to that problem that, you know, my data ancestors may have inadvertently caused.
[00:32:51] Quincy: Yeah. A lot of it is just misunderstanding incentives. Just presuming that university degrees were always absolutely be worth it. Not realizing the sheer earning potential differential between somebody who gets a degree in like social work versus somebody who gets a degree in computer science, which I believe is still the highest compensating undergraduate degree you can get. There may be specific specializations of engineering that pay more like a year, but computer science is like extremely important, was extremely broad and useful.
so there's a book that I would recommend it for anybody in the audience who likes reading about you know, finance and also history. The overlap between the private sector public sector it's called the debt trap. It just came out maybe like a few months ago, but it's by a wall street journal journalists who did all this research and eat you race is really compelling story about like a lot of the people who are trapped in the system, like people who didn't finish their degree, for example, but still have a lot of that.
And people who did finish their degree, but even with their jobs, they're not making enough of a dent that they're ever likely to be able to pay off the debt. So yeah, I think that it'd be fantastic if the federal government could address this. I am not going to sit back and just hope that it works out.
I'm not going to sit back and hope that the universities who don't seem to have an incentive to decrease their costs. Are going to somehow fix this. I think it's fantastic that you know, people like Michael Bloomberg are giving like a billion dollars to John Hopkins so that people can go there without having to pay tuition.
But I don't think we should rely just on the largest of very wealthy people to try to fix this extremely system or patch band-aids onto it. I think what we need to do is come up with alternatives solutions. So that's what we're trying to do is just trying to do this small thing that hopefully makes it a little more accessible.
And of course, we've just been talking about people here in the U.S. we even have the option of attending U.S. universities. The reality is that a lot of people who are in rural India, rural China, places like that, it's just prohibitively expensive for them to be able to travel to the United States, even if they can get a visa and be able to attend our university. So my hope is that this program will also be. I bought the American education available to those people as well, if they want it.
[00:35:35] Ken: So American education, I think is a really interesting talking point. Something that I noticed I'm noticing you're doing is your goal. At least in the short term is to integrate with university systems. I am of the belief, and I think many people have the belief or have the belief that, you know, the university system as it is now is unbelievably antiquated and it needs reform. It needs another alternative. And it doesn't seem like because of a lot of bureaucracy because of you know, social signaling, a lot of these things that people can get away from from needing a university degree to be successful in the job market, at least in the short-term, you know, how do you see that changing?
If the, if it is even going to change, I mean, are we always going to be stuck paying thousands of dollars? Going to colleges or are the other options out there becoming increasingly viable and trusted?
[00:36:34] Quincy: Yeah. So I mean, it may change, it may not thing like, and you know, the best, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now, right. Like we don't know what's going to happen, but like freeCodeCamp. We're just kind of like hedging and gets people not being able to figure out a solution corporations continuing to claim to credentialism when looking at Java it's I mean, it is a convenient way to sort for class, right.
Is going to be a way to sort for people who have, I guess in theory, had their stuff together and could actually get through a university degree program. But again, like if you, if you don't have to look too hard at that or think very hard about it before you start realizing like the sheer numbers.
You know potential cloth shamans and, you know, people who could just very easily not have made it through the system. Right. And yeah, we'll, we'll see what happens with employers. We'll see what happens with universities, but I think we should take action and I'm hopeful that free cocaine won't be the only people thinking, asking them is I'd love for there to be a Cambrian explosion in like kind of alternative credentials or hybrid kind of like things like what we're trying to do, where we just dramatically reduced the costs, but it's still a traditional four year degree.
The thing about four year degrees is I think if you can, if you just made degrees free, all the inefficiency in like the classroom, like, Oh, it's kind of an antiquated way. Like, I think virtually everybody would probably opt to go to a university, even with the other floss, if it was just free for everyone.
