Ep50: Interview with Jesse Farmer, Founder of Codeunion and former Dev Bootcamp Co-Founder

JesseFarmerToday we’re talking with Jesse Farmer from CodeUnion. Jesse’s story starts like many startup founders who made their way to San Francisco to take on the world. While his first venture didn’t really go anywhere, Jesse went onto build Everlane to 25,000 subscribers during its pre-launch. He was also a Co-founder of Dev Bootcamp before launching a remote learning model for aspiring coders called CodeUnion.

Keypoint Takeaways: Pivoting in a new direction

In January of 2012, Jesse helped co-found Dev Bootcamp with Shereef Bishay and Dave Hoover. At the time, there were no similar programs offering nine weeks of intense, hands-on training for junior software engineers. Students left their jobs and families behind to focus solely on courses lasting up to seven hours a day at a cost of $10,000.

Jesse decided to take six months off after leaving Dev Bootcamp to figure out his next move. He knew there were people out there who wanted to do the course, but couldn’t manage the move or intense learning environment. He also knew some people, like those working in marketing or leading a team, just needed the technical skills but not actually become software engineers. The idea of CodeUnion was born as an a-la-cart style program done 100% online.

Currently, CodeUnion offers four workshops like “Software Engineering” and “Topics in Computer Science” as well as SQL workshops. Jesse also sees CodeUnion as a means to make it cheaper to build your platforms and programs rather than buy them. The courses aim to help cultivate talent internal to a company.

It’s also cheaper than Dev Bootcamp. At the moment, CodeUnion’s eight week workshops run $3,000 and the four week version runs $1,500 depending on what students want to do. Students typically commit to 15 to 20 hours a week, as opposed to the six or seven hour days at Dev Bootcamp. Jesse estimates about half of students are from operations and related departments, and sees their students enthusiasm as they immediately apply what they learn at their jobs.

The first customers

Jesse attracted their first round of students through regular content on Quora. About a quarter of CodeUnion’s sign-ups comes from old answers posted on the question-answer site. CodeUnion also regularly produces content through their blog on topics like Teaching Novice Programmers How to Debug their Code. So far, his posts have been gaining traction and sharing based on a combination of their reputation, quality of the content and who’s paying attention on the channels he’s using.

His real strategy is to be an honest broker and produce material and information that make people say, “Wow, I didn’t realize anyone could think this sophisticatedly about this topic. Whatever they’re teaching, I want to learn that.”

Jesse considers Dev Boot Camp’s rapid growth was a fluke and was the fastest growing company he’s ever been involved with. He admits they put very little effort into marketing, but he spearheaded the marketing efforts and took a more subtle approach to defining and spreading the brand. They made sure the term Programming Boot Camp was the phrase everyone always used from the press down to students.

Although posting quality content on Quora proved advantageous, it was a post on Hacker News that lead to their first wave of traffic and students. Jesse says they simply published their results and never had to hustle for press after that. And the results spoke for themselves. Students wanted to preach the “gospel” of bootcamp after seeing their professional lives transform.

Jesse doesn’t necessarily think startup founders, marketers and operation people should learn to code. But he likens the skill to learning a musical instrument. “If you don’t understand the medium you’re playing with, the stuff out of which you’re building everything you’re building stuff, the environment in which you’re playing—you can only achieve a certain level of understanding by reading about it.” Jesse also points out learning to code can is like having a Swiss Army Knife that can be adapted to any situation.

 Surround yourself with successful people

Jesse describe an article on his blog called “A Letter to Myself” at 2oBits.com. He penned it shortly after leaving Everlane almost three years ago. When he moved to San Francisco, he didn’t really know anyone and found his first job on Craigslist. As he became more entrenched in the startup and tech culture, Jesse noticed he was always surrounded by people who are being more successful. Jesse points to friends who built a company and exited for over a billion dollars and the people building Facebook apps and making $200,000 a day.

Jesse says despite not having that kind of success, it does something to you when you’re surrounded by that culture and seeing people you know making it. Jesses allowed himself to get interested in that idea of achievement and just worry about doing good work and getting it in front of people while adding value to other’s lives.

Links from this episode:

CodeUnion – Online learning for budding coders and people wanting to learn more about topics from computer science to SQL.

DevBootcamp – An intense hands-on bootcamp teaching students coding.

