AlchemistX: Innovators Inside

E.34 - Michael Ellison: Leverage

Published on

May 12, 2022

"Even if you have significant failures, those are significant learning opportunities. They've contributed to the person that you are today." - Michael Ellison

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Show Notes

Rachel Chalmers:

Today. I'm delighted to welcome Michael Ellison. Michael is the co-founder and CEO of CodePath, a 503 nonprofit transforming computer science education for underrepresented minorities at over 50 colleges and universities, doubling in size every semester. Working closely with major technology companies such as Cognizant, Microsoft, and Facebook, CodePath.org is changing what's being taught and how it's being taught in CS programs nationwide to increase diversity in tech using a system-wide solution.
Prior to codepath.org, Michael founded three nonprofits and three tech startups starting at age 19. He was a founding board member for Women Who Code and co-founder of Segment, which went through Y Combinator in 2011 and is now valued at over $1,000,000,000. Michael, it's so great to have you on the show.

Michael Ellison:

It's fantastic to be here.

Rachel Chalmers:

What prompted you to start CodePath?

Michael Ellison:

Well, you know, starting CodePath was more just my lived experience – the story of my life. I grew up on a low income in rural Maine in a single-mother household. I was five years old when my father was incarcerated, and that's when things became pretty difficult for quite some time. So during that period, I ended up seeing the stark contrast between opportunities I had, and what were available to me, versus opportunities available to classmates. In Maine you have these large territories that cover a school, middle school or high school. So there are people who have and there are people who don't have all in the same school system. Also [something that] is painfully clear to me: Sometimes you get lucky with great teachers and sometimes you don't. If you could imagine having an honors English class where you don't read books, instead you just watch videos. So imagine you don't read Macbeth. You watch a video of a movie of actors on Macbeth, and then that's what you're graded on. So there was that stark contrast… But then also being fortunate to discover technology early, entrepreneurship early, and then being put on a path where working with great, really talented teams was able to have an incredible number of different opportunities come my way, including with that company I co-founded. 
Segment was actually acquired last year by Twilio for a little over $3 billion. So, you know, I certainly had potential. I didn't always have access to the same opportunities, and the reason why CodePath exists is because we want to make sure that those incredible opportunities are available to everybody, but especially people from low income, underrepresented backgrounds. And we want to make sure that the change in the impact that we have doesn't rely on luck for you to reach your full potential. We want to fundamentally change the systems, the education system, in a way that is biased in favor of people from low income underrepresented backgrounds reaching their full potential founding technology companies, leading engineering teams, really mastering the tools that will allow us to shape the future.

Rachel Chalmers:

What were the critical success factors for you? How did you get access to the technology being in a big, inequitable school district? Who were the mentors who put you on this path?

Michael Ellison:

No mentors in particular. No exposure to tech. When I was in high school. I didn't know any engineers didn't have any exposure to any engineers. I'd say that when I got into college, I was very aggressive at trying to connect with people who I just thought were more talented than me or smarter than me. And so it wasn't intentional. It wasn't like a master plan of “I'm going to get into tech,” it was more just, “Wow, this classmate is incredible,” or “This professor is incredible. How can I work with them? How can I collaborate with them?” 
From meeting some of these really talented people, that's when I accidentally started a first nonprofit, and that nonprofit did great work, but it wasn't scalable. And around the same time as I was starting this nonprofit, Facebook was getting large, getting huge, but was able to drive this…. You know, it just had this incredible scale with such a small team. So the combination of this timing, working with talented people, Facebook coming up and becoming big, it drew me into tech because I wanted to figure out how I could drive change, not on a small scale, but on a very large scale. A number of different situations led me to trying to do anything I could to just work with people who were in tech, which gave me a little bit of opportunity here, a little bit of opportunity there into slowly becoming more and more technical, working with engineering teams, recruiting engineers. And then every company has been a level up from the past one with deeper opportunities, potential for change. But the high level summary takeaway was extreme aggressiveness and a certain fearlessness of trying to get myself to work with people who were very talented and then eventually very talented technically.

