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Top Hat Raises $22M to Go After Pearson, McGraw-Hill (bloomberg.com)
255 points by axiom on Feb 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 160 comments



I teach biology at a community college and most of the services listed in that article wouldn't improve my courses. I've already switched three of my four courses over to open textbooks, which students can download for free or purchase for the cost of printing. I use Openstax for these.

https://openstax.org/subjects

For the online learning software, I've also dumped the publisher products and switched to the free spaced-repetition software Memrise.

I think most of my colleagues will be moved over to open educational resources within fifteen years, and I'm not sure there's long-term profit to be made in this market.


>I think most of my colleagues will be moved over to open educational resources within fifteen years, and I'm not sure there's long-term profit to be made in this market.

As a student, I'm not sure I agree with this. I think there's a lot of value in having a really well laid out, well designed textbook with good examples and illustrations. Especially in lower division classes where you end up mostly teaching yourself the material from the text anyways. Most of the open courseware I've had to deal with in classes was extremely sub par compared to actual textbooks.

I think if someone could create textbooks at the quality of Pearson in the range of $20-$50 instead of $100-$200, I would be happy to pay for better materials.


Check out https://cogenteducation.com/products when you have a chance. We make interactive case studies for biology that go much further than any textbook, digital or otherwise.

We have a free trial: https://cogenteducation.com/trial

full disclosure: I'm a developer there


> I think most of my colleagues will be moved over to open educational resources within fifteen years, and I'm not sure there's long-term profit to be made in this market.

Sounds like he's looking for a free solution, not trialware.


"Interactive case studies" is a value-add that might be worth paying for.


Yeah, that's why I threw this out there. Our cases are intended to supplement a textbook, not replace it.


What will you be paying with after your 5 to 30k/year tuition? You can't bleed a stone.


I agree. It's rare for a teacher to pay for our cases out of their own pocket; it's generally the school system who purchases a package out of their yearly budget.


I absolutely hated Top Hat during my undergrad. It was just another thing I had to buy that teachers used as an excuse to be lazy because it was ~interactive~. You were so tied to a device for all your classes that if multiple teachers used it it wound up becoming a pain.

I noticed it was mostly instructors who taught one-off elective/strictly credit classes that used it in almost a punitive way to make sure you paid attention to them.

edit - another ironic thing regarding the title of the article, is that the instructors would upload the Pearson, McGraw, etc provided slides with the textbook to tophat.


Do you really expect an underpaid adjunct not to outsource the grading to the department's textbook company of choice? Adjuncts don't get to pick textbooks.

But what's with the griping about textbook publishers? The overreliance on adjuncts allows the university to charge lower tuition and the publishers make the feat possible!


So the cost should be pushed onto me instead? I understand the struggles of adjuncts and grad-students as they were most of my friends in Undergrad because I came into school older. But not one of them used Top Hat or a clone equivalent.


The cost will continue to be passed on to you until there is a robust discussion about the financing model and the working conditions in academia. If any change is going to happen it's going to come through student effort; despite their protestations the position of the unions and the professors is to preserve the status quo. Back then we'd call this "revolutionary consciousness".

The goals of the students will also need to be taken into account. A colleague gave up giving detailed comments on the lab protocols he graded, the only thing the students were interested in was the grade. My experience matches. It's understandable, at our institution students mostly plump for medical school or associated profession, and it's the grade that counts, not the subject knowledge. The GPA really haunts you.


I'm sorry you're so jaded, but how is textbook/online pricing not relevant to the financing model? There's no need to dismiss that avenue of conversation.


>But what's with the griping about textbook publishers? The overreliance on adjuncts allows the university to charge lower tuition and the publishers make the feat possible!

Not all publishers. Just those that make trivial, minor changes that prevent you from using used books for classes.

Also, the whole "Let's create a separate text book for each university" thing.


As a developer in the Toronto area, I suspect I would be working for Top Hat if their recruiters were better. I've had two or three interactions with them and each time they completely dropped the ball.

Extra funding is great, but if they can't hire, they can't use it.


I went through the interview process with them several years ago (when they were still called Top Hat Monocle). I basically got very positive feedback from the interview process, until I had to interview with the CEO. Apparently the reason given by the CEO for torpedoing me was that I didn't have enough projects on my Github account so I didn't "love the web" enough.

Take from that what you will about their attitude towards hiring (taking into account that this was 3+ years ago). That said, I haven't met anyone from Top Hat that I personally had a bad opinion of.


Seriously? Not every project can be in a public repo, are all their projects on open repos? Some of us host our own or use different sites because we've been using git longer than github. Also, love the "web". It's called the Internet, are you a tech CEO or not? I love how critical they are because you didn't conform to their specific idea of how coders share their code and communicate. Someone can be pro open source, and have lots of projects ongoing but host their own gitlab, IRC server, etc, they share with their community or started long before github was a thing.

I also can't imagine someone whose in this field that doesn't "love the web". Github is good, but it's not the only way to do it.


I agree it's ridiculous to get to be turned down for that reason at that point. If that was their attitude, they could at least be efficient about it for their own sake and out candidates.

But, in general, I think you should consider the other side of the argument. The "problem" is that people without public profiles are competing with people with. And if you're looking at candidates and someone has code online that looks promising after a brief examination, I think it's reasonable to take that into account.

It's not that the other person is lazy or "doesn't love the web".


If "It's not that the other person is lazy or "doesn't love the web"." then why is it "reasonable to take that into account?" Those two sentiments seem to contradict each other.

The real problem here is that there is now yet another terrible signal being used as a measure of acceptability in the vetting and interview process.

"Have some GitHub/GitLab/etc profiles" is in the same category as "give the most personable person in the office promotions and raises".


> "Have some GitHub/GitLab/etc profiles" is in the same category as "give the most personable person in the office promotions and raises".

Sorry, it's not at all in the same category, because it's actual output of work. Being able to look at actual code written by the person you're considering hiring is a really great measure of acceptability.

I think we are all agreeing that it's not reasonable to reject someone due to lack of published code. Latch is trying to point out the reality of the situation:

> The "problem" is that people without public profiles are competing with people with.

If you are considering two candidates, who seem more or less equal on every level, but one has an extensive amount of published good quality code and the other does not, it's less risk to hire the one with code.

It's very hard to judge someone's work quality based on personality. I've hired people who seemed good when talking to them but turned out to be not very great developers. I've also hired people who seemed questionable when talking to them, but had decent code samples and/or published code and also turned out to be good or great developers.

I guess to be fair I've never hired anyone who seemed like they'd make a poor developer, had no code samples to prove otherwise, and did badly on coding tests, so maybe I'm missing some great developers who aren't very personable or good under pressure. Frankly I'm okay with that, because I am absolutely positive most of the people in that category are in fact poor developers.


> Sorry, it's not at all in the same category, because it's actual output of work. Being able to look at actual code written by the person you're considering hiring is a really great measure of noacceptability.

Unless you have a way to verify the source of the code is the candidate with some level of confidence this isn't different from picking the office peacock for promotion.

> If you are considering two candidates, who seem more or less equal on every level, but one has an extensive amount of published good quality code and the other does not, it's less risk to hire the one with code.

How is it less risk, assuming one came to the "equal on every level" decision by some means that evaluates their proficiency reasonably well? The only thing having self-published code signals is a willingness and desire to have one's code public. I haven't seen an actual argument justifying your assertion regarding risk.


> Unless you have a way to verify the source of the code is the candidate with some level of confidence this isn't different from picking the office peacock for promotion.

