Will Bachman: Our guest today is Rak Chugh, the founder of Byte Academy, and the architect of edChain. We met in his office in midtown Manhattan. Byte Academy provides training in Python development, FinTech, data science, quant algorithms, and Blockchain. They have a full time program with modules that last 14 weeks and a part time program designed for working professionals. Their students include recent college graduates, even some with computer science degrees, as well as mid career professionals who want to switch careers or just broaden their skill set. They also deliver customized corporate training programs.
Now my belief is that as Independent professionals, we need to be continuously working to stay current and build our skills. So I was quit interested hearing about what skills Rak sees as most in demand. Right now, Blockchain is a blazing hot topic and companies in all industries are scrambling to figure out the implications of Blockchain technology for their business and how to seize those opportunities. You can read more at Byteacademy.co, and Byte, is of course spelled B-Y-T-E.
In addition to running Byte Academy, Rak is also the architect of edChain, which is an open sourced, decentralized library that allows the sharing of educational content across applications and organizations.
In the second half of this episode, we discuss edChain. Rak explains that his goal with the technology is to lower the cost for educators to publish content while providing full attribution and facilitating monetization across platforms. A second goal is universal access so that students can gain access to the best of breed courses in the world wherever they are. The third goal is to unlock value by enabling content to stay connected to an educator. And if a content creator allows it, her content can be incorporated into the courses of other content creators, and the technology ensures that the first creator would continue to capture a fair portion of the revenue stream from products that incorporate her work.
Now why should you care, as an independent professional, about edChain? Well, perhaps you want to take a course or perhaps you have some content that you’ve created. You could share it on edChain and monetize it or just raise your visibility and your material could also be incorporated in the courses that are developed by other people.
You can learn more about edChain at edChain.io. Also mention the social handles. @byteacademyco. That’s B-Y-T-E academy co. And @edChainio. You can find them on twitter and all the other major social networks.
Rak, it is great to be here in your global headquarters for Byte Academy.
Rak Chugh: Thank you. Thanks a lot. Thanks for inviting me to this podcast.
Will Bachman: So Rak, we met a few weeks ago and I was really intrigued by Bye Academy and what you offer. Maybe before we dive into … I think today I was hoping we could cover two things. One is talk about your class offerings, which cover Python, FinTech, Data Science, Quant Algos, and BlockChain for business. Talk about just some of the courses that you offer and how that works and why independent professionals might be interested in learning about some of those topics.
Then in the second half of the show, thought we could talk about the Blockchain that your firm is developing, I believe, edChain. So we’ll get into that the second half.
Rak Chugh: Sure. Absolutely. Makes sense. Yeah.
Will Bachman: Cool. Let’s talk about those offerings. For some folks, like me, who don’t necessarily know the difference between those five things I listed out, let’s go through each one and just tell me what it is and who are the kinds of people taking these offerings. So number one is Python full stack software development. Talk to me about what that means and who would take that.
Rak Chugh: Sure. So let me ask you to step back a bit, even before we get into the courses, and really talk about how these courses came about. Really, our focus is on teaching people short courses which result in employment. So really, what’s driving these courses that we’re teaching out here is the demand that we are seeing or the demand that employers come to us with saying that we are having problems filling these spots and really to recruit people in these specific courses that we teach out here. Right?
Will Bachman: And who are your students typically? It’s not necessarily folks that are just right out of college?
Rak Chugh: No, we definitely do have a decent amount of people coming right out of college. We’ve also got college students in the summer. But it also could be people who have had 10, 15, 20 years of experience in the industry and they’re looking to change professions. So really, anyone who’s looking for a job or a change of a career or looking to start companies with a different skill set. People come to us mostly from the New York area in New York, but also now we start getting a pretty global audience, because we also launched our remote program. So all these courses I’ve been teaching, actually, we also have a remote offering. So you can just log in, let’s say from Europe or Latin America, and go through these courses.
Will Bachman: And we’re sitting here today in your New York office, conveniently located right in midtown, a couple blocks from the New York Public Library. Do you have other locations globally for where people can take in person courses or everywhere else, outside New York, is remote? Or how does that work?
Rak Chugh: No, so it’s currently we’ve got two campuses. We’ve got New York City and we’ve also got a campus in Bangalore, India. It makes sense to have it in those two locations because we can essentially cover the world from those two locations. Our real focus is to grow globally in our remote offerings. But our in class sessions ar every popular.
Will Bachman: Great. So let’s talk about the Python full stack software development. What kind of person is taking that and what’s it good for?
Rak Chugh: So let me start with the two extremes of people that we’ve seen. There’s obviously a lot of people in the middle here, but people who have had zero experience with any kind of programming, they come to us, and really the idea being that by the time you graduate from this course, we should be able to create a full stack application on the web using Python and a number of other affiliated technologies. But pretty much, everything front to back, the databases, essentially a full web application.
Python’s actually very good for that. I don’t know if you know the background of Python, but it was created by a hedge fund in New York. It’s widely used for large data projects or in the financial industry. It’s a pretty fast growing technology, if you will. We take people who have had zero experience and who want to ramp up on these technologies. But also, likewise, we’ve had people who’ve had a full career in other technologies and want to ramp up on these technologies and they’ve come in and taken this course.
Will Bachman: So with Python, how long would it typically take for someone to go from having no software program experience to being proficient enough to actually build an application?
