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Launch HN: Modern Labor (YC W19) – Paying People to Learn to Code
229 points by asd33313131 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 261 comments
Hi HN,

We are Modern Labor (https://modernlabor.com). We pay you to learn to code. We take people with little or no software skills and pay them a livable wage[1] for 5 months while they learn to code, using our content, most of which is open source. In return graduates pay us 15% of their income for 2 years if they are earning over $40,000.

The company is born out of a phenomenon I’ve been fascinated with for a long time: many people wake up every day at 7am to work at a low-paying job but they often have difficulty completing a class that might help their future. For some people, it might just come down to money. A job pays now, a class pays off in the future and only maybe. For many reasons--time, energy, motivation, financial pressures--many choose or are forced to choose the job that pays now and their long-term income sometimes suffers as a result. So we had an idea: Why don’t we just pay people to learn? So that’s what we do: we pay people, now, to learn an in-demand skill.

I remember back when we were building Leif, a startup we sold last year. I told Dickie, one of our co-founders, if I only had an extra $10,000 I could build out the product to an acceptable quality for a couple months. Otherwise I had to work. He ended up giving the money. We sold the company the next year for a good outcome. That couple months of being able to focus made a big difference in the quality of the product and I think ultimately on how successful we were with customers. We think Modern Labor can give people enough time to make a real change in their lives.

Our program isn’t for everyone. It’s full time. We pay $2000 for 5 months. Sometimes that’s more than enough to live on, sometimes it’s not, especially in the Bay Area. Nearly impossible with a family. You need the right to work in the US. The program is mostly self-directed and online. We guide students with a learning pathway and code reviews, but it’s ultimately up to them. If they don’t do their lessons, we don’t pay. It’s far too short for some people. Right now the curriculum is JavaScript (React, Redux) and Python and focuses on the web, which is only one sliver of the software universe. Most of the content is open source. Some of it’s from places like Freecodecamp, which is available for free. If you have money, you don’t need us.

15% of gross income is a lot. Why so much? It comes down to simple risk/return: returns must be adequate given the risk. If it sounds a lot like Lambda School (YC S17), you’re right. Our former company Leif arranged financing for them. We discovered Austen (CEO) here on HN. It’s a big space, though, and our program is different from theirs. We have fewer mentors and our focus is on giving money to students.

How many people will do our program? About 50,000 people pay to attend coding bootcamps in the US each year. We believe, and may be wrong, that a lot more people will choose learning when we pay them to do it.

Thank you HN -- HN was the first thing people told me to read when I was learning to code and it’s been a big part of my life ever since. Happy to answer any questions and looking forward to hearing your ideas and feedback!

[1] Right now it’s $2000/month

This is a cool idea and I’m all for it. However, I’d like to observe that software seems to be one highly skilled profession that is trying to eat itself. All other skilled professions try to protect themselves by limiting supply. That’s why you need 10+ years of medical school + residency to become a doctor. Same with law school etc. Not saying I agree with them, but just pointing it out.

Just an observation on your comparison here, I think you'll find that the realities of the legal and medical profession are radically different from one another. Medical school limits supply because the salaries (and therefore, quantity) of medical residents are paid by the US government, and so the number of medical schools and graduates remains fairly static year to year. Law school famously has no such restriction, and so the number of law schools in the US has exploded in the last 20 years, and the outcomes for the average law school graduate have worsened dramatically.

It's reasonable to assume software development will follow the legal path (or similarly, of business grads who aspire to careers in finance) over time: a few graduates of elite universities, with some combination of greater ability or prestige-signalling degrees, will land elite jobs at global firms making six figures directly out of school, while most earn a small fraction of that elsewhere. In the late '00s / early '10s you had a confluence of events--the settlement of anti-competitive hiring case against the major industry names, a boom in revenue for tech companies, quantitative easing causing a global hunt for yield and explosion in VC, and other factors--leading to a scenario where in the span of a year or two, tech jobs went from "not on most college kids' radars" to realization that this was a well-compensated career. In 07, my top 30 university nearly shuttered its CS department, which would be unthinkable now. That kind of rapid change causes a shortage. It won't last forever.

The outcomes are only bad for lawyers because they all graduate with mountains of debt and get totally shafted if they can't get a super-high-paying job to cover that expense, and those high-paying jobs are in short supply. In some sense, though, society as a whole would be better off if there were more lawyers, and more of them were able to work for less money: poor tenants would be able to afford counsel in landlord/tenant disputes to fight unjust evictions, people wouldn't be stuck in failed marriages for want of being able to afford the legal costs of a divorce, etc., etc. All sorts of people could benefit from legal services they can't afford, and you'd think that market forces, with the increased supply, would drive down cost. It hasn't, though, because debt loads create an artificial floor.

I think exploring more of the possible solution space for how to train and pay tech folks has all sorts of potential for society as there are definitely parallels there in terms of the potential social utility of making technical labor more abundant and less expensive. Obviously there's a downside for people who work in tech and keep wanting to make fuck-you money, but so it goes.

Once CS became the hot thing to get a degree in, the impact was almost immediate. And based on my experience, it happened a decade earlier than you think.

In the early 90s, universities threw students straight into data structures and algorithms in LISP and expected fully half of them to drop out first year. By the early 2000s, the market was already full of useless grads. I was always on the east coast, but near as I could tell from the refugees I interviewed after the dot bomb, SV had been hiring anyone who could type as a senior developer, and the market just kept going downhill from then on. The schools must already have been complicit in it, because I had employees with degrees who didn’t even recognize the names of basic algorithms and data structures when the need for them arose. Now I see intro curriculum from serious schools that’s just a few loops in python or even visual programming in a browser. Less serious CS schools seem to be little more than job training programs. And of course, like this post shows, tens of thousands of coders who really have just completed a job training program are flooding the market.

When I started working, every programmer I worked with was at least competent. If they weren’t, they just didn’t have a job. There wasn’t such a desperate need for people and it wasn’t hard to find someone competent. Now I assume that someone’s code can’t be trusted until I see evidence to the contrary. I used to bring people straight in for in-person interviews or do a really quick phone screen. Then I started doing much deeper questions on phone screens. Now I have to start with a coding test, because 95+% of candidates cannot write simple programs in their language of choice, even though they’ve got a fancy degree and they sound like an expert on the phone, because they’ve been trained for that... but apparently they have not been trained to actually create software from scratch. One company I worked for had a well researched candidate screening program and was talking about spinning it off as a service by the mid-2000s. Now extensive screening is universal and there are multiple companies that you can outsource it to.

There’s no shortage of developers on the market, but there’s a real shortage of good ones. If you’re right and that shortage ends at some point, there’s going to be a sea of unemployed, unqualified coders who need job retraining or something. But I don’t see the shortage ending unless the pipeline starts spitting out more well qualified people.

The residency shortage is a result of AMA lobbying as are the restrictions on foreign doctors practicing.

I am not sure an engineering discipline would go as bad as law: in law, the people you know and the calibre of your University have a larger impact on your chances, while in engineering your abilities aree a greater component. Or so I like to think.

Thanks for pointing that out. So yes, it seems the legal profession is a cautionary tale.

Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi is a criminally under-rated book in this aspect, specifically the first half. Twain related how riverboat pilots talked, navigated, trained, and dispensed info on the Might Mo and how they formed a union (sort-of) that kept them well off. The key part is how the pilots acted when new technology and methods threatened their livelihoods.

The parallels to modern computing and programmers are uncanny and provide a good reminder about how unions, capital, and labor all interact. Even though we imagine ourselves on some grand crusade of science and reasoning, ever towards the Kurtzweilian singularity of rationality and thinking sand, we are still bound by the same forces young Samuel Clemens was lashed into.

In general, it's a great read and a great look into the life of one our greatest writers. Highly recommended.



I think level of safety is higher for other professions; if you mess up as a doctor somebody dies, if you mess up as a lawyer an innocent person goes to jail.

If you mess up a CRUD app as a junior full-stack developer, prod is broken until somebody fixes it. And you can learn enough to not break prod pretty quickly on the fly. It's a very reversible mistake in comparison.