This is why I specifically said 'less risk' rather than saying something like 'would 100% be a great hire'. You have to vet everything a candidate says and shows you, including their credentials and past experience. Some people lie on their resumes, unfortunately.

In the worst case, they are a good enough liar to get through the hiring process and you find out later they can't write code or don't actually know the things they said they know, so you fire them (and hopefully you figure this out during a probationary period).

> The only thing having self-published code signals is a willingness and desire to have one's code public.

I was conflating 'public' with 'available to be seen by the interviewer' in my argument, but it doesn't change what I'm trying to get across. Having code public has an advantage before the interview, when the employer only has the resumes to judge by. During the interview a candidate may also be able to show non-public code, but just being able to show any code gives an edge over no code.

Many, many, many people have no code show to show at all, generally because they wrote it for their previous employer. That's fine, but it puts them at a disadvantage over someone who can show code they wrote (public or not).

It's less risk because it's easier to judge someone by code than no code. I don't know why that isn't obvious. Let me put it this way: if you ask 10 programmers what "good" code is, you'll get 10 overlapping but distinct answers, and I think most programmers applying for a job are going to claim their code is 'good'. The trick is really figuring out if your definition of 'good' overlaps enough with my definition of 'good' that we can work together. We could discuss this for an hour or two and I could be 75% certain, or I could look at your code for 5-10 minutes and be 90+% certain.


Is it less risk to hire the open source guy? What if he spent a bunch of time at his last employer working on un-sanctioned projects? Will he do that to you as well?

Just playing devil's advocate.


I don't think it's reasonable at all unless you equally weigh other sources of evaluating coding ability. IMO it's the same as assuming all managerial applicants also have volunteer charity experience as a manager that they can document and show. Very few careers hinge on what you do in your spare time as long as that spare time isn't spent being a criminal.

edit: hell, it's also already a norm that you have to perform a pro-bono coding assignment as part of the interview process. It's ridiculous to expect an extensive spare-time open source effort plus 2-10 hours of free work for an interview.


> It's ridiculous to expect an extensive spare-time open source effort plus 2-10 hours of free work for an interview.

It's a bit of a misnomer to think that businesses expect (or require, as some put it). In reality, they can only weigh their options. Of course, the more options they have, the more particular they can be. It is not unreasonable to think that they had many suitable candidates, and the one who had the most visible evidence of past work became the preferred choice of the group.

Mentioning to the OP what helped cinched the deal for what candidate did get the job may have just been meant as a point of information. Of course, it's difficult to say what really happened without being an observer to the events that took place.


It's one thing to prioritize a candidate with a public profile over one without when determining the order in which to interview candidates.

But to reject a candidate, after he's interviewed by the CEO (so this would presumably be the last interview stage), because he doesn't have "enough" public projects and therefore doesn't "love the web" enough? I think that's stupid.

Edit: misread the parent, we are actually saying the same thing.


which is what I said.


That argument makes absolutely no sense. The candidate had made it to the point where they're being interviewed by the CEO. Any consideration of that has long since passed.


Maybe the CEO made the decision subconsciously and later rationalized the decision


Vast majority of people's decisions are made this way. CEO's are no different. Might be more so if they're moving super-fast managing a startup. So, this possibility should always be considered even if not stated as either the reason or a reason something happened.


The company's been around since 2009 apparently, I'm pretty sure they are no longer a startup, just a regular business that has to survive in the real world and all funding rounds are temporary loans.


Point still stands but without the rush factor of startups.


Also, love the "web". It's called the Internet, are you a tech CEO or not? I love how critical they are because you didn't conform to their specific idea of how coders share their code and communicate.

Quite recently, I had a conflict on social media, where some other programmer went halfway to doxxing me. Apparently, the worst thing he could imagine saying to someone was that "Your github sucks!" And in his mind that is sufficient for determining someone isn't a worthwhile person.

I remember when SourceForge held the same sway. Now look where it is now. (That said, I do plan on putting some more stuff up there. Though it would be hard to tell, I do have some code that is used commercially, even now.)


Weird CEO they have, looking at their github https://github.com/tophatmonocle it seems they dont do much OSS either.


The other thing to be aware is that the rationalization may be different than the reality of why he didn't choose you. The CEO may have found this an easier way to reject you.

In YC, there was this saying (in the context of VCs): believe the rejection, but not the reason. There's little upside in being honest.


Hi, I'm Alex, on the engineering team @ Top Hat.

I can't speak for back then (I joined after the Top Hat rename), but I'd like to clear up our current practices. We definitely appreciate when candidates have projects or code publicly visible, but understand that not everyone hones their craft through open-source work for one reason or another and would not hold it against someone if their coding contributions weren't public.


You are lucky - you could have been hired. It's a horrible place to work -I've got first hand experience.


Read through their GlassDoor reviews, it suggests they're an awful company on both the dev and sales side. And that means thatm at this point, their product probably isn't very good because devs keep leaving. Which means it'll be a mountain of technical debt to deal with and of course the inevitable, "omg we must have new features X, Y, and Z".

They're no longer a startup, yet they act like it. If they didn't raise more cash I would suspect that they would be out of business in a few short years.


Sucks because I'd like to see real disruption in the text book industry. It's like trying to compete against Wal-Mart .. I still shop at Target/Kroger/et. al, but I realize they now employ a lot of the same supply chain practices Wal-Mart started just to stay competitive.

So it makes me wonder if Top Hat, claiming to be disruptive and different, is or will eventually employee questionable practices just like the current industry.


I'm the founder/CEO of Top Hat I'd love to hear about your experience and what we can do better - my email is mike at tophat dot com

Hiring engineers is one of the most important things we need to get right, so I'd hate to think we're doing such a bad job at it. Really sorry that you've had a bad experience with us


Maybe not the suggestion you're looking for, but I'll take the opportunity to vent.

First and foremost, don't arbitrarily block Linux users for web interfaces. McGraw Hill does, or did in the past and so do others. I spent hours contacting their useless support and playing politics with the college to get this changed, to no avail. At first, I could simply change my useragent and sneak in, with everything working well enough. When they 'smartened up' (or whatever) a bit, they effectively kept me out thereafter. This was a very nasty and persistent problem for me and one I won't forget.

Also, I never once found McGraw Hill software helpful. It seemed a cheap, shameful way to employ 'professors' otherwise too inept and uncreative to manage their own coursework and classes. At the undergraduate level, many colleges are becoming odious rackets (by my observations). McGraw Hill et al are indispensable allies here. Be different, be effective, be honest about education. Real education isn't a gravy train.


It seemed a cheap, shameful way to employ 'professors' otherwise too inept and uncreative to manage their own coursework and classes.

You just found out the truth about textbook prices. What students are really paying for is the test bank for their assessment, the workload for today's instructors is just to great to be able to do paper coursework. In the past, you would have delegated grading to student assistants or the courseload would be smaller, nowadays you have "Mastering Physics" and whatnot. That, friends, is what "disrupting the market" is all about.


Funny, physical textbooks have never blocked me from using Linux, nor has physical paper coursework...


Exactly.

>Even as the big publishers work to increase the proportion of sales that come from digital products, they’re still largely dependent on physical books.

The other issue the large sum of money they want to charge per book. The cost of the books is so high that it is propping up "physical book" market. Mostly because publishers have offered no way to resell your digital or ebook. Lots of students buy used text books, and students that buy new often sell their books to recover some of the cost when they complete the class. The publishers see digital books as a way to prevent students from doing this so that everyone has to buy new (at the ridiculously high prices). The students are going to do what is economical for them, until the prices either drop significantly, or you offer an online marketplace where students can sell/trade digital books then physical college text book industry will be here to stay.


