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LAHacks

On 17, Apr 2014 | No Comments | In Technology | By Daniel Kao

LAHacks was both a terrible and amazing experience.

Let’s start with the terrible. 36 straight hours of sitting in front of a computer or trying to sleep in the overly lit Pauley Pavilion, consuming food produced for quantity over quality, and trying to evade the crowd of people constantly storming the bathroom. I don’t think I will ever be able to sleep so little again (or at least until my next hackathon).

For those of you unfamiliar with LAHacks or hackathons in general, hackathons are a place where developers come together to code products and applications in a very short amount of time. LAHacks was a 36 hour hackathon sponsored by a large number of companies, with Quixey being the head sponsor.

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Beyond the hogepodge smorgasbord of people and computers everywhere, LAHacks was an opportunity for me to dive into a little bit more code, but more importantly survey the landscape of where the tech industry is headed by meeting up-and-coming companies and rockstar developers.

Perhaps what was most interesting to me was the whole culture and environment of the hackathon. Events like LAHacks would not have been possible even ten years ago, or even five years ago. Events like LAHacks are possible because of internet platforms that have freely accessible APIs for any developer to use. The ease of adapting such APIs and libraries makes building the next photo sharing app almost trivial. In other words, the barrier of entry to creating another mobile or web application has become extremely low.

The number of simple applications extending an existing platform built at LAHacks was incredible. There were countless android, iphone, music, and photo apps, all of which were built upon various platforms that already exist.

The challenge to budding entrepreneurs is no longer about making an app that works or looks cool, but the real challenge now is making an app that matters. Anyone can extend libraries and APIs to put something together, but the real question is learning to put something together in a way that really changes the world because it matters to people.

LAHacks didn’t teach me just about writing code, but writing history. There’s a difference.

Thanks again to everyone who made this event possible!

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BrightEyes 2014

April 4th, 2014 found me on the edge of my seat listening to Randy Komisar, a serial entrepreneur and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. He talked about entrepreneurship, venture capital, and other current trends and aspects in the market.

Over the past couple decades, Sand Hill Road has built the foundation for the Silicon Valley we know today, providing the financial footing for companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook to change the world and making millionaires appear all over the silicon valley. Growing up not twenty minutes away from where all of this history took place, BrightEyes 2014 provided me not only with an opportunity to learn more about the venture capital and technology space, but also my own hometown.

“There is no straight line from idea to success.” – Randy Komisar (tweet that)

Listening to Randy was surreal. Every word he spoke was a piece of candy, inspiring and exciting the kid inside of me. Never would I have expected to be sitting in a historical venture capital firm at the age of 19, personally asking questions and interacting with a venture capitalist.

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BrightEyes 2014 is a study tour that gives students an opportunity to learn about the tech and VC space in a very practical way by flying students out to the heart of the industry to meet and interact with the very people at the forefront of these industries. Run by Tiffany Stone, a 2012 UCSD grad, this study tour provided a huge supplement and a great deal of inspiration for my own education.

BrightEyes gave me the opportunity to interact with the people behind companies such as Boost VC, Nexgate, Lyft, Bitpay, AirBnB, Quixey, Andreessen Horowitz, Yahoo, Kleiner Perkins, Nest, Facebook, Sierra Ventures, Dorm Room Fund, and Amazon.

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The first day started with a meeting with Adam Draper and Brayton Williams, the leaders behind Boost VC. We walked into a building with a gutted Tesla Model S turned into a desk, and walked down the stairs into a small conference room where we plopped down on beanbags.

We talked about many things, but among them included conversations about Bitcoin, where it currently is and where it’s headed. The conversation offered a pretty good case for the future of bitcoin, and made me reconsider cryptocurrencies as a whole. Maybe it’s onto something.

Either way, all the talk about upcoming disruptive ideas really struck a chord in me. It made me wonder not only about what the future is going to look like, but how I would take place in the whole orchestration of these evolving industries. AirBnB showed us the evolution of the hospitality industry, Lyft showed us the evolution of the transportation industry, Facebook showed us the evolution of social industries, etc etc.

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For those of you who have known me or read my blog for a while, you’ll know that education is a big thing on my mind, and that I’m always thinking about ways to build a better system of learning that empowers people to truly reach their potential. Meeting all of these entrepreneurs has helped me reignite my passion for learning and education, but has also given me ideas on how to practically make a difference in the world that we live in. Just because the education space has historically been a very difficult market to bring change to doesn’t mean that I’m not going to give it everything that I’ve got.

The entire trip, from dawn to dusk, was full of conversations about building companies, developing teams, and changing the world. We had the privilege of staying at a home listed on AirBnB called Village Looky run by a very hospitable and smart entrepreneur Heigo Paartalu. Everywhere from meetings with companies to in between transportation time to meals to our stay at Villa Looky, the conversations were all nothing short of eye opening and inspiring.

One common thread that came up repeatedly when talking about the characteristics of a successful entrepreneurs and companies, was idea of “scrappiness”. Scrappiness is essentially the grit, tenacity, and endurance an individual gives to the work that they do. Scrappy people take big risks because they know exactly what they care about and exactly what they believe in.

While driving on the way to a meeting at Stanford on a perfect California day, Tiffany said “I want you to know yourself”, speaking it as if it was the secret that would make me successful.

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Suddenly, it all made sense. The most powerful thing I would get out of all the interactions on this trip wasn’t answers to specific industry problems or forecasts, but a chance to build my personal network and get to know and understand myself. It was a chance to have conversations to understand my passions, my strengths, and my weaknesses. It was a chance to learn how to communicate different aspects of who I am in different situations.

