"Caine & Hadi Interview" - Views: 30 · Hits: 34 - Type: Public

# Transcript

Hi Caine. Sorry this is a little bit late, we're obviously during the Christmas holidays so it's been hard to get a little bit of spare time. I'm going to make this as a voice memo as you suggested partly because it's easier for me to do (sorry to make you do the work transcribing it) but also because I felt it'd be a little bit more personal for you. I don't do interviews with high school students very regularly, but your story really touched me which is why I'm responding. I wish you the best of success with your blog post and interview. Let's go through your questions. 

### What was your childhood like? Were there notable events that prepared you for your career in entrepreneurship?

My childhood was, in many ways, very different from the average American kid. I grew up in the Middle East during a bloody Islamic revolution and a bloody war. That part obviously was quite different. By day, I lived in a police state where every single day I worried that the authorities would arrest myself, my brother, or my parents for who knows what reason and that my parents might get disappeared into prison and I would never see them again. We'd spend every night in the basement while our neighborhood was getting bombed and we'd hope that our home wasn't gonna get hit.  I spent most of my childhood worried about my life and whether I'd see my family. That part's pretty different than most people's lives. But the part that's pretty similar is that I was insecure about whether I'd have a successful life or whether I'd have an ability to make something better for myself. As a family that left our country and came to America as immigrants, we had to leave everything behind and grew up relatively poor. The only money we had when we came to America was basically the family jewels that my mom had sewn into my clothing to take out of the country. We started life in a new country with almost nothing and we didn't have our own house. We had to borrow a bedroom for my mom and dad, my brother, and me to all live together as we started to make a new living in a new country. Going through trauma, stress, fear, and immigration all prepared me for entrepreneurship because I learned that what can't kill me makes me stronger and I had a lot of drive to create a better life for myself. I think this is a common story for a lot of entrepreneurs. Leaving everything behind to leave one country to come to another made me comfortable with taking risks. As an entrepreneur, you need to be willing to leave a stable job in hopes of creating something more out of nothing and that's very similar to leaving a country where you already have a house and a livelihood and having your entire family uproot themselves to go somewhere new where you have nothing at all—hoping that it's going to be better. This is actually why so many American entrepreneurs happened to be immigrants. Roughly 50% of the most successful entrepreneurs in America are immigrants to this country and I think that's actually important because the immigrant experience prepares you for entrepreneurship and makes you comfortable with taking risks.

### How were you first introduced to computer science? Why did you like it so much?

My twin brother [Ali Partovi] and I were about 9 years old when our father introduced us to a Commodore 64 computer. This was in the early 1980s and my dad was a nuclear physicist and my mother was a computer scientist. So, even though we were growing up in the Middle East in Iran during the war, we both had access to a computer and parents who knew how to how to do computer programming to help us along the way. The computer they got for us didn't have any apps or games on it so the only things we could do with it was program our own apps and living in such a terrible environment during the middle of a war, there was nothing else good to be doing at the time, so we poured our time and energy into learning how to code and to make whatever we could dream of we could program it on the computer—even though the world outside us was pretty dark and dismal. The computer represented the opportunity that if you could dream of it and you can code it, then you can make it come to life. Our computer in the 1980s couldn't do a lot of things; there was a much much weaker microprocessor and much less memory and the hardware wasn't anywhere near as capable as you know even the cheapest of phones today, but still it was an escape from the harsh reality of the world around us and, as I grew up beyond that, I realize that the skills I had learned in my early childhood were going to be among the most important skills in life. When my family came to the United States, as I mentioned, we were penniless, but as early as 15 years old, I started getting internships working at technology companies because I realized that they needed people with coding and computer science skills so badly that they would hire a 15-year-old immigrant—if I could do the job well enough and I was good enough, it was effectively worth their time to pay me something. So when my high school classmates were spending their summers working as babysitters or bussing tables at restaurants, I'd already started my career in tech. At the time, I liked computer science both because I could make whatever I want with but also because, at a time when I needed money, it was a really well-paying job. 

