Stanford CS 007: Personal Finance for Engineers (Reviews & Reflection)

For those looking for the course material, I’ve posted the slides for all 10 sessions on a parallel site: http://cs007.blog

On September 26th, I had the great pleasure of officially kicking off a brand new course at Stanford University, “Personal Finance for Engineers“.  The course was offered through the Computer Science department (CS 007), but was also open to undergraduate & graduate students of any major.

How quickly the quarter went. On December 6th, I gave the 10th and final lecture of the seminar. Grades were submitted by December 18th, and course evaluations were summarized and provided to lecturers by December 20th.

In the interest of learning & transparency, I thought I’d post some of the feedback here, as well as summarize a few of my own reflections on the seminar.

Summary Results: Learning Goals

Out of the 93 students who took the course, it looks like 69% (64) left feedback on the course.  The following charts and material are provided anonymously by Stanford University.

The learning goals for the course were as follows:

  1. Expose students to a wide range of personal finance topics.
  2. Provide students with both practical & theoretical frameworks to make financial decisions.
  3. Build confidence in students on how to approach real life financial decisions.
  4. Provide students with content that will encourage discussions with family and / or friends.

Overall, the student feedback on these four areas were fairly consistent. A majority felt the course achieved these goals “extremely well” (highest ranking), with a large minority giving the course “very well” for these goals.The individual comments left by students seemed to confirm these results. A few samples:

Q: What skills or knowledge did you learn or improve?

“I literally knew nothing about personal finance, but just being exposed to this material helped me ask the right questions to myself and my parents.”

“Everything — I’m a financial manager on the row and a senior, but knew next to nothing about finances. This was super super helpful.”

“I improved on a great deal in this class. From understanding behavioral finance. to deciding whether or not to rent/buy, this class truly taught me about personal finance and more.”

Summary Results: Instruction & Organization

One of the elements I underestimated when proposing this class was the amount of time it would take to prepare an 80 minute lecture every week. Converting what previously had been a 60-minute talk into a 10 seminar course proved to be a significant time commitment (one of the reasons you haven’t seen any posts on this blog since the course started).

As a result, I was particularly concerned about what the feedback would be to the course material, since most of it was new. Fortunately, the results look positive.

Individual Feedback: Student Recommendations

One of the most telling results from teaching a course at Stanford are the individual recommendations that students are asked to give about a course to future students.

Q: What would you like to say about this course to a student who is considering taking [CS 007] in the future?

These reviews confirm how much students want to learn and engage around personal finance topics. The desire is there, the fundamental problem is that few schools offer any curriculum to fulfill it.

If you are wondering, Review #12 is my Mom’s favorite.

Data: What sessions did students value most?

Stanford allows faculty to add supplementary questions to the student feedback form. I asked students specifically to name three sessions that they found most valuable, and to name a session they found least valuable.

The results were interesting. Investing was far away the seminar students found the most valuable, with compensation, real estate and debt following.

Investing 28
Compensation 16
Real Estate 12
Debt 10
Financial Planning & Goals 7
Bonus: Crypto, VC & Derivatives 6
Behavioral Finance 5
Savings & Budgeting 4
Net Worth 2

When students were asked which session was the least valuable, there were far fewer votes to count. Still, it was interesting that despite being one of the favorites, “Real Estate” was also one of the least favorites. Reading the comments, it seems as if some students felt like real estate was too far in the future to be relevant to their current situation. The students who enjoyed it clearly enjoyed the section on how to make the decision between renting & buying.

Real Estate 7
Behavioral Finance 5
Debt 3
Compensation 2
Bonus: Crypto, VC & Derivatives 2
Savings & Budgeting 2
Financial Planning & Goals 1
Net Worth 1
Investing 0

It is worth noting that 8 students actually put down that all of the sessions were valuable, so I think it is fair to say that the content was well received.

Final Thoughts & Reflections

As part of developing this course, I chose to post the slides from every seminar online within a couple of days of teaching the class. My goal was to get as many eyes as possible on the content, to ensure there were no mistakes and to get advice on places to improve it.