Rak Chugh: So typically, all our courses in the full time format at 14 weeks long. The way it breaks up is that the first eight weeks, we go through a pretty fast day by day curriculum if you will. By the time you are done with the eight weeks, you know all the concepts. The last six weeks is really there for projects. We ask all our graduates to do at least two or three final projects so that they can use all the skills that they’ve learned in the first eight weeks. So really, it’s six weeks of project time, if you will.
Will Bachman: What are some example roles that someone would go into or get hired for after completing the Python full stack software development?
Rak Chugh: So if you’ve had zero experience coming in, typically you would end up in a junior development role. But of course if you’re had a lot of experience in industry or any technologies or whatever else, people have definitely gone into more senior roles because now they know, in addition to everything else they knew before, that they are going into roles which require Python and other technologies that we teach.
Will Bachman: And typically, what are some examples of the types of employers, not necessarily the names of the employers, but even just the industries that people are all going into and what sorts of things would they be working on when they get hired out of that?
Rak Chugh: So four years back when we started Byte Academy, our focus was completely on FinTech. We had had a huge amount of experience in the financial industry, so we’ve got a number of FinTech companies who hire from us. Large institutions, the [inaudible 00:09:33] companies like Goldman and JP Morgan, but also smaller startups in the area. All of them are using some combination of the technologies we’re teaching and also, even if we don’t teach a specific technology, what we’re finding is a number of our graduates can easily pick up new languages and new concepts pretty easily after they graduate from the program because that program is focused on learning how to program as opposed to learning the specific syntaxes of a specific program.
So it’s a number of FinTech companies who are employing from us. But given the fact that we are in New York City, there are a fair amount of advertising and media companies who are finding the same skill sets very helpful. Typically, what will happen is when our graduates graduate, the smaller companies can make decisions much faster for our graduates, and as a result, a lot of our graduates start there and then move on to larger companies. Like for example, at Goldman Sachs, if you basically interview there, it takes anywhere from two to four months to start there because it’s a pretty in depth due diligence and a pretty in depth interviewing schedule and such. So by the time that rolls around, you may as well work in a startup in beginning.
Will Bachman: You’ve already been hired and let go by two or three startups by the time you get your Goldman offer.
Rak Chugh: Yeah. And Goldman actually likes it. So from their perspective, they’re getting people who have had experience and everything else. We’ve had someone like IBM come in and wanted to partner with us and they also had a very long recruiting cycle. As a result, by the time someone goes through that cycle, you may as well start in a smaller company.
Will Bachman: Okay. So do you have any examples of the kinds of projects or programming that people work on when they graduate? Are they building a web app for an advertising company or when you talk about FinTech can you give some examples of the things that people would be working on?
Rak Chugh: Sure. Absolutely. So typically, what we tell people, even during the application phase, is we ask them to think about projects that they would really love to work on and they’ll be passionate about. So they come in with some ideas about this is what I want to build and this is what I want to do in my final projects and such. We try to work with them to shape those projects, if you will. These days, ever since we launched our Blockchain courses, everyone wants to do some kind of project on the Blockchain. We definitely work with them. We require two final projects, one of them has to be a group project, the other one can be a complete independent project. Usually these ideas are their ideas and we help them with those ideas so that they can actually be passionately involved with it.
Also we find a lot of these people working on these projects, even after they graduate. So it’s not something that they stop working on by the time they graduate. They keep working on it even post graduation.
Will Bachman: All right. You mentioned Blockchain, which is one of those five offerings. Let’s talk about that one. Talk to me a little bit about what the coursework for that one. People, in 14 weeks, would be learning how to program their own Blockchain or create their own Blockchain device or work with existing Bitcoin or Ethereum. What would the coursework look like for that and what are people going on to do afterwards?
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so when you look at the Blockchain landscape, it definitely helps having some kind of a prior programming language, in so far as you’re coming in and you’ve got no experience with technology, you’re probably going to ramp up with our existing curriculum to understand the various technologies that we teach. Then when you’re finally getting in the execution phase of the projects that you want to basically build, there’s a number of open source APIs and open source Blockchain projects that you can work on, that you can contribute towards. So it doesn’t have to be completely building a Blockchain from scratch, but it could be utilizing a Blockchain in a project that makes sense.
I think these days, as it is, there’s so many different Blockchains that have been created that when we speak to investors and start up companies in the space, they’re pretty much telling us that there’s very small appetite right now to create a brand new Blockchain, but it’s really more appetite to create something with the Blockchain and improve some functionality or create some FinTech application or some kind of an application which uses Blockchain. We help them build that if you will. Of course if they’re coming in with a lot more experience then people have worked an existing Blockchain project and made modifications to it and such and created new Blockchains completely from scratch.
Will Bachman: So just from general reading, you’ve heard about Bitcoin and so forth, and using it as a stored value. What are some of the other types of uses of Blockchains that you’re seeing with your students in their projects and where they’re looking to go when they graduate? Are there uses of Blockchain beyond just as a currency?
Rak Chugh: There’s a lot of different projects that people are working on. Most people who are working on the Blockchain technologies, at least with us, they will be looking for jobs after graduate. We do have a few entrepreneurs who want to build projects and such, but there’s a huge demand for developers who know the Blockchain technologies and want to work on existing Blockchain projects. So we’re finding a pretty good reception amongst the employers to hire graduates on that side of things.