Right. I am sure there will be some people would be like, Eh, that's cool. I, you know, I'm just going to do self-teaching, but I think most people would be like, cool. If I could go live on a university campus and have kind of a college experience and do all these things, I think most Americans would, would be down for that.
And what you're seeing in places like South Korea, where they're investing heavily in making education affordable, and they're getting a huge number of people to actually go to university degrees. And they won't necessarily have to say like, Oh, we're just going to dispense with degrees and like degrees, aren't a requirement anymore.
If you can just make it to where anybody can go through that, it can be kind of a Rite of passage and even with carpet and do that. But when universities are so expensive, it's not tenable for some people that this for others and that. More classist society.
[00:39:07] Ken: I think it's fascinating describing free education as a more efficient system, but in some ways I think that that's absolutely true. I mean, you look at how universities are run, just the model they run on. So I taught, I taught a university course this past year and did I really need to be there in person teaching that course? I mean, I wasn't a person. I was virtual, but like, could they have not recorded the lecture and played it year over year and just sent the kids to me and off for office hours?
I mean, did the, did the students really get an additional value of me being there in the classroom that they wouldn't have gotten from video that is recorded and distributed by a professional? So it's actually high quality and interesting, so people would want to see it. And then you supplement that with, with office hours and whatever that might be to me.
A very simple thing like that is significantly more valuable to the professors because in theory, should most university professors be teaching a class? I mean, a lot of them prefer to do research. A lot of the professors aren't very personable, especially in the technology sector. Like why aren't we standardizing a lot of the education that we have and making sure it's up to date and making sure that it's shared and a really good quality resource when we can do that and it'd be cheaper as well. To me, there's just like the, that the inefficiency of the system. it boggles me everyday when I think about it. And it helps me to see additional value in what you're creating as well.
[00:40:42] Quincy: Yeah. And I think precisely what you said, like if you edit a lecture and it's not real time and suddenly you can like say, Oh, I could probably could have phrased that better. And you got like, even like the YouTube style jump cuts, you know, like that can actually result in a much. Compact like information dense lecture, and you can do all kinds of things that you can do outside of the classroom. Like all kinds of like experiments and demonstrations and cool, like set pieces and stuff that you wouldn't necessarily be able to bring into a lecture hall like.
Right. And if you look, if you watch like CS50, like Harvard hasn't CS50, I mean, they spend an incredible, they basically spare no expense just making that the best video course experience they can and it shows, but you know, a typical university wouldn't have the resources for it. And you know, you can't just clone David Malin incentive to every single university. Like...
[00:41:38] Ken: But the funny thing is you can write through a video medium if they're licensing the course or doing something along those lines. To me, that is like, that's one of the craziest things about the technology that we have is we have the power to do that. We have the ... I mean, will schools pay for it or will they make it efficient in some way? Maybe, maybe not, but the power to make it cheap and high quality. It absolutely exists already. Which always, again, it makes my mind dribble a little bit.
[00:42:10] Quincy: Yeah. 100% agree. So I hope, I mean, like I spent a huge amount of time. I've got lots of like online course subscriptions, like big like Nebula, the great teaching the Great courses, plus it's called like Wandery I watched like a lot of philosophy and history and stuff on that.
And then of course, like YouTube just has tons of amazing video essays, a bunch of good tutorials. So like, and I can do it when I'm like holding my kid or walking around the park or something like that. You know, podcasts have opened up a whole new dimension of just being able to do all the things and learn the idea of reporting to a synchronous course.
Professor and like 50 other people in a Zoom call or a Google Meet or something, it just seems like we're taking all the like we're overlooking a lot of the actual benefits of the technology in favor of trying to like shoe a point in some similar to the old way into that technology. So I think you and I are 100% agreement.
[00:43:14] Ken: It's funny. When I was a grad student, I started off taking everything in person. Like I'm very extroverted. I like talking to people. I learn very well when I collaborate. I very quickly, I think after basically two quarters started taking everything online because at least in my computer science classes, nobody wanted to talk to me.
