Learn to code in 16 weeks for free in the UK at Founders and Coders

Introduction

Ben Clifford

Are you interested in doing something like App Academy to learn to program, but in the UK? Makers Academy is often thought to be the best option, and we’ve had good reports from one of our members. But it costs £8,000. What about doing something similar for free?

In this interview, Ben Clifford – another member who changed his career due to 80,000 Hours – tells us about a free alternative called Founders and Coders. Ben recently went through the course, and is currently working at a startup in London.

If interested, you can apply here. the deadline for the next round is on Friday.

Summary of main points:

  • Founders and Coders is a free coding program based in London.
  • The course aims to make people full stack javascript developers in 16 weeks.
  • The biggest benefits of doing a coding course are providing structure and tackling motivation problems.
  • The weakest point of Founders and Coders is links to employers but Ben thinks this would not stop determined students can get jobs.
  • The most important thing for getting a place is commitment to becoming a software developer. Being motivated to do good in your career also improves your chances.
  • Applications for January close on Friday 12th December. You can attend taster days by supporting their Indiegogo campaign.

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What I learned quitting my job to found a tech startup

Ben West

I’ve been earning to give as a software developer for the past several years, and it started to become clear that I could make more money in a different job. But I was torn between a finance career which put my math skills to use and founding a company where I might achieve the vocational equivalent of winning the lottery.

I eventually decided to pursue entrepreneurship because I thought it would better build career capital, i.e. it would prepare me for a wider variety of future careers. After four months of running a company that idea still doesn’t seem completely idiotic, but it doesn’t seem completely true either.

I’ve encountered several people who are in similar positions, so I’d like to give an overview of my motivations (particularly the ones which haven’t been discussed here before), how I went about my career change, and of course how I should’ve gone about my career change. Optimizing for one narrow career path is a bad idea, so I hope this post is useful to everyone, not just potential entrepreneurs.

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Career story: Ben Kuhn: My job hunt after graduating

In this guest post, 80,000 Hour’s member Ben Kuhn describes how he looked for a job after graduating from Harvard with a maths major. Ben’s especially reflective, so it’s fascinating to hear how he went about choosing between options in software, startups, finance and research with the aim of making the biggest difference.

Ben Kuhn

Background

For my first few years of college I prioritized getting experience in a bunch of different potential fields–I tried working at Fog Creek, Jane Street, and GiveWell, and cofounding a startup. By the end of that I came to a couple conclusions about what I wanted to do.

In terms of altruistic career choice considerations, I decided I should probably focus on doing the things I could be most awesome at, rather than trying to naively maximize earnings or maximize direct good done–basically, because I’m fairly uncertain about whether having lots of money will be helpful, and I’m fairly uncertain about what does the most direct good, but being awesome at things is a robustly good outcome that can be parlayed into many different advantages later.

Historically, technology- and software-related things seemed to have some of the greatest potential for me to be awesome at them, and also the widest breadth of opportunities to improve the world with those abilities later, so they seemed like the most promising options to pursue further. But I had already done one software internship, and while it was a fun experience, I didn’t want to do anything very similar–I guessed that I’d hit diminishing returns for standard software-engineering internships.

I was concurrently in the process of realizing that studying at Harvard for a fourth year didn’t seem especially high-value, and that I could graduate in three years if I wanted to thanks to my Advanced Placement credits. So I realized that I needed to put a lot of effort into my summer job search to make sure I found something that wasn’t a repeat of my previous internship, and that I would be happy turning into a full-time job if I decided I didn’t want to go back to Harvard.

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Case study: should I finish my degree?

Introduction

Martin is taking a year out from an applied science degree at a Russell group university to work in industry. He came to us very undecided about his path after graduation and wondering whether he should finish his degree at all.

The following is our notes on what was discussed and the results that followed.

Lessons learned

  • We discovered there is fairly strong academic evidence for high financial returns from doing a degree.
  • Career capital, earnings potential and keeping your options open have been highly relevant factors for assessing entry level jobs for most students who have come to us so far, who don’t already have several strong options on the table.
  • We want to prepare an overview of the options in finance, since lots of people have asked us about this.

