80,000 Hours annual review Dec 2016

Summary

2016 was an excellent year for 80,000 Hours. Here are some highlights – full details follow.

Metrics

  • In our last review in May 2015, we set the goal of 50 significant plan changes per month by October 2016. That month, we actually recorded over 200.
  • To make it harder to grow by adding lots of small plan changes, in October 2015 we started “impact rating” the plan changes, and tracking the impact-weighted total. 31 Dec 2015, we set the target of tripling the monthly rate of impact-adjusted plan changes over the year, which we achieved in November 2016. We now track about 150 impact-adjusted significant plan changes (IASPC) per month.

Impact and cost-effectiveness

  • Our costs in 2016 were £250,000, up 13% on 2015. Considering that our staff could have earned to give instead, the total opportunity cost is perhaps £350,000 – £500,000.
  • Since our last review, the ratio of costs to IASPC fell almost 3-fold.
  • In 2016, we caused 115 people to take the Giving What We Can (GWWC) 10% pledge. GWWC estimates this is worth about £5 million in donations to their recommended charities (counterfactually-adjusted, time-discounted, dropout adjusted). So this alone plausibly justifies our costs, although our aim is to solve talent gaps rather than funding gaps.
  • In addition, the plan changes since our last review now include three people who each intend to donate over $100m over their lifetimes,

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Has 80,000 Hours justified its costs?

We set up 80,000 Hours because we thought it could become one of the most effective charities in the world. The idea was to achieve a multiplier – with a small amount of our time, we could enable thousands of others to spend their careers on whatever is most effective, and achieve thousands of times as much as we could individually.

In this post, we examine whether 80,000 Hours has generated enough impact to justify its costs over our history, and make some rough estimates of our multiplier.

Because it’s hard to estimate what would have happened if 80,000 Hours had never existed, all of these estimates are very uncertain, and can be debated. However, there are multiple ways we’ve plausibly justified our costs to date. In this document, we sketch out some of these pathways. We’re not aiming to be fully rigorous. Rather, consider the examples as a group. If only a few turn out to be genuine cases of impact, we’ll have justified our costs many times over.

Is this the wrong question?

80,000 Hours is a startup. Asking whether we’ve justified our costs to date is like asking whether Google was profitable in 2000. The aim of 80,000 Hours is to grow, and have a far larger impact years in the future.

Most of the value of donations to 80,000 Hours comes from the chance that these donations enable us to grow 10-times or 100-times.

That said,

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End of year update on plan changes

This is an update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of Nov 2016.

We define a significant plan change as:

Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

More on what counts as a significant plan change here.

Our total number of plan changes as of the end of Nov 2016 is 1,854, and after impact-adjusting these it’s 1,504.8.

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Update on 80,000 Hours May 2015 – June 2016

This is a quick update on our progress over the last year. Our next in-depth annual review, in which we’ll vet everything in more depth, will be in January 2017.

Our impact across the year

Here’s our key metrics for the top of our funnel. Ultimately we care about significant plan changes, which we report right below.

Unique visitors to site
New newsletter subscribers

Our newsletter now has a total of over 50,000 subscribers, which we think makes it the largest in the effective altruism community (most others have about 10,000). Our total traffic also just overtook GiveWell, which we think is the next largest by traffic (we had 880,000 users over the 12 months ending June, compared to 860,000 when calculated the same way.)

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Update on number of significant plan changes

This is a brief update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of Dec 2015.

We define a significant plan change as:

Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

More on what counts as a significant plan change here.

Our total number of significant plan changes as of the end of Dec 2015 is 453.

Here’s a summary of our key figures:

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Help finish off our winter fundraising round

Our winter fundraising round is in progress.

We’ve already raised £172,000, and are looking to raise £48,000 more.

If we make this target, then we’ll be able to cover:

  • All our costs for 2016 (mostly salaries for 4.3 full-time staff).
  • Plus hire a full-time coach.
  • And then have 12 months’ reserves remaining to start of our next fundraising round.

In the last year, we grew our newsletter five-fold to over 23,000, and increased web traffic three-fold to 60,000 unique visits per month. We accomplished this with only a small increase in costs.

During 2016, we’ll focus on converting more of this interest into plan changes by improving the online guide, such as by adding a series of intro videos and more career reviews. Our target is to increase the rate of significant plan changes five-fold.

If you’ve benefitted from our advice and would like to help us expand, please make a donation.

If you have any questions, just drop me an email at ben@80000hours.org.

You can find much more detail about our plans and progress in the evaluations section of our site, as well as fortnightly updates here.

Donate here

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The story of 80,000 Hours (podcast)

Here’s a podcast with me by Campus Kudos on:

  • How 80,000 Hours got started.
  • How I ended up working at 80,000 Hours.
  • What it was like being in Y Combinator as a nonprofit.
  • Our plans for the next year.

