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How to Make a Career Change

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YOUR UNTAPPED PROFESSIONAL POTENTIAL

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by Ashley Rudolph and Tom Ogletree

How GA’s new income-share agreement program is removing barriers to education and career change.

Embarking on a career change is a major investment. To say it’s a tough endeavor is an understatement, as it usually requires time, money, and effort to bridge skills gaps and make inroads in a new field or profession.

At General Assembly, we’ve helped over 13,000 individuals with finding a job and launching new careers through our full-time Immersive programs in coding, data, and UX design. GA courses aren’t cheap, but they have a high return on investment and are specifically designed to prepare students to be successful and secure high-wage, high-potential roles as web developers, data scientists, and UX designers.

However, many students can’t financially afford this education out of pocket. About 40% of our full-time students use third-party funding sources — including loans, scholarships, GI Bill® benefits, and government programs — to attend GA. There are more seeking who would like to do the same, but half of those who apply for loans get turned down, and our pool of scholarship funding is not big enough to meet demand.

The fact of the matter is that many of our students already have debt from past education or credit cards that affects their ability to secure new financing. Today, the typical college student borrower graduates with an average of $22,000 in debt. A recent study revealed that over 30% of recent student borrowers are facing serious struggles with repaying debt loads. The combination of existing repayment obligations and the looming risk of default leaves many adults with extremely limited funds to devote to continuing education. It’s a frustrating cycle — individuals are stuck in low-paying jobs they don’t love, but they can’t afford the education that will fast-track them into a new line of work.

At GA, we never want a student’s financial struggles to stand in the way of their motivation to break into a new profession. In order to create more access to our rewarding programs, we sought out new ways for career-changers to financially fund their education.

One concept that caught our attention was income share agreements (ISAs), a model of income-based repayment that’s gaining traction among education and training providers. After nearly two years designing this program, we’re excited to launch Catalyst, GA’s ISA program. Since many people are curious about ISAs, we wanted to share some insight around why they’re a viable option for many students pursuing this program, regardless of their income, credit history, or background.

You can read about how and why we created the Catalyst program in more detail in our white paper, Untapped Potential.

How GA’s Catalyst ISA Program Works

The gist of the Catalyst program is this: Students can accomplish taking a full-time GA Immersive course in web development, data science, or UX design at no upfront cost. After they graduate and land a job earning at least $40,000 annually, they’ll start paying back 10% of their income over 48 monthly payments.

We chose this income share amount because it’s comparable to what students might pay for a loan, based on our typical starting salaries. According to PayScale, average starting salaries for web developers are $54,365 nationally, and data from Climb Credit, one of our loan partners, shows that GA graduates report median starting salaries of $60,000 after taking an Immersive course.

Payments are maxed out at 1.5 times the initial cost of tuition (currently about $15,000), meaning that higher earners may end up paying as much as $22,425 total, while lower earners will pay less. We’re working with Vemo Education, the largest provider of ISAs in the United States, to manage the program’s day-to-day operations and administration.

We think these terms benefit career-changers for several reasons:

  • Approval based on future potential. Many loan applicants get rejected because of low credit scores or other debt. Acceptance to Catalyst instead depends on students’ drive and readiness to thrive in the course and on the job.
  • Employment first, payments later. Students can devote their time and energy to excelling in class and job searching — without the looming stress of upcoming payments.
  • Career focus. ISAs and career support go hand in hand. GA’s Career Services team is dedicated to making sure students land a job in their field of study through one-on-one coaching, exclusive hiring events, networking opportunities, and more.
  • Flexible career pathways. The $40,000 minimum salary allows students to accept a lower-paying job they’re passionate about, cultivate a freelance business, or even start their own company without the pressure of loan repayments.
  • Life happens? Payments stop. Students can pause payments at any time if they stop working, whether due to unemployment or personal, family, or health-related reasons.