Right. I mean, nobody wants, I mean, a lot of the work is, is individual contributor. And when I took the classes online, I could watch the lectures in 2X speed and then I could slow it down when I didn't understand something and rewind it as many times as I wanted to without having to bother the professor do any of those types of things and just the flexibility that that adds.
I mean, I do that on YouTube. I watch pretty much everything into 2X and then I ... it or adjusted and I can hear exactly what I want get exactly what I want out of the experience. I mean, to me that even little bit of customization goes an incredibly long way. I mean, I I'm sure you'll know. You would know from your experience and education, but the best way to improve quality of learning is to match the challenge to the, to the skills of the person as closely as possible.
And I find that we really struggled to do that in the, in the way that that things are currently taught. I'd like to, to change gears just a little bit. Something I think is really interesting and pressing for a lot of people is it's a bit played out now, but the idea of imposter syndrome, so.
You know, you're working in a domain you're responsible for educating so many people about highly technical concepts about programming, whatever it might be, but to be perfectly honest, I mean, your programming experience it's to the point when you started it, wasn't that long. I mean, you'd worked you know, as a software engineer, you you'd gotten some experience, but how do you take on the idea that you're going to educate, you know, all of these people while having had some someones have a limited experience yourself, like where, where, where do you build on that?
How are you able to create something so incredible while? Well, you know, I have to imagine you felt a little bit like, Ooh, how am I doing this? When, you know, you felt some of that self doubt a little bit, some of the time.
[00:45:31] Quincy: Yeah. I mean, it was, it was an exercise in humility. It's interesting. Like the this is actually, I actually wrote an article about my personal imposter syndrome. I'll send it to you.
[00:45:48] Ken: I should have done better homework before the episode.
[00:45:51] Quincy: Yeah, I mean, let's see, learning how to code with imposter syndrome. Yeah, well basically I had a pretty rough time learning the code. I got it myself the entire way. I sucked at math, you know, or I just didn't understand, like, you know, all these different data structures and it didn't make intuitive sense.
Right. But I think to some extent, because I was like this 30-year old teacher who didn't really have anything to prove to anybody like people just I mean, part of it, frankly, is like, I'm a privileged white guy with a beard and glasses. And like people just assume that I was like a really good developer just by walking up to me because I looked like a developer.
Right. So that part wasn't that hard. But what was really hard was just you know, powering through the setbacks and seeing other people around me who were 10 years younger than me, that like had been coding. Maybe 20,000 hours longer than I have just ridiculous amounts of time. And I actually am not sure if it's even possible to go for 20,000 hours at that age, but like a lot more time than I had.
So like watching people just like fly on the keyboard, like the knew all the shortcuts, they all tab through things real quick. Like even trying to understand what they were doing was it almost seemed uncomprehensible. And I remember very early on, I was hanging out with my friend from the hackerspace who, you know, was like 10 years younger than me.
And he was doing he was, he was using Emacs and he was like, and he'd like, do so many different hotkeys, like from his Linux box, like within about 20 seconds, he would open up Emacs, he'd write the entire thing and he'd like, save it to like the different format and it will go in this file. And then we pushed to his, you know, remote backup and all this stuff.
And I was just like, Oh my gosh, how did you do. And it was daunting because I was focused on people that were, it would be like, if you were like really good at track in high school, and you went to the Olympics and you were trying to run alongside like Olympic athletes. Right. That, and then you were like being rough on yourself for not being able to do that.
Right. But in a global kind of like workforce, like back in the day, maybe you'd be like the fastest runner in your town. Right. So, but the difference between you and like the second fast-forward, wouldn't be that dramatic, but the difference between you and the fast person in the world, who's really the only person that the attention is lavished on.
