A Nourishing Dinner at General Assembly

On October 3rd General Assembly (“GA”) and Deloitte hosted a dinner at GA’s NYC campus with about 30 leaders from Fortune 100 media and tech companies, NYC-based start-ups, venture capital firms, academic institutions, governmental agencies, and professional services organizations. The theme of the evening was education and “businesses’ role in preparing the workforce for the ‘Big Shift'”. Four main topics were at the core of our discussion:

  • “Corporate to Corporate” Learning. How do corporations best learn from each other? Share best practices? How do we create opportunities for large companies to learn from start-ups, and for emerging companies to learn from established?
  • Re-training, Continuous Learning, and “Just in Time” Learning. How do we continue to grow and develop a technology and business literate workforce?
  • Undergrad and post-grad. How can we encourage people to focus on engineering, business, and media in school? What is the role of initiatives such as the New York City Applied Science Campus?
  • K-12 education. What can the business community do to better support technology and business learning in K-12? 
I co-moderated the dinner discussion with Anand Chopra-McGowan (@achopramcgowan) of GA. Here’s a sampling of the questions we posed to the dinner participants. 
  • In an article in The Atlantic two weeks ago entitled “How Liberal Arts Colleges are Failing America”, Scott Gerber argues that the classic Liberal Arts education’s de-emphasis on building marketable skills, and in particular the absence of programs on entrepreneurship, are resulting in college undergraduates coming out ill-prepared for today’s job market and economy. What are your thoughts on this? Is Liberal Arts a thing of the past? Can vocational educational live side by side with a classical curriculum? 
  • Today’s junior high school students will in 10 years be our next wave of entrepreneurs and software developers. It’s in businesses’ interest for these kids to get well educated in “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). What is the role of business in education, especially public education? How do you think businesses can best support and advocate for STEM education in schools?
  • Some economists argue that a significant portion of the current US unemployment rate is structural, not cyclical. As such, it’s believed that retraining of much of the workforce is essential to getting re-energizing the US economy. How important do you think re-training is? Who do you think should pay for it – Businesses? Government? Individuals? And perhaps most importantly, what type of re-training do you think is most essential?
  • There is a lot of discussion that “everyone” needs to learn to code – that everyone needs at least some technical background to compete in today’s economy. What do you think of this assertion? How important is knowing how to code, and more broadly being technical, do you think? Does everyone really need to know how to code? 
  • New York has many great strengths. One is its role as the media and finance capital of world, with the many large media companies and financial institutions headquartered here. Another strength is its vibrant start-up community, many of which operate in the areas of media and tech. How do we create opportunities for large companies to learn from the innovation happening at small? And how can we help smaller companies to be better positioned to benefits from the “lessons learned” of large companies?
  • What do you think should be the role of the respective levels of government in promoting technology education and, more broadly, investment in the technology and digital media sectors? 
  • Looking out 3-5 years, how do you think technology will have changed education? To what degree do you think technology is evolutionary vs. revolutionary?
  • What more, if anything, do you think can and should be done to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds get access to technology and technology education? 
  • What’s the greatest asset for NYC as it continues to expand its digital media, technology, and entrepreneurship ecosystem? What is its greatest liability? Why?
After a welcome by GA co-founder Matt Brimer (@brimer) and some opening remarks and observations from featured participants such as Mitch Resnick of the MIT Media Lab, Kathleen Warner (@kathleendwarner) of Startup America, and Lyel Resner (@lyelr) of Startup Box: South Bronx, the discussion became very interactive as the whole room got involved. Some of the interesting points made during the discussion included:

  • More diversity is needed at the table itself to develop the solutions to a number of the problems discussed in the room. Further discussions like those we had Wednesday night should include students and teachers on the “front lines,” including and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Comments from several of the founders in the room about the importance of being able to code, even “code badly” in order to build prototypes and have meaningful discussions about the technology at the heart of most start-ups. Lots of debate about whether or not “everyone” needs to be able code, even a little
  • A general view that retraining is needed within the workforce, but concerns that government sponsorship of such retraining could result in the wrong priorities (as I heard it a concern about “skating to the puck” rather than “skating to where the puck will be”)
  • An acknowledgment that we don’t presently have an education system as a whole that’s properly preparing students for the careers of tomorrow, despite the hard work of teachers and administrator
  • Youth from disadvantaged communities need to be exposed to role models from their communities and/or of similar backgrounds that have made careers for themselves as technology entrepreneurs
What do you think? How do we encourage and promote more dialogue between emerging companies (i.e., start-ups) and large global organizations? Does post-secondary education need to change to better promote and teach entrepreneurship? If so, how? How do we promote STEM education in public schools, especially those that serve disadvantaged communities? What do you think about the importance of retraining? How do we best support and pay for it? Do you think everyone needs to learn to code?
(A Google group to explore each of these questions as discrete topics also exists. Request an invite to the Google Group https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/educationdiscussion if you’d like to join our discussion there).
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.