Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 100

Andrew Ott, Social Entrepreneur

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Show notes

Andrew Ott left college to work at a nonprofit, then moved into technology research and small internet startups before returning to nonprofits and working in social entrepreneurship in Brazil and Rwanda. Now, he runs his own nonprofit, training people from low-income backgrounds, particularly people of color and women, how to code, program websites, and launch new careers.

 

College Friendships

One of the elements of Harvard that have continued to influence his life is his long-term relationship with his Harvard roommates. They regularly get together once or twice a year, getting their families together and doing fun things together. This group of friends has evolved over time, with some being good planners and others not. The tradition started in college, where they would go to one person’s house on Memorial Day weekend and bring friends. After college, they spread out to different cities and eventually started renting houses when they had more income. Andrew reflects on the gift of having friends from high school and college.

 

Travel and Working in Tech

Andrew talks about the early days of his career. Initially, he needed some time off from college and decided to go to Spain with his roommate. This experience provided him with a new adventure, fluency in Spanish, and a change in worldview. After his father’s death, Andrew considered joining the Peace Corps, but he explains how serendipity stepped into his life and helped him secure a position as webmaster at Forrester Research.

 

From Spain to Brazil

After Forrester, Andrew planned to go to Argentina, but changed plans due to the country’s economic difficulties. He spent several months researching and interviewing people connected to Argentina, which led to a job offer at an International publishing house which was offering a salary of $8,000 or $9,000 per year. Despite his interest in the job, the pay was too low to accept, and he returned to the U.S., with a stop-over to Brazil en route. He met up with old friends who live in Sao Paulo. While there, he noticed the abundance of international brands and helipads in Sao Paulo, and decided to pursue work there where his experience working with Forrester and his knowledge as a webmaster was in high demand. Andrew recounts his experience working for startups in Brazil, where he initially worked for four years building websites. He eventually decided to return to nonprofits, starting with CDI, a Brazilian nonprofit that builds computer and citizenship schools in poor neighborhoods across Brazil. He studied nonprofit management and international relations at the Kennedy School.

 

Social Entrepreneurship in Rwanda

The conversation turns to his work in Rwanda where he explored the concept of social entrepreneurship, which is a startup approach with a social goal.  He joined TechnoServe, an organization that was involved in the coffee project funded by the Gates Foundation. The goal was to draw together smallholder coffee farmers into collectives and sell their products to major coffee roasters like Starbucks. TechnoServe intentionally cut out middlemen, ensuring that more of the profit goes back to the farmer. This approach has a positive socio-economic effect on agricultural communities, improving their standard of living, school rates, education rates, and health. Andrew worked with a small entrepreneur to improve his coffee cooperative’s business operation. He shares how they discovered fraud in the coffee cooperatives and how they dealt with it. 

 

How CodeSquad Works

Andrew talks about CodeSquad, a nonprofit organization, which trains individuals from low-income backgrounds, focusing on people of color, women, and marginalized communities, without any computer or software background, in entry areas or full stack website development. The organization works with these individuals to find jobs in software, which can significantly impact their livelihoods. The average reported salary for a job in software is over $100,000 a year. Some participants have been homeless or couchsurfing during the program, but the program has had some amazing outcomes, including the range of jobs the participants can apply for after going through the program. The program is now entirely online. This decision-making process is more efficient and effective than traditional interviews. The program has seen a significant increase in interest, with over 1000 people interested in the program this year. Andrew shares information on cost per graduate and funding for the program.

 

Challenges Faced by People in the Tech Industry

Andrew discusses the challenges faced by people in the tech industry, including the need for education and the educational requirements. He mentions that the minimum requirements for a software developer job are a high school diploma or GED, authorization to work in the United States, and passing through the admissions process. Success in the industry is determined by perseverance and code switching, which can be difficult for those without corporate work experience.

 

Influential Harvard Professors and Courses 

Andrew mentions Professor Joseph Nye, Jr., and his Historical Studies course on International Relations. He was fascinated by geopolitics and power dynamics between countries in other groups. 

 

Timestamps:

02:24 Maintaining long-term friendships through regular get-togethers with families and friends. 