That is exactly why I required all of my software engineering students to write a research paper on software flaws that injured or killed people. I wish I could be more confident that all companies producing products that can harm people spent the time and money necessary to discover and remediate all defects but corners are cut all too often and the lure of cheap labor is just too tempting to resist.

Maybe Boeing and Airbus will never have an Ada developer make an error that kills a plane full of people but there's already a push for javascript to be used in embedded systems and I'm sure it's coming from someone seeing the large numbers of javascript programmers coming out of coding boot camps and similar programs.

> spent the time and money to remediate all defects

Surely you mean to design systems with modularity that helps RAM-limited brains made of meat to avoid defects and defense-in-depth which reduces the impact of defects.

You could just as easily conjure up a situation where a junior doctor or lawyer makes a mess of something trivial, while a junior developer put on a major healthcare project could absolutely do some damage to their fellow human beings.

> a junior developer put on a major healthcare project could absolutely do some damage to their fellow human beings.

Any compliant healthcare software project would keep a junior developer very far from the patient -- there are many layers of review, testing and validation that would prevent one developer's mistakes from significantly putting patient health or data at risk. Even senior developers (usually) shouldn't be able to touch stuff that close to patients.

A doctor literally has their hands on a patient. There isn't a review pipeline that makes sure a doctor's mistakes are caught before they reach a patient.

(That's not to say mistakes that harm patients don't happen in healthcare software, just that it's hard for one developer to cause harm without many others approving it first)

Interesting perspective. In my mind, the fact that any one developer has the tools to think up, create and launch applications that deeply alter our society, has already done more harm than any single doctor has ever done and probably could ever do (at least by putting his hands on patients).

I couldn't pay a late bill once because my ISP's website was down for several days. Luckily for me I could afford the fine.

Imagine if this is your power company and a bugged website means you can't pay your bill before your power goes out.

Problems in prod can have affect people's lives.

That may be generally the case for now, but as software becomes ingrained in more of our daily lives, especially things like healthcare or autonomous vehicles, bad code could absolutely harm/kill someone.

There is absolutely no situation where safety-critical code will be pushed to production builds without extensive testing, analysis, and verification, if the org standing behind it wants to live. This holds for medical device technology and autonomous vehicles. Furthermore, there is no situation where a junior full-stack developer with five months of experience will get anywhere near these systems, let alone write code without thorough code review by senior developers.

What I am worried is the other way around.

Non critical software is push into production following reasonable practices for non-critical software. Then, with time, what was once non-critical became the stonewall of a much larger and complex systems and now it is a really "non-critical" system that powers other critical systems.

> There is absolutely no situation where safety-critical code will be pushed to production builds without extensive testing, analysis, and verification, if the org standing behind it wants to live.

One would hope so, but I'm not quite as confident as you are…

Except for Uber automated cars... but in general I agree with you. The safety critical development areas are generally wrapped in safety critical processes with extensive process checks, and I would suspect Uber now has better practices.

Didn't the Patriot Missile start missing because of floating point mishandling?

It is possible to cause an irreversible disaster with critical software, though, like in the infamous Therac-25 case: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25

Therac-25 is brought up I like to point out that the Therac-25, which killed 3 people), was released the same year as the Hyatt bridge disaster (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyatt_Regency_walkway_collap...) which killed 114. We really need a new reference case of the potential harm caused by software bugs. Perhaps the recent lion air crash will take that grim mantle.

I think parent's examples are not so great. let me list some for you:

CPA, even for being a barber you need to go to school for 2 years and get a degree, electricians, if you even want to work on nail, you need to be certified!!!!!

CPA: You do it wrong, IRS audits you for years.

Barber: You hold a sharp object to somebody's head wrong, you could take out a chunk of scalp. If you're malicious, you could do more.

Electricians: You do it wrong, you can literally fuse your corpse to the thing you were working on.

All of these are greater consequences than having prod going down. In these fields, things can go very wrong very fast, and all these professions are right to same some form of certification.

Barber: you don't need a two year degree to learn how to use scissors on someone's hair without cutting into their scalp. This is something anyone with basic motor skills can do. And if you're malicious, you can just as easily run out into the street with scissors and start stabbing people. You don't need to get a job as a barber to give yourself that opportunity.

>>In these fields, things can go very wrong very fast, and all these professions are right to same some form of certification.

Licensing is not the same as certification. Licensing means you are forbidden from doing something until you meet certain conditions. In any occupation where the parties subjected to risk are consenting to that risk, there's no possible justification for such a restriction that doesn't involve a paternalistic argument that people should have their liberty curtailed by the state for their own good.

Writing code is one thing, knowing how to guide an organization of any size greater than a handful of employees to design software solutions and manage the change of rolling it out is an entirely different ballgame.

As software eats the world, people with 10+ years of field experience working at high organizational levels aren't threatened by a supply of people learning how to code any more than a surge in people learning to be medical office administrators threatens those doctors with the 10+ years into medical school and residency.

Exactly this. No program can produce graduates to compete with experienced engineers. So it's not a threat to experienced engineers. It does force us though to keep learning, otherwise we might well find ourselves in competition with people with less experience.

Not to nitpick, but the supply of doctors is limited first and foremost by the number of residency spots available every year. The length/cost of med school is a deterrent, but it by no means has prevented med schools from filling their seats.

Progress in the software industry is tightly coupled to the advancement of human technology. I don't mind personally being made redundant in the face of progress. It's going to happen to a lot of other professions within the next 50 years as well.

I think this is a thought worth discussing.

It’s a problem larger than the field.

I mean, in an ideal world we could even render doctors redundant in most cases by some incredible Elysium(the film)-like medical bed.

The problem is what do we do with our time instead? It’s a question that can inspire all kinds of hope or dread depending on your outlook.

Its not a problem of time. Plenty have been born into wealth that never had to commit themselves to anything to survive. Anything they did was self motivated of their own accord - they could have lived and died a consumer of an endless stream of money.

Its a problem of convincing the society that its not anyones place to dictate how someone else decides to spend that time. There will be massive resistance to any economic model other than the established scarcity based capitalist regime enshrined in most of the west for the last 150-200 years. Trying to ensure the fruits of the societies labor that led to that automation are properly apportioned to said society will be a long uphill battle against people of substantial greed that see automation not as a liberating force for humanity but as a source of permanent, infinite wealth allocation and centralization.

Well said. The question isn’t really “should” we decouple income from labor. We need to begin to concieve of a transitional process. Perhaps these kinds of schools are the first step, or perhaps there are even better approaches, but we need to help those who are being kicked by the current financial model. There is so much thinking and creating that is just trashed because folks can’t afford to participate.

This is the problem with the current state of the industry. We have “startups” like this one pushing an “everyone needs to code!” agenda every which way and it’s been attracting people who just hear that working in tech comes with a big paycheck (it does and also doesn’t).

There are more Charlatons in tech than ever before.

If you don’t have an interest first in side projects and exploring your curiosity with programming, you’re probably not going to make it.

I would counter that those things are not to limit supply, but to ensure quality of service. When you're holding someone's life in your hands the profession can suffer greatly from bad actors or just those with limited skillset. It behooves everyone in those professions to make sure the quality of service remains as high as possible because bad service could damage everyone in the industry.

As we move forward and software does impact people's lives more and more and in some cases can lead to injury or death, we will see many more professional hurdles put in place. But it won't be to keep the profession pool limited.

When those other professions started out the Internet didn't exist so you needed a physical school to learn. The whole industry got built that way, standards got established etc. it isn't bc they are trying to artificially control supply (at least not initially). would be hard to change all that now

If software were to impose such restrictions it would be much harder to justify other than "we want to preserve our high salaries". When laborers formed unions they were genuinely exploited in many cases. Not sure how you rationalize a software engineering union...

Also, medical schools limit the number of seats available to prevent an oversupply of labor from occurring. This helps keep salaries very high.

Right now, the big thing keeping the supply of software engineers down is the lack of housing available near software companies, but this will slowly change as more and more companies start outside the bay area.

I will never understand why remote work isn’t more widely embraced. It’s bizzarre when an industry that prides itself on solving the big problems, and one that literally invented the web— a place where one can get stuff done without being in a dpecific place—can’t embrace the very new way of working it created, a way that would solve some serious housing issues. No one needs to live anywhere close to their “work” anymore, and yet we still have companies that force this upon us.

