167. Pandemic Job Market Shifts

Around the globe, tens of millions of students are using Codecademy to learn programming during the pandemic. Just ask MLB pitcher Jared Hughes who learned Python to analyze his performance. This episode, we talk with Zach Sims, co-founder of Codecademy, all about the shifting job market and how people are going online to learn how to code. Early in the conversation, Zach provides his insights into how coding skills can give you a competitive advantage, regardless of your field. Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to Codecademy though. We speak about the digital divide and how many people don’t have the tech or broadband needed to learn online. Despite this, Zach shares how the pandemic has led to historic peaks in Codeacademy’s subscriber numbers. We ask Zach about how the job market is changing before talking about the rush to automation and how the post-pandemic work world will be defined by technology. After a digression in which we chat about the TV show Devs (you should watch it), Zach gives his take on why now is a good time to start your tech company. But only if you enjoy eating risk sandwiches. Near the end of the episode, we touch on how many series B companies are in an unfortunate position and the reasons why Airbnb’s business is recovering. Tune in to learn more about how the pandemic is shifting the job market.


Key Points From This Episode:


  • Introducing Zach Sims and Codecademy; a free resource to learn programming.
  • How programming skills give you a competitive advantage in a market with high unemployment.
  • That many more people are learning to code due to the pandemic.
  • How many people don’t have the access needed to learn from Codecademy.
  • What Codecademy’s subscriber count is looking like during the pandemic; it’s high.
  • Hear why junior developers are hardest hit in the current job market.
  • How the post-pandemic marketplace will be changed by technology.
  • The ‘gridlock of positions’ in which software jobs are in demand but few people are hiring.
  • With so much changing around the world, why now might be a great time to start your company.
  • Eating a spicy risk sandwich; leaving your job and starting a company amid a pandemic.
  • Why many series B companies might not be in a good place at the moment.    
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 167. Pandemic Job Market Shifts




[00:00:01] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developers podcast live from the boogie down Bronx. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co host today —


[00:00:09] DA: Dave Anderson.


[00:00:10] MN: And today, we’ll be talking about pandemic job market shifts. I mean, this whole thing is causing ruckus all over the United States. Things are a little crazy over here. COVID is running rampant on the job market everywhere.


[00:00:24] DA: Yeah.


[00:00:25] ZS: Yeah.


[00:00:26] MN: Today, we have a special guest here with us. We have Zach Sims. How’s it going, Zach?


[00:00:33] ZS: It’s going well. Thank you so much for having me.


[00:00:36] MN: Thanks for coming on down. Zach, tell us a little bit about yourself.


[00:00:39] ZS: Yes. I am the Co-founder and CEO of a company called Codecademy. At Codecademy, our mission is to connect people to economic opportunity. And we do that by teaching at this point tens of millions of people around the world programming skills, data science skills all online and starting for free.


[00:00:57] DA: That's awesome. Yeah, I believe I've heard of it.


[00:01:02] MN: I remember curling up as a youngling wanting to be a developer in the world. I know that that time I was in college and I think I just graduated college. Then 2011, is that correct to say? I think it might have been 2011.


[00:01:16] ZS: That’s right, yeah.


[00:01:16] MN: Yeah. I already come out.


[00:01:17] ZS: It makes me feel old, you know.


[00:01:19] MN: Yeah, and I got a diploma. I had student loans. I imagine other people had to deal with that, and suddenly this website was up to teach people how to program for free. I know, like, right now, we've all been locked in our homes.


[00:01:33] DA: Yeah, a lot of free time.


[00:01:35] MN: A lot of free time.


[00:01:36] DA: I was looking —


[00:01:36] ZS: Lots of cabin fever.


[00:01:39] DA: Got to get outside when you can. Take a ride. Take a breath of fresh air or whatever. I saw a tweet that you retweeted the other day saying — talking about, like, how a MLB player was using Codecademy to do data science on his pitches. That's so wild.


[00:01:59] ZS: Just go see a show. Even professional athletes get tired when they're cooped up inside, right? They can’t play baseball, so you just have to figure out how to analyze the past years of performance.