I can assure you, some colleges have worked out methods to prevent students from selling their used books too. I'll cite my previous, rinky-dink college that after a single semester, within the same year of book publication, would simply change the book required for the next course. They did this with all five of my courses. I was unable to resell a single book that I'd purchased new only four months previously.

Also to consider is the marketing of student biometrics or other private data garnered through such software, e.g. SmartThinking https://services.smarthinking.com/login/login.php, etc.

SmartThinking also blocked Linux and, in my opinion, provided no benefits to students at all. It was actually used to manage and grade the majority of our assignments. Seriously, the professor would have most assignments pre-graded by SmartThinking; it told the professor what to think! The whole system seemed an embarrassment.

EDIT: I should add that for the amount of time spent in "smarthinking", many physical classes could just as well be conducted remotely. Many students pay for a traditional course, but end up with the majority of their curriculum occurring remotely/digitally. If this is to be so, then the tuition should reflect accordingly and presently it doesn't. Also, I misspelled "smarthinking" by adding two "t"s.


Yeah, I was kind of hoping when I read the article title that this was someone actually making an impact in the school text space, but it seems to just be more of the same shitty software that provides no advantage over actual books, just with a different cost structure. Woo.


I am a current undergraduate student using TopHat software. My professor stated that he was unable to typeface using Latex for the class notes. This should be a feature if it hasn't been updated already.

Additionally, at my school there is a centralized online interface for professors and students to post notes, quizzes, updates about the course, grades, forum discussions etc. Myself and many students were upset when we had to pay for a 'premium' service which offered no features outside what was offered for free in all our other classes.

All I can say is in order for TopHat to impress STEM students they will have to be very creative in the features that they offer. Though they are sometimes liked by professors, interfaces like TopHat and McGraw-Hill/Pearson are almost universally seen as a rip off by students. Access to propriety notes isn't a feature when very few students pay for any textbooks in their STEM subjects.


My university has a platform very similar to TopHat - assignments, lecture notes, text, quizzes, grades, and all- but for free (or, included).

The only reason our Quantum Mechanics prof used TopHat instead was because it gave him the opportunity to gouge an extra $100 out of us for a terrible "textbook" that in any other class would be considered lecture notes, full of errors and typos, proof-read by nobody and held to no standard, with atrocious equation rendering and a terrible interface.

He ended up uploading our assignments to TopHat as PDFs but since it doesn't support PDF-viewing we just download those as zip files anyway. Our in-house service supports PDF-viewing in browser, along with powerpoint and other formats.

Not really sure why TopHat exists besides a way to gouge more money out of us students if we want to be enrolled in a course. I could get by without my professor's poor excuse for a textbook, but I would lose 5% immediately if I couldn't participate in the silly attendance system, and more for the online quizzes (although we could use our in-house system to the same effect) so I have no choice but to fork the money over straight to my professor's pocket. As if my 15k tuition wasn't already enough.


I would report that to their department head. I thought teachers assigning their books was a conflict, needing to shell out $100 for crappy notes is a scam.


A friend of mine was selected for a Support Role (that too, a temp one).

They had him and a bunch of other come in on the same day, and write a 16 page exam.

From what I understand, my friend didn't like the atmosphere and was already overqualified so he accepted another position.

But this left a bad taste in my mouth about their hiring practices - but then again, if they are continuing with this, it probably means that it works for them.


What was on the 16pg exam? that sounds ridiculous!


Everything from:

1. how you'd handle customers for various problems? (which seems fair enough).

2. some coding questions (my friend did this in matlab but they wanted him to do it in python).

3. some IQ questions

4. some questions about the platform (which my friend didn't have an idea about as he'd never used top hat before).


> some questions about the platform

I think it's useful to know whether an interviewee who has driven into your place of business is serious enough to spend 30 mins learning your platform.


It's fair if the website has useful content. I've been pinged before for not researching the company after their website basically said "we specialize in absolutely everything".


I called them out on this in one of the Who's Hiring posts they always comment on. This seems like a reallllyyyy obvious problem for them...


This reminds me of people calling out DeviantArt several years ago in Who's Hiring posts, and their hiring practices.

Which culminated in this blog post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3061860


What's interesting to me about the discussion in this article is how many people talked about wanting to adopt Google/Amazon's hiring process and how they liked the 7 interviews/whiteboarding way more than take-home assignments.

Call me weird, but I prefer the assignments than the mindless discussions about balancing trees and Big-Oh notation.


I think there is a place for both. Maybe not data structures, but things like application architecture and development practices are ripe for good discussion.

A well designed take home assignment, meanwhile can be a good filter, telling you immediately if the candidate knows the basics and has the added benefit of showing you strengths and weaknesses in their practice.


Having written a thesis about "balancing trees and Bih-Oh notation" I am saddened that you consider the topic mindless :)


I applied directly a few years ago (prompted from an ad at stack overflow), and response times were pretty reasonable.

The interviewing process itself was somewhat time-intensive for a Toronto company (it had a do-at-home assignment, which is fairly uncommon in TO), but other than that it was a fairly average experience.

Ultimately I turned down their offer, because their offer was low (and going from the who-is-hiring threads, it still is lower than market averages)

With that said, I got a chance to talk to some of the developers, and the work-life balance seemed reasonable (although not as good as, say, working at CGI)


May I ask where you chose to go instead? I don't see much which is exciting in Toronto (bad money, uninteresting tech).


I stayed at the company I was at (Klick Health) for a few more years, but moved to a different department doing more interesting things. Truthfully, I left because even after two very large raises, the salary was still not competitive w/ similar recruiter-advertised positions.

After that, I went to work remotely for a company in Boulder, CO, called Human Design.

Money-wise, the better opportunities I heard about in TO were mostly from a recruiting agency called JobSprings (usually in the 120k range, usually in the queen west area). It's exceedingly rare to find anything above 150k. Tech wise, yes, it's predominantly Angular 1 jobs.


There's a growing number of startups in Toronto, mostly in the Fintech space. Amazon's office here has around 500 devs now too, doing various interesting things (I spent 5 years there).

Apart from the madness that is housing prices, dev wages vs cost of living aren't too bad here. Hopefully that housing bubble pops, and then Toronto will really be attractive to developers.


One can hope :). TBH, absent Amazon Toronto paying unexpectedly well and having great work (or a Toronto real estate collapse), it sounds almost like going to work for Google in Waterloo and somehow making that work sounds like the least bad option in the GTA.


+1 to the reputation of Top Hat amongst Toronto devs. Everyone I know is avoiding the place like the plague. Regardless of the salaries touted on places like StackOverflow Jobs.


Toronto startup hire culture is really sad even today.

I interviewed at Top Hat 3+ years ago and I remember their hiring process was sad because it was a FizzBuzz test under conditions that were setup for me to fail.

I wasn't allowed to use my own laptop, editor of choice, or language of choice to complete the test. They wouldn't tell me what conditions they wanted eg. do they want test code?

I had to do the test on their computer, in javascript, no internet.

They said I was slow. Well you should have let me use MacVim and I would shown how slow you are in TextMate.

They said I didn't write test code. They wouldn't tell me, and they wouldn't even look at mass bodies of work of production apps where I had tons of test code I written with CI.


Hey, I'm Alex @ Top Hat, in engineering

Sorry to hear you had an awful experience like that. We definitely want to provide a better candidate experience than that.

As I mentioned before in this thread I can't speak for interviews that long ago, but these days we have a standard process: we want to see you in your element, so you're encouraged to use your own machine and whatever tools and languages you're best at. We also currently do a pairing-style mini-project where you're free to look things up - Google has become another essential tool for devs, so we want to avoid forcing people into unnatural ways of working that won't reflect their actual abilities in an interview.