Rachel Chalmers:

This doesn't feel like a rabbit hole at all. This feels like directly at the core of the problem. It must have taken extraordinary tenacity to take that route. I mean, I would have been terrified to approach the most impressive classmates at my university, and it shouldn't be required. That tenacity shouldn't be required of somebody just because they come from your background. I take it that's part of what has inspired you to make that path easier for others that come after you?

Michael Ellison:

Well, so first off, most impressive classmates… Let me just share a little bit, just a small piece, because I was kind of ridiculous a little bit when I was… I mean, I still am to a certain extent. But my second company, which was the first tech company, first tech startup, I was trying to figure out who could be my co-founder. And I just had an idea in my mind. I want it to be somebody who would give me… Who could I work with where it'd be unfair? [Where] it would be an unfair advantage for success. And so I did what anybody would do: I was looking on Twitter. I was Googling and I learned of this person who was in the early stages of starting a new enterprise. He had been part of MTV in the early days, started their prosocial programming, won multiple Emmys for the work that he'd done around storytelling for social good; led Nike's corporate social responsibility; led talent for the first Obama campaign, was a professor as well over at NYU, and I didn't know him. So, I reached out to him via Twitter. This was in the days where there weren’t as many people on Twitter, so it was easier to get responses. I begged him to meet with me. After just trying to pursue him for weeks and weeks and weeks, he eventually met with me and then he said, “Well, you're cute. You know, it's cute you've done some nonprofit stuff, but you can't help me at all. You have no experience. You don't really have any skills. How old are you?”
And so he completely rejected me. But I didn't give up. I started to work for him without his permission for a month. I just started to do stuff I thought would be helpful to him and he'd say, “What? Stop emailing me. You're annoying, stop it. But what are you doing? Don't you have to go to school or something? Like, what are you doing?” 
I tried to anticipate what the challenges were that he was facing and I got lucky in that he was starting a tech company, but he didn't really like the tech side. He didn't like to interact with engineers; he didn't like to interact with product. I enjoyed that. And so there eventually came an opportunity where he's like, “Oh, what are these engineers doing? Just move it from this box to this other box. It's all Internet. Like, what's the…” and so he allowed me to take notes in a meeting which translated to me helping out with the product roadmap, which translated me to running the engineering team and running product, meeting with customer interviews. And eventually he's like, “Okay, you can work with me.” 
So when I say, “Try to identify the most talented people, people whose brilliance intimidates you,” I think those are the people you want to be working with.

Rachel Chalmers:

And that definitely sounds to me like the kind of luck that you make for yourself. Again, I come back to tenacity, that it takes a pretty clear understanding that the alternative to embarrassing yourself this way is worse to be in a position where you can do that. So I mean kudos to young you. That was a very impressive route into the tech industry and obviously much more challenging than for those of us whose parents were together and were engineers and filled the house with computers and books. How can CodePath level the playing field for other kids that were in your situation?

Michael Ellison:

