Over 100 Horizons School of Technology Reviews directly from the source — end of class surveys

by Darwish Gani, Co-Founder at Horizons

At Horizons, we pride ourselves on feedback and continuous improvement. Other companies build apps. Our “product” is much more complex. We have to build many things at once: a curriculum, an experience and a community. Doing this well is not easy, but our biggest advantage is that our students are in front of us every day.

One of my favorite tools for understanding our students is our end of class survey. After spending 3 months at Horizons and >700 hours programming, students fill out this survey.

Here were some of the highlights (good and bad).

Note: This article was written after the survey in Summer of 2017. 


Knowing what you know now, if you were asked 5 months ago, would you still choose to attend Horizons? 

97% of Horizons students would do Horizons over again if they had the choice.

This is all but two students who completed the survey. We talk about these two participants in further detail in a later section.


 

I feel Horizons has opened career opportunities that were not available to me before — Y/N?

94% Agreed that Horizons opened career opportunities that were not available to them before.

This answer may seem obvious to a prospective student who does not know how to code. However, what’s very important to note is that >40% of a given class at Horizons consists of CS majors at top universities across the world. It’s great to see that our program is able to supplement existing CS curricula so strongly.

We were expecting this number to be around 50%.

We were pleasantly surprised.


Based on your experiences this summer, how likely are you to recommend Horizons to a friend (on a scale of 1–10)?

We had a Net Promoter Score of 72%, beating programs like Harvard Business school. In fact, students love Horizons as much as they love products like the iPhone.

For those familiar with the idea of a Net Promoter score, we scored a 72%. This is very high. This number is achieved using the formula here in response to the question, “Based on your experiences this summer, how likely are you to recommend Horizons to a friend (on a scale of 1–10)?” The number is a proxy for how much a user of a product or brand enjoys their experience.

Those who respond with a 9 or 10 to the question above are promoters of your brand. They will make noise and rave about it.

Those who respond with a 7 or 8 are passive about your brand. They liked their experience but likely won’t go out of their way to promote you.

Those with a score below 6 are detractors. They will directly impact word of mouth negatively.

The % of promoters minus % of detractors is your Net Promoter Score. The affinity that students show towards Horizons isn’t normal for a school. We’re capturing love like we are a world class technology product.

This is what happens when technologists build school.

Sources: http://www.harbus.org/2015/the-harbus-survey-says-hbs-mba-program-more-walgreens-than-apple/, https://npsbenchmarks.com/companies/wharton_school_of_business


What is the biggest difference between the pre and post Horizons you?

tl;dr Horizons is about much more than code. We fundamentally shift what students think is possible. Students leave the program empowered, confident and inspired.

Why do we ask this question? Perspective matters.

On day 1, Abhi (my co-founder) and I said that Horizons would provide students 3 things: Skills, Network and Perspective.

  • Skills: Learn to build industry grade software products
  • Network: Industry contacts, alumni network, and the student body caliber
  • Perspective: Your world view and decision-making

Everyone understands why skills and network are important and what they mean for a school like us. However, few realize that the potential of one’s skills and network are only fully utilized when a student has perspective.

We care so much about perspective because it was perspective that allowed us to have success so early in our own careers.

Abhi and I started our first company, Altair Prep, when we were still in college. In this process, we learned to code and met some very impressive people (other founders, investors etc…). The process was beyond empowering and a big reason companies couldn’t keep us in typical jobs for a long time after school.

We didn’t just learn to code. We understood what we could do with it. We met people that blew our minds so frequently, that we built a deeper understanding of success.

We viewed the world in a different way.

At Horizons, our goal was to recreate this perspective for students. We wanted shift their worldview and decision-making process at a fundamental level. We wanted to make the impossible, possible.

In our class, this manifests itself in 2-step process.

Step 1. Learn to code. We give you the skills to be independent, financially and creatively.

Step 2. We expose you to success at the highest level. Weekly, we bring in top founders, venture capitalists, and technology leaders to share stories, trends, and wisdom. Pretty soon, we humanize what was once deified. Students start to realize they can do it too. (You can read about our first ever speaker series here. Other speakers at Horizons include Jeff Jordan, Pete Koomen, Payal Kadakia, Punit Soni, Cyan Banister, Jesse Pujji and many more!)

This question tells us if Horizons is serving its deeper purpose. Are we bringing it all together? What do students feel they changed the most when they walk out of our doors: their coding ability, their new network, or how they think.

What did students say?

They are more confident, empowered and feel success at their fingertips.

When you spend 85% of your time coding, most people wouldn’t expect this. But this was intentional. We knew our north star on day 1.