I never went through the "full process" at TopHat - but I've been impressed with the interactions I've had. As a former teacher, now an engineer I thought they'd be a really great fit.

The one time I reached out to them though, I called it off before we could move forward because I got a promotion, raise and change of role (all of which I was specifically looking for).

I don't know much about the culture - but my understanding is that they've got good compensation & a reasonable work life balance. (EDIT: wow, reading the other comments here, my understanding may have been WAY off)

Actually taking on the textbook publishing industry would be a really big deal IMO. I could imagine a few really interesting disruptions there. Tablet versions of all textbooks via a "netflix" type model?

Maybe like $250/year for access at the university level rather than $600 for that one totally esoteric 30 page title on the mating habits of the African fruit fly.

Students save over the cost of all books, and the edge-titles get brought up.

Maybe that's a bit too Pollyanna an idea. I'm sure there would be an amazing volume-market if you did it at the high-school level.

One digital subscription account, all textbooks. No defacing, no lugging heavy books, access anywhere, always up to date.

If pages and sections were PDF exportable with low-impact DRM it really could be revolutionary.


They also have a pretty bad reputation among U of T students.


Toronto seriously needs better tech employers :'(


- Current TopHat Full Stack Dev PEY here -

I'm not sure what your basis of a bad reputation is, but, I've been working at TopHat for the past 10+ months as part of their engineering team and it's been my favourite internship thus far (I've had 2 previous internships in development). As far as I know, myself and one other UofT student are the first PEY's to have been hired, and our current opinions of the company are quite high.

To highlight some extraneous comments regarding mentorship, it should be known that the teams are sized to about 5-8 people, with a team lead & product manager facilitating each team. Bi-weekly one-on-one's are in place to catch up with your respective lead and talk about your experience thus far, goals for the future, and really providing a basis of mentorship and growth. Higher ups such as the VP's are always accessible throughout the day to chat; we're pretty open.

If you have further questions, feel free to comment below and I'll get back to you ASAP! ^^


My negative comments on the reputation of the company come from 3rd hand sources (possibly even more hands). I'm glad you're finding your experience to be fruitful; I will add it as a datapoint to my understanding of the perceived reputation of the company.

Do U of T students like the software TopHat produces?


"Professional Experience Year"

http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/PEY


how so?


They have a reputation for being a bad employer for interns (culture/mentorship) and also producing bad software. Apparently, many of the students (not including myself) have actually used the software and not enjoyed the experience.


Hi, I'm a current dev at Top Hat, went to UofT and started about a month ago. As @fastftw mentioned, the culture and mentorship are much better than you would expect at most growing startups.

The teams are small, yet the software we deliver is well tested internally before being put out into production. The best part here is that employees are encouraged to use the Top Hat products themselves, which really helps better the overall applications.

As for mentorship, team leads and the execs are very accessible and guide you through how the processes at the company work. New employees are encouraged to share their opinions while doing development which is a big plus. I hope this cleared up some concerns you had!


Recruiting is an imperfect endeavor.

That whole "85% personality, 15% skill" saying really applies here.

I've seen great developers get frustrated that they have to talk to a junior HR rep for their first screen and say things that were way over her head, or just flat out rude. (Not saying you were, or intentionally were at any rate.)

HR / Recruiters really piss me off too... I was working at a company as a contractor, helping to build their in-house dev team and transition them away from using contractors. I sent them one of the best devs I knew, and a great guy who had worked on very similar tech stack to boot. He didn't even make it to round 2.

His version: Well, the HR screener was 15 minutes late calling me, then wasted another 10 minutes asking questions about the wrong role -- an accounting role instead of a dev role. About the 4th accounting question in, I realized what was wrong and asked her if she was reading off the right question list. We got if fixed up, but she seemed really embarrassed.

Her version: He wouldn't have been a good fit for our company culture.

Total shame, but what can you do? The screener gets all the power in that situation... we trust her because we hired her, but she's clearly in a position where if she makes a mistake and doesn't want to own up to it... she can just sweep it under the rug. She has a bad day... wants to take it out on a candidate, what are you going to do about it? Her knowledge of tech is 100% limited to what sounds like a good answer relative to other answers other candidates have given her.

Culture fit, and the human side is important... probably a safe bet in most situations that if you can't talk with the bubbly 22 year-old recent college grad, you probably will have communication issues with others too. All you can do is be kind, move on to round 2 and hope you eventually get to talk to someone in your specialty smart enough to know how to actually rate your talent. =P


Same here, in 2012. I talked with who I remember is one of the founders. I believe there were already in Toronto or in the process of moving from the Waterloo area.

It was very bad as far as whole process was concerned. I didn't mind though since they were in their infancy and I moved onto a different position anyway.


I can't speak to the process in 2012, but I assure you we have a very mature, modern agile process in place now.


Really good to know. I wonder if there is a site that actually lets you post reviews of interviews from companies. Glassdoor I guess is one but I'd be curious about culture as well.


I haven't heard great things about working there over the years.


what are some of the other more interesting companies/startups in Toronto?


Shopify seems interesting.

There really are not that many tech companies in Toronto (and that are hiring unless you have 5+ yrs of experience).

Either 1. you have very very early stage startups (that expect you to work for free till they get funded),

2. funded startups that have a short runaway and expect you to work like crazy till they get to the next round of funding (during an interview with a fintech startup - it was mentioned that they expected me to work for ~12+ hrs / day but I'd still get paid for only 8 hrs. But when they scaled up, I'd be "rewarded" for my hustle, grit and commitment".

3. Big companies (Google, Mozilla, etc.) who are looking for quite a lot of devs but seem to be insanely picky about hiring them.

To add to this, there seem to be a lot of devs than jobs (or that companies can go for long without hiring for those open roles).


As someone who's worked as a Software Developer in Toronto for the past 13+ years, I totally disagree with this assessment.

First off, very few very early stage startups expect you to work for free until you get funded. Exceptions being that you're a co-founder or an unpaid intern that never touches code.

Secondly, while the startups in Toronto are probably less well funded than the ones in the US, not all require you to work for 12+ hours a day while paying you for 8 hours. It looks really shady to set these expectations especially since we have clear laws around overtime pay in Canada (describing such a work situation to friends will raise eyebrows -- definitely not the standard practice, whatever industry you work at).

Lastly, I'd say that any place worth working at (big or small) will be insanely picky about who they hire. Current employer included.

All of the above are from personal first hand experience. Of course I haven't worked for every single tech company in Toronto but I have worked for several (mainly early stage startups).


> First off, very few very early stage startups expect you to work for free until you get funded. Exceptions being that you're a co-founder or an unpaid intern that never touches code.

Obviously this is not something I have a lot of statistically accurate data for but, me and my friends are recent graduates and collectively have applied to quite a lot of very early stage startups in Toronto and out of those, we all have experienced the bait and switch of unpaid work till funding at least 50% of the time.

> Secondly, while the startups in Toronto are probably less well funded than the ones in the US, not all require you to work for 12+ hours a day while paying you for 8 hours. It looks really shady to set these expectations especially since we have clear laws around overtime pay in Canada (describing such a work situation to friends will raise eyebrows -- definitely not the standard practice, whatever industry you work at).

I didn't say all startups are like what I've mentioned. The one I'm currently working at is awesome! That said, it's more often the case that startups use their short runaway as an excuse to make you work long hours (and just to be clear - the 12hr / day was not an estimation - I was literally asked my thoughts about it during an interview - that company is still recruiting on HN Who's hiring for more employees and a quick google search shows they have increased headcount to 35 people this year and is profitable).

