The return to coding bootcamps may not remain so high forever

We have been positive about learning to code as a way to gain useful skills for earning to give or doing directly valuable work, and promoted software engineering as a career path.

We are not the only ones who have noticed that this is a pretty great opportunity. From the LinkedIn blog:

Technical talent is in high demand. As of publishing this post, a LinkedIn job search for “Software Engineers” in the US reveals more than 100,000 open jobs. Adding a couple more tech-related roles (“User Designer,” “Data Scientist”) increases the total to more than 200,000 job openings. Job seekers looking to meet job requirements can enroll in a Master’s degree program, but that comes with a 2-year opportunity cost. Now, a shorter path is emerging: fully immersive coding bootcamps.

Coding bootcamps typically last 6-12 weeks and require participants to show up to a class in person. Bootcamps are a relatively new model, but they’re a growing trend that could help close the skills gap. Tapping into the Economic Graph, we compiled aggregated data on over 150 bootcamp programs and more than 25,000 LinkedIn members who have indicated they are attending or have attended bootcamps to identify emerging trends.

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Join us as product engineer, build our interactive career guide, and help millions of graduates have a greater social impact. $1000 for referrals.

Our aim is to help as many graduates as possible maximise the social impact of their careers. We’re looking for a web product engineer to lead the development of our interactive career guide.

If you’re a good fit, this job is an exceptionally high-impact opportunity.

And the role will give you fantastic self-development. You’ll be taking a major role in a Y Combinator-funded nonprofit, that’s one of the founding organisations in the effective altruism movement, affiliated with Oxford University, and has grown engagement 25-fold in the last four months.

We’re looking for a full stack web engineer with design skills, who’s really into effective altruism, and ready to take the lead on project with huge potential for impact. The position will be in Oxford initially, then we’ll likely move to the Bay Area. Some remote work is possible.

If interested, fill out our short application form and we’ll arrange a meeting to tell you more.

If you know someone else who might be a good fit, ask them to apply and tell If we hire them and we didn’t know them already, we’ll give you $1,000.

What’s the role?

We’ve done four years of research into how to best choose a career with social impact. Now we want to use that research to make the career guide that every socially-motivated graduate uses.

As product engineer:

  • You’d lead on building our interactive guide.

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Are too many people going into biomedical research – or too few?

Are too many people going into biomedical research or too few? As we explore in our new review of the career there are probably too many people entering the field. Biomedical research is a very promising way to make the world a better place if you have a high chance of being a top researcher, but for most people it’s a very tough road and entering could be a costly mistake. In the rest of the post, we’ll explain why and help you figure out whether it might be for you.

Biomedical research is a good path—if you’re a good fit.

We sometimes encounter people who might be a good fit for biomedical research, but who are skeptical about its potential impact. We think this might be misguided because:

  1. There are exciting areas of research that could offer enormous upside, such as anti-aging research, neural implants, gene therapy and synthetic biology.
  2. Potentially very high returns to research with comparatively low costs. According to one estimate, the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease in the US in the 1970’s and 1980’s alone had $31 trillion of associated gains. This is on the order of 60 times as large as all spending on medical research over the period. Another analysis estimates that a 1% reduction in cancer mortality in the US would be worth $500 billion (in comparison,

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Will effective altruism destroy the arts? No.

158300A recent article on the Washington Post expressed concern that the growth of effective altruism could seriously reduce funding for the arts. It even mentions that the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation recently decided to focus 100% on funding the arts and culture, in part because “philanthropy, directly or indirectly influenced by the effective altruist approach, is increasingly focused on problems perceived as more pressing”.

This was astonishing to me.

Here’s why effective altruism is not going to destroy the arts.

1) Only a couple of percent of American philanthropy is influenced by effective altruism, and it’s not taking funding from the arts.

Explicitly “effective altruist” giving is well under $100m per year, only 0.03% of the total Americans give to charity each year.

If we look more broadly to giving that has an effective altruist style, even if it doesn’t explicitly use the label, the Gates Foundation is the largest proponent. But the Gates Foundation spends about $4bn per year, only 1% of the total Americans give to charity each year.

It seems hard to claim that more than a couple of percent of American philanthropy is even remotely influenced by effective altruism. One study found that only 3% of American donors give based on the relative performance of the nonprofits they donate to. Only 4% of total American giving even goes to international causes,

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What do leaders of effective non-profits say about working in non-profits?