Below are just some of the answers to this question:

  • “Too big to describe.”
  • “Confidence.”
  • “The realization that success is a lo[t] closer than I think.”
  • “I learned so much about myself, and changed the way I learn. Not because of the code, but because of the experience”
  • “My confidence when using tech grow tremendously, I am much more willing to try out new technologies and applications”
  • “It seems that a lot of doors have opened for me. I have a better picture of what’s out there, and I feel more capable.”
  • “I am more driven to succeed in life. I saw what it takes from all the speakers who came in, and realized that you need to put in the hours to succeed.”
  • “Before I couldn’t code. Now I can. Also, I learned to hustle and that the biggest obstacle to me achieving what I want is myself.”
  • “Pre-Horizons I thought I would become more well-rounded by being conversational in tech. Post-horizon I believe the sky’s the limit, b/c I didn’t just learn how to code, I learned how to fish you know.”
  • “Confidence in my ability to build things. Also, before horizons the idea of having a startup was just a naive thought that really inspired me but I didn’t know much about. Now I feel like it’s a far more tangible thing and I could do it whenever I decide I’m ready.”
  • “I became more confident. I now know better what I want to do with my life. Seriously. I was lost and I wasn’t keeping myself occupied with unimportant things.”
  • “Pre-Horizons I really held myself back by fear of failure. I’m good at math, so I basically stuck with it my whole life (and ended up majoring in it) because from elementary school all the way through freshman year of college I continually compounded my self identity as “the math guy”. Its great and I love math, but Horizons helped me realize that there is no reason for me to be afraid of diving right in to any number of other things, like CS or business.”
  • “I think the biggest difference between pre and post Horizons me is that now I feel much more capable and willing to commit to a project wholeheartedly rather than float between a bunch of half baked ideas.”
  • “My technical competence, and my confidence in future career aspirations”
  • “Network. Confidence. Coding ability. Resume and Portfolio. Perspective.”

What are the biggest areas for improvements for us?

We aren’t perfect. So here are some of the things we’d like to do to continue to improve our program.

Action Item: Set expectations on 1–1 time with founders, share context on how founders can impact the Horizons experience, and find ways to allow founders and students to meet each other more

This is a hard one and a double-edged sword. As we grow larger, there are a lot of students and only 2 of us. Some of our most rewarding experiences are talking 1–1 with students, however these interactions also prevent us from tackling problems that can have multiplicative impact, that we can do uniquely well. Here are some examples of things that we can do uniquely well:

  • Hire amazing instructors: This past quarter we added 2 new senior instructors to our team. One instructor used to be the Head Teaching Assistant at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, one of the top CS programs in the country. She later had experiences at companies like Palantir, Khan Academy and numerous educational startups. Our other hire, Demi, has been an engineer for >15 years. He’s worked on high scale sites like Ticketmaster.com and NerdWallet.com and brings a wealth of knowledge and a fresh perspective to our team. These additions supplement our existing staff by bringing passion, energy and fresh ideas that impact everyone.
Payal Kadakia, Chairman and Founder of ClassPass shares her story at Horizons!
  • Speakers: We are continuously leveling up our speaker series. Our speakers get bigger, more diverse, more useful and open students minds in ways that we can’t do ourselves. Recent speakers include Jeff Jordan (partner at Andreesen Horowitz and former CEO of Open Table and President of Paypal), Payal Kadakia (Chairman of Classpass) and Matt Cohler (Partner at Benchmark and early employee at Facebook). Collectively, our speakers have invested or raised >1bn dollars. When I was growing up, I didn’t know that people did things like this. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did. Horizonites will too.
  • Curriculum Improvements: We recently added a Machine Learning project to our core curriculum. We’re demystifying daunting programming tasks and showing students technology trends that will continue to place more power in the hands of small, fast moving engineering teams. We also recently invested heavily in video modules to supplement our lectures. We found retention of content to shoot up and students to be able to learn and review in a highly interactive way. Watching and hearing someone code is far better than reading a textbook. These are just 2 examples of changes that have to be made among a smaller group and then effectively championed and executed across a 17+ person summer team.
  • Hiring Pipelines: We’ve built relationships with more and more engineers and companies and venture capital firms. We want to continue to increase the access our students have to the best opportunities. Sometimes people just need a chance to walk through the door. We can open many of these doors.

This doesn’t mean we won’t spend more time with students. Though the context on what we as founders can do uniquely well is important and we hope to share more of this as we grow.

Since this survey, we have already implemented times for things like Office Hours with Founders and are working on more talks, group sessions and outings where we can get closer to students.

Action Item: Improve the consistency and speed of communication regarding logistics, deadlines and classroom schedule 

This was by far the most common area for improvement. We are working on ways to give students more heads up on their schedules and activities as much as possible while also increasing the response times for logistical questions. I strongly believe that recent hires, specifically for operations, will help with this.

2 particular areas around communication that are also worth noting.

