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General Assembly raises $35M Series C (generalassemb.ly)
47 points by dja-io on Mar 7, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments



So much money for such terrible(http://www.yelp.com/biz/general-assembly-san-francisco) classes!

Some highlights from Yelp:

"Their web immersive is a joke, but you'll never hear anyone admit that because they make you sign a waver/NDA that you promise not to tell anyone anything truthful/negative about your GA experience."

"Most of the money goes towards the advertising and marketing team, they have more marketers running around doing nothing all day than actual instructional staff."

"Sup-par teaching conditions: we were in a kitchen with a loud fridge in the back"

"Our teacher for our immersive was so underprepared and unenthusiastic and unqualified that the students tried to get him fired."

"The tables were jammed so tight in the room that we used to joke if there was a fire, no one would get out alive."


That's not the case for the one in NYC: http://www.yelp.com/biz/general-assembly-manhattan


My sister did a back end web dev class in NYC this past fall and had a great experience. She learned a ton that she has been able to apply to her position doing QA at a startup. Just another anecdote to throw in the mix.


Sounds like a typical danger for an organisation like this. I'm in NYC and the GA here (the original one) has a fantastic reputation. Maybe they need to tighten up on quality control in their new locations.

And to be fair, the Yelp link you've posted also has a number of very positive reviews, you just didn't post quotes from them.


The one here in DC has (already) earned a decent reputation, and its very new. I'm currently enrolled in a "Data Science" course (which is really an "intro to machine learning and quantitative statistical analysis" course) and I'm very impressed with:

1) The instructors: They are sharp, highly engaging, both active participants in the local start-up and open data communities.

2) The location: It's IN the biggest start-up incubator in DC, 1776.

3) The integration with people who are hiring and non-profit DC organizations who want help with their data. We are already having start-ups coming in to recruit with test projects (which is in my opinion the ideal way to hire)

I think the shittiness of the SF class has more to do with SF and their ridiculous VC bubble and talent shortage than anything else.

Edit: I meant to add this: Most of these type of courses really don't think about industry WORKFLOWS. This course, instead of relying on people submitting their assignments to instructors via email or a website, is instead forcing students to learn Git (if they don't already know it) and then merge their answers into the official class repository as if it were a large codebase. This is one small example of the industry focus of this course. I think the reason this course is so good is (unfortunately) the reason the SF course referenced above was so shitty: they give free reign to the instructor without over-burdening them. This allows a great instructor to shine but also lets shit instructors to really tank.


For those that are looking for a SF-based data science course that focuses specifically on industry workflows, check out: http://www.zipfianacademy.com/


Interesting to compare them with Hack Reactor: http://www.yelp.com/biz/hack-reactor-san-francisco


I liked them better when they were a gorgeous co-working and hackathon space. They really had a "future of NYC tech" vibe.

Their pivot/focus on education seems to be unfortunate, not sure how they can get money back for their investors when education's future is more likely things like coursera (especially with their specialization tracks) udacity and edx.

That said, I do hope they succeed, I never had a bad time sitting on their couches.


I don't want to malign GA because I know nothing about them. But the future of online education is IMO more along the lines of extensively marketed low quality private colleges. That's where the money us: attracting high volumes of low information young people.


> That's where the money us: attracting high volumes of low information young people.

What happens when the old wood (stubborn, ignorant, ingrained) dies off and people who don't care about a college degree start hiring those educated with Khan Academy/Coursea?


I see no indication that the "new saplings" care any less about pedigree than the "old wood." Indeed, the VCs have imported a lot of Wall Street culture and the tech industry is noticeably more pedigree conscious than it used to be. And it's not like the rest of the economy is moving in a different direction, not with the constant drumbeat of "you must go to college."

In any case, that's irrelevant. Even if employers warm up to online education, I still see heavily-marketed, lowest common denominator type places dominating. Maybe Westwood College will be dead, but the MOOC equivalent will be thriving. They'll be the ones making all the money (which is what 'ludicast was posting was about).


I think the in-person element is crucial to the future of education. While there are many people who live in rural areas or internationally who benefit immensely from online platforms like Coursera, there are also a ton of people who live close enough to a city that it's worth it to pay more for the opportunity to learn in a physical environment. That's why GA is great - it takes the best of both, and can provide online education that is greatly bolstered by an in-person experience. Excited for them.


Don't want to be "that guy" but compare these offerings:

GA Data Science (4000$ and taught by MBAs): https://generalassemb.ly/education/data-science/new-york-cit...