Rob Mather – founder and CEO of GiveWell’s top rated charity, Against Malaria Foundation. Photo credit:
Andrew Testa.

I reached out to leaders at GiveDirectly, Against Malaria Foundation, Deworm the World Initiative (part of Evidence Action), Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Development Media International to ask for their views. Here are their responses.

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How can doctors do the most good? An interview with Dr Gregory Lewis


Gregory Lewis is public health doctor training in the east of England. He studied medicine at Cambridge, where he volunteered for Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours. He blogs at The Polemical Medic. This interview was conducted as part of the research I did for Will MacAskill’s book, Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference. Greg’s story is discussed in the fourth and fifth chapters of that book.

Pablo Stafforini: To get us started, can you tell us a bit about your background, and in particular about your reasons for deciding to become a doctor?

Gregory Lewis: Sure. I guess I found myself at the age of 14 or so being fairly good at science and not really having any idea of what to do with myself. I had some sort of vague idea of wanting to try to make the world a better place, in some slightly naive way. So I sort of thought, “What am I going to do with myself?” And my thoughts were pretty much verbatim, “Well, I’m good at science and want to do good. Doctors are good at science and they want to do good. Therefore, I want to be a doctor.” So based on that simple argument, I applied to medical school, got in, spent the following six years of my life in medical school qualifying as a doctor,

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How to explore in your career

Tony Blair tried to make it in rock n roll before going into politics.

We often talk about the benefits of trying out several different paths, especially early in your career. But changing job too often has costs. How can you explore effectively?

Here’s a couple of ideas from our recently updated page on why and how to explore.

Tips for exploring
1. Use your natural exploration opportunities

There are times when, money permitting, society gives you a free pass to do something random:

  • In a “gap year” between school and university, or just after you graduate.
  • In your high school and university summer holidays.
  • In university courses that aren’t your major.

Take advantage of these opportunities as much as you can.

2. Use the “graduate school reset”

After you graduate from university, you can do something unusual and risky for a few years, then go to graduate school, then begin a regular professional career as if not much happened. More specifically:

  • You can take one to two years out before doing a PhD, and by the time you graduate, it probably won’t matter.
  • Sometimes you can use a Masters degree to transition into a new field.
  • You can do a law degree and become a lawyer or go into policy.
  • Consulting, finance and many corporate jobs accept people directly out of MBAs,

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What are the 10 most harmful jobs?


Maybe you could earn a lot of money advertising cigarettes. But even if you would give it to charity, you shouldn’t do it.

We spend most of our time discussing the most helpful careers that you should take.

We just created a three minute career recommender to highlight some of the options with the largest positive social impact for you.

As most of the people we talk to are deciding between reasonable to excellent options, this seems like the right focus.

But which careers are the worst?

Here we try to guess which mainstream jobs are most likely to do significant harm. As almost no one we know is considering careers of this kind we have limited our investment in this research; it’s an initial exploration of the topic, based on general knowledge and a review of the key figures.

Here are the criteria:

  • The job has to be legal. Needless to say, organised crime is a harmful career!
  • More than one in a million people has to work in the job in the OECD, so it can’t be incredibly obscure or specific.
  • It can’t be harmful only if you’re particularly incompetent (for example, being a bad teacher), deliberately trying to do a bad job, or violating the profession’s code of ethics.

It’s easy to think of jobs that are useless and just transfer money from one person to another.

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Try the new 80,000 Hours ‘Career Recommender’ – it could change your life

We just added a new and very cool feature to our website: the ‘career recommender’.

It takes about 3 minutes to use and might end up significantly changing the course of your career.

Our goal is to ask you just a questions and then tell you in what careers you can have the greatest social impact.

If that sounds ambitious, that’s because it is! But the thousand of people who have already used it during testing it have found it surprisingly useful.

It should at least throw up options you should seriously consider before you do something else. So:

  1. Use the Career Recommender.
  2. Once you’re done, it can email you your suggestions so you can read more about them later.
  3. Share it on social media and perhaps change the lives of your friends and family for the better.
Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.39.44 pm

Would you get these results? Try it and find out!

We expect the career recommender to remain a core part of our career guide in the future. It’s already useful, but it will become much more so over time as our research expands and we:

  • ‘Review’ and rate a wider range of paths, especially those in which people can achieve great things without having to have far above average quantitative or language skills.
  • Change the questions to more precisely measure people’s skills.
  • Check that it gives good answers for any possible set of inputs.

Stay informed of significant updates by signing up to our twice monthly research newsletter.