  • Location: We moved from Philadelphia last summer to San Francisco. We were exploring a location in Boston, but ultimately found a large amount of interest in San Francisco + an amazing office location in the heart of Silicon Valley not too far from fairly affordable housing! This shouldn’t be a problem going forward.
A centralized location in a hot startup area provides a lot of advantages
  • Housing Changes: As last summer was our first summer with >100 students, we weren’t seamless and as prompt as we could be with communications on housing options. We were always fighting for cheaper and better housing options. While we did receive better and better options for students, this wasn’t a great experience for them as they waited in the dark at times. We beat San Francisco average prices dramatically (~800/month vs ~2400+/month). We’ve since locked down stronger partnerships with housing providers and have new team members focusing on this area of the student experience.
Our San Francisco HQ lecture area being prepared for class

Action Item: Faster response times for students

Last summer, Abhi and I handled all student communications. It worked great at class sizes of 30–40, but was not 100% seamless at the larger sizes. With a larger team and experience operating at this size, we hope to make this much easier for students going forward and also set expectations better around when and how to best interface with us.

Action Item: Create support mechanisms for students who are discouraged in fast-paced learning environment. 

Learning is as much about attitude as it is aptitude. To teach as much as we teach in the time we teach it, students often have to dig inside and find a motivation they didn’t have before. The majority of our students thrive in this environment and it leads to the feeling of empowerment we talked about earlier.

However for some students, this environment can be intimidating. We need to be cognizant of this and are working on ways to help students build a better understanding of what success means at Horizons and support them in the toughest parts in their journey to transform.

Deep Dive: 2 students said they wouldn’t do Horizons again. Why?

We had 2 students who said they wouldn’t recommend Horizons to a friend who wanted to learn to code. I wanted to discuss these responses directly and also point out some of the things our team is thinking about with regards to future students.

Student 1: Mismatch in expectations on how Horizons would help their primary goal

This student was primarily interested in joining Horizons to gain a software engineering internship at a certain type of company that primarily interviews on more traditional CS topics. While Horizons covers these topics, a big part of our curriculum is focused on more practical software engineering concepts that are useful in building products and the exciting parts of computer science that are becoming more and more common in interview processes and are NOT available in traditional curricula.

Given the number of CS students who loved our program, we think the mistake here was at admissions time. We need to better understand when students understand how Horizons can help with different outcomes the places it does cannot. For this student, the speaker series and other activities also had less value than normal.

We have several students who’ve landed jobs at the big 5 (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple) and plenty more at companies like Slack, Paypal, Intuit and more. We have strong outcomes and we’ve picked our path in getting there. It’s not the only path, but we need to make sure students at Horizons want to get their the Horizons way.

This student also received a full scholarship. We need to be more careful that students who join us do so for the right reasons. This student did enjoy their time, just had different expectations. The full scholarship is a highly coveted opportunity, but still just because it’s a amazing opportunity, doesn’t mean it’s the right opportunity for everyone.

Finally, this student doesn’t resent their time at Horizons. They had a good experience. Their final message in the survey captures their sentiment the best: “:) I think I covered everything, but I do want to say I am happy with my summer and loved everyone I met. Thank you for everything.”

Student 2: Fast-paced environment was not conducive to this student’s learning style

We tell students that Horizons is a single player game, not a multi-player game. Students will come from different backgrounds and this is akin to a honors class for honors students. The biggest mistake someone can do is to get down, not because it something is hard, but because it’s harder for you then your neighbor.

While our intense schedule and fast-paced learning environment can push many students to find a new bar, we didn’t have the right support mechanisms for students who don’t learn best in this environment. Even though other students shared this sentiment, they still ended up raving about their experiences and overcoming their doubt in themselves. In this particular case however, we did not succeed. This quote captures this students sentiments well: “Single player game, and competitive environment. Can be stressful for students who are always used to excelling.”

Anything we missed — just talk to us here! (Our final question)

Conclusion: It’s a special bond. Horizonites rock!

We left a final question on our survey to allow students to share their thoughts that may not have been captured in our survey. Their answers made us proud.

  • “Just that this program is one of the best educational experiences I’ve had and I feel like I’ve learned more here this summer than in pretty much all of college so far.”
  • “Abhi and Darwish, you should be proud. You have built something special here. You have altered the course of my life, and the lives of many others. Keep up the hard work — it is already paying off. Thank you for everything.”
  • “Will miss you guys and Horizons so much. I don’t want to go back to school. In the future, I would love to redefine education with you all. Best wishes.”
  • “Really great job. You guys hustle hard and though it wasn’t perfect, you did your best and it shows and pays off. You have served as a model for work ethic and vision for me. Keep it up and get some rest.”
  • “Its been a life changing summer”
  • “Thank you all for a fantastic experience! This was truly one of the best summers I’ve had.”
  • “THANK YOU FOR AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE, YOU HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE Love, [NAME REMOVED]”
  • “Thank you so much for the experience! Honestly, one of the best and hardest experiences I’ve ever had. -[NAME REMOVED]”

Raw Survey Reviews are here. Enjoy :). 

Note, this survey was optionally anonymous. We’ve left out student names for privacy. We’ve included all raw responses for all the questions above.


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