Right. Everybody's focused on losing who's the second patch I don't remember. Right. So it's easy to like, get caught up on that and look at like the rockstars, right. And just like, Oh, I can never be like that. And I definitely made those mistakes a lot. Well, one thing that kept me humble was spending a lot of time doing project while I was spending a lot of time I've coding.
I would jump on Twitch and I just maintain the Frigo camp code base for like hours at a time. And people would be in chat like, Oh, you know, you're, you forgot to call that function. That's why this isn't working. Or, you know, your test is passing because you're not testing the right thing. Like people would come into the chat and like, tell me, Oh, okay, great.
And like, so all my mistakes, all my flaws, all my shortcomings as a developer are right, right out there for anybody who cared to tune in and laugh at my, you know, nascent programming ability. But it helped me tough enough a little bit. And it also showed me like, Hey, like people are generally really supportive.
It was pretty rare that we get somebody who would call me a new or something like that. Right. Like most people will just want to know. And that's when I really like the developer community itself, like, you'll hear about a lot of toxicity and things like that. Like, people are mean on stack overflow though.
Mark, your question is duplicate without even reading it, you know, stuff like that. People will say those kinds of things. And it's true. Like definitely like I'm not trying to mitigate or minimize. But I am saying that in general, I would say that developers, the developer ethic, the hacker ethic as they call it is one of support.
It's one of trying to make sure people get the tools they need. Like if you look at the security community for example, was responsible disclosure. These people can make a fortune just like exfiltrating the day and like selling it on the black market. It was only right. And yet they're willing to do these tiny bug bounties just because they like things being secure.
Right. They're like looking at and open source community people sharing stuff. So I would say that like any. Apprehension any imposter syndrome I felt was largely mitigated by the fact that people were so chill.
[00:51:09] Ken: I think that that's well, so it seems like from your journey, you have this really immense bias towards action. You know, when you feel like you're not good enough at coding, you get your hands dirty and you start doing an online live streaming when you're working in education and the forms aren't being filled quick enough, you seek to automate that as quickly as possible. How can someone develop that? I think it's really intimidating for a lot of people to do something or like move towards action rather than just dwelling on things and getting scared.
I mean, at least from my perspective, that's what it seems like imposter syndrome is quite a bit of a time. Is that the like overarching feeling that. You're not good enough. And that feeling pushes you to not do anything about it because it feels overwhelming and then you don't do anything about it. And then it becomes inevitably true because you haven't done anything. Right. How do you break that cycle?
[00:52:10] Quincy: Yeah, I mean, I like to say Reddit is just an old time away, regardless of how deep and frustrated you are, and you can just go and completely distract yourself with cat photos or something. Right. And like, but at the end of the day, it's just, like you said, like, what are you going to do about it?
Like, just get into the habit of saying like, yeah, this is screwed up. Like, or yeah, I suck at this. What am I going to do about it? Like, what am I going to do about it? If you're always asking, there's this quote that I love, it's a action is the antidote to despair. And I can't remember exactly who said it or if that's even the exact quote, but it really does.
When I read that I remedied like, Oh, you know, I spent a lot of my youth kind of like, you know, I dropped out of high school. I lived in my car for like a year. I did all this kind of like, you know, booboo self-pity stuff. And I just didn't have a lot of faith in my future felt sorry for myself and stuff.
And a lot of that, like I think that if I could just send like one message, there's that episode of star Trek, where they get caught in the time loop next generation. And they just to send something back to tell us, Oh, be sure to do this. Otherwise we'll be stuck at this forever. Right. Like, if I can say one thing back, you'll just be like, what are you going to do about it?
Like Tom ... And that might spur me to like, Oh yeah, what am I going to do about it? Because you could spend a ton of time just stuck on one problem. If you just keep kind of showing. and to be fair, like a lot of times going out for a walk or I'm just going to sleep or taking a day off, like sometimes that does give you new insight that helps you get past whatever your own.