There was only one session that received several corrections, and that was the “Real Estate” seminar. A special thank you to those of you on Twitter who helped me improve  & correct this content.

Top requests that I received for the next time I teach the class:

  • PDF versions of the slides
  • Voice over version of the slides
  • Video of the lectures

I likely should have done all of these in 2017, but I was a bit nervous about doing this with a brand new course & course material.

The most important reflection I have on this quarter is a sincere feeling of gratitude to Stanford University for allowing me to teach this course. Mehran Sahami, the Associate Chair for Education in the Computer Science department, sponsored the course, and without him it would not have been possible. A special thank you is also due to Greylock Partners, who supported my efforts to teach this course this year.

I also would like to thank the 93 students who took the course and provided excellent feedback along the way. The course was originally opened to only 50 students, and it was incredibly gratifying to see so many students request an exception to take the class during the Fall Quarter.

If you have additional feedback or thoughts about the course, and how to broaden the reach of financial education, please feel free to reach out with comments on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Back at Greylock

Today, Reid Hoffman shared the news that I’ve rejoined Greylock Partners at an Executive in Residence. I couldn’t be more excited to be back.

This is an unusual step for me, as it is the first time in my twenty-year career that I’ve decided to come back to a firm. Then again, Greylock is an unusual firm.

When I look around Greylock, I recall Warren Buffett’s famous advice* on what to look for in people:

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Early in my time at LinkedIn, I remember Reid Hoffman modifying this a bit:

“You really want to look for people who are smart, trustworthy, and ambitious. Having just two of the three is a problem.”

Deciding who you want work with is one of the most important decisions that you make in your career. Not to embarrass John Lilly, but I think his advice from the New York Times is spot-on:

“…find your tribe. You should look around and figure out whose team you’re on and whose team you’re not on. And for the people whose team you want to be on, you need to invest in those relationships and treat them well and spend time with them.”

When I look around Greylock, I see nothing but people who are smart, ambitious, and trustworthy; people whose team I want to be on. I can’t think of a better environment for me as I explore and look for the next big thing.**

(*) If you are interested in the history of this flavor of advice, this post on Quote Investigator is fascinating. Goes back more than a hundred years to a German General named Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord.

(**) Might be time to re-read my Executive in Residence series from 2012…

New Hires Are the Lifeblood of Hypergrowth Startups

On September 29, 2014, in an impromptu moment, I decided to tweet out a series about the importance of new hires.  Since then, I’ve received enough positive feedback about the series that I thought it best to take a moment and capture those thoughts in a long form post.

New Hires Matter

Every new hire brings with them multiple gifts to the team: new talent, fresh perspective, boundless energy, and validation.  The new hire, in turn, receives from the team a new mission, friends, challenge, and of course, validation.  It has all the potential of a positive feedback loop of challenge & reward, if the new hire & team approach it properly.

Every new hire is a gift, as is every new opportunity.

At Wealthfront, I’m grateful for everyone who takes the leap and joins the mission.  Silicon Valley is an incredibly competitive market for top talent in engineering, design & research.  Every person who makes the decision to invest the next stage of their career with the company is making a tremendous statement about their believe in the team, the company & the mission.

If you continue to hire world-class talent, every new hire brings new skills and lessons to the team, and the energy to prove them out.m  In turn, the best new hires come in expecting to learn and grow. They join, not just to do their best work, but to do it as a team.

As CEO, every new hire feels like both a tremendous gift, and a serious responsibility.

When I started at Wealthfront, the company had just 17 full-time employees.  It will end 2014 with just over 60.  Every new employee bets on the company, and the company bets on them.  It’s one of the most human and yet often overlooked aspects of technology careers at startup companies.

User Acquisition, Virality & Mobile Distribution: Notes

On Friday, Brendan Baker put up his notes from my Greylock Discovery Fund talk on user acquisition, virality & mobile distribution.  It’s a great resource to see a combination of third party notes about the talk, as well as some of the Q&A from that session.

