Attempt Your Moonshot

We need a new plan for education, and we’re closer than we think.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sylvain Kalache

credit-nasa-and-linkedinI’d like to share with you the story of how I went from LinkedIn employee to making a contribution to planetary defense. Back in April 2015, after a successful docking between SlideShare and Linkedin, I realized it was time for me to attempt my moonshot: training software engineers at scale. The tech industry has been changing our world for decades, from Margaret Hamilton—who wrote the software that brought Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon in 1969—to the self-driving car from Tesla on its way to saving hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Software is changing human destiny.

Yet centuries-old methodologies are still attempting to educate today’s skilled workforce, but its efficiency is increasingly fading. Within the next decade, the U.S. economy alone will lack tech talent to fill over 1 million open jobs. As Jeff Weiner says (1:55 min), “the world has never had innovation moving at this rate, and this is outstripping our ability to train the workforce for the jobs that are and will be and not the jobs that once were.”

A New Plan

We need a new plan for education, an alternative to traditional college education models in order to train the next generation of software engineers at scale.

Instead of the regular passive learning method where students spend their days listening to teachers and taking notes, I posit that students’ time is better spent being taught via projects.

Students instead learn by creation and solving problem. As astronauts learn by practicing again and again in simulations to be ready on the D-Day, students are learning to code by building systems and applications.

And that is what I created with Julien Barbier: Holberton School.

We announced the opening of our new, innovative school in September of 2016, while we were assembling brand new Ikea furniture. I could not have imagined that only seven months after the school started, one of our students would be accepted into a prestigious program to accelerate breakthroughs in planetary defense.

credit-holberton-schoolBut that student, Sravanthi Sinha, was accepted into one of the most famed engineering internships in the world—NASA’s Frontier Development Lab in California. The interns, gathered from around the world, came to help NASA plan for a potential cosmic Armageddon. They worked on finding the best way to protect the earth against meteorites, modeled the meteorites, and then figured out how to find freshly fallen ones using drones and deep learning. Program Executive at NASA, Victoria Friedensen, said that their work brought up an amazingly innovative solution to a, well, quite important problem: protecting the earth.

Last But Not Least 

As President John F. Kennedy challenged the U.S. nation, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

I challenge more of us to become involved in disrupting the education system.

Students, parents, investors and software companies need to react to the faltering education system that is currently in place.

Education is one of the most important foundations of our society, and yet it is one of the last industries not to have been successfully disrupted. The amount of work to be done is enormous, but the outcome can be a game changer for the next breakthrough of the human race.

But indeed Jeff Weiner, we are closer than we think.

Sylvain Kalache is co-founder of the Holberton School, a project-based alternative to college for the next generation of software engineers.


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