Our Approach to ISAs

We took a student-centric, research-based approach in deciding whether to introduce ISAs. It was essential to develop a model that does not put the burden only on the student, but also ensures that GA is incentivized to help participants meet their career goals. First and foremost, we wanted to introduce an option that would be attractive to all individuals, regardless of income, credit history, or background.

Data from the ISA industry at large informed our approach to designing the Catalyst program, but our own unique experience serving thousands of students defined our terms. Here are some of the considerations we made while exploring ISAs as a payment option:

  • Student feedback. We reached out to alumni to understand whether or not an ISA-type structure would be appealing to them. We learned what features resonated with our community and built them into our program. More than anything else, students valued not having to make payments while in school and during their job search.
  • Current payment performance data and trends. After analyzing data from past GA applicants and students, we knew that affordability was still a frequent barrier. Loans, government funding, and scholarships are increasingly popular options for our community, but we couldn’t meet demand due to obstacles like a small scholarship pool and applicants’ inability to secure loans.
  • A strong focus on career outcomes. It’s incredible what GA students can achieve after taking one of our full-time programs, regardless of their educational and professional backgrounds. We strongly believe that ISAs can’t work without outcomes-based programming, and GA’s Career Services team is solely focused on ensuring that students in our full-time courses have the tools and skill sets they need to land a job after they graduate. We track student progress, have a Big Four accounting firm audit our job-placement data, and share our outcomes reports publicly every year.
  • Likelihood of students’ success. Students’ actions prior to enrollment reliably indicate how they’ll perform in their course and job search. To ensure Catalyst participants are prepared, applicants must complete our admissions requirements, course pre-work, and a readiness assessment. Our data shows that good performance on the assessment is the best predictor of success in the program and the job search.
  • Commitment to transparency. ISAs are new and we know there’s still a lot to learn about the model, but we’re optimistic. Because of this, we’re pledging to define key success metrics and make them publicly available.

Thanks to funding from the investment firm Kennedy Lewis, we’re able to serve 5,000 students through the Catalyst program in the coming years. We chose to work with the company because of its alignment with our mission and the goals of the program. “The positive social impacts of ISAs are extensive because they align the quality of the education with the cost,” said David Chene, co-founder and managing partner at Kennedy Lewis. “ISAs avoid the debt trap associated with student loan debt as a student will never be asked to pay more than they can afford.”

We’ll learn a lot along the way and are committed to maintaining transparency with our students, our partners, and others interested in the future of ISAs for accelerated career training and work experience. We’ll share updates regularly as we learn, iterate, and improve so we can continue to create greater access to GA’s programs and empower students to pursue professions they love.

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Ashley Rudolph is GA’s Director of Consumer Operations and Financing, overseeing global campus operations, as well as General Assembly’s loan and income share agreement programs.

Tom Ogletree is Senior Director of Social Impact and External Affairs and manages GA’s communications, public affairs, and social impact initiatives.

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Since 2011, General Assembly has trained individuals and teams online and on campus through experiential education in the fields of coding, data, design, and business. We believe everyone should have access to leading-edge education that will transform their careers — and their lives. Learn more about our Catalyst ISA program and other financing options, and find out what we’re doing to break down barriers to employment, diversify the workforce, and close the skills gap.

6 Tips on How to Get a Job at a Startup

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How to narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.

A job-search thesis is a great tool to tell people what you’re looking for in a job.

The following is an adapted excerpt from How to Get a Job at a Startup, an exclusive General Assembly eBook by startup founder and former GA leader Matt Cynamon.

Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But wanting in and breaking into this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and a skill set to grow from to make you a candidate who stands out from an established crowd.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate, someone with 10 years of executive-level experience, recently completed a career accelerator program, or are just making a jump from a more traditional work background, there is a pathway to a dream job at a startup for everyone. While there’s no foolproof method for landing a job, we’ve compiled six proven tips that can help you narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.