Everlane – A company delivering luxury essentials without the retail markups.

Quora – The question and answer site that helped earned CodeUnion’s first customers

20Bits.com – Catch up on Jesse’s personal blog

Books mentioned in this episode:

Mind Storms by Seymour Paper: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas – Written in 1983, this book still reads like it was for the future, but it’s about learning and teaching. Despite being written at a time when learning how to program computers wasn’t a reality, Jesse says there’s good thoughts about how people think and assimilate information and react to their environment.

Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman – A book exploring the confirmation bias from the role it plays and how we form our beliefs.

“The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman” – Written in the 1950s, but still applicable for startups today looking at growth on social channels. “If you want to get people to do things you have to understand that it’s mostly about their concerns around how they’ll look in front of other people; what their behavior means and how and why they are behaving the way their behaving.”

[spoiler title=’Read the transcript.’ collapse_link=’true’]

Eric: Hi everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of Growth Everywhere where we interview entrepreneurs and bring you business and personal growth tips. Today we have Jesse Farmar who is the founder of CodeUnion, co-founder of Dev Boot Camp, and also former CTO at Everlane. Jesse, how’re you doing today?

Jesse: I’m great. Thanks for having me.

Eric: Thanks for being on the show. Let’s hear a little about your background first before we continue on.

Jesse: Yes. Absolutely. I live in San Francisco. I’ve been living in Barrio in San Francisco, out here for eight years. Before this grew up in a tiny village in [off of Lake] Michigan which is called Chicago and then I came out here. I’ve been all over the map in terms of my career. I started with growth oriented things and moved to the Bay area in order to work on a startup with some friends. They had invited me, graduated the year before, and asked me, “Hey, why don’t you move out to Mountain View and work with us.” and I thought, “Well, I don’t have anything better to do, so why not?” It didn’t work at all.

We spent three months building a product that resonated with folks, but we didn’t know what to do with it and by the time the summer wrapped up a few of the people involved went back to school, other folks went back to their job, and I said, “I guess I have to find a job now.” In retrospect it was clear that was the first moment I went, “It’s not like this is a failure of marketing, not a failure of technology product”, and I think, not to dispel the other folks on the team, but when you’re in the middle of it I don’t think we were self-conscious of that.

Ever since then I’ve been slowly gravitating towards merging the engineering skills I have, my academic background in mathematics. I have a B.S. of mathematics from the University of Chicago. My father was a small business owner so I have an entrepreneurial dimension to my life. It’s really just been a slow merging in my career of all of these different aspects. I picked up some tricks. I learned a lot when the Facebook platform came out.

I was a part of a group of people that were self-taught when it comes to growth because the Facebook platform was, I think, the first opportunity people really had to teach themselves. I’ve built, either by myself or with other folks, a handful of Facebook applications that had 5 to 10 million monthly active users. I’ve built a few standalone sites that had between 500,000, then a million monthly actives. Then Everlane, we built our launch campaign and we signed up about 250,000 people in the weeks before we launched.

When I went to Dev Boot Camp the growth sort of thinking was still there, but it wasn’t so out in front because there’s less growth to do or at least it’s less tactical. A business like Dev Boot Camp is so high touch. You have very few customers, but each of whom pay a fair amount of money. Now that I’m doing CodeUnion, which is a remote program to teach people the technical program skills. I sort of have to dust off my own growth-hat and start to think more tactically again.

Eric: Tell us a little about Dev Boot Camp. I forgot to cover that part. Tell us a little about Dev boot Camp first and then we can talk about CodeUnion.

Jesse: Absolutely. Dev Boot Camp I co-founded it with two other people, Shereef Bishay and Dave Hoover in January of 2012. There are, for lack of a better word, about 100 or more similar programs around the world, but when we started there weren’t any. It was a nine week incredibly intense training program for junior software engineers. People put their lives on hold, leave their families, leave their kids, quit their jobs, move across the country, at least back then because we were only in San Francisco. The tuition is about $10,000 and they just go six, seven, hours over those nine weeks. It was for most people the most intense learning experience they’ve ever had. I left that about a year ago, last August. That’s Dev Boot Camp. CodeUnion is kind of in a similar space, a teaching technical skills space, a slightly different format. My head has largely been in the zone of teaching and how to teach and effectively. I’ve been teaching for the last three years. Maybe people don’t see it this way, but there’s a very large amount of overlap between how I think about teaching and how I think about growth. It’s not totally disjointed. That’s what Dev Boot Camp is.