> Lastly, I'd say that any place worth working at (big or small) will be insanely picky about who they hire. Current employer included.

I have 0 problems with employers being picky. I worked closely with the CEO of a previous startup and I totally understand that. What I don't understand is the point of claiming you need to hire a developer (with a start date of immediately) and then leaving the position open for months altogether, or having crappy working conditions.

BTW I've interviewed at Nulogy (if that's where you are currently working) - Since this is a throwaway I can't give too much details, While I was still disappointed for the reason I was rejected it was one of the good interviews I've had (interviewer was knowledgeable, I learnt about the company and product, the tech stack, the problems they were facing, what was expected of me, and just some personal chit-chat during the coffee walk).


The market is definitely strange in Toronto.

Did the #2 type companies offer any equity at all?


They all do.

the first ones offer anywhere between 30% (if you are a co-founder), 15% - 1% (if you are in the first 10 to get hired).

The 2nd type offer equity (generally less than 1%) and in all honesty it's pointless - chances are they'll fail before your 4 yr vesting period (and if you work for 12 hrs/day everyday you'll probably get burnt out even before you hit your year 4). And even if they don't fail, if you do get equity (and convert it to cash) divide it by 4 + salary / yr, you are basically making less than the avg salary for your position / exp in your area.


Totally agree with you. Only in the rare case like Shopify, the stock option will give you a meaningful return.


SoundHound is doing really well in Toronto. I work there. We just raised $75M Series D and got featured on FastCompany as one of the best AI companies in the world. We are hiring a lot of engineers.


I work in engineering at https://unata.com based in downtown Toronto. We are a digital shopping saas platform for grocery retailers and we currently work with about 10 mid size grocery chains across US and Canada.

Last year we were named one of Deloitte’s Top 50 Fastest Growing Canadian Companies and CIX’s Top 20 Most Innovative Canadian Companies. Check us out!


I would say Wealthsimple.


Games: * Ubisoft * Rockstar Toronto * UKen * Big Viking Games * Gameloft * Torn Banner Studios * Get Set Games * Drinkbox Studios * Capybara Games * Sago Sago * Metanet Software * Zynga Toronto


Anecdotally: Wave, Flipp, and Wealthsimple come highly reviewed from some acquaintances.


I'm at CanadaStays - one of the biggest in vacation rentals in the great white north.


Nulogy.


Can confirm, I work there. Fun and hardworking company with a strong growth culture.


I've worked at Top Hat for the last couple years (on the engineering floor) and it's been nothing but positive. Out of all the Toronto-area startups I've worked at in the last 6 or so years Top Hat seemed the most serious about succeeding. And I love the product-space – one I can potentially actually make a difference in. The hiring process was tough, but I didn't think it was unfair.

I worked previously at accounting and marketing experience startups in the area, too. Their products always seemed awkwardly positioned — not silly enough to be fun like Snapchat or solving a serious enough need to be Shopify.

Anyway take that for what you will. Just my 2 cents and thoughts (admittedly biased) on working here the last couple years. They've been some of the most productive ones of my career so far.


I am the VP Engineering at Top Hat. Our biggest goal is to create an environment where talented people love coming in to work every day and enjoy being a part of something great! I think disrupting one of the last old media holdouts is more than a worthy goal.

In the past couple of years we’ve grown our company from under 100 employees to well over 200. All this growth meant rapid, challenging role changes and adaptation and we've had some rough patches. Over the past 18 months, we've had a very low attrition rate in Engineering and I think it reflects the positive experience of the vast majority of our team.

I am sorry some people have had a bad experience interacting with us. I would love to hear any complaints or suggestions, my email is george at tophat dot com


I think it's great that they are trying to disrupt the textbook industry. However, the industry is so large and the majority of US universities are so entrenched, it's going to be an uphill battle.

There have been many startups that attempted this and all have failed (or the VCs just wanted a payout and were bought for millions when the big publishing companies felt threatened).

It's like trying to disrupt Ticketmaster. You might be able to get a few venues over to your side, but if the artists aren't switching over, you won't get very much traction.

Universities also have no incentive to save money on software. They know that not only is there more of a demand to go to college than the supply of colleges, but that they are guaranteed tuition through the federal loans program.

If we had no federal student loan program, they would be forced to compete on the free market and all of these ridiculous prices for textbooks and software would free fall.


I do think the textbook industry is ready for disruption, but it won't happen by someone VC funded that essentially just wants the money going to the incumbents to themselves.

The disruption I'm expecting to happen is quality CC licensed content. Well, depending on the topic that already exists, but what needs to happen I guess is mainstream mindshare.

A lot of the $$$ in the textbook industry is just air ("Hey, basic math hasn't changed in 100 years and we haven't figured out a better way to tell the story, but anyway lets add a few fluff paragraphs and reshuffle all the exercises so students are forced to buy the new edition").

But TBH, at my university the teaching staff largely disliked the textbook racket too, and came up with their own exercises, thus allowing students to use any edition of the chosen textbook.

That being said, I'm just appalled at the poor quality of many of the textbooks from the major publishers. It's like they're selling by the pound, and thus end up with phonebook sized monsters that spend an amazing amount of pages explaining very little.


> The disruption I'm expecting to happen is quality CC licensed content

Bingo! But there is still money to be made here.

Bundle a high quality open source textbook with tons of extra examples, auto-graded quizzes/assignments when possible, cheater detection, etc.

Provide regular updates so that Google doesn't know the answers to all the homework assignments/quizzes. Scrape the answers that are provided by google and incorporate them into the cheater detection.

Also provide a bit of analytics on top of the quiz/homework infrastructure. Or at least provide robust excel export so that instructors can figure out if there are clusters of students struggling with this or that concept.

And then sell the bundle and give some kick-back to the author(s) of the open source text (because it's the right thing to do, but also because the authors are thought leaders and will plug your product if they feel you're providing a valuable product at a reasonable price without screwing anyone).

Trying to write better textbooks than seasoned and altruistic professors is a losing battle.


One important service that the existing textbook companies provide is editing. That's the gap that seems to be unaddressed by having professors self publish.


I don't agree.

Editing for content or style?

Style editing is usually detrimental IME. Especially when the style editor doesn't understand the content and is just applying typographical rules.

And content editing is usually done by fellow professors or students. Which if the book is open source will happen anyways as new professors use the book in their courses and notice errors.


Publishers provide style, content/grammatical editing, domain experience and pedagogical review.

Most professors don't have strong backgrounds in pedagogy and even those that do benefit from having others edit their work.


With how much adjunctization stands to save universities, I doubt software licenses are even on the radar for administrators. And if you don't want to piss off the tenured faculty while trying to shut down unionization, don't tell them to cut back on the books and software.

>If we had no federal student loan program...

Not a silver bullet. How sure are you that private lenders wouldn't fill the void with higher interest loans that people would still be willing to take? There are already examples of more "creative" financing schemes like income sharing, which could certainly expand as well if the more attractive federal loans disappeared. Demand for college degrees stays sky high whatever you do.


saw an article that in the last 40 years the number of administrators has increased 400% while tenure track professors has only increased 23%. Number of students has increase 300%. They could easily cut costs but the money is there so there's no incentive

These college admins should honestly be charged criminally


Disclosure: I work for a large University (combined residential+online presence of ~100k) and we have contracts with Pearson, McGraw, Cengage, and Top Hat.

Top Hat has been surprisingly enjoyable to work with from a contractual side. They've been accommodating to our needs and worked with us to improve their product -- I'm actually working on a SOW with them right now where they'll be adding new features for us at 0 cost.

