Springboard provides online education and mentorship for aspiring data scientists
Springboard is an online school that teaches technology skills like data science, analytics and UX design. They pair each student with a mentor who offers feedback, answers questions and provides real-world career advice.
Phil Chu, Springboard’s Mentor Operations Manager, spoke with us about the company’s history and how their unique curriculum and mentorship model prepares students for a new career.
What’s the history of Springboard?
Our founder and CEO, Gautam Tambay, has a younger sister who studied graphic design in college. She was a couple years into her career and thought, “Do I want to do graphic design for the rest of my life?” Job prospects weren’t great compared to some other careers and she wasn’t satisfied with the work. So she started looking into other options and learned about user-experience design.
But she also learned the resources for learning UX design were scarce. On one end, you had traditional universities that offer certification or master’s programs. These were high quality but also high cost – tens of thousands of dollars and many would have required her to quit her job and take at least a year off to go back to school. That’s a tough decision for somebody just a few years into their career.
On the other side, platforms like Coursera, Udemy and EdX were starting to provide high quality online courses at low cost or even for free. The internet is the world’s greatest library and there is amazing content, but it’s also difficult to navigate. How do you know exactly which courses are the best or what you need to learn in order to be qualified for a job?
According to the US Department of Labor, millennials will have 17 different jobs throughout their lives. That means changing jobs or careers every three to four years. The world in which you go to college once and have a career for the rest of your life just doesn’t exist anymore.
So Springboard was founded as a platform to help people participate in continuous, lifelong education. We started as a search and review platform, like Yelp for online classes. People could easily find the best-rated “Intro to UX Design” course. Then we began working with industry experts to compile the best online resources into a “learning path” that covered everything someone needed to know for an entry-level job.
Our Learning Paths got really popular but we heard from students that they still lacked the human interaction you get in a university setting. Most people need discussion and feedback to really learn. No matter how high quality an online course, without this it’s still kind of the 21st century equivalent of sending somebody to the library and asking them to teach themselves.
That’s how we arrived at our current approach: great curriculum designed for job-readiness combined with 1-on-1 mentorship from industry experts. Students work at their own pace and have weekly video calls with their mentor for guidance, feedback on projects, and to better understand the nuance of how to apply what they’re learning.
This has been really successful in helping students stay accountable and motivated, but more importantly in challenging their thinking and building confidence. It’s one thing to send in an assignment and see that you passed. It’s another thing to talk through your approach with someone who is an expert in the field. Mentors help our students understand how what they’re learning will translate to the real world.
We also have online communities, live office hours and student advisors to help students successfully plan their approach to the course. Our goal is to make sure people have all the support they need to succeed in an ever-changing economy.
Do you have any favorite interview questions you ask your mentor candidates?
I always ask, “What accomplishment are you most proud of in the last three years?” We want people who are passionate and enjoy their work! I’m looking to see what they are interested in, what gets them excited. If you’re great at what you do, there should be at least a few things that come to mind.
We also ask our mentor candidates to explain something in five minutes or less. It can be anything they want: a technical topic, a book they’ve read, or a hobby they have. And they have to assume I have no prior knowledge of the subject. I’m looking to see if they can empathize with their audience. Do they stop and make sure I understand? How well can they handle unexpected questions?
I’ve had candidates explain how machine learning works, or how to make a great cocktail. It’s interesting to see if someone can break down their thought process and explain a topic to a complete novice. Einstein said, “if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t know it well enough.” Our mentors need to be more than just experts in their field. They have to be able to explain what they know in order to be an effective teacher.
What’s the future hold for your company?
Springboard is growing quickly and hiring like crazy. We’re really excited about 2017 and will be launching new courses as well as investing more deeply in tools to help us better serve our students.
Our vision is to become the destination for lifelong learning, whether you’re transitioning into a new field or skilling up for a promotion. With rapid developments in technologies like AI, there will be wholesale disruption of millions of jobs over the next few decades. We want to help people future-proof their careers, so they can thrive in this new world order. I’m really excited about the prospect of democratizing access to a high-quality educational experience for everyone in the world.