Monday, June 28, 2010

"Math" is a Dead Language

Dale Dougherty:

At Zoho, Sridhar created a program, which he called a "university" but it was nothing like a normal university. He began working with kids who had a high school education and who were unlikely to attend college for economic reasons. He didn't care if they had no previous computer experience. He didn't care that they didn't speak English.

Once in the program, the students were paid a stipend to attend each day. The program lasted 9-12 months and then the students entered a one-year apprenticeship program. After two years, the students were ready to be productive employees in an IT company. About 100 kids so far have been through the program.

The program offered concrete, hands-on instruction designed to follow how someone who was self-taught would learn. (The first teacher was himself a self-taught programmer.) They were expected to spend the bulk of the time learning on their own. The students were taught very little theory, avoiding computer science altogether. Instead students practiced solving problems and doing real work. They learn programming, English (many only know Tamil), and math. None of the students really like math and they learn just enough. Sridhar made a comment that might shock educators and employers: "Math is the new Sanskrit, the new Latin." He believes we overestimate the value of math as a tool to assess a student's ability.

Sridhar believes that finding new sources of talent outside the university was important for his company to remain competitive. Now, they have employees who are passionate about their work. By discovering raw talent and developing it, and by having the same expectations of them as college-trained engineers, Zoho has created a fast-track to new opportunities for young people in India who would otherwise not have that opportunity.

I've worked with plenty of kids who I'd happily have paid $50,000 a year to program straight out of high school.

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