Maybe I'll start with some of the major issues that we see. And then here's some of the challenges and here's some solutions. 
So there are a lot of gaps that exist in our education system. It doesn't work for underrepresented minorities, it also doesn't work for people from low income disadvantaged backgrounds, it also doesn't work for people that don't have connections and pedigree. Some of the examples: You go to college campus, you want to major in computer science. Well, guess what? Introductory computer science – it’s not for beginners. It's designed for people who have had previous exposure to engineering. If you haven’t had any exposure, it might take you 20-30 hours to complete an assignment. It will take someone who's been programming 2 hours to complete the same assignment. If you're just weighing opportunity cost, you may not pick that particular route when you have a lot of other options available. There's a nationwide shortage of CS professors (has been for some time) but that means there's a shortage of support. So you need more support. You don't have it. From an underrepresented background, you don't have the role models, hard to have a sense of belonging, feel like this is a place for you. 
And then some of the other pieces which really are huge gaps: There's a huge mismatch between what's being taught in schools and then what's expected in tech companies. You can go to a top computer science program today. You can be a straight-A student. You don't know how to build web applications. You don't know how to build mobile applications. You don't know how to work in many of the technologies that are the most important technologies for you to actually perform on the job. So there's a skill mismatch. I'm learning theory, but what I really need is practical application. And then, even if you get all that, you teach yourself all of those pieces, you have the support, you still might not be able to pass the technical interview, which is its own thing. And if you also even get that right, well, how do you get noticed? How do you go from invisible to visible to a company that's receiving hundreds of thousands, even millions of applications a year? 
Well, if you didn't go to a top school where they can filter you algorithmically, then maybe you don't have an opportunity. So I mentioned all those gaps. There's just… multiple different dimensions. There's different points in time. 
CodePath actually addresses all of those, where you come into a computer science program freshman year, you see CodePath in the course roster, we've trained your professors, we've trained students to add an extra layer of support, give you a sense of belonging, increase your confidence, and [provide an] alternative introductory point into your first computer science programming experience trying to make you so that you fall in love with programing. 
Then we're there for multiple years, providing the courses that have the missing skills, the missing practical application you otherwise would not have on your college campus: getting your first ever technical internship. We actually run entire internship programs for major technology companies. 
Imagine taking a course and then people are giving you opportunities, your first opportunity, second opportunity. And then we've been able to get to a level of size where we have leverage with employers so that instead of being invisible and not being able to get your foot in the door, we will not partner with companies unless we are able to put you in front of them. We'll say, “Hey, interview the people that we say that are a good match for your company or don't work with us,” and we've been able to achieve that impact at scale or those partnerships that scale with companies. So really it's holistic. When I say transforming computer science education, I really mean transforming computer science education.

Rachel Chalmers:

How have corporations partnered successfully with CodePath? What are some of your success stories?

Michael Ellison:

So we love to partner with companies on systems change. Our first-ever major investor or partner was Facebook years ago, and at that (time this was back in 2016 before we were officially a nonprofit) we were serving less than 1000 students per year , and we told Facebook, “Hey, we're going to grow over 50% year over year for the next four years. In a couple of years, we're going to be serving five plus thousand students per year. We want you to partner with us in order to increase the entire size of the number of high-quality, talented, underrepresented software engineers, and we work with Facebook to create cybersecurity curriculum and then put that across dozens of colleges and universities.” 
There's also a recruiting component as well, where we are running internship programs for them, but then also helping them to better diversify the pathways into early internship programs, their core internship track, entry-level hiring. So really holistic, really focused on driving a systemic change, but also with a lens towards the very important ROI for them from a recruiting standpoint. “Hey, these are our hardest-to-fill positions. How can we fill those at scale and also ensure that it's coming from a diverse background?” So I call that out as a really strong example of the ideal type of partnership that we want to have.
We also have done much smaller or more specialized partnerships. If you have an existing internship program CodePath is able to help to influence the technical preparedness of students participating in that internship program, students that you've rejected from that internship program, as well as, of course, top of funnel – Who's getting into that from the partnerships we have across schools? 
And then we've also expanded to have a really high-scale turnkey from a recruiting standpoint where you could be a five-person blockchain startup and we can plug you in, and we can match you with students. We're leveraging the data, the insight we have from grading across all these different schools to try to do a more curated matching process, matching based on strengths as opposed to lack of any weakness. That then is really in the best interest of these students and also the company. So lots of different recruiting/recruiting training, but really an eye towards, “How are we driving a true systemic change?”

Rachel Chalmers:

And are you typically working with recruiters or diversity equity and inclusion folks or both? Or do you plug into some other part of the organization?