Eric: Let’s talk about CodeUnion now. You said there are some fundamental differences. I think Dev Boot Camp is more in person and CodeUnion is more remote. What are some other differences between the two?

Jesse: The biggest difference basically there’s his format that Dev Boot Camp invented, essentially, of this short term, in person, incredibly intense, learning experience that takes people from just starting out programming; maybe they know a little to making them job ready or job capable. It’s expensive in terms of both money and opportunity cost; people have to move across the country, they have to quit their jobs, they have to do everything, so it’s a high risk maneuver. The learning environment is incredibly intense and that often doesn’t work for a lot of people.

When I left Dev Boot Camp and I took six months off or so I got to thinking—I just knew there were so many folks who wanted to do something like Dev Boot Camp, but either couldn’t or didn’t want to move, couldn’t or didn’t want to be in such an intense learning environment, or, take for example: marketers or operation super product managers who really do want to learn technical skills, but they don’t want to become a fulltime software engineer.

CodeUnion is built for those folks. It’s a more a-la-cart style program. Its remote, 100% online, we organize them in either four or eight week remote workshops. Students come to us, they set their own expectations, and we give them a framework for working through that. The main thing we emphasize is getting feedback from our staff as frequently as possible on the work they’re doing. Right now we offer four workshops. There’s “Fundamentals of Web Development, Professional Software Engineering, Topics in Computer Science, and then we have a SQL Deep Dive workshop for people who just want to learn SQL. Everlane sent part of their marketing team through our SQL workshop, for example, so they can develop—Everlane has a very strong brand marketing team, but they don’t have a super strong quantitative marketing team. They want to build that. Hey, it’s cheaper.

One of the things CodeUnion does, hopefully, is makes it cheaper to build rather than to buy, so to speak. To cultivate talent internal to a company. It’s easier to take a great product manager and have him take an eight week workshop to become a technical product manager than it is to filter through a million resumes and find a new technical product manager.

Eric: Got it. This is perfect for people like me that are more marketing / operations. How much does it cost for this eight week workshop?

Jesse: The eight week workshops are $3,000 and the four week workshops are $1,500 and depending on what students want we ask, to get the minimum of what we want out of it it’s between 15 and 20 hours a week, typically. A little less for the SQL workshop. For students who are coming in looking to make a career transition that expectation is higher, obviously. We’ve had probably about half the students who took our Fundamentals Workshop, which is; some people come in with hardly any understanding of basics of programming, but it’s mostly about building web applications, understanding how web applications work, and giving students the skills to navigate all the future terrain they’ll encounter when they’re not in our workshop.

About half of those folks who took it are from operations and those kind of things. They get really excited because they get to apply what they learn, almost immediately, on their job. I just got a message today from a student being like, “Oh my God. I wrote a script to pull this thing from this data base and put it in this data base, then made some automated emails to send to someone else.” It’s exciting to be able to show them that programming is something that you don’t have to be a self-identified programmer to do. It’s a really powerful, general tool in your tool box if you understand it. Even just the basics.

Eric: Got it. I think I’m going to have to sign up. What’s the success rate? People pay $3,000, $1,500, how many students actually get through?

Jesse: We’re still really young. We’re less than four months old at this point and we’re just wrapping up our second round of workshops. In total we’ve probably had; I should know this off the top of my head and I don’t; but I think around 25 students go through all of our workshops in total. They come from all over the world too. We’re having a student from Ghana take our Topics and Computer Science workshop that’s starting October 6.

Our next batch of workshops all start October 6. That’s exciting. The only avenue he has available is either self-learning, attending a school somewhere, probably far away, or giving up his life. What is he going to do if he wants to go to Dev Boot Camp. He has to move to the United States and immigration issues “yada yada”. So, we’re really excited.

Eric: I think the dynamics are when you had to pay for something; you drop 10K for Dev Boot Camp, or 3K for something like this, it’s almost as if you’re “pot” committing yourself, to take a term from poker verses—I was at Tree House before and I would play with the product sometimes, but I don’t feel committed. I think having this and having someone guide you is something that’s incredibly valuable.