### When did you first decide you wanted to reform computer science education?

I'd first say ever since college I started wondering why isn't computer science part of the core? Why is everybody learning math as a requirement? Everybody learns some degree of science as a requirement, everybody has to learn some foreign language as a requirement, why isn't computer science required? It was what I had decided to make my career in, but I also realized that it had so many benefits. And not just career benefits, but just understanding how the world of technology works seemed as important as understanding the world of history or science or mathematics, and yet those other things were required but computer science wasn't. So I'd start thinking about this when I was as young as 23 or 24 years old. But what really made me decide to start Code.org was when I was around 40 years old. I'd reached a point in my career that was successful enough that I could choose what I wanted to do, I'd made enough money that I didn't need a job, and I wanted to do something to basically give back because I had benefited from the education I had received. I'd benefited from so many helping hands along the way and I wanted to see what could I do that would be a way of giving back. That was personal to me and giving a chance for other students to learn computer science the way I had when I was young seemed like the right way to give back. And so that's when I started Code.org.

### **You received a degree in CS from Harvard. How did your experience at Harvard kickstart your journey in entrepreneurship?**

So, first of all, I was very lucky to get into Harvard, which, at the time, was one of the best universities in the world to study computer science. But, I should say not everybody goes to Harvard and not everyone goes to university. One of the beautiful things about computer science is it's one of those fields that even if you aren't going to university, you can still get good at it. In fact, some of the most famous computer scientists in the world today were all college dropouts who decided they wanted to learn on their own. As to whether it's Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, these are all folks who started out learning computer science then decided "I'm gonna learn this on my own without the school." Even if you're not a multi-billionaire entrepreneur, there are many many people who get great at computer science just tinkering on their own. If you get those skills, there are very few other fields where you can actually make it big—even without a college degree. This is because the skills in computer science are so hotly sought after. But, either way, the way my degree helped me was it helped me get my first job at Microsoft, but also helped connect me with a whole lot of other folks that I would later rely on, whether future investors or future folks that I recruited to work with me at the companies that I started. The network I built in university was really useful and, for anybody who wants to become an entrepreneur, building a network of connections and maintaining and nurturing those connections is one of the most important things you can do as an entrepreneur. Anybody you meet, whether it's in school, whether it's in your first job, whether it's friends of your family—if you stay in touch with them, it can be useful for a career in entrepreneurship. 

### After a successful career in technology at Microsoft, you founded two startups: Tellme Networks (acquired by Microsoft), and iLike (acquired by Newscorp). How did your experience at for-profit companies push you towards initiatives in reforming education?

You know what I learned? Whether in creating my own startups, working at Microsoft, and also advising other entrepreneurs throughout the world of technology, every tech company shares the same problem. If you ask anybody running a tech company, among their top 3 or 4 problems in life is how hard it is to find amazing talented people with computer science skills. This is true of the companies like Microsoft or Google or Facebook, it's also true of early startup starting out with 3 or 4 people. Literally, not a single company in the world finds it easy to hire awesome computer scientists. There just aren't enough people to fill all the job openings available. There's no city and no country in the world where the supply of computer programmers is more than the demand in the job market. I saw this because, whether I started my own start-ups, whether I invested in and advised startups, or when I was working at major corporations, this problem was all around me. I realized, why aren't our schools teaching this skill if it is in such hot demand? At a time of unemployment, at a time when people are complaining about the lack of upwards economic mobility, here's an obvious pathway to economic mobility. It's a field that leads to the highest-paying jobs, it's the fastest-growing area of new job growth, and yet it's not being taught in our schools. So I realized one of the best ways I could help people and also help the economy was to basically provide an education pathway to give students who don't yet have the opportunity to get access to those opportunities for future careers. 

### 40% of U.S. students have accounts on Code.org, 124 million projects have been created, and Hour of Code has reached 15% of students globally. Did you ever expect [Code.org](http://code.org) to get so big?