Michael Ellison:

Well, Facebook as an example: Facebook engineering has a rotating board seat with CodePath. I'd say for any organizations in our space thinking about driving diversity at scale, if you're not working with engineering, then you're not working with the primary source of power influence and your primary customers, frankly. And so it's always engineering that loves CodePath, CTOs, vice presidents of engineering, engineering architects… They love CodePath the most. And then it's often a partnership across other areas depending upon the company type and size: usually HR, usually diversity, usually CSR. But oftentimes the functions in the organization that are in charge of diversity and our nontraditional pathways don't really have the influence on the core recruiting pipeline, at least not enough to really drive high-scale change.

Rachel Chalmers:

No, I've seen that first hand. 
Does coming in through engineering help with inclusion? Because we've all seen diversity efforts that recruit a lot of people who very quickly leave because they were invited to the party but not welcomed to the party.

Michael Ellison:

Well, you know, there's a couple of different pieces that we certainly have to influence. And you can have a – I mean, there are some really toxic environments – hard to believe toxic environments, honestly. You hear the stories, you're like, “Oh, my gosh, really? Like, seriously?”
We helped to get this senior African-American engineer, female engineer into a company. At the same time, CodePath was running an engineer onboarding program for Airbnb. So we had this comparison, Airbnb versus these other engineers. She was running circles around all these talented engineers from Airbnb and all these other companies. Like she's a true outlier among outliers. She gets into the company and she tells me stories about how people thought that she was a janitor, or they (in the lunchroom) give her their trays for her to take care of because she was working as part of the lunchroom staff. And she was just an incredible engineer and just completely belittled. And this is a story that women underrepresented minorities have: They're just assumed as less than or, “There's no way you could possibly be an engineer.” I've just heard some of these stories, that's very shocking. But getting back to inclusion, I think that we're focused on the aspect of the challenge and the problem of “How can we get a critical mass of people from these underrepresented backgrounds so that they can be in there and support each other?” And then also, “How can we help to influence the pathways into power and leadership?”
We believe that getting as many underrepresented minorities and women to a state of technical excellence and then having that critical mass inside the company, is going to do a lot more for, say, culture and inclusion than say… There's a lot of mixed results when you talk about diversity, inclusion, training as an example, you know, as a contrast.
I don't think it's an easy problem to solve. I think it's very challenging, especially if you have tens of thousands of employees. But I think it starts with, “Do you have enough representation across all the different levels?” And once you're starting to build more of that in, then it gives you something to work with versus there's people who will say one thing and do another thing and it can get very sad from that standpoint.

Rachel Chalmers:

Yeah, I was at a startup doing diversity and inclusion, training and consulting for Uber at the time when the African American engineer, Joseph Thomas, took his own life and his widow attributed that experience to how badly he was treated at Uber. So it's again, this was a few years ago. I don't feel that enough has changed. And it's one of the reasons I'm particularly passionate about this work.

Michael Ellison:

A lot has definitely not changed and we were working at Uber, we've done a bunch of things, or we were in the past, and since it was a couple of years ago, and most of the people I know have moved on I'll mention that at the time around when these events were happening and more, Uber prided itself as having the most competitive technical bar in the valley. 
They’d say, “Hey, look how hard it is to get in here. Look at all these people applying. Look at all these people being rejected. We're awesome. We're the best.” And then I'd say, “But you have a very selective process. Is it correlating to your best performers? Is it more predictive?” 
And at the same time, Uber had a reputation of terrible code quality, terrible coding practices, and so they were hiring people where it's… Imagine if I have a startup, I have a company, everyone who is really good at chess means that they're the smartest people. Therefore, I'm going to hire all the people that are really good at chess. And then you're like, “Whoa, but we don't play chess on the job. We do programming, we do coding.” It's like you can have these brain teasers, you can have different types of hard interviewing processes that don't actually correlate to what they should, and disproportionately penalize anyone that doesn't know the secret handshake, that didn't come from that background or that culture or that experience. You see this all over the place where people say, “Hey, well, we have a very meritocratic environment.” …Well, do you? It seems like you think you do. And you want to believe you do. But perhaps you're just not actually measuring the right things and the right way. 