[00:02:11] MN: Like, “How bored was he,” right? He couldn’t play baseball, so he’s like, “I am going to learn Python. That’s amazing to me.”


[00:02:20] ZS: Really this is supposed to be a trend for the future, right? Everyone in professional sports should learn programming.


[00:02:26] MN: To better their skills and analyze —


[00:02:27] ZS: I’m not sure. Yeah. I think kind of now that all the leagues are back to playing that that might not be as much of a thing but it can help.


[00:02:36] MN: I mean, but there’s somebody. There’s somebody who’s going to do that analysis/ And it's becoming kind of inescapable, no matter where you are. The fact that he was able to get access to that data and like figure something out very personal to him was — that's pretty awesome.


[00:02:56] ZS: Totally. I mean, I think I — when I saw that, it’s like the movie Moneyball, right? He’s building his own algorithms and what better, like, weird promo for our product than that. People are like, “Why should I learn to program?” We say, “This can be useful for anyone, even if you’re a professional athlete making millions of dollars a year.”


[00:03:19] DA: Yeah. I’m thinking back to, like, the ‘90s with Bo Jackson or whatever. Bo knows. He’s like playing football. He’s doing baseball. He would definitely be programming Python.


[00:03:30] MN: Yeah.


[00:03:31] ZS: Yeah.


[00:03:33] MN: I imagine this is a very busy time for you as the CEO of Codecademy, like serving a lot of new people who are finding themselves in an unexpected situation where they have a lot of time on their hands or maybe looking for something different.


[00:03:54] ZS: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s been pretty crazy. I think it feels like — so, we’ve been building the company for like nine years now. I think when we first started the company, at least it’s like, “Wow, lots of people need to learn to program. They’re all going to need to

learn online.” I think those things have been kind of slowly building, right? People have slowly been awakening to those, but I think the pandemic for people has been that wake-up call. Unfortunately, we’re trapped inside, so the only way for people to learn is online. It’s accelerated that for sure.


Then I think from these skills being important with record unemployment, it’s clear that learning something like programming makes people more competitive, so it’s been like a kind of crazy three or four months trying to figure out how best to help people during all of this and like give them some semblance of purpose.


[00:04:48] DA: Yeah, it’s kind of striking too, like, the gap between who has the ability, the privilege to work remotely versus who doesn't. Programming is a pretty cushy gig. You’re already like kind of predisposed to being at a place which is technologically good off and able to still keep working and stay productive.


[00:05:15] ZS: First, the types of programming jobs, obviously, you can do from home and whatnot. But I also think there’s this kind of even worse inequality that's being created too as more and more students learn from home, right?


That like some people have access to broadband. Some people have great new computers, and plenty of people don’t. I think we oftentimes take it for granted that everyone has access to the same things that we have access to. Everyone will be able to watch videos and stream whatever learning content you want. I think what this whole thing has exposed, unfortunately, is there’s like so many Americans and folks around the world that don't have access to those things. Unfortunately, there is no clear way of getting it to that.


[00:05:57] DA: That’s so sure. I was talking with a friend of mine about like, they’re like, “Oh, yeah. I thought about moving upstate or something.” I was looking at a broadband map for the area that they’re like, “Oh, yeah. My friend is like moving up here.” Let’s see what’s up with that. And it’s like, “Oh, my God. It’s DSL. This is like —”


[00:06:15] MN: Oh, no.


[00:06:16] DA: This is grandma Internet.


[00:06:18] ZS: That’s still a thing? Yeah.


[00:06:20] MN: Grandma Internet.


[00:06:22] DA: Yeah. It’s like you got one cat video in that internet at most. Then it’s either come crashing down. Yeah, I would not have made it through this like professionally or otherwise. I watch a lot of videos of dogs and cats and stuff to just pass time, which I wouldn’t be able to do on DSL.


[00:06:45] ZS: Yeah.


[00:06:47] MN: Got to turn it down like — What’s lower than 720p? I don’t know what it is but you probably had to turn it to that.