05:35 Maintaining friendships over time and across distances, with personal anecdotes and experiences

12:17 Career trajectory shift from tech support to web development

15:35 Career path and experience in Brazil

21:16 Social entrepreneurship in Rwanda with a focus on coffee farmers

23:48 Coffee fraud in Rwanda, with a focus on a middleman’s inflated expenses

29:45 Nonprofit training low-income individuals in software development, with successful job placement outcomes

31:40 Predicting success in a coding boot camp program

37:43 Non-profit organization CodeSquad’s mission to help low-income individuals gain coding skills and find jobs in tech industry

 

Links:

https://codesquad.org/

 

Featured Non-profit:

The featured non-profit of this episode is The Baby Jesus Community of Petropolis, recommended by Roger Landry who reports: Hi, this is Roger Landry class of 1992, who had the privilege to be interviewed by Will in Episode 42. The featured nonprofit in this episode of the 92 report is The Baby Jesus Community of Petropolis, Brazil. Founded in 1990 by Tonio Tavares, a teacher for Special Needs teens, who, when the Brazilian government pulled its funding, ended up adopting all 45 Special Needs teens and adults and caring for them ever since. I first found out about this extraordinary organization, when I was working as a diplomat at the United Nations. And since then I’ve helped them get established as a US 501 C-three, contributed to their many needs, and tried to help them find others in the United States who might be able to assist in their beautiful and literally life saving work. You can learn more about their work at their website. communidade.jesusmenino.org.br for Brazil. I’ll spell it that is: C OMUNIDADEJESUSME N I N O dot org.br for Brazil, or if that’s too complicated, just email me at Catholic priest@columbia.edu Thanks so much for your consideration. And now here’s Will Bachman with this week’s episode.

To learn more about their work visit: https://comunidadejesusmenino.org.br/

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Transcript

 

100.Andrew Ott

SPEAKERS

Will Bachman, Andrew Ott

 

00:00

Hi, this is Roger Landry class of 1992, who had the privilege to be interviewed by well in Episode 42. The feature nonprofit in this episode of the 92 report is the baby Jesus community of Petropolis, Brazil, founded in 1990 by Tonio Tavares, a teacher for Special Needs teens who win the Brazilian government pulled its funding ended up adopting all 45 Special Needs teens and adults and caring for them ever since. I first found out about this extraordinary organization, when I was working as a diplomat at the United Nations. And since then I’ve helped them get established as a US 501 C three contributed to their many needs, and tried to help them find others in the United States who might be able to assist in their beautiful and literally life saving work. You can learn more about their work at their website. community.js wish menino.org.br for Brazil, I’ll spell it that C OMUNIDADJSUSME N I N O dot O R g.br for Brazil, or if that’s too complicated, just email me at Catholic priest@columbia.edu. Thanks so much for your consideration. And now here’s will Bachman with this week’s episode.

 

Will Bachman  01:20

Hello, and welcome to the 90 T Report. I’m your host will Bachman and I’m so happy to be here today with Andrew Ott. Andrew, welcome to the show.

 

Andrew Ott  01:29

Thank you so much.

 

Will Bachman  01:30

Andrew, tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard.

 

Andrew Ott  01:35

This is exciting. I would say that, um, in a nutshell, I left college I started working at an one nonprofit, I moved into technology research, small internet startups for a little bit, then I shifted back to nonprofits and worked in social entrepreneurship in both Brazil and Rwanda, which was fascinating. Now, fast forward to today, I’m running my own nonprofit training folks from low income backgrounds, particularly people of color and women, how to code how to program websites, and also launch new new careers. I want to say at the outset, one thing I’ve mentioned to you just a minute ago, I feel better make sure we mentioned it is because in your introduction to the show by email, you said what are the elements of Harvard that have continued to have an influence over your life. And one of those has been my ongoing long term relationship with my Harvard roommates, who are still a strong and vibrant part of my life, we layer there, there are six of us who regularly get together. Not often, but maybe maybe once or twice a year, we get our families together, the families all know each other. And so that’s a treasured part of, of our lives my life today. And of and we do on trips together all sorts of fun things. I just thought I’d mentioned that at the outset. Because I wanted to make sure I mentioned it. Yeah,

 

Will Bachman  02:53

well, that is very cool to have a group of friends like that, that you stay in touch with. And I mean, once or twice a year is actually pretty often to get a group like that together. Tell us a little bit about how that has evolved. And you’re welcome to give those those folks a shout out as well, like you want if you want to name and name them, but how did it get started? Where I mean, that’s a lot of planning to to get six families together. Now that means one thing when you’re all single, you know, 22 years old, but tell us how that how that has evolved? And what sort of trips do you take? I

 