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Summary of our annual review May 2015

We’ve just published our annual review for the period ending April 2015.

In case you’re new to 80,000 Hours, this is what we do: we advise talented graduates on how to maximise the social impact of their careers. Currently, we do this through our online guide and one-on-one coaching. We help graduates find the meaningful careers they want, while moving more talent to the world’s most pressing problems.

The key documents in the review are:

In brief, this year we made major improvements to our online guide, leading to 400% growth in the monthly rate of significant plan changes (our key impact metric). Our President wrote a book that Steve Levitt described as “required reading for anyone interested in making the world better,” we quickly met our fundraising stretch target, and we were admitted to the world’s top startup accelerator, Y Combinator. We did all this despite a smaller budget and two staff with long-term illness.

We also made plenty of mistakes.

In total, to date we’ve caused 188 significant plan changes. As a result of our help, these people:

  • Have founded five professional non-profits that likely wouldn’t exist without us.
  • Have entered careers such as research and politics.

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What’s it like being a non-profit in Y Combinator?

Now the obligatory Tech Crunch article is out, I’m thrilled to announce we’ve been in Y Combinator (YC) since June. YC is widely regarded as the world’s best startup accelerator, and has supported companies such as AirBnB, Reddit and Dropbox. It provides investment and intensive coaching over three months.

I’ve had a lot of questions about YC over the last couple of days. Here’s answers to the most common questions, plus an update on our progress since we were admitted.


What do you get as a non-profit in YC, and why did you join?

Instead of $120,000 of investment, you get a $100,000 donation. Otherwise, you’re treated almost exactly the same as a for-profit. This means:

  • There are two partners who look after you. You meet them once every 1-2 weeks. We’re looked after by Dalton Caldwell and Paul Bucheit, the founder of Gmail.
  • Kate Courteau, head of the non-profit program also looks out for us.
  • You can also request office hours with any of the other 20 or so partners. We’ve had great office hours with Kevin Hale, the founder of Wufoo, on web design, and Sam Altman, the President of YC, on strategy. We’ve also had some very useful legal help from YC’s lawyers.
  • Paul Graham is retired, but you get to meet him once. Unfortunately, we didn’t yet.
  • There’s a dinner each Tuesday where they bring in a tech leader to talk off-the-record,

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Plans for the coming year May 2015

This report explains our strategy and plans for the next year, and is part of our annual review.

Moving from discovery phase to growth phase

We’ve seen the last three years as our “discovery phase” (as explained in our last business plan). We didn’t immediately focus on growth because first we wanted to answer the following questions:

  1. Could we make significant progress on the issue of how best to choose a career with social impact?
  2. Would people listen to our research and change their career plans?
  3. Would they follow through with these plan changes and actually increase their impact?
  4. Could we bring about these plan changes scalably and cost-effectively?
  5. Do we have a working funding model?

Answering these questions took time, especially because it usually takes people a year or so to change their plans, and it takes another year or more to see if they have followed through.

Today, however, we think we can answer “yes” to each question. We believe this means that 80,000 Hours is a project with potentially huge impact: 31% of graduates say making an impact in their work is “essential”, but they have little idea what to do except work in the social sector or give up (“sell out”). So most of their potential impact is wasted.

We can potentially fix that.

As a result, we now intend to move into a “growth phase”.

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Review of progress May 2015

In this post, which is part of our annual review, we review our achievements, challenges and mistakes over the year ending May 2015.

Key achievements

Our major achievements this year include the following:

  • We made major improvements to our online guide, leading to 400% growth in the monthly rate of significant plan changes.
  • Our President, Will, wrote a book, which was released last week.
  • We quickly met our fundraising stretch target.
  • We were also admitted to the world’s top startup accelerator, Y Combinator.
  • We did all this with a smaller budget than last year and despite two staff suffering from long-term illness.

Improvements to our online guide

At the start of 2014, our website had little more than a blog – we had just a one page summary of our advice. By April 2015, we had a twenty page online guide with four sections and 16 career profiles.

Following the launch of the new content in September 2014, unique page views of the guide reached 46,000 per month by April. Monthly newsletter sign-ups also went up to 313, twenty times the number from the equivalent period last year.

As a result, we estimate that our online content alone is causing six significant plan changes per month, four times the rate in early 2014. (And that’s before taking account of the fact that significant plan changes will lag significantly behind traffic because it takes time to change your career.)

