The Product University
5 years ago I was the only student at my high school to have built a product.
Today, there are around 50.
The software revolution has brought the cost of shipping a product down to the price of a laptop. It also has greatly reduced the amount of knowledge required to build a product that creates value for society.
Gen Z was born with access to the internet in their pockets. This has dramatically accelerated their learning - though perhaps not by the standards we’ve used to measure learning in the past - and has greatly increased their awareness and desire to create social impact.
Growing up with smartphones has given youth the perception that nearly every problem they see in the world can be partially solved or improved by an app. Through resources like Codecademy, Stack Overflow, hackathons and our Summer Academy, Gen Z has been equipped to start solving these problems while they’re in high school, and they are doing so in droves.
The software revolution has also had dramatic impact on the footprint of companies. Software is eating the middle man - rote and repetitive jobs are being automated. Companies are creating more impact and value with far fewer employees. The future economy will distribute the working population over a much larger number of companies in a plethora of new industries. The jobs that will remain are the creatives - engineers, designers, etc.
Traditional management structure is also being dismantled. We’re trending away from micromanagers towards facilitators and motivators. The creatives are being given more autonomy, ownership and purpose over their piece of the larger product.
In the short term, this transition will be painful for the older generation. As software eats a huge number of existing occupations we’ll see an increase in the long term unemployed. But critics who think this trend will permanently put half of humanity out of work are as shortsighted as those who believe everything that can be invented has been invented.
There are no shortage of problems to solve in the world and no shortage of new ideas to create joy and wonder in our lives. This future excites me, I see a world filled with creatives, each working to solve a problem or create an experience that excites them. I see a world where people no longer see their job as a means to sustenance, they feel it as a passion and a purpose. I see a world where everyone is empowered to create the future they believe in.
In order to accelerate this future, we need to better equip our youth to be creators and inventors. We need a new category of higher education - the Product University.
Historically, universities were created to be a community to further the world’s knowledge - the Research University. The ecosystem and incentives of the traditional university system are primarily focused around research. Much of department funding comes from research grants, professors are hired and retained based on the papers they publish, and undergraduate curriculum prepares students for a career in academia.
At Make School, we are creating a community to further the world’s creation - the Product University. We’ve designed Make School for the Gen Z-ers who as teenagers have already discovered a passion for building products that impact their lives and the lives of others. Our educational experience enables students to pursue their passion and learn by building - there’s no need to wait to impact the world.
A university education should equip students with a foundation of knowledge to serve them throughout their lives. The ideal foundation of knowledge for the future inventors and creators of the world is the process of bringing ideas to life. It starts with identifying problems in the world (both big and small) or experiences we wish existed. It continues with researching what people want and what solutions they settle for. Next, forming a concept of the ideal solution before paring down to the simplest variation to get started. Then, implementing the solution with the right toolset and creatively conquering whatever problems may arise. Finally sharing the solution with the world and iterating based on the response.
We’re choosing computer science as the toolset to teach the creation process, and will teach this toolset in depth. There are few resource limitations with software development and an unbounded set of ideas to create. As we’re still in the infancy of the software revolution, a disproportionately large percentage of all innovations in the next decades will be software driven. Due to this relevance, the computer science skill-set is in high demand. Strong employment opportunities will come as a byproduct of our education, providing good outcomes for the majority of our students who will begin their careers as co-creators instead of inventors.
We don’t expect our students to be limited to solving the world’s problems with software. Our education will equip students with the ability to acquire new toolsets to tackle new problems. While the toolsets in other problem spaces - hardware, biotech, clean energy, etc - are unique, the process of discovering ideas, acquiring domain specific expertise, breaking down barriers, and implementing solutions is largely the same.
We also don’t expect Make School to be limited to teaching computer science. We’re already beginning to see other problem spaces eliminating resource limitations. Just as AWS made it dramatically cheaper for individuals to host and scale a server, Transcriptic is making it dramatically cheaper for individuals to do life science research. As these technologies mature in the next decade, we hope to offer new specializations allowing our students to explore various problem spaces before choosing a category to create solutions for. In every specialization, students will learn by making.
As technologies and industries change at an increasingly rapid pace, it’s critical we avoid becoming resistant to change - the achilles heel of traditional universities. We aim to institutionalize change as a core tenet of Make School. We’ll rely heavily on a feedback loop with industry, enabling cutting edge employers to influence the toolset we teach, and providing our instructors time to play and create with the latest technologies. We’ll also rely heavily on a feedback loop with our students, empowering them to influence their education and build products to improve their experience.
We’re entering a new era of innovation, the economy and the world will change faster than we can predict. It’s time to change higher education to better prepare Gen Z for the future.