This is actually very similar to the apprenticeship system that my dad went through in order to become an electrician. They essentially paid him to train through apprentice to journeyman.

That said, it was through a union and they have certain guarantees about the level of pay and conditions that are acceptable for work, and the usual benefits of collective bargaining. What are your thoughts on software developers / engineers and unionization?

That's similar what we're going for, apprenticeship. We think that hands-on projects help people learn very fast. Some of the projects are from us (specifically designed for learning), and some of them are real-world.

As for unionization, I am not sure. The demand is high enough for software developers that we are willing to take risk to not get paid back if they earning below $40,000. So we don't guarantee a salary but we make sure they don't pay us if they are aren't earning enough.

Love this, fwiw. I'm in the UK, or I'd be on it.

Anyway, is it literally $40k you pay 15% ($6k), below you pay nothing?

Is there any sort of tax saving, do "graduates" pay tax on the full amount but pay out 15% to an "educational trust"?

Are you a non-profit?

Under $40k, nothing owed.

We are for-profit. We think that model can help us scale faster than the tax advantage of the non-profit can help us. Larger non-profits can play a role in the future of this market though, with various guarantees and cheaper capital.

Have you considered bracketing it or is this a purposeful marketing point? If a graduate is offered 2 jobs at 39k and 50k, would they make more at the 39k job in the short term?

At 50k they'll take 42.5 gross, $46k (40 + 15%) is the inflection. Save special tax situations anything over $46k will get them more than having a <$40k gross wage.

Marginal rates (brackets) are a good idea. Right now, too complex for the capital markets around this product and we think (possibly) for the customer, so we're sticking to the flat rate.

You certainly know more about this than I do (running a company and all that), but the situation described in the GP strikes me as a likely real-world scenario, and a bad outcome for both you and the customer.

I have no relation to the company, but I don't support unionization. The unionization in my mom's industry effectively locked her into her current employer with no hope of leaving. If she were to switch jobs, she'd have to start back at the beginning of the union pay sale and work her way back up over 10 years

Can you give details because it sounds extremely unlikely that a union would act to stop their members being able to get a new job that recognises their experience -- can't the companies employing those unionised workers just fire 10% every year and cut wages dramatically?

Can't you just leave the union, move jobs?

I'm guessing this is going to be one of those "I can't believe USA thinks it's a [good example of a] democracy moment"?!?

So, pics or it didn't happen??

So, this is actually not so very similar in any aspect that actually matters.

For some reason, the name "Modern Labor" immediately associates in my head with terms like "slave labor" and "child labor". Perhaps that is just me. But I can't help but feel a slight revulsion to the name just hearing it. Sorry for the criticism - mostly just voicing my opinion in case anyone else shared it and it is actually worth giving a second thought to.

It is not just you; it is a terrible name. The word "Labor" itself has negative connotations due to human history and suffering from extortion. Using it in a completely novel, unproven and radical context worsens the situation.

"Furthermore, graduates agree to work for us directly if our offer is as good as their other employment offers." - So you're tied to whatever job/management/role you're offered unless you can score a better offer. This seems very suspicious and concerning.

Labor is a negative word? We labor every day, our actions are labor, we set out upon labors, and most of us are labor.

How Orwellian would it be to try to avoid calling a pig what it is because the word describing it makes you feel bad? Software development, regardless of how much you want to shout from the rooftops how much you like it, is labor. You trade your time for money to someone else who wants code. We are damn fortunate that wealth is attracted to code enough to provide this small segment of the working class as much luxury as it can reap from its labors.

There are many words which both (1) should not have negative connections but (2) probably aren't an ideal product name if you want your business to be successful.

There's no penalty if they don't take our offer. We are likely going to remove this clause. Interestingly, virtually everyone who applies (> 98%) is fine with this.

>Interestingly, virtually everyone who applies (> 98%) is fine with this.

How was this measured?

Everyone who fills out the application answers this question. It's a little harder to do this test now (because of selection bias) but in the recent past when we were advertising the program we wouldn't tell people about the staffing bit until the application. There's probably some attrition there (i.e. people who don't like the staffing bit maybe would just not complete the application). But, interesting, people would answer "no" to other questions that would disqualify them (like right to work in US, or about the income share agreement terms) and would still complete the application. This makes us believe people were answering honestly and not just dropping off at the staffing question.

We're not tied to the name. If it ends up being a major issue, we will change it for sure. We think of it more along the lines of "Labor party" or "labor rights" or "labor market" than what you mentioned. Perhaps this theory is wrong though and we'll need to adjust.

If I search for modern labor, I get you (great!), also on the first page are "Modern day child labor", "how business can tackle modern slavery and forced labor", "what is modern slavery"; the rest are relatively benign. I'm not sure that's too helpful.

My first association would be for a newly modernised incarnation of a Labor Party, just like Tony Blair gave us New Labour.

I'm from the UK, so my first impressions may not be thought relevant. :)

I think it has something to do with the UK search results/expressions. The US one (the one I see, from our IP) is about "modern labor economics" and "modern labor market"

That was the benign ones. I used US spelling and every result was a US site. Maybe not representative of results if I were on a US ip.

I see. They’re positive concepts but they still have negative underpinnings. Why do we need Labor rights? Because of labor exploitation.

Brand name choice is extremely important, please give it a deep thought.

Use labor, self-titles and related synonyms: Work, Studio, Atelier, Space, Office, Lab, Laboratory, Place, Court, Library, Market, Identity, Passport, Expert, Master, Etc.

For example: BinaryPassport

It’s quirky, cool and kinda makes sense - Passport to software engineering.

As someone from the UK, “Labour Party” is precisely why it has negative connotation!

Definitely change it. Nobody wants to think of themselves as "labor."

Sounds like a political party, to my ear.

Sounds Marxist to my ears.

Congratulations, this is great! I'm glad you'll be reaching an underserved group.

I hope, though, that you'll be honest with your students about what your program will deliver.[1] While it's currently still possible for many non-programmers to achieve upward mobility just by learning to code, there's a huge skill gap between those who can cobble together a few libraries to make a website, and those who understand theory/systems well enough to build something novel.

While compensation levels for both groups are currently still comparable, the steadily increasing supply of bootcamp grads and self-taught engineers could result in a pronounced bimodal distribution in a matter of years. Some subset of folk will have the motivation and resources to make the jump;[2] others may end up in end-user programming roles that pay poorly or aren't fulfilling.

Somebody entering your program should have a realistic view of what it takes to reach the parts of our industry that they hope to find themselves in. If they know that Modern Labor is step 0, and see themselves on a long road of learning and growth, they're likely to do very well!

[1] I wouldn't have worried about this, except that I've seen some bootcamps tell their students that they should consider themselves "senior" upon graduation, and that their skills are comparable or superior to graduates of top computer science programs.

[2] I run https://bradfieldcs.com and maintain https://teachyourselfcs.com, both of which aim to help such folk make the jump. As much as I try, many people aren't interested or driven enough to start, let alone persist for the years that it takes.

Great point, right now we're trying to filter for that desire to be in the field for a while, but ultimately I think we will add a lot of material that gets people ready for the long road ahead of learning. We see ourselves right now as a way to get a foothold, and climb from there.

Some junior developers I have worked with are grossly incompetent even with a CS degree from well respected schools because they treat their education as a trade school, ignore the standards that govern their profession/technology, and are utterly reliant on unnecessary abstractions to write any code at all. The negligence is so common it has names like imposter syndrome.

I wonder if an educational program like this is far superior. I would be curious to hear about the results.

If you are teaching JavaScript and client-side skill I recommend teaching the standard DOM methods and how to efficiently “walk the DOM”. It is becoming a lost art, but there is no alternative. The DOM methods remain the only true standard to access markup as everything else is an abstraction that compiles down to that at an incredible performance cost. It’s little things like that that add up over time that crush an application and complicate what are otherwise quick and simple architectural decisions. I am biased because that kind of standards based approach has made me more employable.