But it, at some point like, Okay, you've gotten all the rest. You need, you drink all the water you need. Like, everything is perfect. There's nothing holding you back except you. So what are you going to do about it? like I find that that kind of chiding myself with that does spur activity. Yeah. I don't know if that's helpful for other people, but I found it helpful.
[00:54:08] Ken: So, I mean, in my mind it seems like it's easy to say that now. I mean, it seems like now you're, you've, I wouldn't say mastered your mind in that sense, but you've been able to, to talk yourself into performing action. What was the point where that changed for you? Like earlier in your life? You know, obviously you went from a position where you, where you were living in your car, he dropped out of high school. How did you make that personal change? W was there something that happened or was it just the slow, this slow personal growth?
[00:54:41] Quincy: Yeah. I mean, just realizing things, nothing ever changes on its own. You know, like the universe is indifferent. If you don't take action, nobody's gonna like step in and like, say right. Help is not coming. so kind of like thinking about that and I hope that doesn't come across the dark because I think if anything, it should feel in power, at least that's how it felt for me. Just the revelation that like, Okay, this is a big, scary, complicated world. I have to forge a path and it, and it's great that, you know I have this grandma that I can talk to.
He's really sweet. And, you know, I can just talk with her, eat some cookies and she'll support me. But at the end of the day, like I'm going to almost certainly outlive her and. That I find is not going to be there anymore and I need to cultivate other kind of lifelines. Right. I mean, like without trying to sound like, you know, a stereotypical tech bro, like read stoicism, hurting mark Israelis, you know, but I mean, I do, I read that stuff and I spent a lot of time thinking about other people who faced adversity and what they did or that, you know yeah, I don't think there's like you could read like motivational books you can and like the advice in those books is pretty actionable in my opinion, like those self-help books, like they do work, the issue is that like, they don't work if you don't work them, you know?
So yeah, it's one of those things that can't really miss serve. You articulated, like, you almost need to hear it from yourself, which is why. I asked myself all the time, what am I going to do about it? You know? I hope that's not too abstract and like philosophical. I hope that's actually useful, but at the end of the day, so in terms of concrete, you know, frameworks that I use to be able to get things done, I mean, I've got like a grab bag of advice I could throw at you if that's helpful.
[00:56:49] Ken: Yeah. I mean, I think people are always looking for advice. I really honestly, what you were describing there resonated with me quite a bit. I think at the most basic level, it comes down to physics. I hope I don't butcher this, but an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force or something along those lines.
Right. If we don't do anything about our lives, if we don't take any action, if we don't change our mindset, if nothing changes our situation probably won't change aside from maybe like the passing of time. Right. Okay. To me, that the ability to convince yourself to take action, whether it's via realizing that, you know, if we don't take action, that it would be meaningless, or if we don't take action you know, like nothing could be worse than their current situation or whatever it might be.
You know, that that aversion to being stuck is what at least transformed my life is that, Hey, everything could keep going the exact way it is it's trending. And would I be okay with that? I thought a couple of points in my life where I was like, no, something needs to change. And bringing what the future could look like into the present and looking at how the tools you have, the mindset you have, all these things track to what could happen is something that, that is really scary for people, but probably one of the best things that you could possibly do.
[00:58:21] Quincy: Absolutely. I mean, if you do want to hear some advice... Like, you've heard this a million times, but this, this is 100% true. Like turn off all notifications, unless it's like your boss and you're gonna get fired if you don't respond to them. Thankfully I don't have that issue. but basically I literally do not get any notifications, like not even calls.
I do not get interrupted, period. I have a calendar and if something is happening, I see the calendar notification 10 minutes before and I'm like, Okay, I want to go prepare for that. Right. And I know what I'm going to be doing the next few days. So I look at my calendar every day, but that's one thing is just like, really do turn off notifications.
Like you don't need to know that you got an email you don't even necessarily need other than got a new text. It just gives you such serenity, such peace of mind to be able to. To have space to think all that long and think really deeply without having things pull you out of it. The other thing that I would say is instead of putting things on a to-do list, put them on your calendar.