But the kinds of projects that people are working on, there’s been some social apps that people are building where just complete on the Blockchain. There’s ideas where people have come up with trading applications on the Blockchain. We are doing an internal project here where we’re putting education on the Blockchain and it’s almost a work in that project, because it is an open source project. We absolutely encourage them to work on it because then they can actually get to work with a number of other people who are working on the project.
It’s got a pretty large variety of projects, if you will. A lot of these projects will probably not get into some kind of a company manner, but it’s really like a prototype project where you’re using various technology so that you can convince yourself, but also makes something work.
Will Bachman: And what sort of companies are hiring Blockchain experts these days? You certainly hear a lot of the hype about Blockchain and it’s super hot and sexy. But what companies are actually hiring people and what kind of things are they actually working on?
Rak Chugh: So if you look at the cryptocurrencies piece and the amount of money that has been raised over the last year or two in that space, it’s been in the billions of dollars. All those monies are being used to develop new technologies. We’re just fortunate being in the auxiliary because you’re got some very large [inaudible 00:16:49] companies in this space. You’ve got Consensus Labs, which is based in Brooklyn. There’s a number of other companies associated with that which are also based in this neighborhood. So all those companies are basically looking to hire people.
There are very few programs which go into as much depth as we do as far as teaching actual programming skills and technology skills on the Blockchain side of things. So we’ve been fortunate that there’s a decent amount of demand for our graduates out there.
But definitely in the think tank arena, if you look at it out of more than 50% of the projects these days that we hear about, those are all using Blockchain in some shape or form. But at the same time, there are non FinTech in the supply chain world or in the logistics world or just pretty much anything you can think of these days. People are trying to see how Blockchain can improve their entire business model.
Will Bachman: And what sorts of things in the FinTech world are people doing with it? So you have Bitcoin, but are they creating new cryptocurrencies or just figuring out ways to serve as, leverage Bitcoin to actually affect payments? What are all the FinTech companies doing?
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so in the FinTech space, when you look at what you can use Blockchain for, definitely the speed and the execution of payments becomes much faster if you use one of the faster Blockchain implementations. You can get around a lot of existing networks, if you will. And also, really reduce the fees associated with it. A lot of people think that Blockchain’s being used or Bitcoins and stuff are being used for fraudulent transactions or for hiding the transactions for whatever reason away from authorities. But that’s not true. I think a lot of the implementations that we’re seeing is actually for very legitimate needs and for really having faster settlements, faster trades, faster transactions between a buyer and a seller.
Even if you look at the entire trading complex, for example, for cryptocurrencies, there’s a huge amount of stuff which has been done around there where new ways of storing these cryptocurrencies have been created. New ways of having trustees in the back end of just trust, if you will, for both the buyers and the sellers. They’re transactions are being completed in the right manner. So I think there’s going to be a huge [motive 00:19:24] evolution around that. We’ve seen companies like CoinBase or even some of the crypto exchanges like Poloniex and Kraken and such where they built up a pretty good exchange, if you will, in a very short period of time. There’s a lot of stuff around that, which is getting built up. Just the plumbing, if you will, to make those transactions much more robust and much more institutional quality.
Will Bachman: Okay. Great. Let’s talk about fourth offering of yours, which is the quant algos. What does that phrase mean? Quant algos.
Rak Chugh: Sure. So we actually partnered with a company called Quantopian. This is a company which does a lot of quantitative algorithms and essentially created a pretty nice platform for crowdsourcing algorithms. The [inaudible 00:20:14] is that you can be sitting anywhere in the world and writing algorithms for training purposes in so far as people are writing [inaudible 00:20:21] algorithms, they’re basically sharing the profits which then created from those algorithms with the people who have created the algorithms.
So I think they give 10% of the profits on that strategy to the people who are actually creating those algorithms. So it’s a nice platform that they’ve created. But really, the focus on that course has been really on statistical concepts and creating algorithms where you’re basically trying to create the future given some kind of historical background on some set of securities. So it could be an equity space, it could be commodities, it could be just about any kind of instrument that you’ve got and you’ve got some kind of a historical time series information of. Interestingly enough, al those algorithms today, they’re all working in Python. So we’ve been teaching Python right from the beginning and it’s a great implementation where we’re using that programming language for creating algorithms.
In that course, it’s less of a computer technology skill that you need. It’s more for mathematical and statistical knowledge that you would need to really create algorithms which make sense.
Will Bachman: So what would some of the coursework look like in that quant algos offering?
Rak Chugh: So initially, we asked people to ramp up on all the statistical concepts. Right? Assuming you’re coming in and you understand the statistical concepts, then we can definitely work with you to create or go through all kinds of problems that algorithms have in it. So definitely starting from very basic algorithms that you can create to predict some kind of a time series data, really going to the extent where you’re reducing some of the noise that comes around or some of the problems that come into these algorithms.
The good thing is you can back test these algorithms and you can basically see as to how it performs. You can run all kind of stress scenarios on these algorithms and [inaudible 00:22:25] here is to really not create an algorithm, which has been fitted with the data that you’ve got, but really to create somewhere where you are really using statistical concepts to predict what may happen given the very recent history that you’ve seen and given the intelligence that you’ve built in from the time series of data that you’ve analyzed.
These algorithms are not being built to predict the future given the past, but really to figure out as to what the future pricing may look like, given the statistical concepts that are embedded in some of the data.