Johns Hopkins Data Science via Coursera (490$, taught by Professors of Biostatistics, and granting a cert with Hopkins' name on it): https://www.coursera.org/specialization/jhudatascience/1?utm...

Now I'm not taking either class, but going to be very hard for GA to compete with things like this (and not to mention the outrageous quality codeschool.com pumps out). Let alone the rent they must pay for their awesome spaces.

Spanish, Chemistry, EE, Woodworking, Gross Anatomy and other classes with a serious lab component need an offline element for sure. But they are teaching things that most people usually pick up better from blogs, coursera, etc. (IMHO).


To play devil's advocate, it's not all about the quality. It's about the product, and to whom they are selling it.

GA is something like the University of Phoenix meets the Apple Store. In-demand course offerings, aspirational customers, sexy downtown location.

Good luck earning all that money back though.


> GA is something like the University of Phoenix

Show me one person who takes a University of Phoenix degree seriously.


I think the key to this is what University of Phoenix directly illustrates in their commercials. They claim to have a huge alumni network which will help you get a job. So basically if they are able to get enough people to go through their program early on, they can turn around and leverage that to recruit new students. All of the previous graduates have to take the degree seriously when looking to hire. Otherwise they would be admitting that their own degree is a joke, which they are unlikely to do.


I don't know them personally, but there are many thousands of them: the people who pay to pay to take University of Phoenix classes, and who forked over about $1B dollars in each of the last two quarters.


Wow, the Data Science course in NYC is taught by MBAs?? That's bullshit. I'm attending (on my company's dime, since they actively encourage any and all training) the DS course in DC. I had met both the instructors in the past and seen their work. They are real deal industry stat/ML experts with full time jobs in the field. Had they been MBAs, I would NEVER have signed up.

Regarding the online stuff like Johns Hopkins, I'm a self-learner. I love doing the online courses, but there is something that is fun, engaging, and advantageous to meeting classmates in person. Unlike University of Phoenix, this is a class where people are actively building shit. You can clearly and objectively see who is and is not competent among your classmates. This makes identifying people you would want to work with a lot easier. This won't happen in an online class.

But let me add: 4000 is a lot. I probably couldn't have swung it without my company picking up the tab.


What happens if a statistician gets an MBA? Are they all of a sudden disqualified to talk about statistics? In what way is a Data Science class taught by an MBA bullshit?


An MBA with a focus in Statistics. Irrationally hating on MBAs for no reason doesn't make your point stronger.


I agree that live interaction is important to the quality and results of education, but as far as making money from it, I believe many will choose the option that requires the least possible effort on their behalf.

Look at fad diets, get rich quick schemes, "one strange trick to perfect x," all those hilarious exercise machine informercials... people love the idea that they can get something for next to nothing, in terms of both effort and cost.

I imagine there's room for both (and for the middle ground, which apparently this is), but for many reasons, I don't see the online-only model going away (or even stalling).


Their pivot to education was precisely about money, I think. It certainly sounded like being a co-working and hackathon space wasn't very profitable.

I know a few people that put on hackathon events and apparently GA jacked up their prices far enough to become totally unaffordable, hence why everyone ended up going to Pivotal Labs instead.


This. I suspect their actual motivation was always to be a education play, but wisely used the co-working / hackathon angle to generate income while they built out the education piece.

That said, there's plenty of great places here in NYC to co-work from, so it's probably all for the best.


They're pretty good at marketing... that's about it. The lowest quality start-ups in this training/education space (at least from my experience) are not coincidentally some of the most funded.

http://www.crunchbase.com/company/general-assembly http://www.crunchbase.com/company/skillshare

Once the focus becomes the return for investors instead of the quality of instruction/training, it's a bad alignment of incentives. It seems in these cases there was a rush to expand before they'd really figured out the long lasting recipe of what actually works beyond marketing gimmicks. They're the "cool" version of DeVry and University of Phoenix, dumping more $$ into marketing than into their product.

Contrast this with codeschool.com that has raised $0 to date and is a much better way to learn. Or with some of the better in-person learn to code, design, etc programs, none of the good ones have raised any money. From my experience with all of these, and there seems to be a significantly negative correlation between taking large amounts of VC money and quality. FWIW.

Obviously GA would have the advantage of a theoretical community, but at least in SF... that doesn't exist for them anyway.


In NYC, GA conducts nighttime Meet & Greets with their "graduating" classes. As an employer, this is an efficient way to recruit. I attended one a couple weeks ago and thought it was fairly well organized. If GA can help people get placed into companies, then that's a huge advantage / differentiator for them versus online-only course providers.