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Case study: earning to give compared to medical research

Introduction

Ramit came to us with a simple question: should I try to train as a medic with the aim of doing biomedical research, or should I seek a high earning job in finance and pursue Earning to Give?

He’s currently doing both – working as a quantitative financial analyst giving away more than a third of his salary (he was an early stage funder of Give Directly) and taking pre-med courses part time, as well as other projects!

Ramit’s initial thought was that the biomedical research path would be better. Read on to find out how he came to change his mind, and came up with a new set of next steps.

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Some stories of career change due to 80,000 Hours

What kinds of career changes has 80,000 Hours caused? The following is a collection of 15 examples we prepared as part of a grant application in October 2013.

The examples were written by us, but each was sent to the relevant person by email, who was encouraged to point out inaccuracies or exaggerations of our influence. The exact wording for each example has been approved by the career changer. ? have been anonymised. In addition, we prepared 4 more similar examples, but don’t have permission to share those publicly.

We aimed to select the more impressive examples that we were most familiar with, so the selection is biased towards people we know personally and from the first two years of our existence (Feb 2011 – Feb 2013). We’re exploring the career changes we have caused among our readers and coachees more broadly through our impact survey and upcoming coaching evaluations. Nevertheless, we think this collection of examples is a good proof of concept. They show that talking to people about our ideas in the context of a community can lead to significant changes of career plan, more thoughtfulness and stronger intentions to make a difference.

They also help estimate a lower bound on our impact. Just considering those who switched to pursuing earning to give, we’ve already tracked donations of ~$150,000 to GiveWell recommended charities or effective altruist organisations.

The amount donated over the next couple of years seems clearly set to rise.
* The people already donating can expect substantial salary increases as they move into their second and third years in employment.
* Richard and Adam have only just entered employment.
* Sam Bankman-Fried has accepted a job at a proprietary trading firm, and is on track to donate as much as Tim.
* Matt’s startup is in an incubator, and he has legally bound himself to donate 33% of his exit value.

Given this, we’re confident that more than $1mn will be donated by this group in the next 3 years.

We think there is also substantial value among those not pursuing earning to give:

  • One is a Marshall scholar, and starting a promising academic career.
  • One went to work at GiveWell.
  • One has founded a network to promote effective altruism in healthcare.

In addition, we played a substantial role in the creation of Animal Charity Evaluators, which performs research into the most effective ways to promote animal welfare and now has an annual budget of $80,000. ACE developed out of Effective Animal Activism, which was founded by an intern at 80,000 Hours during their internship. 80,000 Hours contributed to the initial concept for the charity and provided it with technical support, as well as assistance fundraising and hiring full-time staff. Moreover, EAA was legally part of 80,000 Hours for 6 months, before being spun-off and independently registered.

The full stories are below.

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Case study: can I earn more in software or finance?

Software

Jessica is a software engineer at Google, who donates much of her income to GiveWell recommendations and 80,000 Hours. She plans to continue pursuing earning to give, and came to us wondering whether she might be able earn more using her skills; in particular by switching into finance or moving to Silicon Valley.

Summary of lessons learned

We found:

  • An engineer at Google can expect to earn about $150-$200 p.a. after 3 years of experience, which will then grow at 2-6% p.a. afterwards.
  • Google engineers are among the most highly paid engineers in big companies.
  • Google engineers do not appear to earn more in Silicon Valley compared to major East Coast cities, although software engineers on average earn more in the Valley.
  • She may be able to earn more by switching into finance, but we need to do more research.

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Case study: choosing between working at Effective Altruist organisations, Earning to Give and Graduate school

Introduction

Back in May 2013, I realized I would be graduating in a year and wondered a lot about what I should pick for my first career. The questions I had at the time were:

1.) Should I aim to work in an Effective Altruist organization, go to graduate school, or should I earn to give?

2.) Where should I look for employment if I want to earn to give — law, market research, or programming?

I spent a little time considering other options (finance and consulting careers), but the bulk of my time was spent comparing EA org employment, grad school, and the three earning to give careers.

Lessons learned

  • Direct work in EA is promising, but there are limited employment opportunities and a generally strong base of talent to draw from that makes replaceability an issue.