1. People can get you further than job boards.

One of the nice surprises about the startup businesses is how supportive and helpful some of the people are. In every city, leaders in grassroots startup communities host events, give educational talks, make introductions, and offer advice. These individuals can serve as your early guides as you start out on your journey.

If you’re just breaking into the startup world, you may not have a strong network to draw upon. That’s OK. Go to events, meet people, and listen. As a new entrant into the community you might feel like you have little to offer in return, but one of the biggest favors you can do for someone is just ask them questions about their work. Don’t be too forceful, but where appropriate, invite people for a coffee. It may seem intuitive, but being generally interested in others and what they do will help you foster relationships that aren’t only valuable, but fulfilling.

When it comes time for you to start applying, warm introductions from someone within the community will go much further than a resume submitted on a job board. Founders often cite hiring as the biggest obstacle to successfully growing their company. It’s a timely and difficult process that they love to circumvent with a nice, warm introduction to top talent (aka you).

One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to get introductions is assuming that if people don’t get back to you, hope is lost. Be prepared for repeated failure. Ninety percent of people will say they want to help you. Ten percent actually will. Why most people don’t follow through is due to a variety of factors, but just know it’s rarely about you. If you go into every conversation with this attitude, you will more easily be able to sustain your energy when your inbox sounds like crickets.

2. Polish your elevator pitch with a job-search thesis.

We’re living in an age of self-driving cars, private spaceships, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, on-demand everything — and startups often lie at the center of these innovations. It’s completely normal for someone starting on their journey to want to be a part of all of it. While you will encounter many people who are willing to help you in your job hunt, you need to make it easy for them to do so. To that end, nothing will get you further than clarity and focus.

When you tell people what you are looking for, you want them to think, “I know who you should talk to.” The easiest way to get there is to distill what you’re looking for into three distinct points. We call this a job-search thesis.

The best job-search thesis will contain:

  • Your desired company size.
  • Your preferred industry.
  • Your desired role.

For example, if you can tell someone at a cocktail party, “I want to work as a product manager at post-Series A company in the fashion industry,” there’s a good chance they’ll remember you the next time they hear about a PM role at a company that makes smart athletic gear. Speaking about yourself with that level of specificity will instantly make connections in the mind of whomever you find yourself talking to.

3. Got experience? Great. Not so much? Then make it.

If you are moving into the startup world from a career in a different industry or type of role, make sure to play up your relevant experience. If you feel like your job title really doesn’t translate to the position for which you’re applying, break apart the components of your current role into the factors that would be relevant at a startup. For example, if you were a lawyer then you likely have strong attention to detail, analytical problem-solving skills, an ability to explain complex problems to many stakeholders, a strong work ethic, and a history of achievement. These are all things startup founders would want out of product management. This exercise is especially important for more senior individuals trying to move into the startup world.

Of course, you don’t have to rely only on your previous experience — the best candidates never do. Fortunately, the rules around experience have shifted and there are ways for you to start developing skills within a given field even if you’ve never worked in that field before.

Even opening an account on Medium.com and writing commentary on the industry you’re interested in can go a long way. Coupling this level of initiative with your previous (or nonexistent) work experience is the best way to demonstrate your talents and potential. In addition to gaining relevant skills that will assist you in a new role, you’ll appear to be both passionate about the subject matter and a knowledgeable self-starter who practices it in your spare time.

Let’s say you’re really interested in doing digital marketing for a fashion tech company. For less than $50 you can start running Facebook advertisements for a friend’s T-shirt website, cultivating skills in running paid social media campaigns. If you want to do UX design for an eCommerce startup, you can publish a series of UX critiques about popular eCommerce sites on a blog. Engineers rarely depend on resumes alone anymore; they demonstrate their experience by publishing their code to GitHub. 