Greylock Blog: User Acquisition, Virality & Mobile – Notes from Our Session with Adam Nash

Last week, I also had the opportunity to give a similar talk at 500 Startups.  As promised for those who couldn’t attend, here is a short list of relevant blog posts from the past two years that provide more depth to the topic:

Product Leadership

Design Led Product

User Acquisition & Virality

Product Prioritization

The Real Apple / Microsoft Conversation about the Laptop Ads

This is what some bloggers would call a “throw away” post.  I will likely regret it in the morning.

There was some coverage today that Microsoft COO Kevin Turner actually stated that Apple had called Microsoft two weeks ago agitating to pull the “Laptop Hunter” ads.  If you haven’t seen these ads, they are somewhat poorly put together sequences where someone gets a thousand dollars to buy a laptop, and they of course decide that the $3299 17″ MacBook Pro is too expensive, so they buy a $699 PC with completely non-comparable specs.  But the ads do work, and have gotten attention.

Anyway, here’s the quote:

And you know why I know [the commercials are] working? Because two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, hey — this is a true story — saying, “Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices.” They took like $100 off or something. It was the greatest single phone call in the history that I’ve ever taken in business. (Applause.)

Here’s my version of how that phone call really went:

Apple: Hi, this is Apple, calling for Microsoft.

Microsoft: This is Microsoft speaking.

Apple:  Hi Microsoft.  Listen, these commercials you are running don’t make any sense.  I know Bill is pretty agitated about the Get A Mac ads, but this really isn’t helping.   Just some advice, but you should stop running them.  It’s embarrassing.

Microsoft: Ha, Ha!  Really getting to you, huh?  Prices too high, can’t compete!  Ha Ha.  If you can’t take the heat, stay out the kitchen!

Apple:  Seriously, we just lowered the price of the iPhone by $100.  We’re selling 20M of them.  You can get a 3G for $99.  Who cares about the price of a laptop anymore?

Microsoft: OMG!  I cannot believe you just said that!  I’m going to tell everyone!  You LOWERED your prices by $100 just because of these commercials?!?  Awesome!  Boo-yah!  He shoots, he scores!

Apple:  Forget it.  This is going nowhere.

Microsoft:  Smell you later.  Ha Ha.   Let me know when you can run a real operating system on your crappy computers!

OK, I’m no Fake Steve Jobs.  But it was worth a shot.

Forget the iPhone Nano, I want a MegaPhone.

Caught this news today – rumors of Apple ordering a large number of ten-inch touchscreens from the same provider of iPhone screens:

Apple Orders Touch Screens for Q3

I hope its true.  I’ve realized that my iPhone has really become my preferred portable computing device.  I’ve gotten very used to the swipes, the pokes, the pinches.  I’ve grown to appreciate and need the fluid animation, the transparency, the flow of the interface.  I believe I now prefer the iPhone interface to Mac OS X, and that’s saying a lot.

My iPhone is about Twitter (Tweetie is my client of choice), LinkedIn, Mail (Exchange integration gets me work email so much better than Outlook Web Access), and of course, the web.  The endless supply of applications doesn’t hurt either.

I realized a few months ago that, while I still have a large Mac Pro tower at home for heavy lifting, more often than not when I’m hope I just want a bigger iPhone.  On the go, I’m happy to have something that fits in my pocket.  At home, I’d like to have something bigger when I’m sitting at the table, on the couch, etc.  My wife has a MacBook today, and I tend to use it around the house for a lightweight machine.  But more and more, I find myself preferring my iPhone to the MacBook.  I just wish it was bigger.

All the rumors last year were about the “iPhone Nano”.  The analogy was simple, even if misnamed.  Apple initially launched the iPod with a larger device and a hard drive.  But they hit scale with a cheaper iPod Mini, and then, of course, the iPod Nano, which hit $99 and unprecedented unit sales.

Well, I don’t want an iPhone Nano.  I want a big iPhone, 4x the size, same operating system, applications, etc.  Just bigger.  Maybe boost the storage too, so I can fit larger resolution video on it as well.  I want a MegaPhone.

In fact, calling it a phone is a misnomer.  While I wouldn’t mind the ability to make a call from the device, I think what I’m really saying is I want a jumbo-sized iPod Touch.  The MegaPod Touch?