Rachel Chalmers:

No, no, no. It's just a coincidence that all the merit in the world belongs to guys named Steve who went to Stanford. I mean, while we're naming names, Google studied this with Project Aristotle and found that the highest-performing teams aren't the teams made of all geniuses, they're the teams that prioritize psychological safety over hyper-competitive brain size measuring. And yet, Google, who actually conducted this research on their own dime, still looks at what was one of the greatest A.I. ethics departments in the world that they had put together and said, “No, we're not going to listen to what you say. We're going to let you all go.” And it seems like, however often we discover these basic truths about what makes an effective team and what makes an effective engineer and what merit actually is, it doesn't stick.

Michael Ellison:

Yeah, I completely agree. And you know, Google, they've published a lot of compelling research which even on their own interviewing process shows that it's not correlating like the the difficulty, the rigor, the data structures, the algorithm system design interview does not correlate to the people they love the most who are the best at rising in the ranks of the organization. 
You hear this stuff, you can be frustrated. But, you know, from our standpoint, from my standpoint, from CodePath’s standpoint, we think of, “Great, well, people just knowing that that's a thing isn't driving the change that we want to see. So how do we actually drive that change?” And then if you think of systems and things, then you think about incentives, you're thinking about what types of root causes, and you're trying to understand why there is this lack of inertia for change. So that's where we think a lot about: How do you drive an at-scale hiring change that's low friction, but also aligned with incentives with existing players in the organization? You're thinking about recruiters and middle managers and the ultimate engineering folks as well. And it's led us to think of one lever to move the needle. Look at where the hiring is happening, how it's happening. I'll give you some of the examples. So people might talk about our solutions for diversifying our organization. They might talk about apprenticeships or different boot camp programs or whatnot. But you're looking at these alternative pathways. You need to figure out how you integrate with intern programs and the existing hiring efforts. How can you be speaking the same language? How can you build on top of the data, the practices that a company already has? And if you do that, then you can leverage the fact that a look at Microsoft, Google, Facebook, 80-90% of their entry-level software engineers come through their internship program.
So that means we could have something over here that's not integrated. And then it's an uphill battle to fight for that 20%. Or we could integrate into that junior internship program, diversify its scale. And then we're like, “Okay, well, so two-year or four-year colleges, universities, great. We can increase enrollment, decrease attrition; we can impact skills, we can plug it to that pipeline… But does that get us to the scale that we want?” 
And then we also run sophomore internship programs to then, at scale, feed and diversify the junior internship programs so that then it’s almost changing the equation to an ROI conversation or it almost becomes very common sense. The friction ends up melting away, and then you end up being able to start to talk about pretty decent sized numbers, you know, impacting the diversity of a company by 20-30% – or rather of an internship program or entry level – 20-30% in a single year. So just a nod to the importance of understanding the reality of the situation and seeing that as an opportunity for change as opposed to, “I can complain all day long about all the things that I'm like, how can you not see this? How do you not know?”

Rachel Chalmers:

Well, this podcast goes out to corporate innovation professionals. So people who are looking for positive change. What are some concrete ways that they can encourage their companies to participate in CodePath or get underrepresented computer scientists to be involved in innovation?