Will Bachman: So what sort of prerequisites are required to go through a course like that or be successful? Does someone have to have been a statistics or math major in college or do you have to be a PhD in something to have the prior training or you come in as a humanities major and you can pick it up? So what’s sort of the baseline that you need to come in?
Rak Chugh: I think if you look at some of the more successful quant hedge funds, if you will. Most of the people that they’re recruiting are people with math and statistical skills. Right now, if you’ve had a lot of, let’s say physics in your background or some of the hard sciences and you’ve used some of these skills to really predict any kind of a time series data. It doesn’t have to be financial data at all. I think that can be very nicely used.
So really, I think if you’ve got a decent math background and a decent stats background or definitely an attitude towards it, you can become a pretty good quant algos person, if you will. But again, not everyone … when you look at some of these quant algos [inaudible 00:24:11], not everyone is coming up with algorithms. Typically, if you go to a successful hedge fund in the quant algos space, there’s a number of technologies which were acquired to perfect these algorithms or to even clean up the data or to create the engines to predict or to execute these quant algos. There’s a stew of different people that these guys are hiring. But it’s all tech oriented. SO you either need very good stats background, very good math backgrounds, or definitely some kind of technology background where you can get into the applications that they’re using to write these algorithms.
Will Bachman: Can you give me an example of what an algorithm would, like a new algorithm or an existing one would look like? Are they describable in layman’s terms?
Rak Chugh: What you’re really trying to do here is you’re trying to come up with some kind of trading strategy or tier, which reduces the variability and creates a return away from, let’s say the market returns that you may be able to get. SO let’s say you’re looking at the equity markets and you’ve got some implicit returns that you may be getting and the S&P 500 for example. You may want to create a strategy which is completely independent of that and be able to really figure out as to … For example, a simple algorithm could be that let’s say you’ve got two securities. You’ve got IBM and Apple. Both of them are in the technology industry and let’s say that you have a thesis that maybe IBM is undervalued and Apple is overvalued, but both of them are in the same industry. So you can come up with this very simple strategy of going long IBM and going short Apple, but keep adjusting those long and short trading strategies to have, essentially, an absolute return regardless of what happens to the technology sector.
So that would be a very, very simple algorithm, if you will, where you’re just going long and short with equity security in the same industry. Right? Maybe now it’s linked up the fundamentals of each of those companies. So let’s say IBM starts trading towards becoming average valued or higher valued, if you will. You start flipping that [inaudible 00:26:37]. So that could be a strategy that you could put in there, but again, I think typically what happens is you end up, like any of these sophisticated hedge funds who are doing this. As a business, they probably have a number, I’m thinking 100s of different strategies which they pick and choose depending on the environment that they’re in.
Will Bachman: Okay. Great. And the last one is data science. So talk to me about what that one is and maybe how that’s different from the other ones we’ve discussed.
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so data science is really about analyzing large amounts of data. It’s interesting. You would imagine that within time, data science or data scientists who get into the industry are spending their time analyzing this data and coming up with some great predictions and such. But apparently 70% to 80% of the jobs in the data science industry is actually to do with cleaning up the data and to normalize the data and to really get the data in the form where it can be analyzed. Right?
So there’s a huge amount of programming involved as a result of that. Most of that isn’t, Python again, there’s a number of Python libraries, which are extremely helpful for analyzing the data. The point being that even before you start analyzing, it’s a lot of work which goes in to really get the data in the proper manner. But then once you do have the data cleaned up and let’s say you’ve got some kind of a huge factory of data, if you will, such that you’re creating new data sets from existing data, then it’s about using the artificial intelligence or machine learning or just quantitative algorithms to predict what you want to do with that data and to come up with some kind of best predictions of it.
So there’s all kinds of use cases. For example, if you look at something like Alexa from Amazon, there what you’re doing is you’re basically looking at a lot of voice data and you’re analyzing it to be able to perfectly make sure that the machine understands what is being communicated out there so that you can utilize the data for all kinds of useful tasks.
Will Bachman: So it doesn’t order a dishwasher for you when you just want the dishwasher detergent, right? Cool.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you structure these offerings. So you have full time programs, I think you said, for 14 weeks mostly. Then you also have part time, evening, weekend offerings where people can keep working and take the courses?
Rak Chugh: Exactly. Our flagship programs are definitely mostly 14 week, full time programs. But again, if you’ve got a full time job, you may not want to take this in a full time format. Very few people want to leave their jobs for three, three and a half months, and take this program. So what we do have is we’ve got an in class part time program, where exactly the same curriculum is gonna be taught over six months. So it’s 14 weeks, you’re using six months if you will. It meets two evenings a week and then there’s a bunch of work outside that. So you would be assigned a lot of homeworks and such. You would have an infrastructure in the class in the evenings for the part time programs. [inaudible 00:30:04]
Then we’ve got a third variety of that where you can take a remote program, if you will. Again, same exact curriculum except you can be flexible with how much time you want to put in a week. So you could, for example, do it full time remote and be sitting in the Midwest somewhere where we don’t have a campus or you could be doing it, let’s say, 20 hours a week or 15 hours a week depending on whatever time you’ve got. We provide you the curriculum, there’s mentors attached to the program. So in case you’re having problems with it or in case you get stuck somewhere, the mentors can help you with the program. But it’s exactly the same curriculum. They’re essentially giving you the curriculum, they’re assessing you very frequently, just so that we understand that you’ve ramped up on those concepts and that you can go onto the next stage. Then you’ve got evaluations and such at the end of each phase.