I'm confused on who or what misled you to believe that imposter syndrome only exists within the CS bubble. It's a human phenomenon. Sometimes it is purposefully fueled by junior developers being talked down to be senior developers who at best feel threatened of being exposed (do I really deserve to make double what a junior dev makes?) or at worst are simply misanthropic. Many of these senior developers are surely skilled at walking the DOM but due to their toxic attitude must be managed with kid gloves like so: https://hbr.org/2016/10/how-to-manage-a-toxic-employee

> I'm confused on who or what misled you to believe that imposter syndrome only exists within the CS bubble.

There is a big difference between lacking confidence and feeling like an imposter versus a fraudulent qualification. This is solved in most industries through licensing/certification. If you want to practice medicine, law, or nearly anything else you need a license. You need a license to be a truck driver. With such licensing comes testing, a validation of experience, background checks of your professional employment. Software has none of this.

That being said how do you identify if a potential software applicant is a fraud to the skills they claim to possess? You really don't. You interview them and hope to separate the capable from the incapable, but often it isn't clear until after they are hired and spent some time on the job. The second order consequence is when you hire only weak developers that weakness is the new (lower) baseline of acceptable competence.

> Many of these senior developers are surely skilled at walking the DOM but due to their toxic attitude

I think that is a gross generalization to suggest that somebody has enviable valuable skills they are therefore toxic. They could be, in fact, abrasive. It could also be that the people without the valuable skills are defensive and insecure. The best way to answer this is if everybody in that scenario had the valuable skills would the toxic nature still be present? In my experience toxic people remain toxic even when the environment changes.

You mean, you don’t use frameworks at all?

A framework isn't a valid excuse for a deficit of necessary valuable skills. With additional confidence and capabilities comes the potential to solve complex problems with fast simple solutions a given framework may not expose.

I have a product idea for you. You could offer me, as an employer, a part of what they pay you as an incentive to hire your graduates. Essentially I'd be getting a discount on my employee costs for the first two years in exchange for helping your program be more attractive because you'd be able to show a higher post-graduation hire rate.

I'm still working out the ethics of this in my head though. Is this ethical or exploitive? I think the answer depends on the employer. I feel like it's good for the student, since after two years they will have had a chance to learn on the job at a discount to me, and if I've done a good job training them further, they'd be valuable enough to me to keep on board without the discount. But I worry that an unethical employer might only keep them two years and abuse them and then cut them loose when the discount runs out. So you'd have to prevent that somehow.

That sounds like a very convoluted way to ask for what is in essence a discount.

It's a discount for the employer but also good for the future employee. As an employer I'd be willing to spend more time on training knowing that I'm getting a discount from market rates, and the employee wins because at the end of the two years, their base pay is higher to calculate raises against or to take to their next employer.

Wow. Great introduction. Love how you headed off snarky comments such as the percentage of income, the fact that $2K/mo isn’t a lot in some places, that 5 months of learning is only enough to start a new journey, not reach the destination, etc. I need to incorporate this tactic into my communications.

> Become a Full-Stack Developer

I don't think 5 months is sufficient for most persons with "little or no software skills" to reach a level at which they can work as programmer, software engineer, or (maybe even) computer scientist.

So what do you say to the 50,000~ bootcamps students doing this currently?

I did a bootcamp in 10 weeks and got hired immediately. People may be against that for whatever reason but I was able to meaningfully contribute to my company, and it allowed me to learn while working in the industry. Been going 2.5 years now, and admittedly, I still have a ton to learn, but I'd like to think I'm not a fraud at this point.

What do you say to the students that do not get hired?


My bootcamp had 90% placement rate within 90 days and has for years. This question kind of ridiculous though, no education system works for every single participant. There are plenty of people with B.A.'s not getting hired. Even people with law degrees occasionally. Much less financial and time risk with a bootcamp tho.

You can pay $200K and go to university for 4 years and still not get hired. That's more likely for non-CS degrees, but true nonetheless.

Completely agree. The majority of people are not suited to be even basically competent developers; they just lack the mindset / diligence / intelligence / etc. You can in no way compare this to apprenticing as a plumber or carpenter, which are positions that do not require anywhere as much mental capability. All that aside, I guess these guys have done their calculations carefully, and might make some big 'wins' based on finding diamonds in the rough, and otherwise find enough average Joes to shovel into the meat-grinder of low-level development work.

Methinks you underestimate carpentry and plumbing as professions.

I agree that this is a great way to unearth some talent trying to break through.

Those trades do not require the same level of abstract and logical reasoning, no matter what other skills they do require. It's the former that is in short supply in the general population.

Why not? I bet all of the people reading this wrote programs at 5 months into their careers that did something useful, most probably earlier than that! I imagine that most of us readers now have more than 5 months experience under our belts and have since grown, so we can write that program faster or to do more or what have you. None the less, we and these potential students can be productive before being fully educated.

I think it's important that we don't gatekeep as a community and encourage people, especially visible minorities, to join the industry and help us build better stuff! https://dellsystem.me/posts/fragments-50

It's not gatekeeping, it's an argument against false promises.

Out of curiosity, how long should the program be in order to turn new coders into full-stack developers, in your opinion?

Maybe between 2 and 5 years, depending on what a new coder is and what a full-stack developer is. You didn't define either and in my understanding someone with "little or no software skills" is not a "new coder".

If companies are willing to hire after five months of training and let people continue to learn on the job then that is the very best option for these "new coders." The quality of learning that you do on the job is so much higher than what you do in the classroom that it should be every new coder's goal to get the bare minimum of skills required to get hired, and then get started on your real learning.

Realistically if you are hiring entry level people, with few exceptions you are hiring on potential, not skill and experience. You end up training the explicitly, or implicitly by paying them to learn for the first few years.

In this context it is useful to think of bootcamps, ideas like this, and even most undergrad degrees as a filter - not a certification.

If someone is motivated enough to do a program like this and shows some good understanding of basics, that gives you a lot of information in hiring.

With zero skills and no technical training in any field, it is a big stretch, you're right. Most of the applicants come in with something to work with -- self-study, training in another field, etc. As the market develops (and financing costs come down), we will make the program longer (year or longer) and open it up to more people.

Your website suggest that "No experience in software development is necessary [...]" to "Become a Full-Stack Developer" after taking the course, and get employed as software engineer. ("Create a project portfolio and we find you a software engineering job")

Are you saying 5 months is not sufficient? ("[...] we will make the program longer (year or longer) and open it up to more people.")

Most of the applicants/cohort right now have a dabbled on their own (picked up htm/css/js) for a while and this is their big push, so 5 months ends up being appropriate. We will see how that scales though. We think that if someone has done zero investigating/learning on their own, they probably aren't ready to commit 5 months in the first place, however.

> Suitable for those with zero to intermediate coding experience

> Most [...] have a dabbled on their own (picked up htm/css/js) for a while[...]

Which is it?

"dabbled on their own" could mean "(slightly above) zero to intermediate coding experience".

Starting from zero, most people will require at least 18 months to become productive software developers

And then 6-12 months in a company which has the structure and process around software development to become as productive as 1.0 software engineer vs. being <1.0 of a software engineer and requiring that another engineer drop down to 0.8 to help you along.

A misconception I've often encountered in first time founders is that engineering productivity accretes linearly with headcount.

that's why i like pair-programming. it makes me as a senior more productive. so even if the output of the junior is 0 at the beginning, my productivity rises from 1.0 to, say 1.2. that means the junior effectively adds 0.2 in productivity.

So, basically, your company is part school, part loan agency. The loan business is offering to students a loan which covers scholarship in the school + 10k, and then bets on the job market for interests at 2 years terms.

This way to put it is sure less appealing than "we pay you to learn" but closer to the actual business model.

Looks like you could have partnered with an existing program (or several) for the teaching part, and only run the lending/revenue sharing. What pushed you towards handling the school yourselves? More confidence in the results? Difference in the legal/financial stuff due to the business structure? PR value? Taste for teaching? Bit of all that? Something else?

I think we would put it more like staffing platform + a trainee/school program. But we combined them because we saw a gap in the market. Pure schools need to make money on the school portion (they have to have high gross profit per student). A lot of schools hover around 50% gross profit per student. So we thought, if are able to integrate vertically (and have both school and staffing platform), we can finance the school portion extremely aggressively (and scale really really fast), and meanwhile actually turn a profit on the staffing platform side. That's the business model reason.