Michael Ellison:

You know, I feel like we're doing a good job in terms of, say, encouraging from an initial spark, initial motivation from the media side where Disney and other organizations are doing more and more to make sure there's more representation in different films. From Black Panther, or what have you, which is wonderful. You have organizations from Code.org to Girls Who Code to College Board who are doing a great job with initial sparks. Initial interest in CS and technical careers. Where we're falling short is with completing that path to support and mentorship. And that path needs to be towards technical excellence. It needs to [lead to] “I want to raise my hand.”
There should be a path where it's about leading engineering teams, founding technology companies, being the asset in the room where you have that opportunity to then be in that powerful position. And so that's where I think maybe two things for corporate innovation professionals to be thinking. Number one is, which I hinted at and I talked about where from Microsoft Explorer to Google Bowl to Facebook University, these are high-scale sophomore internship programs designed specifically to diversify their junior internship programs that also demonstrate high ROI to all the skeptics, you know, engineering managers or whatever. Programs like that influence attrition on college computer science campuses. They provide a first ever technical work experience, paid opportunities, life changing for families from low income backgrounds that difference in pay.  But it's also high ROI so that you're talking about multi-year investments, increasing investments year over year, getting to high levels of scale. That's one example. There's other types of training, alternative pathways, but there's this intersection of recruiting plus training that's community centered, which I think, you know, that's where we need to bridge. It's not just the inspiration, it's like, “What's the development path?” 
And then the second area: So colleges and universities are not equipped to bridge the gap themselves. Most professors have never worked in industry. But then many of these schools are the source of technical talent. So is your company doing anything even if it's just a volunteering standpoint? Facebook and Google and other companies have programs where engineers are volunteering and embedding on college campuses. Or do you have volunteering opportunities that allow an easier way to plug in? There's never been an easier way to plug into classrooms that they've been more digitized. I mean, you could just walk into whatever type of classroom, don't leave your home, spend some time. So there's a huge opportunity there for companies to get involved in bite-sized ways, just providing opportunities for their employees. But very importantly, we also need to make sure that the curriculum is relevant for these young people to be able to not do so much heavy lifting in order to fill the gap in skills from theory to practice. “I can succeed on the job,” and so forth because some CS professors may want their students to become CS professors. That's great. But in the meantime, there's going to be some way they pay their bills and hopefully they can do that related to their major. So those are the two big areas that I highlight: Those pathways to tech excellence, those pipeline programs which I mentioned, I feel I'm a big fan of. And then, better partnerships, closer partnership, collaborations with colleges and universities which are the source of our tech talent pipeline.

Rachel Chalmers:

Super cool. Michael when you look back on your career today, what are you proudest of?

Michael Ellison:

You know, this is an easy one – CodePath. You know, every single company, every nonprofit tech company, whatever, it started out the same way where, ”I want to change education.” And CodePath is changing education. We’re in 73 colleges and universities, [we have] 5000 students. To put this in perspective, that 5000, what does it mean? Well, we teach more black computer-side students each year than the total number of HBCU computer science graduates. So add up 100 plus historically black colleges and universities, CodePath is teaching more per year than their total number of CS graduates. So it's numbers, but it's really targeted, and then it's incredibly impactful. You're a black student, you're 43 times more likely to get one of the most competitive technical jobs. We're trying to rate how likely you are to be able to get into Coinbase or Microsoft or whatever just because that's a very hard standard to hit. 
I'm incredibly proud of that because as I mentioned before, we want to change the nation's pathways. They don't depend on luck and CodePath is running for credited CS classrooms. You go into Howard or you're going to Florida International University or one of dozens of other colleges and universities, CodePath is on your course roster. The opportunity is there and we're not charging you anything. It's a direct pathway into the most competitive, highest paying jobs – greatest opportunities. So by far, I'm just incredibly proud of CodePath and the team that we have were so close to the gate velocity where, you know, we have a real shot at diversifying the nation's entry level technical roles in the next 10 years. So all of that together, that's my proudest accomplishment by far.

Rachel Chalmers:

If you had one do over, what might you do differently?

Michael Ellison:

You know, I'm a pretty optimistic person. I don't love to look backwards. I like to look for… You know, life is hard. You have to be constantly moving forward to survive. And so this isn't a non-answer. I just wouldn't change anything because even if you have significant failures, those are significant learning opportunities. They've contributed to the person that you are today. And you learn. You either choose to not progress or you choose to keep moving forward. And I very much cherish the failures as well as the successes.

