Category Archives: Education

Machine learning course

Four months ago, I wrote about the importance of learning the fundamentals of a subject through educational courses as a first step to creating or supporting the creation of applications of that subject.

In that post, I shared that, in order to better understand and potentially support the creation of cryptocurrency applications, I recently completed a Coursera course offered by Princeton University on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. The course gave me a better understanding of cryptocurrencies than I’ve been able to gather through spending much more time reading secondary accounts of the subject across the internet.

After completing the course on cryptocurrencies, I began a course offered by Stanford University on Machine Learning. I’ve only completed the first week of the course so far. However, I feel like I’m learning even more than in the cryptocurrency course. This is perhaps because I enjoy the material more, perhaps because I more clearly see its applications, perhaps because the course content is better structured, or, most likely, it’s due to a combination of these factors.

I strongly recommend this approach to learning about a new subject in general, and the specific courses offered on Coursera in particular.

Learning the fundamentals to create the application

In a post from October 2016, I wrote that “if we hope to create or support the creation of an application, in other words if we’re an entrepreneur or an investor, we need to understand the textbook fundamentals [behind the application]”.

This is in contrast to diving straight into the application without engaging with the primary sources necessary to understand the fundamentals behind the technology, or, even worse, trying to get a grasp of the fundamentals by reading secondary accounts (like most blog posts and podcasts) of the technology. Since the latter doesn’t take a structured approach to building your knowledge base in a particular technology from the ground up, you’re left with many holes in your understanding.

The best source for acquiring textbook fundamentals (or video or audio fundamentals, depending on the medium of your choice) is schools. Fortunately, we live in an age when many leading global universities make available the content of their classes online, and often for free.

For example, Princeton University offers a Coursera course on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. I recently completed the 11 week course and have learned more about cryptocurrencies in general and bitcoin in particular through the course than through the hours I’ve spent reading secondary accounts of the same technologies.

Pvgna

Pvgna (pronounced “pugna”, which means “battle” in Latin) is a professionally produced e-sports content subscription service where we’re investors. For $5/month, Pvgna gives you access to a wide range of game-specific e-sports content including hero guides, game analyses, and pro plays.

In the world of e-sports content, there are two elephants in the room. The first is Twitch, which focuses on the live-streaming of e-sports content, and the second is YouTube which features pre-recorded user-generated e-sports content. Pvgna’s goal is to offer more in-depth and higher quality content than that available through both of these platforms.

To achieve this goal, the company’s initial content focus is on the very popular Dota 2 game. Pvgna currently has over 450 unique pieces of Dota 2 content available, with more coming online each week. After Dota 2, Pvgna will begin serving content around other popular e-sports games.

E-sports has been around for less than a decade. In contrast, traditional sports like American football, basketball, baseball, and hockey have each been around for over a century. Despite this, the League of Legends (a very popular e-sports game) finals viewership figure is second only to that of the NFL finals (36M vs 114M). More people watch the League of Legends finals than each of the NBA finals (20M), MLB finals (15M), and NHL finals (6M). And League of Legends is just one game among many.

The trend is clear. E-sports fans will soon outnumber those of traditional sports. And these fans want content that helps them better understand, follow, and play their favorite games. Pvgna is well positioned to be the destination that best serves this need.

Larry Summers on government, business, education, and tech

Larry Summers is a former US Treasury Secretary and former President of Harvard University. Larry has recently started getting involved in the tech sector by taking board roles at tech companies operating in the financial sector like Lending Club and Square.

In this interview on Product Hunt, Larry shares his thoughts on a wide variety of topics relevant to government, business, education, and technology. I really liked four of the points he made.

  1. The primary role of government is to do things that companies can’t do or don’t have the incentive to do. Blanket statements that we need to do away with the government and have Bitcoin replace the Federal Reserve, and for profit schools replace public schools are therefore not well grounded.
  2. Society should be based on the authority of ideas rather than the idea of authority.
  3. Online education’s unique value proposition is that it can reach a lot of students while also delivering a high level of personalization. Traditionally, scale and personalization have been in opposition. However, with technology, we can now achieve both.
  4. The big difference between a government role and a private sector role is that in government roles you don’t get to choose the problems you work on whereas in private sector roles you largely do. When criticizing government officials, the private sector needs to keep in mind that these officials have to confront the problems that they’re faced with even though they may have no role in the creation of the problem. Although this also occurs in business, it occurs much more frequently in government.

You can listen to the full interview below.

MIT innovating in online education

EdX is an online education platform launched through a partnership between MIT and Harvard. EdX offers courses from these universities as well as many others directly online, and students earn certificates of achievement for completing the courses. However, they do not earn the equivalent of a traditional degree for the work that they complete.

That is, until now. MIT recently announced that it is partnering with edX to offer a MicroMaster’s degree in Supply Chain Management (SCM). The traditional SCM Master’s program is a one year course that’s taken on campus after being admitted following a traditional application process. The MicroMaster’s degree brings two new innovations to this approach.

First, it lets anyone who wants to complete the first semester’s worth of courses required for the degree to do so fully online. If you successfully complete the courses and pass a proctored exam, you earn the MicroMaster’s degree in SCM. While it stops short of being the full SCM degree, it’s a much stronger credential than the certificate you earn after completing a single online course. And unlike the full SCM degree, it’s open to anyone. You prove your merits by successfully completing each course, not passing the filter of an admissions committee.

Second, after you complete the first semester’s worth of courses online and earn your MicroMaster’s degree, you’re able to apply to the full SCM Master’s program. Admittance isn’t guaranteed but you’re much more likely to be accepted after showing that you can successfully complete the first semester’s courses. And if you’re accepted you only need to complete the remaining courses of the second semester on campus. So in addition to having obtained your MicroMaster’s degree, you have a more merit-based shot at participating in the full Master’s program than before.

The practical impact of this program is huge. Many students who are very motivated to learn about a specific field but who wouldn’t have been able to gain acceptance to the field’s Master’s program because of a lack of commonly expected resume credentials will be able to showcase their motivation directly through the courses. At the minimum they’ll have full control of their ability to obtain a MicroMaster’s degree from MIT, and to benefit from the resulting career opportunities it creates. And if they’re successful enough, their motivation is also likely to land them into the full Master’s program.

It’s a great way to level the playing field for accessing a great education. I hope that it becomes a role model for other departments at MIT and other universities across the world.