The second reason is that we think that by paying people to finish tasks, assignments, and learning material, we can actually incentivize completion in a much cheaper way than employing a lot of supervisors. So not only are we able to grow faster because of our integration (like above), we can be more efficient at producing students. I think if we weren't trying to scale extremely fast and sustainably we would probably focus on the training portion.

I see. It makes sense, I'm curious to see how it will evolve.

It’s more of an investment in the person than a loan. Analogous to debt vs equity financing.

A loan is bad because it doesn’t align incentives as much and pushes risk onto the borrower.

Agreed that it looks more like an investment plan than a loan, especially with the funds being unlocked gradually upon completion of assignments and courses attendance.

My point was that if you strip out the marketing "good intentions" part (not saying that the good intention aren't there), then this looks like a financial product of sort. Which made me wonder why bother combining the financial part with the school. But I got the answer about that.

Note that I'm not in the US, so I can't really get a feel of how risky this is for the student. Is 40k/y a common starting salary for a beginner or is it usually higher? 15% is due when you get to 40k salary, so that would leave you at 34k/y. Is that comfortable, or is that 6k loss hard to absorb?

I guess that depends a lot on the location?

Is there a cap on the maximum that students pay out? Many similar programs cap the total payout expected from students.

Further, do you work with students on actually getting recruited and getting through interviews? Coding is great, but whiteboarding and interviewing are their own skillset.

Yep, we cap the payment at $30,000. So if they hit that amount, obligations back to us cease.

We help with recruiting as well. If we don't offer them a role with us and our staffing company at the end of the program, we help them find a role with other employers. Whiteboarding/testing/soft skills are a part of the curriculum.

this clause is interesting too, they have first dibs on you as long as they make competitive offers

> After the program, graduates pay 15% of their income for 2 years if they are earning over $40,000. Furthermore, graduates agree to work for us directly if our offer is as good as their other employment offers.

That latter clause seems unenforceable. At-will employment.

Or are there some monetary penalties if they match other employers' offers and you don't take the job?

No penalties, we actually think this clause is probably not necessary. We work with trainees for so long during the program that ideally they would find it natural to work for us (or for our staffing clients).

It's unnecessary, unenforceable and off-putting. By definition, if you make an offer of employment to someone and they choose a different one, then your offer wasn't "as good". Maybe you're offering the same salary, but that's certainly not the only thing that goes into an offer. I get you want to keep students around for yourself or for your staffing clients, but this is not the way to do that.

I think in the end, we will remove it or change the language so dramatically as to remove it. We have been surprised by how many people are totally fine with this clause, though, about 99%.

Employment is at will, but contracts can include penalties.

Interestingly most penalties are not enforceable, damages are though.


Hmm.. I'd much rather have someone choose to work for me than do so out of obligation.

Love the concept!

Some feedback on the website: The image of the man on a laptop sitting in the dark gives off an eerie feeling and reminds me of those cheesy stock images of hackers wearing a ski mask. A man sitting in a well lit room and smiling may be more welcoming to a potential applicant.

Haha! Thanks for the feedback!

They can also cycle between multiple images randomly to make everyone happy

I agree! Why not a woman?

Three questions I haven't seen answered yet...

1) What if you make $40k even? Is the 15% adjusted based on your salary?

2) What happens if you lose your job 1 year in? You've paid back half your debt... what about the other half? I would feel bad telling people about this to see them do it, and then get jobs (either with Modern Labor or somewhere else), and then a year in they get cut, have no job, and are thousands in debt.

3) What if someone is in the program, and halfway has to drop out for xyz reason? Do they owe the money back?

I really like the idea, just wish there were some more details so I could feel confident telling friends about it.

3) If they drop out, we cut the amount of months owed to the proportion of the program attended. So if they do 50% of the program and drop out, they owe only 12 months (50% of 24).

thanks for the quick replies!

And just to clarify... if the program lasts 5 months, and they drop out of the program 2.5 months in (and they would have received $5k so far), what would they would owe..?

15% of income for 12 months instead of 24 months.

The $40,000 threshold is inclusive. So if their income is equal to our greater than $40,000, they owe 15%. If they ever dip below $40,000 payments stop until it goes back up to $40,000.

You should consider making these payback rates marginal (such as 20% of all income above $40k instead of 15% of all income).

As is, there's a weird gap in incomes ($40-47k, roughly) where you'd end up taking home more money by taking a voluntary pay cut.

Totally agree. I think in the future -- as the market for income share agreements becomes more sophisticated there will be marginal rates. Right now the complexity tradeoff for the customer and the financing means we aren't doing it for a while though.

I'm curious about this, does this expire after so many years or is this a new student loan situation that lingers forever if someone is unable to find meaningful (over 40k) employment ever.

Our current contract has a 5-year maximum deferment period, meaning if they don't earn above $40,000 for 5 years, the contract ends and they no longer owe anything.

Wow, this really has the ability to open up the door for bootcamps for people that otherwise couldn't afford to do it, that's commendable!

I don't think 15% is a lot at all. Assume $60-70k for first job out of a bootcamp (which is more than reasonable) and you are essentially charging $10k tuition for a 5 month program.

I hope the numbers work out for you, as it sounds exciting!

I'd love a similar program for experienced or senior engineers that want to shift into an entirely new space (spend 4-6 months learning data science and machine learning, for example. Or low-level programming for embedded devices. Etc)

Thanks! Up-skilling as opposed to learning junior-level skills only is where we think the market will expand to generally in the future.

You are doing an obvious right thing to do and I wish you huge success.

> In return graduates pay us 15% of their income for 2 years if they are earning over $40,000.

How do you enforce this? I.e. what stops someone from simply lying about their income?

We use a company called Leif (my former company). They handle all of the income verification and collection. The ultimate truth is from tax returns. The vast majority of people self-report accurate incomes, however.

So students are required to share access to their tax returns?

Yep, the income share agreement has a clause where, if Leif asks, they need to share their tax information. This is only if other methods have failed, however.

I might be interested to make my siblings enroll in this program if you take Canadian citizens?

Also, I know some people in the US who might be interested in this. But, can you give me the stats about how many people enrolled, and succeeded to get a programming job?

Right now you need the right to work in the US, so if they have that, then yep.

We will have meaningful data in six months to share.

How many money 2000 is varies both by where the person lives and the person and indeed that persons families medical expenses.

I was wondering if the money effectively lent to the learners would be income or a loan.

For practical purposes the money paid to learners bears little resemblance to income. Someone who receives 10K while learning must necessarily pay back at least 12K over 2 years at 40k per year or 18k at 60k per year.

This bears on two matters. Taxes paid and benefits received.

In the first case if the money paid is considered income the user may be paying in effect a substantial fee to the us government to borrow money in the form of income tax.

In the second health care is presently ridiculously expensive and 2K monthly income is just enough in most places to opt the user out of the free medical care that might otherwise render the 2K very livable.

Essentially users who opted to participate in modern labor could find it impossible to pay for medical insurance for any reasonable ammount while "earning" just enough that the state wont pick up the tab either.

Alternatively the user could opt to work 2 full time jobs and face a much higher chance of failure.

Right now we treat it as income for tax purposes but this may change in the future, as we optimize the model and the tax treatment. Due to this, depending on a person's situation, the $2000 might not nearly be enough.

We think of ourselves as underwriting, in the financial sense, someone's near- to medium-term earnings. Some of the negative tax treatment is offset by our assumption of risk. If a person has the skills to go out and freelance and earn $10,000 over 5 months -- and can bear the risk of not earning that -- then we aren't necessarily the right fit. In the freelance case, income would be 1099, which includes both sides of FICA tax, but it also includes the risk of not finding enough clients. When people use us, they are guaranteeing $10k which allows them to plan and learn without worrying.

