Business Exec Catapults His Career By Learning to Code

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Photo by Myleen Hollero, freely licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

Kourosh has years of experience in business development for both media companies and startups. Before joining San Francisco’s Web Development Immersive, he worked for Tugboat Yards. Post-course, he launched a startup with a classmate and landed a new role as the VP of Strategic Partnerships at the Wikimedia Foundation. 

Follow Kourosh on Twitter: @kouroshk

What were you doing before enrolling at General Assembly?

I have been a business development executive for media companies for the past decade. Just prior to joining General Assembly, I worked for a company called Tugboat Yards.

What motivated you to enroll in our Web Development Immersive (WDI)?

I have always wanted to learn how to build a website from scratch. In 2009, I co-founded a company called Food Republic, as a side project. I used contracting developers to build our site. It wasn’t a great experience. It was a pretty simple site, but the process took forever and it used up a lot of money. I felt I was being held hostage because I didn’t know how to code.

Well, we sold that company and I moved on. Then about a year ago in early 2014 I came up with another idea for a side project. Again, a simple product, but my hands were tied because I couldn’t find a technical cofounder and I couldn’t code. That’s when I decided to enroll.

You completed WDI last year. Why was that the right time to learn how to code?

Tugboat Yards, the company I was working for, let me go in the summer of 2014. Plus, I was pretty motivated to build my own product and company. I asked my wife if she could hold our family life together by herself for three months, she agreed, and I signed up for WDI. I started in September 2014.

We love hearing about our students’ diverse backgrounds. What did GA offer that led you to choose us?

Unlike most people, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the job I would get at the end of the course; I was thinking about what I would be able to do with my coding skills. I looked at three other coding schools, but ultimately selected General Assembly.

I picked General Assembly because a friend of mine serves as an advisor and because GA was teaching the exact technologies I needed to learn: HTML/CSS, Javascript and Ruby on Rails. Plus, I really liked the campus.

You founded a startup with two other graduates. Tell us more about that.

Myla Baker was my classmate. She is awesome. Although she had never coded before she was ace-ing every assignment and turning in very clever solutions to programming problems. She caught my eye immediately. I also liked Arun Sood, my course instructor. He is a natural teacher with a knack for describing complex problems and concepts in simple terms. Plus he’s patient and has a great sense of humor — invaluable attributes in a cofounder.

I pitched my idea to both of them and they liked it. I asked them if they wanted to help me build it and they agreed. I teamed up with Myla for my final WDI project and we worked on the alpha version of our product. We graduated in late December and after the new year we got together with Arun to improve the product. Myla and Arun did the programming and I started making pitches to angel investors and venture capitalists.

Our product is called Tally. It’s a political news app tied to small donations. We created it to empower individuals to have a bigger say in their government.

What are next steps for Tally?

Arun and Myla got pretty far in building the beta version of the desktop version. We have most of the code done. Meanwhile, I chased money from investors and I got some serious interest from prominent VCs.

Unfortunately, there are some legal challenges. I need to hire lawyers in Washington, DC who specialize in election law and campaign finance to get approvals from the government before we can launch. This part is going to be fairly expensive.

Next step is to hire the attorneys to complete the legal approvals. We also need to build an iOS version of the product.

You landed a new job at the Wikimedia Foundation (congrats!). What does your role entail?

Yes, I took an awesome job at the Wikimedia Foundation, the fine folks who support Wikipedia among many other projects. As vice president of strategic partnerships, I help build relationships with other organizations to make the sum of knowledge freely available around the world.

Some of the biggest technology companies in the world are already using Wikipedia content. My job is to encourage them to come up with additional innovative products so that this knowledge is available more broadly, in more formats, in more languages, in more countries, on more platforms.

Mobile usage is also becoming increasingly important, particularly in less developed parts of the world. So I’ll be partnering with international mobile companies to make sure Wikipedia content is widely and freely available around the globe.

Who is your favorite teacher and why?

That’s not a fair question! I liked both my instructors and I consider both friends. This is going to get me in trouble.

I already mentioned Arun. The second instructor was Alex Notov, another great teacher. They tag-teamed teaching my cohort, switching days. They complimented each other perfectly. Alex was great at blowing our minds with the concepts and theory of computer science, while Arun taught us the basic building blocks of coding. No matter who was teaching, I finished each day thoroughly exhausted, with heat emitting from the top of my skull. I hadn’t had to think so hard in at least a decade.

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Nelson Igunma helps to collect Alumni Success Stories from around the world and craft interviews for our blog.