[00:06:53] ZS: 480, right?


[00:06:54] MN: You have 480?


[00:06:55] ZS: Yeah.


[00:06:55] MN: I don’t know those numbers. Other than 720, what are those?


[00:06:59] ZS: Yeah. It’s low definition.


[00:06:59] MN: Yeah. It’s low definition.


[00:07:01] MN: Yes, yes. Low def. Low def.


[00:07:05] DA: That’s basically of a TV that was like in your parents’ basement.


[00:07:08] MN: Right.


[00:07:08] DA: Cathode ray kind of deal.


[00:07:12] MN: I do have a question about the Codecademy. With the idea of, like, people are staying home, who are not like me just spending their time on YouTube but wanting to acquire a skill. Was there an increase of the amount of people who subscribe to Codecademy? I’m really curious to hear those numbers. And how people are dealing with this entire pandemic very strangely and trying to find opportunities. Like learning how to program, like that baseball player was trying to analyze some data. What was the increase in subscriptions, if you're okay with sharing that?


[00:07:48] ZS: Yeah. I mean, I think at our peak on a per day basis we were signing up, I think around three times as many. Free signups at around three times a day, paying subscribers at its peak. I think what a lot of people are seeing is this like a huge pickup during the beginning of the lockdown. Like you said, everyone is inside. They want to pick up something new. Then I think now it’s kind of starting to return to normal as we’ve gotten all this reopening, and things are kind of changing with how people spend their time. I think it grew dramatically and I think it will settle, like, higher than it was beforehand. But I think it isn’t just this dramatic spurt forever.


[00:08:29] DA: Right. Baseball is back in season so —


[00:08:31] ZS: That’s right. You got to get back to pitching, right?


[00:08:33] DA: That demographic is no longer in growth.


[00:08:36] ZS: Yeah, exactly.


00:08:38] MN: More generally, I'm curious. It always seems like it's a tough position to be in as like a junior developer entering the job market. So I imagine, like, with more people trying to invest their time in this, there’s — it’s going to be a bit uneven with like more people at like a lower-level trying to get those nicer jobs.


[00:09:04] ZS: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things that we see also is it’s not just people like getting these developer jobs. I think it’s people that are becoming more fluent in programming for other jobs where they can be more competitive. People working in our finance team for instance, like, uses Python and SQL. So that they don’t have to rely on the data science team. You can be a business analyst and learn Python and SQL and level up those skills. You can be a designer.


I think like there may be a lot of entry-level engineers but I also think there will be more folks that are learning these skills that are fundamental and super important and applying them to their other, whatever else it is that they are doing from a professional standpoint. In that sense, I don’t think it’s that harmful for all these people to take up programming as another skill to add to the resume. As opposed to just becoming full-time engineers.


[00:09:58] DA: That’s an interesting perspective, so it’s like you’re already using Excel. I’ve seen some of the Excel monstrosities people have put together. I’ve worked at life —


[00:10:08] ZS: — You don’t get to see one every day.


[00:10:10] DA: Yeah. I’ve worked at like three different clients where they’re like, “Our mission is to replace Excel.” Or like, “This Excel spreadsheet that this guy has.” It’s like, we cannot have this anymore. Actually, we’re doing that at Stride too. We’re trying to replace an Excel spreadsheet.


But like if you think about it, everybody's a programmer when you come down to it. But eventually understand the principles of programming, like you mentioned the sales people, looking at their metrics and sales data and being able to play with it in a more tangible way. That would definitely be a very competitive edge.


[00:10:48] ZS: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s what we see often. It's like it's not just — I think there’s all these boot camps, things like that that make this promise, “You will become a software developer in three months, and we’ll get you an entry-level developer job.” I think we try to be able to be a bit more realistic, right? It's oftentimes not that easy to like dramatically change your life in three months. And getting a job as a beginning develop like can be hard sometimes and might not be the first place that people look to hire in the middle of an economic situation like the one that we’re in now.


[00:11:18] MN: Do you have any perspective on how things might be shifting for more seasoned developers?