  • Graduate school also seems promising, but programs with high direct impact seem limited in employment opportunities.

  • It’s important to consider factors about the career other than salary when doing earning to give. Law was my best earning to give opportunity at first glance, given that it had the highest salary of the options I was willing to consider. But when I looked more deeply at non-salary factors, it became my worst option.

  • Market research and computer programming are my most promising paths and I should consider both further. They allow good salary potential while offering many other benefits.

  • Publishing my ongoing thought process was valuable in ways I couldn’t even imagine at the time, creating the opportunity to meet people I couldn’t have met otherwise.

  • Spending time directly in Oxford was also incredibly valuable in meeting with people that could help me think through my decision process.

  • An analytically-minded person can train in programming quickly enough to seriously consider programming as a career path. While I started with intermediate computer programming knowledge in irrelevant computer languages, it took me about 150 hours of training over 20 weeks to know enough to interview competently. I don’t know if this is a unique case, though.

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A comparison of medical research and earning to give

Introduction and Summary

We recently did a case study with Ramit (see the full case study write up here). He was wondering whether to start a medicine degree, with the aim of going into research, or to continue in finance doing earning to give, where he already has a job as a quant researcher earning in the range of $150,000 per year.

We did an in-depth comparison of the expected impact of the two paths to help him decide. The rest of this post contains our case study research notes on the comparison.

If forced to guess now, we lean in favor of earning to give, though we think it’s very high priority to gain more information. Ramit is going to try to better assess his degree of fit with medical research, perhaps by working as a researcher during the summer, and learn more about his earnings prospects in finance by making applications and speaking to a headhunter. We’ll review our decision when we find out more.

In the rest of the post, we explain our reasoning:

  1. We outline our general approach
  2. We define a number of factors to compare the two options
  3. We evaluate the two paths based on the factors
  4. We make our overall conclusions

Note that there were several potentially important issues we didn’t address, including job satisfaction and which path is best for career capital in careers besides finance and research.

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Case study: Working in the financial sector to promote a flourishing long-term future

Introduction

This post is a write up of an in-depth case study, exploring one person’s decision about where to work in the financial sector, from the perspective of helping the long-run future.

Key recommendations made

  • If you particularly care about long-run impacts, these are some of the interventions that have been pursued.
  • We rate cause prioritisation research and advocacy as high priority (to be explained in an upcoming post)
  • If you’re pursuing prioritisation research within finance and don’t want to pursue earning to give, then we recommend generally aiming to build career capital, building a community of people who support prioritisation, and promoting areas of social finance that seek to assess the social value of different projects. Though note that this is a judgement call.

What we learned

  • We prepared this list of ways that people are trying to improve the far future.
  • The direct impact of doing ‘impact investing’ (attempting to invest in socially beneficial companies) doesn’t seem high relative to donations to cost-effective charities, but the industry might be improvable, could produce useful research and could move more resources into altruistic causes (as we’ll explain in an upcoming report).
  • Impact investing seems like a reasonable area for someone looking to build career capital and promote prioritisation, though we don’t have much confidence in this.

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Why I’m doing a PhD

I’ve just started a PhD in Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School. People who have thought hard about how to make a difference seem to disagree about the value of PhDs. Having thought about this quite thoroughly for my own situation, I’ve decided to write up my decision process. Hopefully some of the considerations that were relevant for me will be generally applicable and useful to others making similar decisions.

Summary

Essentially, I’m doing a PhD because:

  • I want to use my career to do as much good as I can. However, I’m quite uncertain about which causes are most important and what I should do with my career long term. This means I want to spend the next few years learning and building “career capital” to keep my options open for whatever is highest impact later.

  • I believe that the PhD I’m doing is the best way for me to do this right now because:

  • It gives me the opportunity to build skills across a variety of disciplines/areas, whilst expanding my network and also giving me credentials that will help me later

  • At the same time, the research itself could be valuable – I’ve got a lot of flexibility with what I focus on, within an area that has the potential to be very important and useful (improving rationality/decision making)

  • I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to work on other high impact projects during the next few years alongside my PhD – volunteering for 80,000 Hours being just one example

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