Andrew Ott  03:27

think planning is an excellent way to summarize it. There’s a fair amount of planning and we’re not necessarily good planners, but that’s so true. Some of us are very good planners. I would say it started in college, we started going to like one person’s house on a week, one weekend, a year, I think it was Memorial Day weekend, we did that a couple of times, it was a big hit. We had a lot of fun, we would bring some friends with us. And then after college, we spread out to different cities we lived in New York are some lot of folks that you know, between Boston and New York that was a lot of the folks you know over the years but also people spread went lived in different countries for periods of time came back etc. But we kind of kept that kept alive the memory of those weekends where we go away from campus for get together and then we were able to start to find houses that we know either either family members had or we had access to where we eventually started renting them when we had a little bit more income. And we just started doing that again not not every day every weekend or something but like you know twice a year once a year something like that. And then and then I think it’s persisted we’ve had a little bit of a tradition on Labor Day weekend to get together but it’s it’s shifted over the years but we try and get folks together and sometimes we alternate between just the just the guys and then sometimes we alternate with the families which is makes it fun. More logistics but it’s fun.

 

Will Bachman  04:51

And what do you do? Is this a everyone goes golfing together or you just sit around a barbecue and and chat about it’s

 

Andrew Ott  04:59

really a good question. It’s funny, it’s obvious to me, but it’s not. It’s not the same for everybody. So, um, we, we get together we, there’s a lot of games, a lot of there’s chess, there’s backgammon, there is like, what’s it? What’s it doing recently? Was that spike ball game? Is it called anyone that was during the pandemic, there was one that had a moment. And then we mostly we cook, and we mixed drinks, and we chat. Those are our main activities. Occasionally we’ll go for a bike ride, or a or a hike. But a lot of it is sitting around and catching up.

 

Will Bachman  05:35

Can you? I mean, this is not something that I have in my life. But I am, I think it would be such an amazing, nice thing to have to have a group like that, that you consistently get together with, you know, once or twice a year, you know, sometimes with your families. What I’m curious, to what extent has it has your tight group, you know, supported one another through difficult times, like through someone losing their job or a divorce or a parent or, you know, something like that? I mean, I imagine that it must be a really tight support group.

 

Andrew Ott  06:15

I would say all of the above. Yeah, I would say that there have been divorces, there have been deaths, there have been celebrations, there have been new jobs. New, you know, long term travel adventures living in other countries, that sort of thing. And a lot of that has been the grist for our conversations, you know, should I go with this job or that job? Should I? How should I interpret you know, my, the situation in my, my job with my, with my boss, you know, how can I try and apply for this new position, which is outside of my comfort zone. When my father passed away, when I was very, pretty young, I was 24. And all my college roommates came, I was just really, it was very touching. They came and they and they met my brother intimate met my family members, my mom. And then we’ve been there for weddings and weddings and funerals and, and we’ve met all the kids. And it’s been it’s been great. I mean, not every single person comes to every single thing, of course. But it’s, it’s been a real feature where the important events are marked by the group.

 

Will Bachman  07:26

What a gift what a gift to have. You know, I think that when you’re younger, you don’t really think ahead and think. And you think, Oh, I can always make friends. Because so easy in high school and college make friends. Yeah, people surround by people. But as you get older as an, you know, middle age, it’s like, it’s, it’s almost like there’s a half life, right? Like, it’s not that easy. And friends and the ones that you add, it’s impossible to make a friend that you had made 30 years ago, right? That’s not a thing. Right? So to have what you have is something it’s a real gift.

 

Andrew Ott  07:59

And yeah, that’s nice of you to say I think you’re right, I am I think I was lucky in that my dad was very had some very good friends from college and from grad school. And I remember to this day, watching how he would just light up when this one group of guys would come over in and their families. They didn’t again, they didn’t come off, and they lived in different countries. But he, he would just light up and become so playful in a way that he didn’t normally act. So I think early on in my life, this is I’m think probably thinking back to when I was in high school, or late later grade school. And I thought, Gosh, when I go to college, or when I go to college or grad school, I want to have a group of friends like that. And I’m lucky enough to have pulled that off.

 

Will Bachman  08:43

Yeah, I mean, it takes intentional, you know, investment and sacrifice and time, like you can’t just sort of, you know, make a friend and then it just sort of you have to invest in it. You guys have done that. That’s really, really nice. Okay, so I want to there’s so much about your career, I want to dig into that, you know, that you kind of give his whirlwind tour. So, maybe we just start from from chronologically, you mentioned Brazil. Tell me about going to Brazil and what you did there? And did you like how did that happen? Did you you know, grew up speaking Portuguese, like how did you end up in Brazil? And what did you do?