I think that’s why it’s worth it sometimes. Just to let the audience know I had a friend go through a similar program like this and I think he had a biology degree, completely unrelated and after he went through something like this, today, two years later, he’s making over 100K as a developer. It’s definitely something worth looking into if you’re looking to make any type of transition.

Eric: So, you had 25 students go through. Can you walk me through how you got the first 10 students?

Jesse: Absolutely. It will sound –I think of growth as, honestly, I just have really long time horizon for it. I’ve been, not always intentionally, but cultivating a reputation. The first chunk of students mostly came from, “Hey, I saw so and so retweet a thing.” “I saw so and so share a thing” and that “So and so was a friend of mine.” I have a bunch of answers all over Quora. For whatever reason Quora has become, for the universe of “I want to learn how to code” has become a pretty big nexus of activity. By the time—you said you were at TreeHouse.

There’s this continuum of material and there’s a point where students often go, “I want to take this seriously, but what’s next. I watched the videos. I did the tutorials, but what’s next? What now? I’m feeling a bit like shouldn’t there be a more magical tingly feeling or something?” Once those people get into research mode and they’re like, “I need to find a program that’s for me”, for whatever reason Quora has become a pretty big resource. If I were to look at the referral traffic to our main website right now I think probably a quarter of it comes from old answers of mine on Quora.

Eric: Wow!

Jesse: But that stuff, I wrote that over the course of the last three years, not with the intention of directing stuff to CodeUnion. CodeUnion wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye at the time. So that’s how we got our first batch and also a lot of our second batch. Now, it’s what I said early on, I have to think more tactically. Right now we’re trying to figure out that old search for scalable, repeatable marketing channel.

Eric: Let’s talk about that. You’ve built these apps, 5-10 million users quickly, 5-10 thousand visits per site and you’ve done all this high growth stuff before. What’s the plan to scale this out? I’m sure you’ll get that question from a lot of people.

Jesse: Here’s the thing. I can give an answer that you would believe, but it would be a bit of a fib. If you were to ask me at Everlane, when we built that launch page and launched it Michael and I, Michael’s the CEO, we sat down before and said; this is the middle of October, “How many people do we need to sign up by the end of the year in order to basically have enough proof to raise our next round of financing?” That’s what we were thinking. In our head, no our heads, “If we have about 50,000 people we can go from; we had about 10,000 on a mailing list we had been building up for about a year, “If we can get 50,000 in the next month or two, then we think we can go make a case that we’re on to something,”

We launched the page and, oh my God, 250,000 in two weeks. There’s a way you can tell that story where it’s very linear; where it’s like there was an equation and we solved it. My experience, some people know how to operate that way, but I don’t. So, I can’t say what the strategy is. The picture I have in my head is one of a bunch of particles zipping through the universe and you, your little planet, you hope collides with some of those particles and that the collision has enough energy and the right components to produce something interesting.

The way you solve that is by increasing the surface area of this planet. Increasing the velocity or frequency of these particles colliding with you, or that kind of thing. As these events happen they start to feed into each other and you get a self-sustaining reaction. Although I’m a math person, and I’m an engineer, and people have this idea that, “You’re a linear thinker”, it’s a very non-linear process.

Right now we’re producing content. For example I wrote a blog post yesterday on the CodeUnion blog about How to Teach Novice Programmers How to Debug their Code. I don’t know, it’s being received really well. I woke up this morning and I think about twenty or so people shared it on Twitter. But why did that happen. It’s a combination of who I am, the reputation that I’ve built, the quality of the writing and what I’m saying, who I put that in front of, who’s paying attention to me or the channels I’m talking on, some of which are things we cultivated within the last months, some are things which we cultivated over the last three years.

Our grand strategy is, I guess, we want to be the most trustworthy—we want to be an honest broker and produce material and information that, when people see it they go, “Wow, I didn’t realize anyone could think this sophisticatedly about this topic. Whatever they’re teaching, I want to learn that.” That might be naïve, but I think that plus some more tactical stuff. I’m still thinking about what should the headline be, what should the copy be, putting it on Reddit so people can up vote or comment maybe, all those tactical things, but they’re wanting a service with a higher agenda. That wasn’t a very direct answer to your question. I just don’t have the direct answers. Sorry

Eric: My understanding is you have this grand vision, but you have to go with the flow. You have to figure out these things as you go. I think with something like this it totally makes sense. When it came to scaling Dev Boot Camp, obviously it’s very popular now. What’s what unique thing you guys did to grow that?