Will Bachman: And for that remote program, is it asynchronous, so it’s like the lectures are recorded and you can watch them any time you want? Or how does that work?
Rak Chugh: No, so at least in the program that we’ve got right now, we give you the curriculum which you can work in asynchronously. But at the same time, the mentor sessions are in person. So meaning you would be in some kind of a webcast or some kind of a synchronous manner talking to the mentors. You can figure out how many mentor hours that you want to basically sign up for in a week. But really, those mentor hours are pretty important because then you can really resolve any problems. Oftentimes you find out that even for the smart people, they might not have any problems with the curriculum, but they just need direction and motivation to go to the next step.
So the mentor’s very useful from that perspective, for that reason.
Will Bachman: It can be really hard to teach yourself programming because you might just be making a really small syntax error, like a semicolon or something, and you can’t figure it out. Someone who knows what they’re doing can look over your shoulder and just say “Oh, there’s your issue.”
Rak Chugh: Exactly. Exactly. Or it could be as simple as just directing you to the right resources that you need to look at for solving various problems. So they could be simple concepts that they’re having problems with and someone could just tell you that go to this resource and you will completely understand exactly what to do. The problem with the websites today is you’ve got so much information, it’s almost like an overburdening of information and you just don’t know what to learn there from.
Will Bachman: And you also offer corporate training. I’m curious what types of companies are engaging you to train their employees. Most companies don’t want to have employees take three and a half months off, so how do you typically structure those? Are they shorter, more intense, or more focused? Talk to me about the corporate training piece a little bit.
Rak Chugh: Yes, so typically the corporate training is very customized to the corporates. So they come to us and they say that here’s a set of people that we’ve got and maybe we should ramp them up on these concepts. So we work with them on customizing a curriculum that makes sense. It could be a much, it could be over two weeks, it could be over on weekend, it could be extended course, which goes on for awhile. But we essentially build the curriculum with them. We make sure that the resources from our side are available to teach their curriculum. It could be a combination of business and technology. So often what happens is let’s say we have been teaching a Blockchain course, and the company folks may not understand all the different use cases of the Blockchain that can be used in their companies. So they typically ask for some business folks to come in and explain to the executives as to what are the applications that would be applicable for them. But at the same time, be teaching a pretty rigorous technology course to the tech people.
So it’s a combination of the two, if you will. But it’s typically for specific things that the company is requiring really to bridge the gaps in their knowledge, if you will. So be created specifically for their needs. This is different than a company just sending their employees to one of our programs because if you come to one of our programs, existing programs, the curriculums are pretty set and it’s trying to teach in a pretty regimental manner, if you will, the curriculum that we’ve already got. So the corporate training is more customized according to what the corporates need.
Will Bachman: So interesting to that you have even folks that are coming right out of college that universities aren’t necessarily nailing these kinds of topics, which are being demanded by the market, but they haven’t maybe caught up and aren’t teaching them so that people need to go to non-university type settings to learn these [crosstalk 00:35:17].
Rak Chugh: You’re absolutely right. I’ve actually been very surprised. We’ve actually had computer science majors from great universities who have come to us. I would have thought that they would have completely ramped up on various technology skills and such, but oftentimes, what happens is they understand the theoretical concepts behind it, but when it actually comes to doing something and creating an application or something to that effect, they’re lacking in a huge way.
We’ve definitely had computer science majors on the end, but also there’s a bunch hof very smart liberal arts majors. You may have learned history or English or something to that affect and then you’re realizing that you need to use some of these tech concepts in your job. Those guys pick up very fast and they’re able to ramp up very fast, but it just gets you the skills that you need to get a job.
Will Bachman: Yeah. That’s great. Let’s turn the conversation to part two. I want to talk about the edChain. So talk to me a little bit about that.
Rak Chugh: Sure. So what we did was we had two campuses. One in India, one out here. We were trying to scale education and we’ve been doing this for the last three, four years now. We’ve been trying to scale education globally because it makes sense to have something where you’re reducing cost of education, but also improving the quality of education around the world. What we realized was that it seems very simple to do, but it hasn’t been done well enough. Also, there’s a lot of problems in trying to scale a quality educational program around the world, because oftentimes, either students are not learning correctly or you’ve got the teachers who are not getting incented correctly or they might not be able to track the progress of the students or whatever else. Or maybe the curriculum lacks.
So for a number of reasons, it doesn’t make sense. So what we did was we started working on this project where … So what edChain is, the simplest way to look at it is it’s a database of courses where any publisher, whether it’s Columbia University or if it’s like a single teacher who wants to publish their courses, they can safely publish their courses out here while having complete attribution and complete ownership on their course. So everything’s encrypted in this database of sorts. In addition to that, you can set up any payment scheme that you would want.
So look at this as a universal database of educational courses. This database then can be hooked up to any existing website or any existing educational portal that you may have, such that you can benefit from all the really good courses that are out there. There’s nothing like that out there, and frankly the reason it’s probably not been out there is that people don’t trust existing systems to, in a trustworthy manner, store and provide access to these courses. So the great thing about the Blockchain technologies are that you can encrypt stuff in a pretty nice manner, you can store it in a imitable ledger where you can see exactly who owned it and who owns it and where the payments should go for these courses and such. You can have the full transaction records in those courses and get full transparency also on who’s learning, what are they learning, how much have they learned, what the outcomes have been.
So essentially, there’s a huge amount of benefits that technologies actually provide.
Will Bachman: So how does it work? So let’s say that someone has developed a course and maybe it’s some videos, maybe it’s some workbooks, maybe it’s some lessons plans and exercises and tests and some guidance to the instructor on how to run the course and maybe even some feedback forms in the end. So they’ve developed the whole set of intellectual property. What would someone to do put that on edChain and, once it’s there, how would it work to get other people to use it? Just walk me through practically, how it actually works.
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so let’s say you’ve got let’s say 20, 25, 30 different files and different file types, which comprise a course. It could be videos, it could be audio recordings, it could be presentation materials, it could be papers, whatever it is. So there’s a mechanism to load all that coursework, if you will, and publish it. Now all that coursework would be attributed to you. So this would be owned by you, attributed to you, unless you specify that it should be owned by somebody else or you’ve got multiple owners or whatever else.
It will all be stored in an encrypted manner. Now once you’ve published the courses, students and other corporates or even schools can actually go through this database of courses and actually look at all the courses in a particular subject. Let’s say I want to look at all introduction to computer science courses. I’ll be able to see all the courses, but also importantly enough, you’ll be able to get the reviews from all the people who have used those courses. So just like in Amazon, you’ve got a collection of books that you can actually sort and search. You’ll be able to sort and search these courses and look at the prices. A bunch of these courses could be free. There’s a number of educational institutions who want to basically publish these courses for free. Or it could be there’s a small payment required for these courses.
So let’s say you are, again, you’re someone like Columbia University. Let’s say you link your website, existing website, through edChain. You may want to basically restrict only 50 courses from edChain. The rest of it, you want to basically leave it as is for Columbia University. So those 50 courses get pulled in in a uniform format into Columbia’s website, and you’d be able to utilize it just like you would any of the other Columbia courses and all of Columbia’s students will have access to it.
So similarly, any school, an educational institution can benefit from a really good quality of courses from publishers worldwide and be able to access them in whichever manner that the publisher’s enabling you to access it. So the important thing is that the publishers feel secure in publishing the courses out there and from a user’s perspective that you’ve got all the sorting and the searching and the classification in a manner where you can actually utilize these courses in a very efficient manner.
There’s a huge amount of benefits to doing this, by the way. Firstly, the technologies that we’ve created, you’ll be able to utilize these courses for the first time without having access to the internet. Right? So for example, you’re in a classroom in some remote part of Africa and you’ve loaded up a course or at least one person in a classroom of 30 people has loaded up a course through a storage device or through a slow internet connection. The rest of the 30 people in the class can access these courses through the peer to peer connectivity technologies, which are already existing in the Blockchain if you were.
The only thing every person would require is a means to unlock each of the courses. It’s actually huge, because when you look at the courses, they could span over a period of three, four months. It could be you need to spend a huge amount of bandwidth to access these courses. But once you’ve got it in some kind of a local area network or whatever, then you don’t need to access the central server to access these courses.
The big benefits are you’ll be able to access best of breed course materials anywhere in the world. Look at this really as a Wikipedia for courses. So it’s an open source project institution where if a school wants to contribute its project, we’re happy to have them contribute its project, they’re gonna have creators on the network to keep noneducational material away from this network. So there’s a huge amount of benefits. Even when you’re thinking about funding for courses, a lot of people are very … They want to make sure that people get educated correctly around the world and here you’re going to be able to get full transparency for where your funding dollars are going, what the overhead is, who’s learning what, what the outcomes of the courses are, are people getting jobs after taking these courses. So there’s a huge amount of benefits from that perspective.
Will Bachman: And at what stage is edChain now? Is it currently up and running and operational? Could I go online and find the courses there?
Rak Chugh: No. So it’s working in a prototype that we built out and building new features on it and such. But we will go into production soon enough out here. Our attempt is that when we go into production, there’s gonna be something like 30,000 courses on it. So it’s gonna have some really good courses from some of the bigger universities in the world. At least the first fee is, given the fact that you’ve got all these open courses that have been published by some really good universities and schools. Just in that form, it’s gonna be very useful because it’s gonna be all free courses, really good quality of courses to [inaudible 00:45:05] the technology.
The second phase would be where people basically start publishing courses where there’s payments required and such.
Will Bachman: That’s amazing. So what do the courses actually look like? So if you go online to some of the massively online open courses today, some of them might be just lectures or some of them would be short lectures with little quizzes in between or it might be lectures where then you actually have to do some programming or write something and it will grade your program if it works, like on Udacity, I took a Python course there. So some of them are very interactive. Can edChain accommodate that full range of types of material? Or is it limited to certain applications?
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so you know, it’s gonna have all the materials you would require for any course. But at the same time, the learning management system that we’ve going to release in the first phase, it’s gonna be an open source learning management system. So it may have restrictions on what it can do on day one. But at the same time, it doesn’t restrict, for example, Coursera, Udacity, or one of those existing platforms, to pull courses from edChain.
So if someone’s got a nice front end or whatever or some kind of a learning system which they’ve got an already established user base for, they’ll be able to benefit from edChain because they’ll be able to get a lot more courses on it.
Also, it provides … What I’ve actually been very surprised about in this [inaudible 00:46:40] piece is that when you look at the educational universe, less than 2% of all educational materials are digitized today. So the entire effort is to grow that number in a large manner. Oftentimes when we speak to schools and other institutions, what we’re realizing is they may just be looking at this as a way to digitize the content in a uniform, trusted network, if you will. Such that they can use it themselves. So it may for their use, initially. There will be different use cases that come about.
And also, when you really look at how many people are learning with online courses and such, that number’s approximately 60 million people. But the population of the world is 7.5 billion people. So the question is why aren’t more people around the world … I would have thought that this would have been in the 100s of millions of people at least. I think the fact that we’re going to be able to provide these courses to people who don’t have access to internet or actually reduce the cost of some of these courses just because of the scale of more people using these courses, I think that’s gonna have, hopefully, an impact on the educational world.
Will Bachman: So for an independent professional who has developed some content, maybe they’ve developed a talk and are happy to put it out there for free, or they’ve actually invested in building a whole training program, like how to use CRM system or how you use a CRM system for a consulting firm or here is how to do hypothesis trees. Here’s how to structure a consulting document. Here’s how to do due diligence. So someone has put together some intellectual property. There’s various avenues today to do something. You could put some free videos on YouTube, if you want to make it free. You could create a course for LinkedIn and maybe get paid for it. And LinkedIn, I’m sure, gets a margin or something.
If someone wanted to explore taking their content and was interested in putting it on edChain, what would the path for that look like?
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so we would provide all the tools for people to publish their courses on here. Really, what we’re thinking is that people would do whatever they’re doing with the courses right now, but in addition, it won’t be a huge investment on their part, in addition, to publish the same courses on edChain. Because it’s their IP, it’s their content. They can price it however they want. So even if you can get 100 more customers for the person, that would be incremental from everything else that they may be able to get. What we’re seeing is, for example, the current platforms for education, they charge anywhere from 20% to 40% margin on top of what the dollars are that the publishers get. We try and reduce that number down to 1%.
Will Bachman: 1%? That’s pretty good.
Rak Chugh: Exactly. Meaning that we want to bring down the cost for education and really create a platform which gets connected around the world. Our hope is that this thing gets connected into every school, every university that we can get a hold of. If we can set up the ecosystem in the right manner, then everyone benefits.
The other thing that we’re noticing is that a lot of people who are creating courses ,they typically start from scratch. They may have some knowledge, they may have some textbooks, they may have some videos from YouTube or wherever else. But mostly, they’re constructing the courses from scratch and really it doesn’t make sense in my mind. What they should be doing is take the best of breed course in a particular area and then improve on it. So maybe the best of breed courses costs $5, you do a bunch of improvements and sell it for $7 or $10 or whatever. So everyone down the chain gets paid on that coursework, just because you are giving full attribution and payments for any use of the course. Whether it’s another course and consumer.
So I think that will make a huge difference because it doesn’t make sense in this day and age to be creating stuff from scratch. There’s such a large body of knowledge already out there. You should be putting the effort into creating new stuff or improving existing course ware if you will.
Will Bachman: So you could actually find existing course material and add to it or you take some lectures from different courses that are already published on there, you put them together and you add some of your own material, and you could publish that as a edited courses and the original owners of the different pieces that you took would each get some portion of the payment?
Rak Chugh: Exactly. Exactly. That’s the … I think it’s going to improve the collaboration, it’s going to improve the quality of these courses. And as a result, I think the world benefits from that. Now of course you could limit it. If you’re a publisher and you didn’t want anyone to be pre-creating stuff on top of that, you could limit that. But I would imagine that most publishers are going to be okay with it as long as they’re getting paid whatever they think is duly theirs, if you will, on a particular course.
So I think all kinds of [inaudible 00:52:11] and combinations are gonna be possible. But really, for the first … Like today, if you go into two really good colleges. Let’s say you go to Stanford and MIT, you can’t compare courses between Stanford and MIT. Stanford’s gonna say every single course, of course, of theirs is beautiful and really top notch. MIT’s gonna say the same thing. But the reality is, both those awesome institutions probably have some courses which are not world class. It makes sense for people to know exactly what they’re learning in each of these institutions. Of course, both those institutions have online courses. So you may want to mix and match between the two. You may want to take a course at Stanford’s proposition, you may want to take some courses from MIT, you may want to take some courses from some Chinese websites, just because they have some better content or better teaching methods or whatever.
So I think, for the first time, you’ll be able to have a choice. You’ll be able to compare the courses across each other, you’ll be able to centralize your outcomes. So if you’ve got transcripts or certifications from different learning websites and learning systems, you’ll be able to consolidate all your outcomes and their records and their certifications in one place and provide access to that, whichever employees you want.
So the idea is to really centralize as much as possible. I mean, not really centralize, but really distributive architecture, have stuff where you can mix and match stuff from different places and really figure out what’s best for you.
Will Bachman: Got it. With Bye Academy as well as with edChain, talk to me about what credentials you provide to the graduates who successfully complete the courses.
Rak Chugh: So at Byte Academy, we provide certification for each of the course that people complete. So you will get certifications for each of the courses, but at the same time, because our name is not as well known as let’s say MIT, you may want to have an undergraduate degree and then you may want to have some courses from places like MIT, like Byte Academy or other places. The composite makes a whole lot of sense. Especially in the complete body of knowledge that you may have got or at least the learning that you’ve had. What we’re seeing is nowadays a lot of trend towards lifelong learning. So you’re going to learn something in your undergraduate years, but then you’re going to keep learning as things change over time.