 

Andrew Ott  09:25

I am I think I was I think my experience of sort of decision to go to Brazil was informed by an earlier experience. I’d actually done undergrad in during Harvard when I one of my college roommates Chad Leith went to Spain in junior year and he worked really hard to get me to come join him in the second semester. And I did I didn’t went join him the second semester. I was not ready. I was I was I think a little bit feeling a Little boxed in by my Harvard experience at that point, I had a wonderful college experience overall. But by junior year, I was just feeling a lot of pressure. And that just felt like I needed a bit of a change of pace. And so for me going to Spain with him was he had already been there for he went the whole year, and I went just a second semester. But that was a wonderful, just change of pace. It was a it was a sort of new adventure. And it had a lot of benefits, obviously, you know, the language, I became pretty fluent in Spanish, I had a change in worldview, it just so happened that the Persian Gulf War happened while we were there in 1981. So like, when the when we started going into Iraq, in those days, I heard we heard that all through Spanish Telecaster, you know, Spanish Telecasters. And, and through CNN, of course, because that was the at the time, that was like the idea of an international news network, like for the first time, or television anyway. And then anyway, so many years later, I was excited to do that, again, my, as I mentioned, my father had passed away. Actually, Chad, and another friend went into the Peace Corps at one point, and I was super interested in that as well. But it wasn’t the right time because of my, the loss of my dad. And so later I said, there was kind of a break in my, in my career skin, my without my career schedule. But my, you know, I was working at this one job for like four years. And it was time, it was time for a shift. And I realized that at that point, the internet had really taken off. And so I’d had I was, at that point, a webmaster at Forrester Research. So I had to some Forrester Research is a market research firm. Sure. It’s well known. It’s it used to be in Cambridge arts, still in Cambridge, but it used to be in New York, just even Harvard Square. And, and now it’s moved away a bit from there, but I was there when they were I was the webmaster when they went public. And when we had, you know, Netscape, which was like the most trafficked site on the web on the web, at that time, put one of our reports on their homepage. And so like there was this torrent of data of all these people signing up to read our reports. I mean, I say our report, I didn’t write it, but I put it up on the website for them. And then,

 

Will Bachman  12:04

and in those days, I mean, now being a webmaster, it’s all these tools. But I imagined it was a lot more technical than I mean, these days, it’s all SAS, it’s all web cloud based, but you have like, servers and a closet. Yeah, you

 

Andrew Ott  12:17

had to like, like, make your fingers bloody from No, I’m kidding. But you know, it was really it was it was a pain in the neck. But I actually the way I got into it was that there was this guy who I was working, doing telephone support or not support telephone research for forester originally, that was my first job with them doing research, and I would cold call people at their jobs who were involved in software hire, you know, purchases, and, you know, big company, tech executives. And I’d say why do you buy this database instead of that database? And why do you, you know, why do you feel like push technology is the next greatest thing. I don’t know if you’ve ever pushed technology for that was a big deal for five minutes. And, and then I got pretty sick of that. And there was this guy after work, who was always staying late. He was an analyst, he was senior to me. And so I would check in and I said, you know, what are you doing? He’s like, Well, I’m building a website for forester. And I was like, what’s that? And so I kind of bugged him for a while. So to make me go away, he could took a book off his shelf. And he’s like, here’s how you here’s how you edit the content of the website using a tool called VI, which for those people who are listening, it’s a painful, like text editor from like, the stone age. And you can’t, you have to edit each line separately, like you can’t move and edit at the same time, you have to move the cursor in one mode, and then edit in a separate mode anyway. So he gave me the jobs that were, you know, unpleasant for him to maintain the website. And then he quit a few months later. And so the president of the company started walking around the hallways being like, where’s that kid who knows how to run the website. And so it was a, it was a very Happy, lucky accident for me, because suddenly that shifted my whole kind of career trajectory.

 

Will Bachman  13:54

So I just want to check it. This is really interesting. So you were doing this, you know, dialing for, you know, interviews, but you just are kind of curious about the website. So just this was sort of extra time of this was a collateral duty. You weren’t even assigned this. You were just volunteering to help with right. That’s curious though. It’s kind of fun. And then when that guy quit, you know, became a

 

Andrew Ott  14:19

job. You picked up my friends. Yeah, that

 

Will Bachman  14:22

is such a good case study of, you know, just following your passion and get interested in something

 