[00:11:25] ZS: Yeah. I mean, I think oftentimes that the market for more seasoned developers is definitely tighter, right? I think if your — there are enough companies. First, like, big tech is kind of always hiring, right? I think you’ve got these companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, that haven’t really slowed down. I do know that Google and Facebook, I believe, pumped the brakes a little bit on hiring. But my estimate is if you’re a mid-level senior engineer, job opportunities are still there for you.


I think to your point, like, there where this hurts the most is on the junior level, and that's kind of where I would expect to see it. For more senior folks, I think obviously they — it doesn't hurt to polish up your skills and work on great projects, but I think it's definitely not that big of a change for that section of the market too.


[00:12:19] DA: I guess like, they’re people who are losing in a pandemic. They’re freezing their hiring or shrinking, but I guess there are other people who are still trucking, still doing all right.


[00:12:32] ZS: It feels like the prevailing trend is, like, there are so many companies that need software engineers that are like becoming more digital. If anything, I feel like kind of what we’re seeing now is this rushed automation. And like how can we build solutions so that people don't need to be in an office and don't need to be close to each other. And automate aspects of factories and stuff like that. These things are kind of already trends but, like, are becoming even more so. They’re all dependent on technology, right?


All of these kinds of future innovations to make the post-pandemic world better I think will be fueled by technology. As a result, like the net number of jobs I think will either stay the same work or dramatically increase in that sense.


[00:13:14] DA: Yeah. It sounds like a lot of work. I didn’t think about it like that. All right, we just kind of changed everything now.


[00:13:23] ZS: Yeah, surprise.


[00:13:26] DA: I think we’ve talked about this on past episodes of the podcast too but it feels like there is kind of a gridlock with positions where it’s like there’s people who are just so in demand that — it’s like the housing. Everyone wants to buy a house but like no one is selling the house or there’s whatever.


You can’t make the exchange in the market happen. It sounds like we’re still going to be dealing with that kind of a situation for a while, which is — that’s a blessing and a challenge.


[00:14:00] MN: But the idea is that like as more people are now getting interested in programming, like in the future that bottleneck will slowly start to open because now we’ll have more people who took their free time to learn how to program or spike their interest in the world of software engineering. But, I mean, that’s not going to happen overnight or, like, I don't think these engineers are just going to find and land jobs. I think that'll slowly trickle so that more people can fill those spots, can find those jobs. 


[00:14:34] ZS: Absolutely, that stuff always takes that time. 


[00:14:36] DA: Just the training. It’s just like a five-minute training montage, right? Then walk through there.


[00:14:40] ZS: It’s that easy.


[00:14:41] MN: Punching keys, making tests green.


[00:14:44] ZS: It’s like when we’re watching — yeah, exactly. When you’re watching a show and you see like all the texts flying across the screen, right? Programming is that easy.


[00:14:54] MN: Yeah. I’m watching Devs right now.


[00:14:59] ZS: So good.


[00:15:01] DA: I have no idea what I’m watching but it’s like I’m here. Quantum computing, everybody. It’s going to happen.


[00:15:10] MN: It’s going to happen.


[00:15:11] ZS: How far are you? Because I feel like it gets really trippy but only to your comment if you like suspend the “I know how the technology works. This is crazy.”


[00:15:22] DA: I mean, but I don't know how quantum computers work, so maybe that’s it.


[00:15:25] ZS: That’s right. It does seem magical. Yeah, exactly. Maybe they're right.


[00:15:31] MN: We’ll find out.


[00:15:32] DA: This is a documentary, right?


[00:15:34] ZS: Yeah, exactly. We are definitively living in a simulation, so it’s —


[00:15:40] MN: It’s bound to happen.


[00:15:43] DA: I got one more episode left. I’ll catch up on that.


[00:15:46] MN: No spoilers. No spoilers. No spoilers.


[00:15:48] DA: No spoilers. Oh, boy. Another thing I’m curious about is, like, you’re talking about big tech and established companies, but what about like smaller companies or people who are trying to start something new?