Jesse: Dev Boot Camp. I’m not going to lie. Its growth was a fluke. It was, without a doubt, the fastest growing company I’ve ever been involved with. We put very little effort into marketing. When I was there, I was the one spearheading our marketing efforts. Some of it is a little subtle like, we managed to convince everyone to use the term Programming Boot Camp to describe the style of program. We made sure that was the phrase we always used and that it was always used in the press. Things like that are sort of subtle.

My activity in CORA was really advantageous, but it started off with a post on Hacker News and that’s how we got the first cohort. We published our results and that was sort of that, to be honest. We never had to hustle for press. That’s actually unfair because one really critical person who was involved early on, Lockey Groom [ph 00:20:40], I don’t know how old he is now, he might be 20 now, 21. He was 18 or 19 when he was at Dev Boot Camp. He actually was the one who hustled for our initial press.

But he really had a compelling story to tell about placement rates and the results and so on, but without his involvement early on we would not have gotten that attention because no one at Dev Boot Camp was really press minded. But press was always a huge driver. And when you achieve amazing results and inherently it’s a business that isn’t, you’re never going to have a million customers. You’re never going to have a million daily users. What you want are people that come out of the other end going, “My life has been transformed and I want to preach the Gospel at that boot camp.” Word of mouth was huge.

Creating a presence in places like CORA where folks who had heard about these crazy things somewhere and they wanted to do more research, would start doing research and they’d find it and read my answer and go, ‘Wow”—Okay, here’s a thread, “How can programming boot camps claim to teach so quickly.” Ten competitors respond and there’s my answer with 100 up votes, everyone else has ten, and the answer’s just a cut above everyone else’s and they go, “Oh okay. I’m putting so much on the line. I’m going to pick the one that is more legitimate, more transparent, more ‘yada yada, yada’.” A lot of my thinking then was more, I would say less of my GROWTH HAT, which I tend to think is more tactical; and more like my BRAND HAT.

Eric: So, it’s the reputation that you built up. We talked a little about you had Everlane sent over to marketers to learn SQL. Do you think most technology startup founders / marketers, operation people should learn to code?

Jesse: I don’t know if they should learn to code. What I guess I should say is, learn to code means, the continuum of that is so vast. It’s like someone learning to play and instrument. Well are we talking about Thelonious Monk or are we talking about Chopsticks. If you don’t understand the medium you’re playing with, the stuff out of which you’re building everything you’re building stuff, the environment in which you’re playing—you can only achieve a certain level of understanding by reading about it.

You can really get far doing that, but when push comes to shove, when Tumblr first released their API growth minded people with a technical minded background are thinking, “I wonder what API endpoint Tumblr is exposing?” Which is a question that, for most people who haven’t dove into technical topics directly, it wouldn’t even occur to them. They’d hear about it sometime later, probably after someone else found success by making use of this API and there’d be some article about how to use the Tumblr API to get your ‘da,da,da,da,da’.

I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it makes a difference between okay outcomes and exceptional outcomes often. You don’t need a lot of code, especially if you’re purely focused on marketing because a lot of it is automation, maybe intelligence. Back in the Facebook days people would, this will surprise no one right? But you’ve had fake accounts either for testing purposes or just to get a better sense of who your users were. You’d find out about competitors when other new things were going viral because you had these accounts that were friends with the kinds of people who use these applications and you’d use the Facebook API to see what was appearing on those account feed.

You’d see an application you’d never seen before suddenly start appearing and you’d go, “A ha, who is that?” “Oh, it’s that Slide. Is it Rocky? Is it Zinga? Is it some newcomer to the scene?” And you simply can/t do that manually. Are you going to be visiting this person’s Facebook page every so often? No, you write a program to do it in an email to do a report every day or it sends an alert when some new activity happens. It can make a difference in those regards. It’s like the Swiss Army Knife. It can be adapted to any situation.