Even though we have strategic partnerships with these large publishers, I wouldn't mind seeing them go by the wayside in favor of integrating more of Top Hat's digital content.


Does it bother you that the majority of student see mandatory subscriptions to all of these services as a giant ripoff?

I mean, you could save every student maybe 600 a year if the university purposely used books that are one edition out of date. That's the same as lowering tuition around 5% at most places. Would this really affect the quality of education in any meaningful way?

"Strategic partnership" sounds like another way of saying the university gets some money out of the deal at the expense of their students pocket books.

How is this justified from the position of someone who maintains relationships with these companies?


He works for the university; he's not the one getting ripped off. Top Hat might make his life easier because they have simpler contracts and are nicer when it comes to customization, but in the end the students are still getting hit with the bill. His perspective is irrelevant to the problem. Until the point where colleges have to actively recruit new blood and aren't bursting at the seams with applicants, the kickback partnership between publishers and universities will never go away. It makes way too much sense to stick the student with every bill, because the system knows they will pay it.


I'm not involved in the curriculum development side of things, so I don't have much input into that. And prior to the implementation of Top Hat, our students had all been using physical "clickers" to respond to in-class questions.

However, Top Hat implemented a program where the students could trade in their old clicker and get a 5 year Top Hat subscription. Plus a "Lifetime" Top Hat subscription is cheaper than buying a clicker, so students have seen it as a net win.

We do not receive financial compensation from Cengage, Pearson, or McGraw. The strategic part is that they offer more services to us, let us test new stuff they're toying with, and help our profs develop custom content.

I still take classes, so I definitely feel the hit of these textbook prices. It's also why I've advocated for pushing more towards a "direct integration" method of provide course content in our LMS. Students pay ~$60 for access to the content, instead of $100+ for a textbook. It still adds up, but it's a way to start to lower costs.

(and the prices keep going down. I just found out yesterday that one of our vendors is dropping the price of a range of course content because of high adoption rate)


The problem with these lifetime subscriptions is that you never know if you're going to actually use them. Textbook prices are definitely a problem, but it's usually much easier to rent or resell textbooks than the equivalent of software.

You also don't buy textbooks until you actually need them. I know many students who have felt pressured into "saving money" on "all 4 years!" plans only to find they don't need a product most terms or they stay and extra semester/term/year and need to spend even more than they were planning.


Well if they can get rid of the $200+ textbooks that you have to buy (and never use) to get web access that would be great. Almost all material in school textbooks can be found online for free, it really makes no sense to require students to spend anything of $20 on coursebooks.


I agree that access to information online has lowered the price that people are willing to pay for textbooks (digital or physical). But I still think there's a market for a textbook that essentially organizes all the relevant information for a course and vets it for correctness. This is worth a little more than $20 to me, but definitely not $200.


It's ambitious and I wish them the best of luck. However, as someone who has worked in the space, they're going to run into a very real problem that the textbook industrial complex maintains its stranglehold because of the very real financial incentives it gives professors etc. Add that in with the fact that content isn't all that expensive to create in the first place, getting students to adopt is expensive, and it's a very noisy marketplace, they're going to have an uphill battle.


Having used TopHat in a couple classes circa 2014-2015, the product is pretty bad. It's main use case is, honestly, attendance. Two anecdotes stick out.

The university subsidizes the cost down to $5. Through some technical error, TopHat applied a full discount. One month later, they noticed their mistake and retroactively charged each student $5. I think I'm the only one who complained to their support enough to get it for free; a lawyer's time isn't worth it and I'm sure they spent more than $5 of support personnel time on it. Charging software engineering students like this is a great way to poison the well for recruitment efforts down the road.

The second anecdote is a guest lecturer, who apparently had questions already set up in the system, was completely and utterly unable to figure out the UI. He abandoned TopHat entirely in favour of a show of hands.


>Having used TopHat in a couple classes circa 2014-2015, the product is pretty bad.

Roughly the same time frame for me. Get attendance with TopHat. Inevitably, it would fail at least one day a week in some way. Responses for questions were always hit and miss on whether your submission was recorded. Thankfully, the professor revealed at the end that he wouldn't focus so much on correctness and more so on participation.

If it's still anything like that, I wouldn't wish that upon anyone. Frantically making pacts with the devil every day hoping that your answers get accepted is rough for an 8AM class.


You're right that there are still too many profs who use Top Hat for really basic stuff like polls in class and taking attendance - thankfully that's in the minority these days.

Our goal is to get profs to at least take these baby steps to get started and then to swap out their $200 textbook with content on our platform, which would save students a ton of money and create a much better experience in the process.

Here are some representative examples of content that's on the platform:

https://tophat.com/marketplace/openstax/concepts-biology/

https://tophat.com/marketplace/english-composition-i/

https://tophat.com/marketplace/publicspeaking/

https://tophat.com/marketplace/generalchemistry/


> https://tophat.com/marketplace/generalchemistry/

$60 plus a "subscription," whatever that is.

I can't speak for the quality of the books, but searching "general chemistry" on half.com gives me a bunch of entries in the $5-30 range. They're a few years old, but I can't imagine general chemistry has had many radical changes in the past decade.

These textbooks work with Linux or any other operating system. They can be re-sold, probably for the same price at which they were purchased. There is no learning curve to using a textbook. The textbook's servers will never be down. The university has to pay no licensing fee to the textbook. Textbooks do not have technical glitches. I can read a textbook on the bus, on a plane, in a car, or anywhere, with no worries about running out of batteries or losing my network connection.

Why on Earth would I ever pay more than twice the price for a far worse user experience?


Public speaking is a fantastic example of a course that doesn't need a textbook at all.

I interacted with communications instructors a lot when I was in university, and literally all of them thought the required textbook was a complete waste. It was there because the department required it, and none of the instructors actually used the text.

Instead they all had their favorite examples of great speeches or debates, and combined that with a few (free) essays on different types of speeches and rhetorical techniques.

But all of the instructors said that the most useful thing they did in the course was just practice. Requiring students to give short speeches in front of (portions of) the class or in front of instructors.

A truly useful platform for public speaking education would consist of recording student speeches and providing a way for peers to provide structured criticism of each others recorded speeches. Perhaps different pre-packaged peer assessment techniques for various types of speeches.

In this and many other cases, I'm very convinced that textbooks serve no purpose outside of accreditation and futile departmental attempts at standardizing ad junct instruction.

Maybe you can get departments/universities to buy into your product, but there's a huge difference between extracting rent from university administrators and actually improving learning. If you have to convince instructors/students to actually use the required instructional material in order to get your cut, you're facing an uphill battle. 99% of students in a public speaking class will either not buy the book in the first place, or else return the book at the instructor's wink-and-nod. And without a truly novel practice speech assessment platform or a very low-priced product, I think that's a good thing.


If you're providing electronic resources, then your competition isn't a $200 paper textbook. Your competition is all the free resources available online, including the PDF versions of most textbooks. There is no money to be made in this market except by conning University administrators.

Content on your platform is reliant on charging each student for it, while these free resources can easily be shared by a Prof with the class, between students in the save class, by the student associations (similar to exam databases) or from upper year to lower year students.


I noticed the first marketplace link refers to a freely available textbook on openstax (https://openstax.org/). What is the advantage for me as a student or professor accessing this content through your site when I can download a PDF directly from the source (the openstax site)?


I didn't like tophat because it brought computers into the classroom where they don't belong.

But anything that attacks person is honestly probably a good thing, they seem to be actively hostile to students.


