What do I look for in a potential Hackbright Student?

I had my cousin transcribe the following conversation, which answers a lot of the questions I get asked during interviews. I went through and added a few links to it, but it's generally unedited- it's just how I talk with the "um"s and "uhhh... [long pause]"s taken out.


So, what do you look for in a potential Hackbright student?


I get asked that a lot, actually. What is it that makes us see a person and say, "Yes, we're going to admit them into this program and ignore 95% of people. But this person, yes, we believe in them." The answer is simple. But the backstory is a little more complex.

Salon recently published an article called "School is a Prison - and Damaging Our Kids." It is. That's the biggest problem. School, as an institution, was created to teach children how to not question authority, and how to crush their own curiosity for the betterment of absorbing someone else's ideas. It is mostly about causing someone who might otherwise be compelled to learn whatever they wanted to on their own to instead accept what they're being taught. This system worked really, really well during the Industrial Revolution, when the highest demand was for low-skilled factory workers. Today, that’s not the case- knowledge worker jobs are on the rise, and are going unfilled, but not for the reasons you might think.

One of the biggest things that our school system does today is cause people to start thinking like factory workers. They start questioning the audacity to want certain things, like respect in their field. They stifle their own thirst for knowledge and think, "Well, I don't need to know that. I only need to know certain things - things I've been told that I need to know in order to get a job, or have the life I’ve seen on TV."

What we're looking for is somebody who was terrible at that kind of thinking. We're looking for somebody who isn't very good at being told what to do or doing what they’re told. We're looking for somebody who is actually often bad at school and bad at listening to directions. Instead, what we look for is someone who is very good at following their own thoughts about what it is they want to learn.

Now, usually someone who has always decided to follow 100% their own thoughts and feelings about what they want to do isn't what we're looking for. What we're really looking for is someone who has had to fight that system so hard and so long, and had no help doing it. What we want is to be that help. I say this to people often: "I take people that were always meant to be software engineers, and I rectify that mistake."

That's sort of the secret of what we're looking for at Hackbright, but often times the reason these people aren't software engineers is because they're just no good at identifying the fact that they should be software engineers. So, don't think that just because you think that you aren't a software engineer deep down inside that that means you can't be a successful Hackbright student. What we're looking for is somebody who fits the philosophical profile of a Hackbright student.


So then what’s the philosophical profile of [a Hackbright student]?

Well, the philosophical profile of a Hackbright student is somebody who is curious, is uncompromising in their search for answers, who has a questing approach to truth rather than an accepting approach to truth, and has a natural affinity for systems. They have an affinity for logical systems, for mechanical systems, for how things work. This often means biologists, but it also means mechanics, and it means people who are interested in law. We have a positive correlation with law a lot. Chemistry, physics, math.

The biggest thing that is often found lacking in people who would normally correlate  really well with being a Hackbright student, people who sound great, is the “why” factor. Why are you doing this? Why do you want to know? Why have you done everything else in your life? If you ask that question on a constant enough basis, it leads you to act a certain way. That's what we're looking for most of the time, when we ask you all about your background. We want to see evidence of you asking why. We want to see evidence of you looking at what you're doing, looking at the world you've gotten yourself surrounded in, saying "Why?" and in some cases being unable to answer that. That’s when you have to jump ship- to change what you’re doing. We see half-finished degrees and projects abandoned a lot. A lot of people are leaving what they thought would be their dream job to come here and change their life.

Jumping into a situation is the only way to really learn about it. By asking why, that shows that you've learned about it, you've sought out enough information to understand where you are, and to get to the point that you can critically assess whether or not you're in the right place. If you can critically assess that you're at the right point, you're fine, and you probably won't apply to Hackbright. If you do apply, that means that you've decided that you aren't. It's not about the money, although money can be nice. It's not about doing something fun every day. It's about questing for that fundamental truth constantly, as sort of the driving force of who you are, and being unsatisfied when you aren't there.