Whereas people who don’t have that skill tend to be like, “Oh yeah, I’m and SEO marketer. I’m a content marketer. I’m a social media marketer.” They have to pick a little box and then they’re just in that box and it works really well verses, “Oh crap, there’s a new”—Like I had a friend who were figuring out how to get on the favorite page of Instagram a month, two months after they launched. Now you have, “What’s your Instagram marketing strategy?” “I’m an Instagram Marketer.” It’s a difference between being on the leading edge verses the trailing edge, I think is where those technical skills make a difference.

Eric: I like the way you put it. Let’s just take me, for example, I want to learn some better questions like, “What’s the API endpoint of this?” If I go through your program am I going to learn how to ask these better questions for things I pretty much never knew before?

Jesse: Yes. Absolutely. You’ll walk away with real concrete technical skills. We have to teach something specific, but it’s all towards the end of giving people something, a really clear picture of [i.e.]: what’s happening when a browser is sending something to the server. Think about something like, this might be a term you know, or don’t, but like the ‘perma cookie’, if you remember that.

For the people who don’t know, normally when you set a cookie a user can clear it, but over the last four or five years, browsers have added all these other little places where you can store information. Some of them are easier for users to clear out, than others; I’m not advocating doing this by the way, and so the ‘perma cookie’ instead of setting a cookie in the usual place, you set it in ten different places and when a user came back to your site, maybe they deleted their cookies, but you could look at the other nine places and then reset the correct cookie so that it was an undeletable cookie, which, of course, any advertiser or analytics company, they’re going to be, “I want that.” That’ practicality is very, there’s a very fine line between “you are abusing your user’s trust” that I’m uncomfortable with personally, but purely as an example, someone who isn’t technical it wouldn’t even occur to them to do something like that, let alone, because what happens is the reverse.

You hear some announcement, “Chrome announces support for the local storage API.” What the heck does that even mean? For someone who knows what that means goes, “Oh, I wonder what happens if you put cookie data in there and use it like a cookie?” These associations start to form and we want to put our students in a situation where those things, they’re asking the right questions so when those things happen they have a bigger more technical service area to connect these announcements to.

Eric: I think it all comes down to asking the right questions and what you don’t know, you don’t know. This is definitely important for people to understand. A few more questions from my side. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your 25 year old self?

Jesse: I actually wrote an article on my blog called, “A Letter to Myself.” at 20Bits.com. I wrote it shortly after I left Everlane almost three years ago now. I’ll be very sincere, not that I’ve been insincere so far. When I first moved out here I didn’t know anybody. I found my first job on Craigslist out here. It’s a lot more hustle and bustle now in the Silicon Valley technical world than there was eight years ago.

But as I became more enmeshed in this universe you’re always surrounded by people who are being more successful. I have three friends out here who have been founders a company that exited for over a billion dollars, who, when I met them were just people I met at a dinner party when they just move here, and as you go down that number; friends who’s companies exited for 100 million, 500 million or 100,10, it doesn’t matter; people who, when they were building Facebook apps were making $200,000 a day in the first six months. Stuff like that. That’s not me. I don’t have that kind of money.

But it does something to you when you’re surrounded by that and you see people you know, who are your friends and are still your friends, seeing those kind of outcomes and everything out there is saying, “This is what you should want. This is what you should be interested in.” It took a long time for me to be comfortable with it, but I think I always knew it and just reminding myself that the important thing is just worry about the work. Just worry about doing good work and getting that work out there in front of people and worry about adding value to your life and other people’s lives. You can’t do that in isolation.

If you do that in a cave that’s great, but no one knows you did it. It’s that other half too, of doing good things, getting better at doing good things, and sharing it with people. It’s hard. It’s easy to say, but it’s difficult to adhere to everyday. I think that would be what I would say. If there’s a lot of noise out there, at the end of the day just worry about doing good work and sharing it with people whose lives add value too.

Eric:  I couldn’t agree more. As long as you add more value, whatever the financial outcome will come to you. What’s one productivity hack that you can share with the audience?

Jesse: Productivity hack? I’m a pretty chronic procrastinator. What I do know is if I’m in an environment that’s stimulating me the right way I’ll be able to respond to that environment productively. When I think about my productivity I think less about the usual productivity stuff you read like; use a journal, the Pamadoro technique, or “50 tips for sorting your email.” I think of it more about putting myself in situations and environments that stimulate me in the right way. I really like helping people out and answering questions so teaching environments are great for me.