A marketplace where teachers can sell educational content directly to students, so.... The internet?

But with... an entrance fee? The gorilla which eats all schools will have an entrance fee?


I used Top Hat last semester at Iowa State University and the mobile app was excellent. Unfortunately, many of our projectors' are still 1280x1024 which resulted in some of the UI and text of the professor's web-app being cut off.

Still worlds better than anything else I've used and very moderately priced.


I work at Top Hat in the Engineering Department but only joined in the past year. I have heard second hand that things were bad in the past (2+ years ago now) in terms of culture and work/life balance.

Things have been great since I've joined and the exec team is VERY interested in what they can do to make things even better.

Here are a few of my personal observations, both good and bad: - people most often work 10-6 with flexibility and everyone actually uses their vacation and "personal days" - most devs actually break from work at lunch (supplied) to socialize and play board games - you get great visibility into how the company is doing and what other departments are up to - considering we are a company of 200+ people the execs are very accessible and are happy to spend time with you for any questions/concerns you have - all work is extremely team oriented. They care about where people want to go in their careers and several people have been progressively given more senior responsibilities. - the majority (not everyone) is very engaged and excited to be here. - the handful of people who have left in the past couple years all left on good terms and regularly stay in touch and even come out to Engineering events still. There's definitely a sense of community (although I believe this didn't always exist and will be a challenge to keep around as we grow aggressively). - great location (for me) right on the subway downtown Toronto

Bad things: - space is cramped. You get a decent sized standing desk but there's not a lot of breathing room other than that. They've outgrown the space though there are plans in the works to fix this. - there is time allocated for "Engineering" projects but mostly we are very date driven and have an aggressive product delivery schedule. - diversity. It's a top management priority for the next year but historically they've clearly dropped the ball here. There are several people in Engineering very interested in improving diversity.

I am clearly a biased party, actively working here, but I genuinely feel it's a great place build your career. There are very few places this size that are growing ~70-80% YoY continuously, actually making profit, and have great ambitions for the future.


The accessibility to executives is something I've noticed even just working on contracts with Top Hat. I am surprised at the level of engagement that your VPs and C-suite execs have with customers. It certainly makes customers feel cared for.


<rant> I hate Pearons' My Lab & Mastering products. It was a nightmare using the mastering chemistry and having a similar experience with Physics currently. I felt that $80 for just the software is over priced because they want you pay another $50 for the e-coursebook.

It's not that horrible of a software on itself but for that price, i think it's bad. It takes a lot of effort to put in the symbols and stuff, its very picky about answer format ( 1/2 != 2/4 for example and if its expecting .5 then .5 != 1/2). The professor can add their own content and sometime when my physics professor does it, it's really hard to figure out what the software wants. My calculus class is using "MyOpenMath" which is so much better as a software itself. On top of that it's free. And has a free text book associated with it and my professor decided to use that whole combo, so its great.

I wasn't happy with a software called "TestOut" used for my computer class either but at least it was cheap ($40) compared to Pearson. Maybe I am just poor but price is a big factor for me in these mandatory software the college makes me buy for every other class. I want something that enhances my learning experience, not one that hinders it. Especially when I am wasting good money on education. ^_^ </rant>


Honestly I feel really bad for any student right now. All the universities and even public schools are pushing e-learning stuff, but it's in a really terrible state right now. High prices, all sorts of tech issues, incompatibilities with lots of devices that students actually have. Graduating from college in 2010 or so, I feel like I really dodged a bullet as most coursework could be done on paper and used textbooks could be found cheap (or, frankly, pirated). Nowadays I imagine it's a nightmare trying to navigate all these various e-learning systems on top of just doing the damn work in the first place.

E: This is to say nothing of the professors, underpaid teachers, and unpaid TAs who have to put up with this crap too.


Our goal is to put an end to that kind of crap, where publishers charge $100-300 for a text and then gouge students another $50 on top of that for a homework system.

Most content on Top Hat is free or around the $20-40 price range, with most of the money going back to the author (vs. publisher model of paying a 5-10% royalty)


Do the professors get paid to use tophat? If so I will avoid them at any cost. What a perverse incentive to take money from students and put it directly into the professors wallet


nope...


MyOpenMath creator here. Exciting to see a us mentioned, and glad it's working well for you. BTW, the open-source software that runs it is called IMathAS, and is on Github if anyone wants to contribute :)


Ah, bit of a late comment but I had no idea the creator of MOM was around HN. For the other section of the same class, different professor decided to use a paid software which is $120 + the paper back book needed is around $300 new. Trying to go through college when the softwares cost more than $/credit hour is pretty hard.


I'm not sure I understand why coursera and edX are not discussed in this space; as someone who works with higher ed institutions, I see these platforms often adopted to replace traditional publishers.


OpenStax as well.. All great initiatives.

As for the article, I'd assume it is because it is Bloomberg, and so, these things being more nonprofit/altruistically driven, will never be as 'sexy' as a 'market disrupting' company set up to shake things up and create more 'value'..


>In November, they launched an online content marketplace, where professors can create course materials and sell it around the world.

Professors already post a lot of study materials for free on their websites. However, that hasn't replaced traditional textbooks. Why this should be any different? Also given all that free course materials why would someone pay for additional materials?


I don't know anything about TopHat.

But I'm a professor and I've offered material for free for twenty years. I can think of some very good reasons to prefer this marketplace-thingy from an author's perspective.

1) Exposure. If you want to sell you want to be on the shelves at the local mart.

(And some authors don't want to support the download traffic.)

2) Platform. If what you are offering is guaranteed to work because you produced it according to this vendor's standards then you don't have to field queries about platforms you don't understand. (I offer a straight PDF of a math text. The only twist is that if you click on the question it bounces you to the answer and if you click on the answer it bounces you to the question. I get queries about that.)

In particular, I'm concerned about standards for interactivity. I don't want to code that stuff, I want to write a text. If a vendor provides the widgets and takes a cut of sales, for instance, I'd read their pitch further.

3) Integration. If it all works with some online gradebook that'd be great.

4) Version control. When version 3 comes out, you'd like version 2 to go away.


Thank you for the response. I understand why authors might find this beneficial but do you think it can outweigh the advantage of being free?


I offer a text, Linear Algebra, both for Free download and for sale (at Amazon $22). It generates a respectable number of sales. People will pay, or at least some people will pay, for quality. They do get mad, though, at paying hundreds.

I am not a business person but I can imagine a scenario where schools purchase a block of the materials for classes. Say, a prof wants to use a Graph Theory document. Their bookstore pays $13 each for the materials, and a bill for that appears on the student's college charge. Seems possible to me. And beyond that individuals could buy one at a time, of course.


PDFs are free and all students already know this. The only people who care are the people with a vested interest in selling pointless and useless garbage(textbooks). I didn't pay for my textbooks in school. Nobody should. If it's useful you should copy it and share it with your friends. Software, textbooks, tools, designs, ideas, whatever. Information is free whether you believe it or not. The medium is what you should pay for....but it is not the message.


quote from email:

I know you recently saw a demo of Top Hat in action, and I want to personally make sure you are aware of a brand new promotion we're running!

To further enhance your lecture experience, we are now providing iPad Airs to professors using Top Hat with a total of 75 students or more this upcoming Spring or Summer term.

If this sounds like it's up your alley, simply click the button below!

Happy teaching,


I previously worked with their VP Engineering, at Janna Systems. A very, very sharp guy who's been through a couple of startups and exits.

I've heard from a different friend that they're very results oriented w.r.t estimates, etc. It means that they get a lot of stuff done, but there's no time for research or non-approved exploration.