4. Do your homework. Then, do some more.

With a solid network, clear thesis, and foundation of experience, it’s only a matter of time before you start landing interviews. Most recruiters will tell you at this point to spend 12 hours preparing for an interview. We think that’s child’s play. You aren’t interviewing to be a cog in a massive corporate machine. You are being assessed on whether the founder or manager would bet the future of their budding company on you. Make them comfortable — and confident in you — by being the most prepared person in the room.

Find founders on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the blogosphere and consume every bit of content you can find. The information you’ll find there is priceless because you will gain a deep understanding of how founders think and feel about the world. You can even head to Facebook and see if you have any mutual friends. Does all of this seem a little overboard? Perhaps, but startups expect a different level of commitment than many traditional careers. So if this sounds like a lot, you’ll be in for a big surprise once the job begins.

5. Play the numbers game. Ask metrics-driven questions.

In an interview with a startup, you really have three goal goals: 1) Clearly communicate why you’re capable of doing the job, 2) be the most passionate person in the room, and 3) ask the best questions. You certainly should ask standard interview questions, like “What makes someone successful in this role?” or “What will the first 90 days look like?” But what you really want to do in the interview is discover the metrics the company cares most about.

Sure, a company’s public brand may be all about changing the world, but we can guarantee that every night before they go to bed and every morning after they wake up, the person interviewing you is checking a dashboard with a handful of key metrics, such as cost to acquire a customer, lifetime value of a customer, net promoter score, or churn. When they leave your interview, they’ll probably check it again.

Metrics dictate performance, and in the uncertain conditions in which startups live, having insight into how well the business is doing is essential for a small team that has a lot of impact.

When you go into your interview, don’t be afraid to ask:

  • What metrics are you checking daily?
  • What metrics are you checking weekly?
  • What metrics are you checking monthly?
  • What do you see as the biggest levers for improving those metrics?
  • How are you doing against your goals?
  • How can this role help you get there faster?

The answer to those questions will give you everything you need to know to position yourself as the best fit for the job. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing job and learn in the interview that high product churn is keeping the founder up at night, you can follow up with an email with three ideas on how the company can immediately improve retention.

6. Pay attention to startup funding cycles.

Fundraising impacts everything about a startup, and understanding it can also serve as a huge advantage for you in your job hunt. When you read that a startup raised $15 million, it’s safe to assume it isn’t looking for a safe, high-yielding savings account to put it in. The company is going to put almost every cent to work by increasing marketing, improving the product, and, most importantly building the team it needs to take the business to the next level. There is literally no time when the ground is more fertile for you to land a job than immediately after a startup raises money. So it’s on you to stay on top of the news.

TechCrunch is an excellent resource for keeping up with fundraising news. The site will report on just about every dollar raised in the startup world. If you’re interested in a particular company, set up Google Alerts so you can be the first to know whenever a new round of funding comes in. If you want to be ahead of the curve, AngelList has a directory of all startups looking to raise their first round of funding. It’s also an excellent job board.

These tips are just a start — for more expert insight, download our free guide, How to Get a Job at a Startup. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey. Good luck!

What Does an Engineer Look Like?

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Credit: Isis Wenger

Credit: Isis Wenger

Isis Wenger wasn’t looking to start a social movement. But when her face appeared on an advertisement for OneLogin, where she works as an engineer, Isis quite literally became the face of gender diversity in the tech industry. And rather than shirk the publicity, Isis embraced her newfound celebrity and launched a social media campaign aimed at highlighting the pervasive inequalities of the industry.

Isis’ specific ad (one of four her company created) immediately generated heated discussion and controversy, which in turn has highlighted the sexism that continues to characterize this industry. Reactions ranged to comments on her appearance to doubts she actually worked at the company. It boils down to one unfortunate point: People have a set idea of what an engineer should look like, and Isis doesn’t fit that mold.

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Women on the Rise: Meet Our Extraordinary Winners

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Women-on-the-Rise_FacebookThumb_484x252 This summer, we sent out an APB to find four talented women ready to join us in San Fransisco for a week-long exploration of the ever-changing world of tech.