I’d also recommend checking out Campus Kudos. Often the best way to learn about a career and get a job is to speak to lots of people already in that path, but when you’re at college it’s hard to get the right connections. Campus Kudos aims to solve exactly this problem. If you’re a US student, you can sign up and be introduced to people willing to answer your career questions and provide free mentoring. Check it out and let me know how you get on (ben@80000hours.org).

Listen to the podcast

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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 ben@80000hours.org. 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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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.

FAQ

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

Summary

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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We’ve caused 188 significant plan changes

The results of our annual impact survey are in, so we can give an update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of April 2014.

“Significant plan change” is the key metric we use to track our impact. See a definition.

Results of the annual impact survey

The survey was open from November 2014 to early March this year. We promoted it throughout February, on our newsletter, our blog and social media as well as in-person. To encourage responses, we offered a $200 prize to one randomly selected respondent.

This resulted in 218 responses, of which 85 people answered “yes” to the following question:

“Has your engagement with 80,000 Hours caused you to significantly change your career plans?”

How many of the people who said “yes” count as having made significant plan changes according to our criteria?

First, we removed 13 people who were already captured last year (though worth noting is that five of these people seem to have made a second significant shift in plans due to us).

Second, we removed a further 18 people who didn’t seem to make our criteria. The main reason was that they didn’t list a specific shift in plans, and instead listed an intention to shift in the future or only gave a very vague response. It’s likely that some of these people would count as significant plan changes if we asked for more detail,

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New definition of a significant plan change

We’re changing how we define “significant plan changes”.

The “significant plan change” is the key metric we track month-to-month to measure our impact.

It’s related to our total impact as follows:

(Number of significant plan changes) multiplied by (the value of the average significant plan change)

We evaluate the value of a significant plan change once every year or two (see our last evaluation). This means the more difficult judgement calls concerning our impact (such as whether plan changes are really improvements, and the extent to which they would have been caused by other groups anyway) are isolated into a separate evaluation process that we perform less frequently.

Our new definition for a significant plan change is:

A sig plan change =df Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

In practice, this means:

  • They fill out one of our surveys saying “yes” to “has your engagement with 80,000 Hours caused you to significantly change your career plans?”
  • They tell us what path they changed from and what path they now intend to pursue.
  • They tell us what sort of engagement with us caused the change (e.g. reading an article vs. coaching vs. speaking to someone in our community).
  • They believe this will result in greater impact (rather than just higher job satisfaction or other benefits).

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Should you do a computer science PhD?

We’ve released a new exploratory profile on computer science PhD’s in the US.

Our recommendation in the profile:

A computer science PhD offers the chance to become a leading researcher in a highly important field with potential for transformational research. Especially consider it if you want to enter computer science academia or do high-level research in industry and expect to be among the top 30% of PhD candidates.

Read the rest of the profile.

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Why an economics PhD might be the best graduate program

We’ve released an exploratory profile on doing an Economics PhD in the US, concluding that it looks like one of the most promising graduate study options for people who want to make a difference.

Our recommendation in the profile:

An economics PhD is one of the most attractive graduate programs: if you get through, you have a high chance of landing a good research job in academia or policy – promising areas for social impact – and you have back-up options in the corporate sector since the skills you learn are in-demand (unlike many PhD programs). You should especially consider an economics PhD if you want to go into research roles, are good at maths (i.e. quant GRE score above 165) and have a proven interest in economics research.

Read the rest of the profile.

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New profile on a new career path: data science

Data science

We’ve released a new exploratory profile on data science.

Our recommendation in the profile:

If you have a PhD in a quantitative subject, or if you’re the type of person who would enjoy a quantitative PhD, you should consider data science as an option. You are particularly likely to be well suited if you want to do research that produces immediate and tangible results, and are able to clearly present quantitative findings to people without technical backgrounds.

Read the rest of the profile.

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New in-depth profile on software engineering

We’ve released a major update to our career profile on software engineering.

See the updated profile here and the full report on which it’s based here.

Our recommendation in the profile:

Software engineering at large tech-firms is a highly promising option that’s especially easy to test out. If you have good analytical skills (even if you are from a humanities background), you should strongly considering testing it.

Topics explored in the full report include:

  • How to test out your fit for software engineering.
  • Using software engineering to pursue high-impact projects on the side.
  • A comparison of US and UK earnings – we found that average salaries are 40% higher in the US than in the UK, 80% higher in Silicon Valley than in London, and starting salaries for bootcamp graduates are around twice as high in Silicon Valley as in London.
  • What software engineering is like day to day and the key stages of progression.

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