That makes it sound like a ticket-shop; you're treated like a bricklayer rather than a software engineer?


Thanks for the vote of confidence! Like a broadway show, the start of classes is fixed in stone so meeting dates is pretty important to the business.

Good development organizations tailor their methodology to the needs of the business and here at Top Hat the whole company rallies behind the start of classes.

Having a process to meet a date doesn't preclude good engineering. No software engineer wants to be told what to do and how to do it. As a business we are very transparent as to what we want to accomplish and my engineering teams have a lot of leeway on how they want to accomplish it.


They need to publish traditional textbooks as well if they are going to compete. Maybe with images and QR codes for the parts where video adds something to the text.

If they don't then they will be Just Another Multimedia Learning Company.


It would be neat if they offered some free textbooks and course materials for certain subjects.


We totally do offer that! :)


Does an open source version of Top Hat exists? I think a lot of educational institutions might be interested in a cheaper and more flexible open source alternatives.


Something that annoys me the most about top hat is not the product but the company:

1. almost every month they enter their info for the HN Who's Hiring thread.

2. BUT they don't seem to ever respond apart from something automated about receiving your resume (this is not just from personal experience, I've seen people generally comment about the no real response)

3. They advertise the same position over and over again (mobile developer, backend/frontend/fullstack dev)

and finally to top it all of, I don't think they really care about being called out on this at all.


What's not to get. They're just casting a wide net looking for that special unicorn coder that only appears when the planets align. All other mere mortals are not worthy but they will gladly waste your time until then. I guess they forgot the old adage about interviews are 2 way streets.

These guys don't have a very good rep in Ottawa either. It's not really their fault, it's more of a Canadian business attitude thing.


> These guys don't have a very good rep in Ottawa either. It's not really their fault, it's more of a Canadian business attitude thing.

What does "Canadian business attitude" mean?

Are you referring to attitude of Canadians toward businesses or their attitude as a Canadian corporation?


The latter. There's a belief that the "labour" should be grateful to the "owner" for a job instead of a looking at it as a straight business exchange of labour for dollars. It runs pretty deep in medium to large businesses and sadly many people tolerate that sort of treatment.

Probably a by-product of our colonial days that we've yet to cast off. Although immigration will solve it soon enough.


A lot of Canadians have this attitude too.

A very close friend of mine works for OPG (via a contractor).

OPG and his contractor both have agreed to give him 2 weeks paid time off, and ~ 1 week of sick time off.

However, taking time off ensures that you WILL get laid off (reasons would be made up ofc) during the next quarter.

This basically forces everyone to not take time off (and work during vacations - my friend worked full time during statutory holidays like Christmas and New Year).

When I tried to tell him this was very illegal, he basically said that he was lucky to have his job or he'd be unemployed so he does not mind this.

Now this might be an exception but I've heard and seen numerious stories such as these all over Ontario from various companies (from crappy ones like TCS to startups to small established business like Axiom and even some big multi-national companies - especially in the fintech world and banks).

That said, there are also a lot of companies (like the one I currently work for and the previous company I worked at) that try their best to make sure employees have a great time working there and do their best to achieve that.


> OPG and his contractor both have agreed to give him 2 weeks paid time off, and ~ 1 week of sick time off.

> However, taking time off ensures that you WILL get laid off (reasons would be made up ofc) during the next quarter.

That's pretty bad though I wonder if it's actually illegal. In the USA most employment is "at will" so companies can fire you for anything or nothing. I'm not sure where taking vacation/sick days counts from a labor law perspective but I wouldn't be surprised if it was within the rights of the company to fire employees who use them.

> This basically forces everyone to not take time off (and work during vacations - my friend worked full time during statutory holidays like Christmas and New Year).

You see this a lot in the finance world as well. Nobody takes vacation during the year and piles it on at the end of the year when things are "change freezese". It's pretty silly.

> Now this might be an exception but I've heard and seen numerious stories such as these all over Ontario from various companies (from crappy ones like TCS to startups to small established business like Axiom and even some big multi-national companies - especially in the fintech world and banks).

> That said, there are also a lot of companies (like the one I currently work for and the previous company I worked at) that try their best to make sure employees have a great time working there and do their best to achieve that.

So how rampant is this though? If it's prevalent throughout Canada then it sounds like a symptom of a jobs gap. If most employers can be picky about picking employees who will skip vacations (again ignoring how stupid this sounds), then I'd argue there aren't many choices for employees to begin with.


> That's pretty bad though I wonder if it's actually illegal. In the USA most employment is "at will" so companies can fire you for anything or nothing. I'm not sure where taking vacation/sick days counts from a labor law perspective but I wouldn't be surprised if it was within the rights of the company to fire employees who use them.

It might be illegal in Canada (not 100% sure) but a group of ex-employees that have been fired are suing the company.

> You see this a lot in the finance world as well. Nobody takes vacation during the year and piles it on at the end of the year when things are "change freezese". It's pretty silly.

This would still be understandable (as you'd expect people to take vacations at year end) - However he was indirectly told to forfeit his vacation completely (which in my opinion is scummy if not illegal).

> So how rampant is this though? If it's prevalent throughout Canada then it sounds like a symptom of a jobs gap. If most employers can be picky about picking employees who will skip vacations (again ignoring how stupid this sounds), then I'd argue there aren't many choices for employees to begin with.

I've personally seen it happen in Ontario (don't know if it happens in other provinces) but I don't think it's any different in other provinces either. In my opinion, it's a combination of:

1. fewer jobs

2. employers willing to sit tight till they get their "right" and submissive employee (because you can see thousands of job openings every single day and take it from me - I've applied to 100s of them but I have a feeling they are just fake - as in, companies post them to show growth/scale etc. but don't really hire - for example, Index Exchange and IBM both have a few positions open for which a friend got interviewed and passed on as he was not a culture fit - 10 months later....still unfilled)

3. most employees don't mind it in the slightest - or those who do, have already done what's necessary and move into better positions (or I'm hanging out with some some weird folks).

I've seen very few people who are really passionate about their job / stuff they build / improving etc. - for most, it's all about making enough $, and having enough to sustain your daily life PERIOD (and the cycle continues). You are considered crazy if you try to break this or don't like this routine.


Thanks to the addition of Top Hat by my statistics professor, I'm now registered on at least six functionally similar/equivalent services this semester:

- Top Hat

- GradeScope

- Canvas (UMD rebranded it to "ELMS")

- WebAssign

- Piazza

- The CS department's internal grading/recordkeeping system

I understand the need for competition, and I think that shaking Pearson and McGraw-Hill from their dominant positions is good.

However, I am measurably less productive in the class that requires me to use three of these than the ones that have little-to-no online interaction - devices in lecture are a distraction, automatically graded homework is a frustratingly fuzzy experience, and paying $50+ to multiple third parties to subsidize the workload heaped on my professor by the school feels exploitative all-around.


This story has a bunch of internal hyperlinks, but none pointing at the actual product. To save a Google: https://tophat.com

An aside: why is news on the web still so bad at this? Presumably because sites are incentivised to not let people leave through an external link? Is there a way to incentivise better linking?


Opening links in a new tab with the target="_blank" attribute in your <a> html tag? Keeps the user on the main site in a different tab, and when they close out the new tabs page, they are kicked back into the original site.


Warning: Always add rel="noopener noreferrer" if you use target="_blank". Otherwise the target site could redirect the main site to a phishing page or worse.


One big problem is that links die. Surprisingly often.

So five year old articles will be full of dead links that need to be cleaned up.

Bloomberg obviously doesn't want to deal with that, so the simple fix is to avoid linking to sites you don't control.




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