It affords me an opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have done before. A student asks a question about, “How does X work?” and I’m like, “Hey, I don’t know, but I’m going to go figure it out right now and tell you.” Boom, boom, boom, boom, and by the way while I’m over the course of doing that maybe I’ll produce a little write up about how I did it, and then I’ll publish it and maybe people will pay attention to that. It starts off this chain reaction of productive behavior. So, personally I don’t have a specific answer, but I have a strategy where I think about what the moment’s when I’m co-productive and –

Eric: We’re having a little interference right now.

Jesse: Oh, sorry. Can you

Eric: Almost funny and staticy.

Jesse: Let me try this. I’m sorry about that. How about now? This any better?

Eric: That’s perfect. We’ll edit this part out.

Jesse: No worries. Sorry about that. So, yes I reflect on the moments where I felt productive and the aspects that contributed to that productivity and I just try to replicate that environment. In a way sort of let the environment be a wave that’s carrying me along, rather than worry about, which I find there’s just negative talk involved, “You should be more productive. You’re not productive enough. Why are you procrastinating? Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that? Did you get everything done you need to get done today?” That doesn’t put me in a good head space. I think about changing my environment before I think about changing myself.

Eric: What’s an example environment?

Jesse: For me it’s certainly being in a teaching environment is great. It can be a little bad if I get distracted from other things I need to be doing, like creating a blog post. Students asking, “Hey I have a really compelling question.”

Eric: So, an actual classroom.

Jesse: Personal or virtual. CORA is great for me. If someone asks a great question it’ll be like, “Oh I have things to say about that.” Often times when I’m writing a blog post, now I think of it in terms of, “Hey is there a question someone might ask me” and I might list out—imagine there’s a person I’m having a conversation with who’s asking me a question and do I feel a compelling answer. The ones that feel more compelling; they say write like you speak; I write what I would have said, edited obviously, but—that tends to be how I think about it. So, sometimes I’m not literally in that environment. Once you have a good enough handle on what that environment should be you can create a mental vision of it.

Eric: Got it. Cool. Final question here. What’s one must read book you would recommend to the audience?

Jesse: There’s two. One is called Mind Storms by Seymour Papert [ph 00:37:51] and the subtitle is: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. It was written in 1983 and it still reads like it was for the future, but it’s about learning and teaching. It’s funny because it was written at a time when learning how to program computers wasn’t a thing you did. You only used computers to learn other things. But there’s a lot of really good thought about how people think and assimilate information, how they react to their environment, and how they become acclimated and situated to new and surprising situations, and how a teacher can guide it.

For people who are growth minded, that sort of thinking is a big part of what makes growth work. Actually there’s three books. The second one is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Comedan [ph 00:38:54]. It’s very recently published. It’s funny because the book is largely about confirmation bias from the role it plays and how we form our beliefs. When I read the book I felt; everything in here is a more concise articulation of how I thought people think and learn, and assimilate information. That’s sort of ironic because I’m like, “I agree with everything in this book.”

But the book is about confirmation bias. And the third book is older and a little more academic, but it’s called, The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life it was written in the ‘50’s, but for people who are doing growth, especially growth on social channels it’s, you have to understand on Facebook, for example, if you want to get people to do things you have to understand that it’s mostly about their concerns around how they’ll look in front of other people; what their behavior means and how and why they are behaving the way their behaving.

The book is entirely about that, how people form there sense of identities and specific model of how people’s behaviors are shaped by their environments and how people take on different roles and different aspects of their personalities depending on where they’re interacting socially. We all know that intuitively. We don’t post the same things to Twitter as we do on Facebook. We feel there’s a very different valence around someone emailing us out of the blue verses texting us out of the blue.

Intuitively we all understand that moment where we hesitate to post something because we don’t know who will be seeing it; that kind of stuff. I think that book, even though it’s 60 years old at this point has a lot to say about those topics.

Eric: You have a really good memory for you to recall all these specific details in these books and I think something we should talk about another time. I really enjoyed interviewing you Jesse. Everyone this is Jesse Farmer from CodeUnion. Everyone, check it out. You’re sure to find some cool stuff there.

Jesse: Awesome. Thanks everyone.


About Eric Siu

Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.

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