This is actually similar to how IPOs work. If you are company who wants to sell public stock to investors, there's a possibility that not enough people will buy your stock at a reasonably price if you sell directly to investors. So historically, investment banks would underwrite this transaction and price your stock and buy 100% of your offering. The company gets enough money at a reasonably price and then the investment banker goes out and sells it to investors. In this case, the company may have left money on the table, but their absolute risk is lower, since it's now the investment banker who bears it. Some companies, however, are in such a strong position (like Spotify) that they don't need the investment banker and they just sell directly to the market. Similarly, some individuals have such good prospects/finances that they don't need us, and that's not our market.

Lets take a hypothetical. A family with medical insurance costing $660 and medical expenses with insurance of $200 with 1 person able to work and no monetary help forthcoming from the state.

Paying just over the threshold for free medical care for the state means substantial costs for the learner who will pay hundreds of dollars more for earning literally $50 too much to qualify for free medical.

We aren't talking about people whose prospects are to good to need an option like this we are actually talking about people who are trapped in poverty because earning slightly more ends up being ruinously expensive instead of a step up.

It's profoundly depressing.

We definitely need to dig more into this, but I think you're right, sometimes income from us would push people over limits -- at least the way it's currently structured. Could you share what thresholds you are talking about?

E.g. if the threshold is 5k, we pay 10k, medical insurance goes to $1000 from $0, it might be still positive for the trainee (earning $10k - $tax - $1000 might be better than no earnings at all).

In WA state the threshhold is 138% of the federal poverty line. 1940 I believe for a family of 2. 1900 would literally be more money than 2000 sad to say.

Stupid question time. It seems like the money would more accurately be expressed as a loan. Is there a reason it's expressed as income? Complexity of lending regulation? Lending regulation particularly disallowing the chosen model?

It's not a loan and more akin to equity; there are parallels to the talent agency world. If you wanted to do our program and get paid less than $2000, we could accommodate this via a side agreement or other arrangement potentially.

I’ve applied. I don’t know if this will be shooting myself in the foot but I am a little concerned by the ask for a LinkedIn profile. Leaving any and all social media behind has been the second greatest force for good in my life. The first was spending a couple months meditating in a monastery.

With GitHub now turning into a Facebook for programmers, I’ve anonymized my profile there too. I’m happy to provide code on request or complete challenges but turning everything into an altar for Self may be the greatest mistake of our generation.

The LinkedIn profile is a convenience for us but not strictly necessary, we'll make the form field optional in the future. If that was a blocker drop us an email at support@modernlabor.com and we'll get you an interview another way.

Thank you for the response. I just wrote, "I don't have any social media" in the field.

While teaching web dev, do you put any focus on accessibility for users with disabilities and other special needs? Is your platform accessible to students using assistive technology like screen readers? You're possibly offering something here which could have an impact on the high unemployment rate among disabled people, many of whom are lacking skills or opportunities to obtain them. Would be happy to talk with you more about this if you're interested - full disclaimer: accessibility and usability are my dayjob :)

Yes, we need to integrate more of this -- Please drop an email to support@modernlabor.com

Curious how you're going to balance mentor expertise with the fact that a business generally requires multiple non-overlapping skillsets.

Lots of bootcamps crank out a disproportionate number of web development juniors compared to other specialties, but surely a business will also require other roles, many of which aren't strictly software engineers or which may involve more investment than a macbook (e.g. designers and wacom hardware + Adobe licenses)

I'm also curious how you plan on tackle tech debt in your platform, given that from my personal experience, some of the scariest codebases I've worked on were ones where there was a lot of newbie turnover.

Another thing I'm curious about scalability. At some point, adding more workers tends to not scale and you start to need a ballooning number of middle-level managers, whose required skillset might primarily be soft skills.

A lot of the program is project work and those sometimes require several people with different skills (e.g. UI/UX, a couple full-stack, manager). I think ultimately we'll be taking in different skill-training simultaneously (i.e. project managers learning beside programmers).

As for the core platform, we keep that to more senior people for now.

> You need the right to work in the US.

You should mention this on the website.

You're right, we will add this

How about expanding beyond coding? The U.S. has a shortage of skilled people that goes well beyond coding. E.g. machinists, pilots, nurses, etc.

Also, I think your business model would be much more scalable if you left the educating to others and instead focused narrowly on being a financial program.

Yep -- 100% -- right now it's web development but in the short term we'll bring in other types of software development. Medium term, other knowledge work like data science and finance. Longer term, nursing. Nursing (and other fields where there are more immediate safety issues and logistics issues (hard to do nursing totally online) are very big areas and we probably need cheaper capital to do it (unless VR/AR changes that).

>In return graduates pay us 15% of their income for 2 years if they are earning over $40,000.

What if graduates don't get (or decide not to pursue) a coding job, and instead return to their original or similar field? Do they still need to pay part of their unrelated jobs salary to you?

At the moment they pay back regardless of their field. On the one hand, we are giving out cash (not just instruction). On the other, we believe that coding skills can be used in many areas outside of a software development job (business, product, technical sales, data science etc) and that their productivity should go up in general.

So, I get the reasoning, but a realistic and frankly inevitable outcome (not 100% of the people you accept are going to end up with software job, no matter how good you are) is that a person ends up in the same field, with the same salary they had before, but now has to pay 15% of their income for 2 years to Modern Labor.

That's a pretty horrendous (and possibly incredibly destructive) outcome for someone looking to improve their outlook, and will definitely give me pause in recommending they apply to the program.

It also contradicts your mission:

>We believe that money should never be a barrier to learning and that with the right motivation and funding, anyone can learn new skills and make a better life for themselves.

At the very least people shouldn't be punished for either not succeeding in finding a job (a failure that could be partially the responsibility of Modern Labor), or simply deciding coding isn't for them.

Making the payback at marginal rates (0% for below $40k and 20% for everything above that) would largely fix this issue.

If you are making around $40k per year, you have nothing to lose; if the program doesn't improve your state in life at least you don't have to pay too much back.

Non-marginal (15% of everything) plus the "you must work for us if we beat offers" theoretically could lead to them offering everyone a $40,001 per year job, essentially forcing them to work that for 2 years and incur high payback costs.

I love the model, but $2k/ month seems like it would only work for people who don't live in tech areas, where it's more affordable. Being based in those locations, it seems like it will be harder for them to get a FT tech role afterwards.

Most of the current cohort lives in high cost areas but there is probably a subsidy (like free rent) or savings in there somewhere. I think with a family especially $2000 is not enough without other savings. We hope in the future we can make this $4000 or stretch $2000 longer, but that depends on cost of capital.

This honestly sounds like a pretty cool idea, but I’m a little concerned about something you say:

> Most of the content is open source. Some of it’s from places like Freecodecamp, which is available for free. If you have money, you don’t need us.

If you are not offering much value in terms of the educational content (since it’s freely availabe), then aren’t you essentially just loaning people money. They get money now, and they promise to pay you back a higher amount in a while.

Wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper for someone to just get a 2k loan on their own and study the freely available content on their own?

Getting a credit limit of 10k is tougher than 2k but you're right, there are other ways to finance learning. We think there are a couple reasons why more people might like our model: 1) the income share agreement means that they aren't stuck with payments when they can't afford to make them. We find that many students are averse to traditional debt like this, rational or not. 2) we give structure to the learning in a way being on your own in the wild is hard to replicate. Having a defined set of things to do and being paid to accomplish them in the right order, we think and may be wrong, that at scale, this will lead to more people finishing the required steps to learn material.

edit: grammar

Yeah. For a $10,000 loan, assuming a $100k salary when you're done, you're looking at a $1,250 monthly payment/a whopping 139% interest rate[0]

[0] https://www.calculator.net/interest-rate-calculator.html?clo...).

The one difference here is the risk component of equity financing versus debt financing -- with debt, you have to pay no matter what, with equity, you pay only if there is money left over. I think in the future, as the cost of capital comes down, the percentages of income will come down a lot.

The difference being that presumably Modern Labor doesn't require you to pay back the loan if you're not making >$40k after their patronage.

Where as, if you take out a normal loan and don't net a good coding job after your little educational hiatus, you're in a worse financial position than you before (except now you know how to code, yay).

What is the selection criteria ? I feel many folks who have flexible jobs (waiter, uber driver, etc) would love to join your program, work on assignments for a say 5 hours and do part time work rest of the time.