I think we also made significant improvements to the quality of design and writing,

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Review of program performance May 2015


In this report, which is part of our annual review, we review how our programs performed over the last year (ending April 2015).

The key metric we use to measure the performance of our programs is “significant plan changes”. A significant plan change is when someone tells us that they probably changed the career path they were going to follow because of us.

This year, the number of plan changes caused by our online guide rose from about 1.3 per month at the start of 2014 to about 6.5 per month – 400% growth. The rate of newsletter sign ups per month through the website – our key engagement metric – also grew 1600%.

Due to a shift in focus, we coached about a third as many people in 2014 as we had in 2013, and spent less time per person. As a result, significant plan changes caused by coaching declined from 21 in 2013 to 3 in 2014. They picked up again in early 2015 as we increased time spent coaching.

In total to date, we’ve now recorded 188 significant plan changes, up from 107 at the time of our last evaluation in April 2014. We estimate we’re adding about 10 per month at the margin (6.5 from guide, 2 from other (mainly community) and the remainder from coaching), up from 2 per month near the start of 2014.

The average cost per plan change has been decreasing,

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Can you have more impact working in a foundation than earning to give?

Photo credit: Flickr – Refracted Moments

Key points

  • Working to improve grants at a foundation could well be more effective in terms of the impact of the money moved than earning to give. Which is better will usually come down to how good your personal opportunities are to make money, or get a job at a large foundation working on an important cause.
  • If you know of a cause area or organisation that is many times more effective than what any foundations you could work at would make grants to, then earning to give is likely to be better.
  • There are other issues, like the impact on your long-term career trajectory, that you have to consider as well as the direct impact of the money you move.

As soon as we thought of the idea of earning to give, we started thinking of ways to beat it. One idea that was floated in the very early days of 80,000 Hours was working in a foundation to allocate grants to more effective causes and organisations. Since a foundations grantmaker might allocate tens of millions of funding, far more than they could earn, maybe they could have a greater impact this way?

In this post, we provide a model for comparing the impact of foundations grantmaking and earning to give, which some people may find useful for specific scenarios where they have more info on the inputs. We also provide some very tentative estimates using the model to demonstrate how it works.

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‘Replaceability’ isn’t as important as you might think (or we’ve suggested)


Often if you turn down a skilled job, the role simply won’t be filled at all because there’s no suitable substitute available. For this and other reasons we don’t place as much weight as we used to on the idea of ‘replaceability’.

When we started 80,000 Hours, one of the key ideas we presented was the replaceability argument:

Suppose you become a surgeon and perform 100 life saving operations. Naively it seems like your impact is to save 100 people’s lives. If you hadn’t taken the job, however, someone else likely would have taken it instead. So your true (counterfactual) impact is less than the good you do directly.

I still think this is a good argument, but I’m not sure how relevant it is when comparing real career options.

In particular, I see the argument often being used incorrectly in the following two ways:

  1. Ignoring direct harm: Suppose you’re considering taking a job that some people think is harmful (e.g. certain parts of the financial sector) in order to donate, do advocacy or build skills. You reason “if I don’t take the job, someone else will instead, so the potential harm I’ll do directly doesn’t matter”.

  2. Ignoring direct impact: Suppose you’re considering working at a high-impact nonprofit. You reason “if I don’t take the job, someone else will instead, so I won’t have much impact.”

I disagree with both of these claims in most circumstances. Why?

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Update: how many extra donations have we caused?

One way 80,000 Hours has an impact is by increasing the amount our users donate to high-impact charities. As part of our annual review, we did a quick update to the figures from our last review. The process we used wasn’t as thorough as we would have liked, but provides some encouraging evidence of our impact.

What we did

We identified the largest donors we know of who (i) have made significant plan changes according to our definition and (ii) say they intend to earn to give.

We asked them the following questions via email:

  • How much have you donated over the last three years?
  • How much do you expect to donate over the next three years?
  • Where to?
  • How much of this is attributable to 80,000 Hours? (meaning what wouldn’t have been given if 80,000 Hours didn’t exist).
  • How much have you pledged to give as part of GWWC or otherwise?

For those people who responded last year, we asked for an extra year of data. You can see the answers and case studies from last year’s review in the appendix here.

We received responses from all ten people asked. Each intends to give to whichever charities they believe to be highest-impact (in practice, this mostly means effective altruist organisations or charities recommended by GiveWell or Giving What We Can). Also included in our results is last year’s highest donor (“A”),

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