No! Never in a million years would I have imagined that this idea that kind of happened to me would grow into something that has had a global impact. This is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. When I started [Code.org](http://code.org), I made a viral video about the importance of computer science and I had hoped that that video would get a few million people. In the end, we got 15 million views and that was awesome. While getting 15 million views on a video was a great first act for Code.org, I didn't really know what would come next. But what was important was that out of the 15 million people who watch our first video, there were tens of thousands of teachers who decided that this is important for their students and I could have never imagined the impact that Code.org would have had on school teachers who decided themselves to get motivated to change education and the opportunity to change education on a global landscape. In every single country of the world, there's people who have introduced Code.org to their classrooms there's not a single city in the world where they haven't used Code.org in some school, somewhere. That's just been amazing to watch and beyond my wildest dreams 

### What do you think made [Code.org](http://code.org) so successful in reaching millions of students?

There's a one-word answer: teachers. Since the very beginning, a bet we made at Code.org is that the only way to change education is through teachers. The individual classroom teacher is the most important player. Obviously, there's students, parents, schools, governments—there's lots of people who come together to make the school system happen. But the most important of those is the individual teacher. From the very first day, we knew it was important to reach out to teachers and to have their support. We've been so lucky and blessed to have won the hearts and minds of so many teachers—whether in America or in lots of countries of the world. There's now almost 1.5 million teachers on Code.org. Their passion, the sacrifice they make, the risk they take to teach a subject they never learned, to introduce their students to computer science when they had never learned in school themselves, that risk that every individual teacher makes on Code.org is what has made us so strong and their passion to do something for the kids that they know is going to be the right thing to open the door of opportunity. Even when the government hasn't required it; yes, even when it's not part of the school standards or part of the official curriculum. This has really become a teacher-led movement to change the education curriculum and the teachers themselves are who deserve the greatest applause and the greatest credits. That's why we're successful and we're just lucky to have had so many teachers supporting this vision. 

### You've already had tremendous success in reforming CS education. What's next for you?

I would say what's next is to continue this work. The job is not done in the United States: only 47 percent of schools offer computer science classes. That's up from 10% when we started, but the majority of schools still don't teach computer science—and that's in this country. In the rest of the world,m more than 90 percent of schools don't teach computer science. There's a long way to go. We've had early success but the job is far from done. Even in the schools that teach computer science, the students are predominantly White, Asian, or male, and the diversity—the challenge of getting a balanced representation of computer science—is also far from done. Our job isn't done until every school teaches computer science and there is a level of equality between boys and girls and across race and geography and income level. At least in terms of who has access and who's getting the most basic education. So that's what's next for me and we're not done yet. 

### Any final pieces of advice for young entrepreneurs looking to change the world for the better?

The one piece of advice I'd give is to dream big. When you're a young kid—when you're 5 or 6—there's no limits on how big you can dream. When people ask you what you want to be when you grow up, kids say they want to be an astronaut. As they get older, they start being told, "well you can't be an astronaut" or "you can't be a rock star." You start having to deal with the reality of the difficulties of getting to to realize big dreams. They tell you not to dream big and to try to dream small and try to sort of aim your ambitions for something more achievable. Really, entrepreneurship is an act of defiance and actively deciding "What? Screw it! Even if the odds are against me, I'm gonna go for something big." Certainly the top advice I'd give to any entrepreneur is to dream big; to ignore, frankly, the advice of others and to go with your heart rather than what other people are telling you is going to stop you. There's not a single entrepreneur out there who didn't have to defy, effectively, common knowledge in terms of what's possible and dream bigger than that. Every entrepreneur has to imagine a world that doesn't exist yet. To do the same acts that I did as an immigrant, of leaving one country to come to a new one. Deciding that they're going to explore this unknown territory where there's risk and the chance of failure is much greater than the chance of success—but they're gonna go for it anyway. Going for big dreams is the top advice I'd give.