Monday, June 18, 2012

My Next Step: Coursera and The World of Online Education

Over a year ago, I left Google to go out in the world and try and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I spent much of the last year "hermit hacking", mostly on EatDifferent, and as I explained more in my recent Ignite talk, I realized something very important during that time: as much as I enjoy working on projects that I love and believe in, I can't do it alone. I need to be around other people working on the same project, who believe in the same mission, with energy and passion that I can feed off of. When it is just me on a project, I get lonely and lose confidence in what I'm doing. So I decided that it was time to join a team. But who and what?

I've always been plagued by the fact that I'm interested in too many things - language, travel, science, evolution, play, food - because my multitude of interests makes it hard for me to pin down what I want to focus the majority of my time on. But I think now I've figured out the common thread amongst everything I like working on: education. I love learning and teaching, across every topic and in every form. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much of my projects have actually been about education. In college, I spent my extracurricular time organizing workshops. At Google, I used my role in developer relations to figure out how best to teach APIs to developers (and have them teach eachother). In my spare time, I've taught at computer camps, created curriculum, tutored students, and made apps that enable learning like WordHunter and QuizCards. Even my mild obsession with nutrition for the last year has revolved around learning and teaching.

So, I figured out the "what": education. But who? There are a lot of interesting things happening in the education space right now — there are people putting together intensive academies to teach programming, there are efforts like Khan Academy to improve K-12 education, there are startups like Codecademy to teach programming to the masses, and of course, there's developer relations across API and web focused companies like Adobe.

I was in the midst of checking out all those possibilities when I attended FooCamp last weekend, an unconference bringing together people across many fields. I naturally found myself attending many of the education-focused sessions and ended up chatting with Andrew Ng, the co-founder of Coursera.

Coursera is the startup behind the online university level education (first from Stanford, but now from a few other top-notch universities), and their mission is to make quality education available for free to everyone. They've had a great start, with now 1 million sign-ups for their classes, but that's the thing: they're really just getting started. There's a lot of experimentation to be done to figure out how to best deliver online education: how to get students to stick with it, how to get a community growing around it, how to do peer grading, how to make their credentials matter.

After my chat with Andrew, I realized that there might be ways that I can contribute my experience, skills and ideas to their mission, and well, to make a short story shorter, I signed the job offer a few days later. On July 2nd, I'll be starting as a Frontend Engineer at Coursera, and I'm super stoked. An awesome team and an awesome mission, what more can a girl want?

Oh, and hey, now I get to put in an obligatory plug for my new company: Coursera has tons of courses and several job openings. Join us! ☺

No comments: