Photo Credit: Kuba Bożanowski via Compfight cc

One of my goals for 2013 is to learn enough about programming to build and release publicly a simple web application that does something interesting.

I’ve been working toward this goal for about a month and wanted to share some thoughts on it so far. In this post, I’ll share my history with programming and why I’ve dedicated myself toward this goal. In a later post, I’ll talk more about how it’s progressing.

My history with programming

In high school and college, I took a few basic computer science courses. I learned Java and Python, played with if/then statements and while loops, and built little applications that did things like simulate games of Craps.

While it was interesting, I struggled with the assignments and learned more towards basic sciences, like biology, where simply mastering a lot of content was enough to get good grades. I didn’t pursue advanced studies in CS.

In September 2010, I made my first attempt at learning Ruby on Rails. Back then I was still working at isocket as a business guy and not a founder.  I made a number of mistakes, including not having a learning plan and trying to start on the newly updated versions of Ruby and Rails at the time (1.9.2 and 3.0.0, respectively). Continue reading

reasons why you need to teach a class on skillshare

After taking a class on UX Design for Non Designers via Skillshare, I got the teaching bug and taught my first skillshare class a few weeks ago on creating compelling web content that gets read as part of Skillshare’s  SF Tech Semester.

So how did it go?

It was a great experience. Skillshare has really built a wonderful platform and fostered a positive community where people are excited to teach and learn from one another. I had 7 brave souls show up for this newbie’s class and gave them everything I’ve learned about blogging and building an audience.

I think everyone should try teaching a class via Skillshare. They’re in tons of major cities like San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Austin, Portland, and more and there are a lot of good reasons why you should take the plunge. Here are five:

1) Empower people with new knowledge and skills, and the motivation to use them

Maybe you’re thinking – “But there’s nothing I can teach!” Baloney. If you’re reading this blog post, there are probably a few topics/subject matters that you know significantly more than the average person and that people would pay money to have you teach.

Whether it’s getting started with Python, navigating your way through a big music festival, tricking out your Gmail inbox or knitting 101, there’s probably something you would enjoy teaching and could teach well. You don’t have to be the world’s expert – most classes on Skillshare are introductory level ones that people will little background in the subject can still take and enjoy.

And you’re not just imparting information, as a teacher, you are imparting passion. One student left me this kind review: “I learned a lot, enjoyed listening to him as a speaker, and totally walked away inspired and empowered to start my blog, and start it well.”

The truth is, most people can learn the basics of blogging by searching on Google and Quora, following a few WordPress tutorials and reading Copyblogger articles. As a teacher, one of the greatest things you can provide is your sense of passion and excitement to this subject and show them where they can take these skills/knowledge to. And that can be a great feeling.

2) Consolidate (and expand) your area of expertise

You’re going to learn a lot from teaching the class. If you’ve never taught something before, you’ll quickly realize that there’s no better way to understand a subject area than to try to teach it. As I built the Keynote deck that formed the foundation of my class, I was looking things up, grabbing links, re-reading blog posts, watching videos and basically immersing in the topic of blogging.

Before you can really teach something well, you need to deeply and full understand it. If you are interested in knowing more about your field or honing your craft, I assure you that teaching a class on it will only bolster that cause.

3) Improve your communication skills

The best teachers aren’t simply domain experts. They are great communicators. It’s obvious that the people who have had the greatest influence in our society aren’t just smart or skilled or knowledgeable. They were incredible at delivering a clear and compelling message: Jobs. Gandhi. King. Churchill.

Teaching a class forces you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, think about how they see the world and build upon what they already know. For my class, I kind of struggled on how to present everything I knew until I ironed out the four-part framework:

Identifying your audience -> Content Generation -> Writing nuts & bolts -> Distribution / readership.

This made everything else much easier. Each section had important big ideas, resources and knowledge. I also created an short exercise and opened up Q&A between each section to break the class up and make it interactive.

Teaching a class on Skillshare forces you to become a better communicator and that’s a really valuable skill to have.

4) Connect with people in your field/extended network/city

Teaching a class on Skillshare is a great way to connect with people in your area – in real life! I think online education is incredible – things like Udacity, Udemy and Khan Academy are fantastic initiatives and are making our society better. But there’s something special about an in person class that forms a special connection.

My friend Derek Flanzraich has taught his class on growing to 750k uniques in under a year several times on Skillshare and he tells me that everytime, he’s developed a relationship with at least one interesting person who ends up being able to help his company Greatist in some way. I’m not saying that all connections need to be professional or work related, but the fact is, by sharing your passions via this class, you are likely to bump into people interested in similar things and it’s totally like you’ll hit it off well with your students.

5) Make some dough

Let’s face it – getting paid to do something fun is like the best of both worlds. With the money you earn from your Skillshare class, you can go treat your friends to a round of drinks, splurge on that icon set you’ve been savoring over or take that weekend getaway.

I charged $30 for my first class and with eight students, ended up making $204 after Skillshare’s fees. I raised the price by $5 because now this class is more of a sure thing and I expect to sell out. I’m not doing this class for the money, but the money isn’t bad.


So think about it. Brainstorm a list of potential classes you could teach, take a look at what’s being offered in your city and jump in. Even if you just teach a 45 min class in a coffee shop for 3 people – I promise you’re going to get something out of it.

Oh and by the way – I liked teaching my class so much I’m doing it again.

“I’ve Read Your Blog” : Creating Compelling Web Content

Wednesday May 16th from 7:30pm – 9pm at NextSpace in SF. First 5 people to sign up using this code: BLOGFTW will get 50% off the price of admission. Check it out!

Blogging not your thing? Check out my buddy Al Abut’s class: Intro to HTML & CSS! I’m signed up for his May 24th class.

As the cofounder of a collaborative consumption startup, I do my best to try all kinds of “sharing economy” services like Couchsurfing, TaskRabbit, Airbnb, Vayable, Grubwithus and Skillshare. I even blogged about my experience taking a UX Design for Non-Designers Skillshare class.

But there’s of course generally two sides to these products – the consumer and the producer. In Couchsurfing, theres the host and the surfer. In Vayable there’s the guide and the explorer. And in Skillshare there is the student and the teacher. It’s important to get both perspectives when you can.

I’ve worked hard to avoid blogging about blogging here at The Art of Ass-Kicking. The vast majority of my posts are on overcoming your fears, doing great work and making epic sh*t happen.

At the same time, in building this blog up, I have learned some great lessons about creating compelling content, discovering my audience and attracting 100,000+ visits over 2011.

And I’m sharing what I’ve learned in a class.

Continue reading

One lesson I’ve learned is that launching always takes longer than you think. If I got paid every time I heard a founder say their product was “two to three weeks away from launch” I could start angel investing.

Case in point: it’s been over a month since I said I was almost done with my cool YC-related project.

Well, better late than never is my motto. Last week I put up what I called the Unofficial Guidebook for Y Combinator Applicants at In it, I shared everything I’ve learned from applying to Y Combinator, getting in, going through the program, understanding more about how the YC partners think and connecting with other founders.

I had friends who were applying to Y Combinator and asked for my advice so I would review their application. But I felt like most of my best advice was about how think about applying rather than specific feedback on their application. I wrote up a Google Doc on my thoughts on each section (team, idea, distribution, video, etc) and over the past few months have fleshed it out to what it is now – a 20,000 word guide on every aspect of the YC application process.

I put it up on Hacker News and in 24 hours got 6,500+ unique visitors spending over three-and-a-half minutes per visit. It was really great to know that people were digging my stuff.

After that, I worked closely with the awesome team at Hyperink, (a YC company that’s transforming publishing) and we were able to put together a beautifully laid out and carefully edited 92 page document that’s available as a free PDF download and also in mobi and epub versions in just 10 days.

It took longer than I expected – because I went through and re-edited several sections to make it as clear and readable as possible. I also integrated feedback from various YC partners who commented on the content. The Hyperink team did an amazing job turning things around quickly and professionally.

The result is something I’m proud to share with you.

Get your free copy of Guide to YC here.

I hope you enjoy the guide and I’d love to hear any feedback you have on the book. Please rest assured: regular blog posting will resume shortly.

Photo credit by Nils Öhman

I’m very interested in excellence and mastery. Part of this is personal – I don’t think I’m the master of anything – and part of it is intellectual – I just find it interesting to understand how the people can learn to perform amazingly difficult tasks with ease. I even wrote a post all about what gymnastics taught me about skill acquisition and mastery.

So this week’s Link Roundup isn’t focused on a piece of breaking news or industry trend – it’s focused more on the best places to learn about deliberate practice – which is the term for the special kind of training that leads to mastery – and the 10,000 hour rule – which is a rough rule of thumb noted by psychology researchers as the point in which expert level performance is typically (if ever) achieved.

We start with the mother of the all – the 44 page paper published in Psychological Review in 1993 that features the phrase “deliberate practice” and cites the decade mark as point where “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”. Article: “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” [PDF].

Geoff Colvin published an article called “Talent is Overrated” in Fortune Magazine which became the basis of a book by the same name. In the article, he really digs deep into the elements that make deliberate practice special, and effective.

If you want to get some perspective on how deliberate practice and excellence can be applied to the working world, check out Tony Schwartz’s post on the “Six Keys to Becoming Excellent in Anything” in the Harvard Business Review blog section.

My favorite book on this subject is actually called the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle as his features more on musicians (I played violin back in the day) and athletes (I was a gymnast for 16 years). His pre-book article is called “How to Grow a Super-Athlete” and while long, I really like this article for it’s emphasis on coaching. Deliberate practice is nearly impossible to implement alone.

If you want to see deliberate practice in action, then you’ll want to watch Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, as he guides a 15 year old boy through an inspired cello lesson in front a crowd of people at the PopTech conference in 2008.

Lastly, we can look at how the 10,000 hour rule applies to research from the insights out of Cal Newport’s blog Study Hacks in his post: Beyond The 10,000 Hour Rule – Richard Hamming and the Messy Art of Becoming Great where he looks at the advice the late great digital communications innovator had for researchers looking to be more prolific and impactful.