[00:16:04] ZS: Yeah. I mean, I think this will be like totally cliché advice but I think like it really is — now is a great time to start a company. I think there are so many good companies that have been started in the middle of bad economic circumstances, that I think it shouldn't deter someone. Now, of course, the challenge of all that is you need to have your own economic freedom in a sense, in order to be able to start a company.


I think that's obviously part one. It’s making sure you have yourself figured out. Then after that, I think it is a good time to start a company. There are obvious opportunities all across the board. And the way that the world is shifting right now — it's insane, right? We’ve been talking about it. There are so many new — nothing will be the same 6, 12 months from now as it was. That just means that there are so many like new opportunities out there for you to figure out what kind of a company you can build, and all the world will change, and help people with that change.


[00:17:04] DA: Yeah. That’s kind of inspirational I guess, to think about. There’s different perspectives that now are getting a boost, and so now you can kind of like get some more wind in your sails on the cool idea that maybe have been kicking around for a while.


[00:17:24] ZS: Yeah. I mean, like, again, I think most of us would be — you have to be like, very, lucky to have the financial wherewithal in the middle of a pandemic to, like, quit your job and start a company, and so I’m definitely discounting that.


[00:17:40] DA: I guess, like, you're taking a big risk in the middle of a bigger risk.


[00:17:46] ZS: Yeah, exactly.


[00:17:48] DA: It’s like a big risk sandwich.


[00:17:52] ZS: Which some people like and other people not much.


[00:17:54] MN: People like that risk?


[00:17:56] DA: It’s a spicy sandwich.


[00:17:58] ZS: Yeah, exactly.


[00:17:59] MN: That is a spicy sandwich right there.


[00:18:02] DA: Yeah. I’m actually working with some folks who are trying to start something right now as part of the client that I'm on right now. They shared a metric that I thought was kind of, surprisingly, they showed the graph of, like, job or new business applications over time, and there's kind of like a trend that was going down after the financial crisis in 2008. Then it was going up again. Then, like now, like in this crazy situation, it shot up to like 450,000 applications like rolling average in the last four weeks over the baseline of like 217,000, the average since 2006.


[00:18:47] MN: So it was like almost double the amount of applications.


[00:18:50] DA: Or it’s like you were saying, that, and then I was just like seeing this chart in my head and like, “Oh, my gosh.”


[00:18:56] MN: People like the risky sandwich.


[00:18:59] ZS: Yeah.


[00:19:00] MN: I mean, like you mentioned before, Zach, the idea of “If you have the capital and the ability to do that, there is probably an opportunity in all of this” — that people are finding.


[00:19:09] ZS: Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of — I think venture investors love saying this; “We’re open for business right now and we love investing in companies right now.”


For some of them, it’s true. In the case that it is, I think, again, there are people that are raising money. You can start a company now.


[00:19:32] MN: Just have that idea. Change that.


[00:19:34] ZS: That’s right.


[00:19:35] MN: Build an app that’s going to replace that spreadsheet, I guess, is one of them.


[00:19:38 ZS: That’s right. It’s what we’ve learned if anything from this conversation. That’s the [inaudible 00:19:44] spreadsheet.


[00:19:43] MN: Dave you want to start? Dave you want to start? Find the spreadsheet. Let’s go replace it.


[00:19:49] ZS: This call gave birth to a great new company, right?


[00:19:52] MN: There you go. You mentioned that, as of right now it's good to start. A good time to start. But what about companies who are in like, say, series B? Is that a more dangerous place to be in right now or is it still like a safe spot? I'm not sure exactly. I haven't worked at a place that was in series B in a long time, so I’m not sure how this particular pandemic is affecting those companies. Do you have any thoughts on that?


[00:20:20] ZS: Yeah. I think that's definitely where it is hardest. “Hardest” is maybe the wrong word but it works definitely hard. I think you’re kind of looking at a dramatic amount of uncertainty. Oftentimes, series B is like a company still trying to figure out what’s the plan, what the business model. As a result, you might not have it all figured out and the financing can dry up. Then you find yourself, like, really having to, you know, cut across the company, and that can be really difficult.