And in a strange but practical way, BrightEyes was the missing piece that I had been longing for in my educational experience. It was a study tour that helped give much more context behind the things that I am learning in school, and more vision for my education. Every student should be given the chance to interact and network with people in industries.

The most powerful thing I would get out of all the interactions on this trip wasn’t answers to specific industry problems or forecasts, but a chance to build my personal network and get to know and understand myself.

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Thanks BrightEyes for the amazing life-changing experience!

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Connect The Dots

On 03, Apr 2014 | One Comment | In Education | By Daniel Kao

The role and ability for schools to provide an all encompassing education is diminishing, and I don’t believe that it’s necessarily the fault of schools.

But regardless of the role of traditional education in our world today, self-education is becoming increasingly evident and necessary. Schools aren’t going to die out anytime soon, but we are entering into a world where people who are self-educated are a lot more interesting. In part, this is the case because of the increasing diversity of roles and specializations.

In other words, the person who is able to think critically and learn for themselves is someone who is able to, as Paul Jun writes in his new book, Connect The Dots.

Learning to self-educate is no easy endeavor, especially if you are used to years of schooling in which there is always someone telling you what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and how to do it. But if there is any time to learn to self-educate, the time is now. There are more tools and resources available to the average person than what was available to presidents decades ago, and the barrier of entry into virtually every industry is lower than it has ever been. The internet has allowed a level of communication that can propel indie filmmakers, budding writers, and emergent musicians to connect and publicize like never before.

Connecting the dots isn’t just about learning how to move a pencil between dots in a coloring book, but the concept isn’t too far off from such.

Connecting the dots is about taking your own initiative to draw lines between things in your life and in the world to create a picture that is meaningful and purposeful.

Paul does a great job of illustrating how a person can get started in self education, and different ways to continue your growth as a person. I highly recommend Paul Jun writes in his new book, looking into the insights that Paul has to offer.

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Thoughts on the SAT Changes, and What an Effective Assessment Needs

On 10, Mar 2014 | No Comments | In Education | By Daniel Kao

Last week, Collegeboard announced that they would be making changes to their flagship exam, the SAT. Among these changes include shifting the scale back to 1600 instead of 2400, making the essay optional, and changing the questions so that they pull from a broader knowledge base. And to help students prepare for this new exam, Collegeboard is partnering with Khan Academy to provide free test prep resources for students.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great. It’s great that Collegeboard is recognizing the enormous pitfalls of the current SAT and that they are taking steps toward changing how their test is done. But it’s insufficient for what colleges and universities need, and nowhere near sufficient for what students need in terms of a proper and holistic assessment of who they are.

Standardized tests have become “far too disconnected from the work of our high schools,” too stressful, and not a very good indicator of a college-ready student. (tweet that)

Collegeboard states that standardized tests have become “far too disconnected from the work of our high schools,” too stressful, and not a very good indicator of a college-ready student. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, but I fail to see how the changes to the SAT actually resolves the issues stated. Even with the proposed changes to the test, the test is still a standardized test that outputs a numerical, “standardized” score.

 

What’s the Problem with Standardization?

Our modern world is all about standardization. Companies use standard metrics in order to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of their business and employees, governments use standards in order to enforce regulations that help keep a nation in order, and the current trend toward big data is a huge industry for potential growth simply because everything can be tracked.

The train of thought goes something like “Well it works for evaluating performance, products, and services, let’s apply the same thing to evaluating students!”

But what people fail to realize is the difference between using a standard to evaluate work and using a standard to evaluate people (tweet that). People aren’t products. People can’t simply be treated as another data point on a graph, because people are so much more than that. Humans are social creatures that adapt, mold, and transform into different personalities, shapes, and emotions. People were never made to be compared, they were made to work together, share ideas, and live together on earth.

People fail to realize is the difference between using a standard to evaluate work and using a standard to evaluate people. (tweet that)

In the culture and era of the world that we live in today, collaboration is the only way industries will move forward. CEOs and business leaders talk at great lengths about how beyond the work of the company and the business model, there has to be a solid team behind what the company is doing. One of the greatest challenges in the corporate world today is how to hire people that not only have the proper skill set, but are also a culture fit into their company, because collaboration and teamwork are the building blocks of a company or business.

However, a standardized test that’s built to compare one high school student to another breeds competition rather than collaboration. No wonder so many business leaders complain about the communication and teamwork skills of recent college graduates; they were raised in a system that teaches the exact opposite.

 

What Can We Do About This?

So now the question becomes “how can we create an assessment that captures the essence of a student in a way that doesn’t compare students to each other in a competitive way?”

The first step is pretty obvious; We have to get rid of the numerical score.

The purpose of an effective and sufficient assessment of students is to encapsulate a good representation of who this student is, complete with a holistic picture of all of their strengths and weaknesses compiled into a way that someone reading the results can interpret who their are and what their strengths are without actually spending time with them.

The first step is pretty obvious; We have to get rid of the numerical score.

What if instead of a test score, the test provided a spectrum of different areas representing a student’s strengths and weaknesses, listing out attributes such as creativity, work ethic, leadership, communication, background, learning aptitude, grit, entrepreneurialism, resourcefulness, etc?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and will write my proposal for a new testing model in a future post.

What would a test like that look like? and how would it help students have a different approach?

photo credit: albertogp123 via photopin cc

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