So without speaking the quality of the classes themselves - GA specifically, or the concept of online v. in-person - this is a perspective worth considering before slamming the in-person education model altogether. Execution of the actually classes is obviously a separate discussion, but as I said one I'm not prepared to address.


The one here in DC is already doing an excellent job of matching people up with start-ups and non-profits. We've also got NGO's like the World Bank showing up.

My view is this: if a class has good teachers, a difficult, portfolio driven curriculum, and a decently high-bar of entry (my DBA coworker struggled to be admitted to the course because he was rusty in his programming skills. He ended up having to put in a lot of time just to be able to pass their test to gain admission into the course), then it will probably be a good course to take.


I took an html/css workshop with Dustin Coates in Boston and it was excellent. I learned many things which I implemented very next week at work. Indeed, the boss referred to my work as the best front end piece yet created.

I subsequently signed up for a longer front end course after that. True, a bit pricey, but I like a classroom setting and committing myself to a regular learning block each week.


We want to build General Assembly to still be thriving 75 years from now

There's a lot of negativity here on their pivot and marketing. I just like that they're talking about building a company to last. (Of course the VCs will want their money back well before 75 years)


I don't really know anything about GA but I do know you can't really trust much of anything you read.


Even if it's on the internet? :-)

I hear you though.


Well, I can't remember the last time I saw a company say "We want this organisation to totally burn out in about eighteen months..."


It's more like the talk of an IPO or exit. I've seen a lot of people starting a company with the acquirer already in mind.


Slightly off-topic: does anyone have any experience with GA's courses? I'm considering taking one now, but I don't know anyone else who has.

If so, would you recommend them?


I took several of their classes about a year and a half ago, one of which was a long-form evening class. I never had a good experience... I get more out of watching a good meetup presentation on youtube. GA is defined by over promising and under delivering. At least all of their operations out in San Francisco have been terrible, i hear they are better in NYC where they started.


So they're the modern tech version of University of Phoenix? I wouldn't surprise if GA gets acquire by a for-profit.


This is probably a good indicator of what Apollo is interested in:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB1000142405270230458500...

"Apollo Education Group Inc., APOL +1.38% best known for its University of Phoenix for-profit college, is expected to launch an "online marketplace" dubbed Balloon on Tuesday. It will start with a catalogue of nearly 15,000 technology classes from big-name course providers including Microsoft Corp. MSFT -0.84% , Adobe Systems Inc., ADBE -0.89% Coursera and Udacity, and explicitly link them to job opportunities."

They will try to acquire some company in this area, GA or other.


I've taken a marketing and design course with them in NY, and I would say that was pretty worth the money - concise knowledge that's actionable in areas I have little familiarity with being a product gal. Would definitely do it again for a 1-2 hour class, but I wouldn't pay 4k for an immersive.


I took the web development immersive. I will say, the experience you have depends mostly on two factors: 1) your instructor, and 2) your own ability to want to learn and the amount of effort you put in.

That said, they did try to fit a lot in the 12 weeks, but there are so many facets of the tech stack they didn't cover (they rushed through html/css quite a bit, so those that don't know it will still feel lost after the course unless they dedicate some time to get it down. They also don't cover things like how to host your app on AWS, only Heroku).

The redeeming quality they have is that they do seem to care a lot about students' outcomes. After the course ends, they try their hardest to get everybody a junior dev position or apprenticeship. There's a great support network for this and people on staff dedicated to students' outcomes.

For me, the course was worth it because:

* I had some background in web design before

* It was hard for me to teach myself, not knowing what to google or what path to take

* I got an apprenticeship afterwards which turned into a full time position

But about half my classmates did not get a job or full-time position. Your mileage may vary.


THIS: My limited experience so far in a Data Science course in DC is that the people in the course (easily spotted) who have an aptitude and the basic skills are going to get a LOT out of the course and plenty of job offers. The people who aren't self-starters and don't have a grasp on the basics will get nothing. I told a classmate that if he wasn't putting in 6-8 hours a week (minimum) on out of class readings and assignments, he's not going to learn shit.

For those of you trumpeting code school: It's fucking awesome, but for people like me with full-time day jobs, it will never work. I like GA, and I hope they don't turn into a University of Phoenix dressed up like an Apple store. That would be sad.


I took their Product Management class. It was good, albeit a little more basic than I was looking for and it tended towards too much group work driving the class. I do also really like all the alumni events though.


Wonderful, now they can send me even more spam.


so theyre university of phoenix now? btw, if anyone wants to pay me $10,000 to read php.net aloud, i will do so.




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