And so, like, I kind of like you know, a to-do list item, maybe that'll get done. When's that going to get done? When are you going to make time to do that? But if you put it on your calendar, you're like, Okay, it's my dedicated time with my past self set my future self up to be able to resolve this. I want to do this now.
I think those two things just are really conducive to deep work. And of course, Cal Newport has that book on the cork, which ironically, I was like, I've went through that. I just got distracted. But I really do think that like if you're already working all day long or if you're taking care of kids doing anything like that, you really need to reclaim as much of that mental bandwidth as possible.
You really do need to tell friends like, Hey, I can't make it to this. I'm not going to do your dinner party. You need to be able to say no to different things that are going to potentially distract you from whatever your goals are, whether that's, you know, like working on building a non-profit or working on just building a model for your job or something that will help you be able to get a promotion or help you get more, you know, like, or doing some challenges on cable because you know, what's going to look really good when you're tweeting about it and everybody's like, Oh my gosh, this is a really great analysis, right?
Like you and I were talking about how awesome Kaggle is and just how you can be really creative and build punish really quickly and get lots of artifacts out there, testifying to your greatness. Right. So yeah. Hope that's helpful.
[01:01:03] Ken: No, that's amazing. I think an overarching theme there is to make your technology to make your time, to make all of these things work for you rather than you work for them. I mean, that's a constant battle that I fight is that am I subject to the things I'm working on? Do they control my time? Do they control my life? Do they control my happiness or do I control those things and hold dominion over them?
And it's really easy, especially for me, for my phone to take over my life. You know, I just sit there like on the toilet, just scrolling Instagram. And it's like, what, what, what value is this creating? Right on the other side of that, I can use Instagram to grow my business. I can use it to connect with friends.
I can use all these other platforms to, to grow and educate people. And if I use them in that way and I almost explicitly use them in that way, they're creating a lot of value in my life. I use them in the other way, stuff has really degrading. So those are all the questions I had today. Quincy, this was so incredible. Are there any parting words, any, any last things you want to touch on aside from, you know, go check out freeCodeCamp, I'll make sure to link everything related to them in the description.
[01:02:16] Quincy: Absolutely. And if we have a lot of open datasets, if anybody wants to like dig into them we've got the new coder survey that we just published a few months ago in partnership with Boston university. So that's like, I don't know, like 20,000 records or so it's was like 18-20,000 records students responding, like people learning to code. If you all want to do some analysis on that. Well, like if it looks promising, I'll tweet it out. I'll share it with you.
[01:02:46] Ken: I might even analyze that. That sounds awesome.
[01:02:48] Quincy: Yeah. And we're doing some other really exciting data science work force. We are building a data science curriculum, but it's going to be mostly math. The reality, at least that I've observed and I'd be happy to be corrected on this, but like so much of what people really need to know is just stats inside and out and getting really good at Python and then having that tools, tool set and that mindset to be able to approach it.
We do want to teach data engineering too. I don't know if any data engineers to Ken's Nearest Neighbors, but like if anybody's interested in creating some courses around, this is very popular topic that nobody seems to know very much about. And we've just had the hardest time finding people to potentially create like a video course or some tutorials about data engineering.
[01:03:37] Ken: On my trip, I met at least three data engineers, so I will connect them with you right after we get done here.
[01:03:44] Quincy: Absolutely. Thanks again for the opportunity to be on your show. And I've, again, I've really enjoyed listening to it. Some really inspiring people you have on here that like kind of renew my own personal life. You don't just like, I don't just wake up and I'll fire it up all the time. Like I need to like hear other people's passion, other people's inspiration. And for that, like your show has been a really, really cool wellspring.
[01:04:06] Ken: Amazing. Well, this one definitely fired me up, so I'm glad we got to get this one and thank you so much again.