Will Bachman: I can’t help think during our conversation about this book I just read, The Case Against Education by Bryan Kaplan. He talks about how yes, graduates of college and graduates of graduate school get a income premium among people who don’t even have a high school degree or don’t have a college degree. He suggests that a big part of that premium is due to the signaling factor of having gone to college and not necessarily the human capital or the skills that you learn.
So what’s interesting to me about Byte Academy is that people are paying for it, probably not so much for the signaling value of the credential, but truly thinking that their income will go up based on the skills that they’re learning. So they could walk out almost even without the credential, but they walk out with new skills in their head that have commercial value in the marketplace.
Rak Chugh: No, absolutely. And I think that’s precisely how we’re trying to reinvent education and change education, if you will. So in some of our programs in the US, for example, what we do is we provide a tuition guarantee. Or actually a job guarantee. What that really means is that if you’re not able to get a job within six months, we will reimburse you your tuition dollars. Because our entire thing is that if we cannot get you a job after you graduate from a course at Byte Academy, and let’s say you’ve done everything that we’ve asked you to do, then really we’ve failed somehow. So we should be reimbursing you your tuition out there.
So it keeps us very aligned to what the job market needs, but also as to what is the best way to get the right outcomes.
Will Bachman: How do you work with employers? You mentioned earlier employers will tell you, hey, we’re looking for people with this kind of skill or that kind of skill. You have strong relationships where either they’re providing referral fees to get access to students, or is it just more of a friendly relationship where it’s good for you and it’s good for them to get access to talent? Talk to me about how the Byte Academy interacts with employers.
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so we know a lot of employers because they’ve approached us on their own. But at the same time, I think the best way to work with employers on our side has been where they provide a lot of bandwidth from their side, they come on campus with us, they do events with us, they teach us during some and they really spend the time with our students, if you will. If you can actually do that and the students are benefiting from what employers are doing and they like the employers, then I think it’s a win-win, both sides.
It’s not about referral fees, we’re not charging any of the employers for hiring from us. It’s really about them spending time and adding value for the students.
Will Bachman: It’s good for you when your students get hired by these employers. So you’re investing in building those relationships.
Rak Chugh: No, of course. Of course. But at the same time, the strongest students get picked up. There are multiple employers going after the same students. So then it’s really about if you really want the best graduates, you really do want to spend the time with the students and on campus. We’ve seen that same thing in some of the larger universities where companies are spending a huge amount of time trying to talk with the students and the graduating class and such. And it’s no different out here.
Will Bachman: What form does it take? Do they stop by? Do representatives of these companies stop by during lunch or something just to mingle? Or is there a formal program where they can come and talk about their company?
Rak Chugh: No, so typically we’ll work with the companies to create all kinds of programs with them. We’ve had office hours from companies where they’ve had office hours on campus. We’ve had talks by the companies. They provide us free software, for example, to use by our students. Sometimes they mentor students, their final projects. So get involved with the final projects and such. We’ve had [Hackathons 00:59:17] with companies. We have lots of events. One of the big things that we’ve done is we built up a pretty nice community in a number of places, including in London and New York and Chicago and India, both Bangalore and Mumbai, and in Singapore, where we’ve got lots of different events that we’re having with various companies to give exposure to the companies, but also to really create things which add value to the companies.
Will Bachman: And talking about this community, so it sounds like you have a big list serve of people that are interested and then you send out to announce these events. How does the community interact with each other?
Rak Chugh: Yeah, so most of the community that we’ve built up right now has been in person. So we have a lot of events. So it could be an evening event, it could be a [Hackathon 01:00:07], it could be a workshop on the weekends. But increasingly, what they’re finding is, especially with our remote program, that we’ve started building a community on the web, and I think out there it’s gonna be growing much, much faster because you don’t need to visit us in New York City or wherever our campus is, you can just be accessing whatever the knowledge is or whatever the learning is online and you can just log in to one of our webcasts and learn something, which is interesting to you.
Will Bachman: That is amazing. So Rak, here as we wrap up, what are some of the best ways to find, for folks who are interested, to find your company online. I see your website is byteacademy.co, and that’s B-Y-T-E academy.co. Any other places where people should look? Twitter or anywhere else?
Rak Chugh: Yeah. We’re actually active on Twitter, we’re active on Medium, we’re active on Telegram now. We’re active on a number of different social media sites. We’ve definitely got a presence on Facebook if someone wants to interact on there. But we’ve also got community Slack channels where you can just join and just interact with us. It doesn’t have to be interacting with any of the staff members, but also interacting with other people in the community. If you go to our website, there’s links for all those on our website. You should definitely interact with any of those mediums that you feel comfortable.
We do have very frequent events, so if you are next to one of our campuses or if we’re holding an event near your city, definitely come say hi.
Will Bachman: And where can people find those events? Are they all on your website?
Rak Chugh: We’ve got various meet ups. So if you go to meetup.com or eventbright, you should be able to see a number of events off there. We do announce it on our website, of course, but if you’re subscribed to any of our meet up groups, you will see all the events that we are advertising.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Well, Rak, this was awesome. Thank you so much for taking some time to tell me about what you’re doing and how people are investing in building their skills for what the economy demands. This was really cool. Thanks.
Rak Chugh: Thank you. Thanks a lot.