Desk in a startup

Passion and Skills will take your startup to the next level


In a Portland office, the home of Treehouse, I get to see Andrew Chalkley as the first early-bird to come in and talk about his work. The geek-chic surrounding seems to be on the verge on getting crowded with people, but for the remaining early hour, only the co-founder Alan Johnson seems to be a presence in the background. Probably making sure everything is on track. As I get to find out from Andrew ‘there are about 20 people in the Portland office. When I started out there was a handful of people here. It expanded pretty quickly.’

Andrew Chalkley

Andrew Chalkley

Andrew Chalkley is a tech-savvy teacher who strikes me as a happy, sunny person. Getting up earlier than usual and enjoying a diet coke, he tells me about himself and his experience  “I have dabbled in a lot of things technology-wise, I’ve always wanted to give back more than I received. My professional life is now teaching, but I’m having a itch I’m trying to scratch in my personal life.” He later talks about himself as a self-taught college-dropout who did well in the industry and basically never gave up. “A Ruby guy at heart, I like to experiment with different frameworks, different languages just to get a feel of what they’re good at, so I’ll be able to use them later on”. Going through different stages of development, we both understand how easily things get outdated and how you have to able to constantly adapt. A scary thing for most people, but as he is explaining with the excitement of a 6-year old, there are plenty of ways and he is personally working on some.

Treehouse, Education and Getting a Job

Treehouse is an online platform offering courses for people trying to get into code development and starting a business. Ryan Carson talks about their vision and seems to see how all things get together “It’s like the perfect time. Treehouse’s timing is perfect. We’re still in economic downtime, but the technology industry isn’t feeling that pinch”. That sounds like a bold statement coming from an optimistic entrepreneur but, as I see, things add up.

Trying to get to the basics of their work, I ask Andrew who replies very easily “Treehouse is the biggest on-boarding process to technology. It gets people ready for a job or to achieve their dreams. When Treehouse is featured in the press, they usually put up a picture with 0s and 1s , but we try to speak a language that people find easy to understand. It seems intimidating when it’s so much more friendly than that. We supplement the content to get you the right kind of skills and tools.”

Looking at the social profiles of Treehouse, there’s nothing resembling binary code. It speaks in warm terms of helping people achieve their goals and changing the world. It’s the honest description that I got and putting things in a larger picture that really seems to make a difference. This juxtaposition of people’s dreams before the trainings seem to build their culture and keep everyone involved ready to achieve more. Andrew adds “If we don’t provide the things we say we provide, we’re gone. If we do provide them, we grow and we survive and our students get better. If we need to do a new course or alter an existing course it’s a short turn-around”.

Listening to statements like that make you think that Andrew doesn’t resemble a teacher from a brick and mortar institution; not anyone that I have met. Changing a slide or altering something in a course is usually not a short turn-around in an university, people follow different incentives. And that triggers my immediate question “Do you think Treehouse could work for anything?”, to which I get prompted quite easily with “Yes, I honestly believe it is working and we can break down complex subjects and test people as they go to make sure that they fulfill the requirements.”

It may be the process, the content or finding alternate teaching ways that fill the hole in technological education and have a chance in other places. But I get the feeling it is more than that, it is the commitment I get to see in the teachers, to do more research, contemplate on the bigger picture and try to adhere to outside affairs. Which gets us to the issue of employment.

“At my first ever job interview, I was fearing the lack of a degree. It didn’t matter, it’s never been an issue for me personally. Even Google, which requires a Computer Science degree it’s changing that now. Education is not just an institution, it is living your life and synthesizing knowledge from what information is out there. Would I recommend to get a massive debt to pursue an education to get a job? No! You could be spending a fraction of that money at Treehouse, getting proficient at job-ready skills.” And that seems fair enough.

Getting into Web Development

As I talk more with Andrew about education and career paths, I also find about his early days. Despite his English accent, he seems to inherit a Silicon Valley genetic optimism about the social impact of technology. Coming from North of UK into the States, he had to prove his skills and knowledge. Describing a variety of activities, from meet-ups to projects and personal startups, Andrew seems to follow a roller coaster ride I saw in most entrepreneurs. “It’s not just a job. I think front end development and development and general ticks so many boxes. You’re giving your brain a workout by solving problems and you’re creating something that a user can engage with. Having made products myself, I can care more about Treehouse products. If I was an employer, those are the type of people that I would want: people who’ve been on the front line of something.”