Rachel Chalmers:

How would you distill all of your experience into a few lessons for our listeners?

Michael Ellison:

So there are three different things that come to mind: I think, number one, the quality of the people you work with will determine the limits of your success. So that's number one. And I mentioned before about surrounding yourself with brilliant and talented people, shared values. You just grow so much with who you are around. If you are constantly seeking out people and I'm not just… Okay people you work with… I love my board, like I love my board. They are people who I'd want to just spend time with. They’re people who impress me, that inspire me. But you really do become like the people that you spend the most time with, and your best leverage point, you're a CEO, you're a founder, you're anywhere, anywhere that you are: Your best leverage point is just who is part of your network. A great network could be the difference between it's hard to raise $500 versus it's easy to raise $10 million. There's endless opportunities if you really try to curate who you are around. 
Number two: Work really, really hard, aggressively hard because it's investing in yourself, but be focused as much as possible on leverage. I see a lot of young people working hard, but it's low leverage and they should put on almost like a CEO hat of, “I wake up every morning and I'm like, ‘What's the most I can do in the least amount of time?’” And then think of that every day, “How can I have higher and higher leverage?” So yes, you're working hard, but you're working smart.
And the way that you're working smart is, “Who can I who can I be collaborating with? What tools can I use?” You know, software and technology and programming is such a powerful tool. So it's really about you trying to invest in yourself as much as possible. Highest leverage. I'm obsessed with leverage right now, like, “Oh, how can we 10X? What would it mean if I was 100X more productive? Okay, well, I can't do that with the number of hours I have in a day, so I have to hire people. Oh, okay, that's how we get there. Oh, and then maybe platform and systems…” and I just think endless optimization is a very important mindset. 
The last one that I’ll mention is living in the future. My co-founders, they kind of tease me that I'm always living in the future. I'm a little bit obsessed with who I want to be, what I want to do, the life I want to live five to 10 years out. And then I try to do things daily that I feel will get me closer. 
So every day I'm kind of living in those two worlds. I'm thinking of 10 years from now, and then also thinking of today. CodePath has done a good job of open-sourcing our curriculum, our content. We get a group of leading experts to build the curriculum and then we will open source it because in the future we want there to be hundreds of collaborators on our curriculum across industry and also professors. And so we're thinking very, very far forward where we imagine a world where education works differently, and CodePath can be the center of that, can help to drive that collaborative curation of incredible content that's always up to date and really embodies the the best and the latest in terms of whatever technology that we're teaching. So, we're constantly thinking about that. But that last one, I'd say “live in the future.” So, summarizing back, the quality of the people, determine your success, work incredibly, ridiculously hard but in a high-leverage way, and live in the future.

Rachel Chalmers:

Flipside How do you avoid burning out?

Michael Ellison:

So my team loves talking about leverage. We love talking about sustainability. Self care is a part of working in a high leverage-way. And so a couple of the things that we do: 1) Energy audits – If you look at your week, do an energy audit at the end of each week and look at where you're spending your time. What activities gave you energy? What activities took energy away? Your goal for yourself and for your team is that as much of your week and month as possible, it's activities that give you energy. And we frame it as thinking about “in your zone of genius”, that area where you're uniquely good at it, but you also enjoy that and everybody has those areas. And so that's one is looking at that energy and then trying to be disciplined about rewriting your week. So it's giving you energy. 
2) Meditation, fitness, and self care. I think even if you just have 10 minutes a day, a couple of minutes a day, you download an app, you do a 10-minute meditation, you can do a couple sit ups or pushups or whatever. This is really just an idea of what makes you feel like you're investing in yourself, supporting yourself, and being good to yourself. So that's the number two thing that's very important for me. 
3) So I'm married. I think I married pretty well. And my wife is a little bit of my opposite in a lot of different ways, like spontaneous, funny, charming, always up for an adventure. But she forcibly makes me escape from work. And without her, I'd probably just, you know, be a workaholic and never sleep. I wouldn't eat. I wouldn't drink water. She always puts water in front of my desk and makes sure. But that's really more of like the people you surround yourself with should be a balance. Almost a counterbalance.