We like to see some evidence that they want to do software development. E.g. they have some small projects or they've been doing some self-study or courses. We have several uber drivers in our cohort right now actually.

What's the general tone toward folks coming to the program later in life? Possibly without a strong tech background but smart and looking to start a new career. How about folks with a criminal background looking to start a new life? A lot of the coding bootcamps I've seen have been geared toward the young or very specific demographics (e.g. women). Do you have a specific demographic that you are targeting?

At the moment, the primary drivers for acceptance are evidence of interest in the field and evidence of grit, regardless of life stage/demographics. Criminal record is OK too.

I think it's a great idea. So many people would like to learn CS but don't have the time bandwidth; paying them to learn is a win/win.

Awesome thanks! We believe this model can be helpful and at scale

Is the 15% adjusted based on salary? Because right now you it looks like you would take a $6,000 pay cut to go from $39,999 salary to $40k salary

15% is from gross income. There's an indifference point, you're right, but most people don't optimize like that we found at Leif with a lot of other schools.

Still, why make this perverse incentive at all? It would be easy to structure it more like taxes...?

P.S. I think this is a great project and I am very interested to see how this goes.

I think in the future it will be more like marginal tax rates. Right now it comes down to how we finance the program. The market for income share agreements has been, so far, flat percentages. As it develops, this will change as the various funds/institutions get more comfortable with the general product.

Can I take this idea and use it in Germany? There is a huge demand of IT / programming skills, but the market is simply empty, because of the traditional crafts in industry, where most of the young people go.

Offering this would possibly rise the interest in IT related skills and capture intelligent people.

We think this type of model (paying people to learn) is part of a bigger macro trend: content widely available on the internet, better learning tools, more work remotely. I think one day we will go international (and recoup investment via staffing) but not for right now.

There are plenty of smart germans around. They seem to go with the tradition because it will always pay.

I'd like to change that. IT is hard,. it pays double.

What differentiates you from Lambda School if (when) they start offering a stipend during their course?

Right now (without the stipend) they cost 17% of income for 2 years (for income over $50k) which is just (slightly) more than us. Adding a stipend their prices either have to go up (3 years instead of 2 years paying back, for instance) or they have to remove/change some of their product features since skilled mentors cost money. We want to make sure we give the maximum possible amount of money to people during the program and are prepared to deal with the implications of that.

Have you considered something like Lambda Co-op?


Yep - we think client projects are a big part of the learning process. We haven't designed it to be like their program but it's in the same ethos.

Cool. Any way to get updates on this?

We've got a newsletter, drop a line at support@modernlabor.com and we'll get you on it -- otherwise we'll put a newsletter signup on our landing and can sign up there

Furthermore, graduates agree to work for us directly if our offer is as good as their other employment offers.

What does this mean? If I get a job offer for $100k but you match I have to accept your job offer of working for your company?


Right now there's no penalty if they don't take our offer. It could turn out in the future we don't need this clause at all.

>Right now the curriculum is JavaScript (React, Redux) and Python and focuses on the web, which is only one sliver of the software universe.

And I highly doubt you will expand beyond this given who you are likely to be contracting with.

Third question: would you consider this for more highly educated roles like machine learning or Recurse Center-like fellows? Basically people who are already highly technical who want to become more specialized.

Yep, we aren't set up for that right now but that's where this is going - giving people, at various stages in their career, a significant block of time/money and guidance to focus on increasing their skills.

Is it possible for experienced backend developers to get into the program? I'm thinking someone like myself that has been programming in C# and would like to make a transition to frontend development.

the problem right now is, let's say you are earning 80K as C# dev, you take 5 months to learn front-end but you don't get a front-end job.

So you take another C# job that pays you the same. But now you have to give Modern Labor 15 % of your pay.

You are taking a chance that the new job will pay you at least 15% more than your current one after 5 months.

Yep, many of the applicants have experience in some kind of technology, whether programming or something else. We actually think this sort of re-skilling is going to be very common in the future.

(already answered in the site chat but re-posted here)

Have you considered custom pricing tiers based on skills set and/or progress speed through the program?

Do you take remote students?

How is the 15% of income you take from students spent?

- Right now there is only one income percentage tier. We are trying to keep it simple for the trainees and the financing side.

- Everything is remote (the program is online)

- The 15% goes back to other students and the rest covers our other costs and expenses.

Congratulations on the launch!

I am curious if there are other skills/jobs that would be viable to teach in a similar manner (definitely outside the scope of the launch, but I'm curious).

Thanks! We think that we can do this model with most knowledge-based work: data science, business, product, finance, paralegal, etc.

This is an awesome idea. Speaking from experience as someone who transitioned into engineering. I would have totally tried this if it was around 4 years ago. Good luck!

How long will it take to get to profitability doing something like this? Really interested in the business model part of this and how the numbers pan out.

If we wanted to, pretty soon actually -- we have been involved in the financing side of income share agreements for a couple years now so we can do this competitively. As for sustainable profitability, that will depend on our relationship (network) with employers/staffing clients and how much they value our supply of talent.

Does the 15% only apply if they land a job as an engineer? What if they do half the program, realize it's not for them, and take a job in marketing?

If they drop out, they owe in the proportion they attended. So e.g. if they drop out halfway, they owe 12 months instead of 24 months. Also they owe regardless of their field. We do this for two reasons. We are giving people straight cash and number two, we believe their overall productivity should go up. For instance, a marketer can scrape the web or write marketing scripts (e.g. parsing bulk emails) that can make them more efficient, produce more value with less effort, and ultimately could translate into higher income.

This looks awesome, I just submited my info. Is there a chance of getting selected to do it remotely from Chile or in the USA without a Work Permit?

It's all remote but, how it's currently set up, you do need the right to work in the US at the beginning of the program.

Is it actually possible to make such a contract legally binding and enforceable or do you plan to depend on the honesty of your students?

The income share agreement is strict (Leif helps us handle that). For the staffing agreement, there's no penalty if they decide to work somewhere else. Ultimately we have to rely on the positive relationship we have with the trainee.

You said the work is "self-paced", does that mean there are no instructors and no set times I have to be "in class"?

We make sure they do the work (code reviews) and we want them to spend a reasonable amount of time actually coding (we log how much time they spend on items). But there's no "class" per se, other than check-ins with us

Are the actual terms of the student agreement available? I can't find them on your website.


Is it possible game the system? Take the $2000 outsource the learning to someone for far less.

We have enough check-ins, code reviews, and logging that this would be hard to do, but in theory someone could try. The income share agreement identity verification/collection is pretty efficient though so it would be hard to do at any meaningful scale.

Also, just to clarify, we give out $10,000 ($2000 per month)

How do you differ from Lambda School? What do you think you do better than them?

Our focus is on paying the students a livable wage to have time to learn. We want to pay as much money out to them as possible. Most of our work is self-paced or project-based, and while their are people to help guide them, we want the maximum amount of money going to students. Lambda is a great program but a lot of money goes to more attention from mentors. They are experimenting with stipends, but overall it's more expensive. We think there's space in the (growing) market for different models.

Second question - would you consider alternate tracks, like UX design?

Yep, UX is one of the fields we think work well with this model although we aren't doing it right now, I think we will in the future.

Do you have plans to extend this outside of the US at some point?

Yep - although not for a bit. We have to do a different collection model than income share agreements to do it effectively right now.

Do you have some sort of announcements list or a way I can be notified when you expand to other countries?

As an aside, while teaching web dev, do you put any focus on accessibility for users with disabilities and other special needs? Is your platform accessible to students using assistive technology like screen readers? You're possibly offering something here which could have an impact on the high unemployment rate among disabled people, many of whom are lacking skills or opportunities to obtain them. Would be happy to talk with you more about this if you're interested - full disclaimer: accessibility and usability are my dayjob :)

You're paying a third of what someone on the US federal minimum wage would make during that time (7.25 x 40hr/week x 20 weeks).

Edit: oh, I thought it was 2000 total, not per month.

Never mind then, though I do think this is would ideally be a government program.

I think you might have the math wrong there.

7.25 x 40 x 20 = $5800

we pay $10,000

Second, virtually all the work is not for any gain (it's purely instructional)

Is it only for US people

At the moment, you need the right to work in the US in order to do the program.