I think those are the companies where you see a lot of the struggle right now because they had banked on more money coming in, and so they’re bringing a lot of money, and it's hard for them to become profitable. Yes, that can be not a good place.


[00:21:04] DA: Right. That whole like business model of the startup. We’re just feeding the beast to get hockey stick growth, or something. I don't know. I've like ran out —. It’s a theory, right? You got to go in the red to get into the black. But then like —


[00:21:25] ZS: It sounds good when you say it that way.


[00:21:29] DA: There’s probably a sports metaphor or something here. I don’t know.


[00:21:31] ZS: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

[00:21:34] DA: But like when the world is working against you, then it’s like, “Oh, okay. There’s literally nothing we can do.”


[00:21:41] ZS: I think that’s why unfortunately you see some of these layoffs that happen in a lot of companies, and I think may unfortunately continue to happen just because companies were, like, overspending. And it's hard to get a grip really quickly on that in a world where the funding dries up for your company.


[00:22:00] DA: Yeah. It was kind of, like, surprising. I mean, I guess not surprising but like Airbnb was like poised to — this was going to be their year for doing an IPO and like all those other stuff and kind of they were positioned in a way that made it very disadvantageous for them in the situation.


[00:22:20] ZS: Well, I don’t know if you saw recently, they now are saying, like, “Oh, maybe they will go public this year because it turns out, like, people are traveling.” They are just not traveling, like, on planes but they much rather stay in an Airbnb than they would stay in a hotel. So people are like traveling local and there's all this weirdness. Their business is recovering.


[00:22:42] DA: They just — oh, really? That’s crazy. I guess they —


[00:22:44] ZS: Yes. It’s like better than ever.


[00:22:46] DA: They just want to get out of the house now.


[00:22:50] ZS: That’s right. We’re all desperate, right?


[00:22:51] DA: I will literally sit in someone else’s house and pay you money.


[00:22:56] MN: To change the scenery. I’ll go a couple blocks down and have it nice.


[00:23:03] DA: All right. There you have it, everybody. Tech is not going away. A lot of jobs. A lot of work to do. We need everybody to learn how to program right now.


[00:23:13] MN: Right now.


[00:23:14] DA: Work from home, watch Devs, and — Yeah, I don't know. Do you have anything else to add, Zach? Do you have anything to plug?


[00:23:23] ZS: Yeah. We’re always looking for more great folks to join the team to help teach the world to program. If you’re a programmer who wants to help other people learn the same skills that you do and actually solve it, be able to work from home, and hopefully live a better life in the next 12 to 18 months of weirdness in this world, you should check us out. Codecademy.com, and click on jobs.


[00:23:47] DA: Awesome.


[00:23:48] MN: Awesome. Zach, are there any offers or promos for individuals who want to learn how to code on codecademy.com?


[00:23:55] ZS: Yes. We are offering a free Codecademy pro licenses to anyone who has been laid off or furloughed, unfortunately as a result of the pandemic. If you visit our website, you can find those.


[00:24:06] MN: Awesome.


[00:24:07] DA: That’s awesome. Great opportunity.


[00:24:08] MN: Awesome. Codecademy.com. That’s where you want to go. /jobs if you’re interested in becoming a software engineer at Codecademy. The website also has information for individuals who want to learn how to code.


[00:24:20] DA: So much information.


[00:24:21] MN: So much information at codecademy.com. Zach Sims, thank you so much for coming on down. Really appreciate you taking the time.


[00:24:28] ZS: Thank you for having me.




[00:24:30] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit, so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast.


On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries, and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson, and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.




[00:24:30] MN: Follow us now on Twitter at Radio Free Rabbit, so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers just like you find their way into the rabbit hole and never missed an episode. Subscribe now how ever you listen to your favorite podcasts.


On behalf of our producer extraordinaire William Jeffries and my amazing co-host Dave Anderson and me, your host Michael Nunez. Thanks for listening to the rabbit


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