Rachel Chalmers:

Yeah. Marry someone amazing is really underrated advice. I managed to do that by accident myself and it's a – 

Michael Ellison:

Oh, congratulations. It's a it's a big one. Right?

Rachel Chalmers:

What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you or follow your work?

Michael Ellison:

Yes. So, LinkedIn is updated the most and Michael W. Ellison is my LinkedIn. And that's also the same as my Twitter handle as well, which I don't update as much. But you will see some, some things there and I'm really, really accessible. I love to support people. I love to connect. I love to help. I love to be able to provide advice or even just share my experience. If that experience is helpful with CodePath or personally. So please feel free to reach out. And if I can't help, then I'll try to find somebody who can.

Rachel Chalmers:

What does the future look like for you personally? What is that 10-year vision?

Michael Ellison:

So I'm a bit of a futurist, and I want to accelerate how quickly we get there. I want to accelerate how quickly we get to the future. And I see the immense potential that people have that's not being realized. From low income, from underrepresented backgrounds. I see all of that and I'm like, “Oh my gosh, if we were to able to increase the percentage of our population who are able to do all this exciting, innovative work building the future of technology, [having] many more people solving/developing a cure for cancer or working on climate change and advancing all these areas… If we could increase the conversion rate by even a couple percentage points of our entire country, what would that do for how quickly we get to whatever incredible innovations?”
And so I see the core area there is technology having more people who have those capabilities, and I see my role as helping to transform and accelerate how our nation produces this technical talent. And then from there, we have big plans on helping to accelerate and influence entrepreneurship and even tech investing. And our courses right now, we have individual and group projects, we have imagined students from 30 different schools who compete with different applications they've built. There's nothing stopping us from seeding the ideas as nonprofit ideas or different challenges that they can collaborate on and work on at scale that then could influence directions that they might pursue. So there's a lot that we're looking at towards the future, but I just love living at the intersection of social good and technology and systemic change. So I'm, you know, I'm going to continue to do that and it will look like different things at different times.

Rachel Chalmers:

What else should I have asked you?

Michael Ellison:

You know. I feel like we covered a lot of really, really fantastic areas. I'd say, if there's one thing that I could message or impart on the audience, you know, whether you're coming from a corporate background or you're not as fortunate to be in a place where you feel like you have access to power or influence or whatnot. Then I'd say, when you have ideas around trying to change something that's really hard to change, initially, it can seem impossible, but if you're persistent and you're creative, then there's always a way to make things happen. I'm talking from the standpoint of, I like to try to change stuff that's really hard to change, like some company that has 150,000 employees and billions and billions of dollars. I'm like, “Huh? I wonder how you have to make that change?” And the world is run by people, so something can seem like it's an immovable object, but you just have to be patient and you have to understand what the incentives are, or who are the people who have influence and power, or what do they care about? And no matter how big or audacious the goal, there is a path to find a way to make that happen or to change things or to influence things. And it is really exciting to be part of the side of being a positive force for good. It doesn't have to be a big thing. But I just encourage as many people as possible to think of the complementary nature of work but then also you have that sense of purpose.

Rachel Chalmers:

Michael, you've given this so much to think about. It's been an absolute delight to have you on the show. Thank you very much.

Michael Ellison:

Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.

Contact

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References

Michael Ellison on Twitter 
Michael Ellison on Instagram 
CodePath where Michael is CEO and Co-Founder 
CodePath on LinkedIn
CodePath on Twitter 
CodePath on Instagram 
Cognizant Company that works with CodePath 
Women Who Code where Michael was a founding board member
Segment Where Michael was Co-Founder
Intro and Outro music composed by: www.PatrickSimpsonmusic.com

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