We set up exclusive company tours, one on ones with peer mentors, VIP conference passes, and lunch with leading women in Silicon Valley tech. Our hope is to inspire and empower these women to pursue their interests in technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation at its epicenter.

Over 7,000 incredible women applied for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we’re thrilled to announce our winners!

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Bringing Innovation Home: How One Student is Supporting Local Business in Flint, MI

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Adrian won the GA World Tour back in 2013, getting an exclusive deep dive into GA and the startup world. She has since enrolled in our online HTML, CSS &Web Design Circuit to learn front-end web development and design skills. Now, she’s putting her skills to work as a Senior Consultant for the Flint Area Reinvestment Office, supporting local entrepreneurs and building a startup culture in the blossoming Michigan city.

Follow Adrian on Twitter: @sunnyokina

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Eye On Alumni: Sarah Adler, Co-Founder of Spoon University

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Spoon University is an online food publication powered by over 900 college student contributors at 35 campuses across the country. Our Web Development Immersive graduate and co-founder of Spoon, Sarah Adler, built an internal training tool to help scale their network of contributors efficiently. We caught up with Sarah to hear about how this feature was created, and more importantly, how it’s been able to help her company succeed. 

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Tech Hub: Seven Success Stories from Boston-Based Startups

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Boasting many top tier universities, an emphasis on innovation research, a closer-knit community, and one of the highest rates of venture capital investment in the country, Boston is home to one of the richest tech ecosystems in the US.

Startup accelerators and incubators such as TechStarsFuture BostonMass Challenge, and Harvard Innovation Lab offer capital and mentorship opportunities in exchange for small amounts of equity. Coworking spaces including WeWork, WorkbarKoa LabsIdea Space, and Cambridge Innovation Center provide rented spaces for solo founders and growing teams to work on their projects. For those interested in sharpening their skills, groups such as Boston New Tech Meetup, Girl Develop ItRails Bridge, and General Assembly offer classes, workshops, and events on a wide range of topics including coding, digital marketing, data science, and project management.

Given the wealth of opportunities for budding entrepreneurs, Boston is brimming with triumphant tales of talented techies. Below are seven success stories from The Hub’s tech community:

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Counterintuitive Business Thoughts from MOO.com Founder Richard Moross

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This week in London, we attended a talk given by Richard Moross, CEO and founder of MOO.com. The event was implemented through Startup Grind London at the Cass Business School, and was a fireside chat about how Moross revolutionized a 500 year-old industry: printing!  To boot, it was Startup Grind’s six-month anniversary in London; each month they have a successful speaker connect to and inspire a  group of entrepreneurs.

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SXSW 2014: Alumni Community Building

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Over the years, the SXSW Interactive festival has earned the reputation as a breeding ground for new ideas and creative technology, and so it only makes sense that we take the journey to participate. Last week, Austin served as the meeting point of four GA campus alumni groups and a weekend focused on community building.

Over an intimate dinner of fajitas and guacamole, we caught up on everyone’s latest endeavors and exciting ideas for the future. A quick shuttle ride took us to the bustling GA, Splash, and Maveron Midnight Garden Party, an event so vibrant we’ll let the photos after the jump speak for themselves..

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Fundraising on AngelList: 4 Tips to Get Noticed

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Are you using AngelList to its full potential? Ash Fontana, Head of Fundraising at AngelList, recently stopped by GA to share best practices for connecting with investors on the site. Some of the key takeaways are listed below. For more details and examples of best practices, watch Ash’s talk here.

1. Build a Good Profile

Fill in as much information as you can. AngelList was designed to eliminate any possible mistakes being made on your end; like presenting information illegally or making it difficult for investors to digest your profile. There are convenient tips listed in each field you need to fill out — read them all. Lastly, don’t use fluffy language. Stick to the facts and state your credentials clearly.

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