17 4 / 2014
When your name is Ben and you work at Khan Academy, there is a lot to live up to…undoubtedly, Ben 5 is a true Bengineer. Not only is he an expert xkcd reader, but this graduate student in the DGP biology PhD program at Northwestern also builds models of the risks of radiation exposure, and in his free time, volunteers at the Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS) at Stanford (which he helped found in 2009). He interned with us last Fall and recently accepted his job offer to return full-time. He is a self-proclaimed learner: "I have devoted most of my life to learning, for myself, for others, even for computers."
In his cover letter to KA, he also included a list of his favorites:
● KA Video: The hat riddle.
● (clean) Joke: A man walks into a psychiatrists office, speaking rapidly he says “Doc, I have this recurring dream that’s driving me nutes. First, I’m a wigwam, then I’m a teepee, then I’m a wigwam…”. “Stop,” the doctor interrupts, “You’re too tense.”
● Code: Norvig’s 20 line spelling corrector
● Star Trek Movie: Wrath of Khan (I’ll show myself out)
We will forgive him one day for his favorite Star Trek movie. In the meantime, in Ben5 fashion, he shares his perception of what working at Khan Academy is like through story and illustration. Onto a Khanversation with Ben Haley…or rather, what he calls…
How to land your dream job, in 30 years
Step one: be born, and this part is easy, because your parents pretty much do it for you. After that, you grow up and go to school. You have dreams of what you want to be, but they may not be that realistic.
College comes and you decide to be a biologist. You aspire to show the world how cells really work. But you find yourself in lab very carefully mixing one clear liquid with another clear liquid. At this point, it becomes not at all clear how this will lead to a meaningful and fulfilling existence.
Post college, you work as a waiter for a while. You learn to smile when you see people walk in the door, and that’s much more important than you realize at the time. You also learn that you do not like waiting.
You decide you need an adventure. You pinch your pennies until you can afford to ride up the coast of California on a $100 mountain bike. This is an important time in your life, because you have time to reflect. And you realize two critical things:
- You have always loved solving puzzles.
- Helping people is the most rewarding thing you do in life.
You return to life with ambitions to be a programmer, a practical way to get paid to solve puzzles. You work part time back at the lab, even begin grad school. But the whole time you are making time to learn how to code, following along on the Stanford undergrad cs curriculum by reading all those textbooks by Ullman and others.
In the meanwhile, you find little ways to help people: volunteering teaching kids to read, making websites, etc. Soon you find yourself in the middle of a project with an old friend at Stanford to deliver interventions to students over the computer. This is really cool, because now you are programming to help students, solving puzzles to help people.
During all of this you fall in love with the burgeoning world of online education, thanks to some amazing courses. Your friend at Stanford finds a chance to collaborate with Khan Academy and you jump at the chance to help. The collaboration shows promise and someone at Khan Academy asks if you would like to apply for an internship. Whoa.
You do apply, thinking you will be rejected, but by some miracle you make the cut. Seven months later you are in sunny Palo Alto walking into your first day at THE Khan Academy!
Arriving at Khan Academy is like entering Willie Wonka’s factory. There are ping pong tables, board games, castles made of tea bottles, and all manner of techie people sitting about couches and desks, composing the future of education. Sal Khan himself walks around and even says hi to you. Whoa again.
You set to work trying to pitch in however you can. You have a thousand grand ideas, but you never get around to one of them. Reality pulls you in, pulls you down, puts your nose to the grindstone. And you work, struggling to pull weight in a team much stronger than any you have ever worked with before.
After month one your boss tells you he thinks you should present the results in front of the company. Your knees start shaking. Present these results to a roomful of geniuses that you still barely know? You would like to quit. But this is important, this is helping people, this is for the world. So you pull it together, and present it anyways. Throughout the whole , your voice is shaking and your hand is quivering. You move through it quickly, happy when it’s done, feeling like a flop.
The next day Sal sends an email saying we should do something “a la the results Ben Haley presented.” Whoa again.
The remainder of your internship is a similar sort of emotional roller coaster. You love it here and you want to help so badly which means you are continually self critical. Other people bring you out of it, encouraging you, correcting you, and pushing you.
And all too soon the end of your internship comes and there is this ultimate day where you will have exit interviews. You have no idea how this day will go. You have tried your hardest, but you realize that Khan Academy is hiring the best and brightest and you don’t know if you made the grade.
You realize it’s okay, though, because it’s not about you; it’s about other people. And here’s the wonderful thing about point 2. When you make your life about helping people you fight your ego and you align your thinking with the world. If Khan Academy hires you it will be to help the most people, if they hire someone else it will be to help the most people. And that’s what you want. You want Khan Academy to help people the most, with or without you.
Of course, you are still massively nervous, until Jace pulls you aside and tells you that good news will come tomorrow. You are in shock. You walk around the parking lot at Khan Academy for an hour calling your family, calling your fiancé, giddy with excitement.
16 4 / 2014
Today I had a healthy balanced breakfast. pic.twitter.com/yCSfIGR34W— Kyle Slinn (@kyle_slinn) April 16, 2014
01 4 / 2014
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>…and they're trolling me back by pretending to be me. ❤ ❤ ❤ <a href=”http://t.co/LzSezxH4uG”>pic.twitter.com/LzSezxH4uG</a></p>— Pamela Fox (@pamelafox) <a href=”https://twitter.com/pamelafox/statuses/451122703450112001”>April 1, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8”></script>
To troll students on April Fools, I posted enciphered comments on the hot programs. But they figured it out, fast! pic.twitter.com/lT57MMXtpE— Pamela Fox (@pamelafox)April 1, 2014
I started off with Caesar cipher, but since that was too easy, I’m using new and different ciphers each time. DECIPHER ME NOW, I DARE YOU.— Pamela Fox (@pamelafox)April 1, 2014
…and they’re trolling me back by pretending to be me. ❤ ❤ ❤ pic.twitter.com/LzSezxH4uG— Pamela Fox (@pamelafox) April 1, 2014
19 3 / 2014