That appears to mean you need an EAD (https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/employment-authorization-doc...), or:

>"You do not need to apply for an EAD if you are a lawful permanent resident. Your Green Card (Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card) is evidence of your employment authorization. You also do not need to apply for an EAD if you have a nonimmigrant visa that authorizes you to work for a specific employer (for example, you have an H-1B, L-1B, O, or P visa)." (ibid) //

I've only done a cursory check but all the USCIS talks about residence, do they allow non-residents the right to take up employment; is that anticipated as a possibility, do people have to reside in (or have rights to reside in) USA to be a worker there?

https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/CFR-2012-title8-vol1/CFR... is probably useful to others looking at this (AFAICT you have to "download" you can't view it online, but I'm on mobile).

Ah... bummer, you should make it clear at the front page though.

Specific locations? Greater Seattle Area?

No specific location, just need the right to work in the US - Everything is remote/online

why is that so? any plans to change it in the future (or to help with acquiring that right)?

It's mostly to do with the income share agreement. Doing it outside of the US is complicated and Leif, our vendor, doesn't do outside of the US yet. That affects the availability of capital (big funds would rather stick to the US for now). In the future this will change possibly, especially if we adopt a different payback model.

Are you considering mobile (ios/android) training?

Yep - not in the next 6 months though.

This is an interesting concept. What comes to mind is the company Reviture. I'm not sure if they pay students to code I think they cover boarding and have an online platform to boot. But as far as Modern Labor goes it sounds like a nice idea but after looking at the comments and information I've gathered so far it seems the makings of Uber all over again.

In this case, I get the the sense that drivers(or paid programmer apprentices) are sold on the idea that they can make good side money whereas they're not factoring all the other expenses or finances that would come up front or even worse over time such as car maintenance, gas, tolls and etc. For the paid apprentice and everyone's living situation is different when you factor in location cost-of-living and etc.. to receive a set amount of $10k over the course of five months where it's being asked that you dedicate 40 to 60 hours a week for 5 straight months. You are essentially as the individual who signs up for this course committing to 800-1200 hours which also amounts to living off of roughly to $8 to $12.5 an hour just to learn to code.

Maybe if I was a high school student not looking to go straight into college yet or someone in somewhat desperate situation seeking a way out may consider this. I understand that Modern Labor is a company/business the word loses me is the commitment of taking 15% salary for two years straight or how to commit to work for the company if they match a competing offer.

This gives me the impression that the individual who signs up to be part of their program provides more value to Modern labor then they do for themselves. Kind of like Uber pays the driver, takes a % of gross revenue from the trips while they're being still funded by venture capitalists. Guess it's like how big Daddy Kane says, pimpin ain't easy..lol

Anyways, this may not be the best example but this is what comes to mind. Modern labor good luck to you guys if you guys becoming successful in this endeavor and perhaps some company will buy you guys out and in return we have a growing labor force the scale of uber where the promise is to take you from novice to master developer in 5 months where has a person who signs up for this program takes $10k up front but pays back 15% of their salary over two years or a maximum of $30k. Perhaps this is a small price to pay when it comes to doing business. Makes you wonder who's benefiting from from who. ️

When does this program start?

We have rolling cohorts starting every two months right now, eventually it will be every month.

Does that mean the next one starts in april ? I'm really interested in doing this.

Another one starting in May

Looking for instructors?

Drop us an email at support@modernlabor.com

Indentured Servitude?

The income sharing is only for two years.

Thank you "Modern Labor" for being yet another force that is determined to make software development go the way of Woodworking, Welding, Automotive Manufacturing, etc.

We're already on the path toward blue collar salaries thanks to big pushes from government and big tech (Google,FB,etc.) to lower labor costs by inflating the supply of workers. You've heard it before - "not enough software developers!"... Yet salaries are barely moving? We didn't need it, but now startups like "Modern Labor" further incentives an ever growing influx of programmers into a market which is destined for over saturation.

Get ready folks. Your white color job, is turning blue faster than you even realize it. Find something to specialize in and do it fast.

> Find something to specialize in and do it fast.

I specialize in unfucking harebrained implementations written by teams of "engineers" with five months of experience.

"Yet another force" is accurate I think. Many open source developers, as soon as they discover that evangelizing is a less stressful job than actually writing code, go into the "teach everyone to code" and "we need more minorities" business.

It's good business once you know how to exploit it.

white collar and blue collar are awful terms. can we just accept the fact that we are all laborers... and look after our interests, together as one.

In some sense this is very true. Michael Porter (Harvard prof, wrote Competitive Strategy), thinks that basically everyone in an advanced economy has to constantly increase their skills, but as a result, everyone produces more for less money, and the living standards go up collectively. Is this right? Maybe, maybe not.

It sounds right to me, except that the living standards don't go up, the surplus goes to the edu/housing/healthcare rent seekers.

> Thank you "Modern Labor" for being yet another force that is determined to make software development go the way of Woodworking, Welding, Automotive Manufacturing, etc.

Would this actually be bad for society?

We need a startup that fixes capitalism. Err fixes capitalism for labor. Capitalism is fine as is for capitalists.

Thanks, I hate it. If you go to school for CS and have to work with people that go through boot camp programs like this, it is a pain. They are elevated script kiddies that don't understand what they are doing. You are going to create a bunch of people that have such limited skill sets that they can be readily outsourced. What happens when technology changes? Will they have the perspective and skills to adapt? This is actually a nightmare. People in a tight spot will inevitably be lured in by the pay, then find themselves beholden for two years? Honestly, screw you scheming silicon valley wraiths. You don't care about the well being of people and just look to manipulate people into building your fortune.

One of the things we try to filter really hard for is demonstrated interest in software, which usually means they've been learning on their own for while or sometimes it's a degree in a technical field, but not cs per se. The really big push during our time isn't going to put them into senior-level positions (for the current program) but we think the program can kickstart their life of learning.


Whoa—users aren't allowed to attack other users here. If you'd please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and take the spirit of this site more to heart, we'd be grateful.

A company is trying to bait people in rough financial situations for what amounts to be one semester of college and 2k in exchange for 15% of their gross income for two years. I'm revolted by the concept and said my piece. At what point is it fair, and necessary, in your mind to express ones extreme discontent for what is posted?

For what it's worth, I appreciate you not censoring me and letting my post get handled fairly by letting the users decide where my comment should be.

I'm almost never negative on HN, but I know something like this is going to be a hell on at least a few people's lives.

I think there might be a misunderstanding -- we give $10,000 ($2000/month) not just $2000.

Well, the thing is, a lot of people have extreme discontent about a lot of things. If everyone's allowed to simply blast theirs into the commons, HN will degenerate into a war of all against all. That isn't theoretical, it's empirical. We see it over and over again. The whole point of this place is to prevent that, so interesting conversation remains possible.

Therefore, the social contract here is that we all need to contain our discontents and express them in a factual, neutral way. I know that's not easy, believe me. But it's the skill we all need to learn together, if we're to have an internet community that doesn't burn itself to a crisp. That's a worthwhile thing to try for, don't you think?

So you are making all things equal and there is no point that you would agree one must break from sterile neutrality and admonish one for doing things that will clearly be a nightmare on peoples lives?

2k + Equivalent to free content = 15% of gross income for two years.

All things are not equal, and this isn't a software library or news article, these are peoples lives.

Let's try this a different way. If you can't make your points without attacking people, you can't post here, and doing it repeatedly will get you banned. Please follow the site guidelines from now on.

This is the only time I've spoken about a user negatively like this in all my years on HN. I've made my points in hundreds of comments without attacking people. So I think I can follow your orders boss. Sorry for speaking out against an egregious campaign boss.

Definitely not trying to be bossy or wanting you to feel bad. Just trying to keep peace.

I understand, and I know you are right. I'm just frustrated with the state of things and how people try to do the best they can to live, grab what seems to be a helping hand, but it turns out to be a foot stomping them down further. I will will be more formal and neutral in the future. Sorry for taking your time.

Thanks for that. I appreciate the feelings you're expressing, and am sure that at the core they are valid.

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