So how do you get in the front lines? By pushing yourself and getting experience. But that’s a vague statement for people who are not used to hustle. A more practical approach is to try some things out, try to get a feel for it or see where a track gets you. Literally, at Treehouse you have tracks. For example, if you want to experiment with Front End Web Development, you can follow the track that gets you started with HTML and CSS and then adds a bit of JavaScript. The same thing goes for iOS, Android and Ruby. Andrew talks about how they are also preparing Java and Python tracks while trying to approach a segment with a focus on corporate jobs.

“Don’t limit yourself to the code and the internet, look around for inspiration. There is a lot of knowledge around for you if you just look. I’m hoping I’m trying to infuse a problem solving philosophy into people.” – Andrew states later. And by the sound of it, it’s a noble quest of motivating people and helping them become more conscious of the things they are capable of doing. Web or software development may not be the answer for all the problems one faces in his life, but it’s an already built path to creating interactive tools.

Thoughts on Creative Tim

Eager to present my team’s work to someone more experienced, I show Creative Tim to Andrew and wait for the feedback. Might you not know about us, we are a small startup building interface items that you can use to build web projects. To my surprise, he immediately gets it and says “These things look beautiful. Incorporating them allows the people to focus on the problem they’re trying to solve. I think this sort of stuff is great because it’s like a framework. You do need some fundamental understanding of what’s going on before using them. If you know HTML, CSS and JavaScript to a proficient degree, yeah, you should be using things like: Bootstrap or templates or UI Kits. Aesthetics can give you a feel, but how it’s designed and how it’s positioned on the page are important things.”

Wow, that was such a hard thing to explain to my parents, about trying to put things on the Internet designed for the Internet. But then, talking to people like Andrew, you immediately get a validation. And not just on the product, but the path you took, of trying to build something and get experience that you couldn’t get from a sit down institute.

Asking for advice, I get a very structured one regarding the whole experience of getting something out the door and into the real world. “What I teach in my latest 2 courses is 4 Ps of problem solving. First P is Prepare, when you try to understand the problem itself and define it. Then, the next one is Plan, when you plan out the solution whether by writing it out or sketching it. And you actually go out Performing, that’s the third P. Iterate on it and get it in front of people or your client. Then you do the 4th piece: Perfect. Nothing’s ever gonna be perfect, but you can perfect things, you can work on them and go through the cycle again until you get your results.”

And sometimes you may end up out of the Ps flow and fail, and that is ok too because “Failure is not a bad thing, you know? With design and development you fail a lot. You make more bad code than you do good, but that’s just the way of life. And you say ‘I’ll keep note of that and take it with me’. That’s the way with business too. Knowing this will push you forward.” Learn to learn and take something from everything you build. You will see that while you are building things, you are defining yourself through them.

Answering the Bigger Questions in Life

The root word for technology comes from the Greeks and its spelled ‘techne’, meaning ‘art’. The ancients didn’t separate the art from craftsmanship in their mind, so they didn’t feel the need to create two separate terms. A long time has passed since and we’ve seen almost everything put in a category or another, but there’s this feeling that remained and the lucky ones still get to experience it with their work. Like Andrew puts it “that’s the most amazing thing: technology, especially software development lowers the barrier for people to go out and create. All you really need is a crappy computer. You don’t need something top of the line; on Treehouse, you don’t even need an editor. You can go out and code, which is amazing. And you can put it in front of someone else and they can interact with it. You get so much insight into humans. Philosophically it opens up so much stuff. You wouldn’t think technology can do that, but it opens up so manny possibilities, even into your own psychology.”

Technology in itself is making things and cannot be good or wrong on its own; people in the industry seem to get it and make it a journey for themselves and the others. Behind the mantras of “getting things done”, “solving problems” and “fixing stuff” there’s a wish to “be inclusive, try to bring people in and say how fulfilling it is”.

I found myself very enthusiastic after chatting with Andrew. It’s talks like this that raise your spirits a little and make you think that things are going in the direction you are heading. And education, technology and your startup will probably get better.

The inverview was written by Conacel Elena, co-founder Creative Tim.

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