Andrew Ott  14:28

that I think it doesn’t happen for everyone. You know, I can’t say I can’t say I designed it to happen, but boy, was it cool when it did happen? Yeah. All right. Yeah, I got shifted over to that to that track. And then at that point, so I did that I that became my full time job for a couple of years. And we, you know, we transitioned at that point, because the internet was exploding. Yeah. I think it was 95% of the research went from being or maybe it’s 80% of the research went from being print delivered, like literally made in Microsoft Word sent to the mail house. and send mailed out to people. Yeah, 80% of it went to that internet delivery in one year. Whoa. So that was a massive, like, it’s a research company, right? They have to, they had to remake themselves. Like, it was all about content. And they just you feel very in 19 Whatever 1996 95 It was not. It was not cool anymore to be delivering research, paper based Because suddenly, you know, why can’t I search in a new concept? Why can I, you know, save a document article that I want to remember or tags, something things like things like simple things like that. That was a big deal. And then what and then we had this this Netscape link that I mentioned. Yeah. And, and I was able to, there wasn’t that basically, we agreed as a group that we’ve got to put, you know, reach out to candidates record people’s names and titles and company that they work for something simple before they get the, before they get the report. And then I just did this really simple database query, which I mean, like, literally, I could teach you how to do in about five minutes. And we just said, you know, just show me the people who answered that their revenue was over 2 billion, and they you know, our VP or higher, or a CFO or CIO or whatever, and then give me just that list. And then I gave that to the salespeople. And suddenly, we were making like, they were like millions of dollars in new business being closed. was painfully easy at the time. And, of course, I mean, obviously, I’m leaving out that, you know, I didn’t have to actually build, you know, basically, we were just getting these, like, literally spreadsheet reports. The sales team was doing all the hard work of actually closing them, but they had to they had they would come to me and say actually, Andrew, I call them too soon, like, like they were looking at the report 10 minutes ago when I called them and I realized that’s too soon.

 

Will Bachman  16:38

Uncanny Valley, like, Okay. I see that you requested a report three minutes ago, I wanted to call up and see how you’re enjoying it. Right.

 

Andrew Ott  16:46

I haven’t gotten through page one yet.

 

Will Bachman  16:49

You have any questions about it? It’s pretty good. Okay, so you were like, tired, you know, so you had done your stretch at Forrester. You had served your tour duty. And and then your friend had kind of, you know, Chad sort of gave the role modeling of Peace Corps, Brazil, so you didn’t speak Portuguese yet. But your finger I can pick it up because I learned Spanish. That’s

 

Andrew Ott  17:12

right. I learned Spanish. And actually, I my first plan was to go to Argentina, not Brazil, because I already knew Spanish, right? And at the time, Argentina was just suffering. The economy in Argentina was just in a bad rough spot. And so actually, I did a lot of I did a lot of research. That

 

Will Bachman  17:28

is an evergreen comment. Unfortunately, I have friends in Argentina, but that is like an evergreen comment. Yeah,

 

Andrew Ott  17:35

I Yeah. That was a difficult it was it was I didn’t understand the economic economic difficulties of Argentina in those days. But I was so excited. I was bewitched by you know, when it’s it is and I mean, it’s a wonderful, such a wonderful country. Such a wonderful place. Oh, yeah. And I, I spent probably, I don’t know, six or several months collecting the names and email addresses and phone numbers of every person I could find that was connected to Argentina, friends, friends of friends, parents, friends, you know, etc. I went there. And I literally sat in one of those like Telefonica booths and like called every single person on my list, and I was able to get, I was able to get several job interviews, like, you know, probably four or five different things, I got one actual offer. And they were going to pay me like $8,000 or $9,000 for the year to work really hard at this publishing company. And when it’s it is, and it was an international company. It was it was a cool job. But the money was nothing. I mean, it was just nothing. And so I didn’t, I kind of that shook me a little bit. And then just as a, as an afterthought, I said, Well, I’m gonna fly home back to us. Anyway, I just won’t stop in Brazil because I have these old friends who live in Sao Paulo. And then I walked down the main street of San Paolo one day that while I was with staying with them, I was going to meet my friend or something. And I started noticing how many helipads there were. And outside, sorry, started counting hella pads, and international brands. And I got to like, you know, 12 hella pads or something. And like, all these major international companies, you know, Microsoft, and Sony, and BASF, and all these things, and you’re like, and I was like, Okay, this is different. There’s money here. And so, I decided to do my same process again, but in some Paulo, and that’s what I did. And I and I found, it was like, it was great. It was great timing, because in Brazil, they were a couple years behind the US in terms of internet technology. So my exposure to Forrester Research, all that stuff, made me like, this hot commodity that I was like, suddenly I was this expert. So if you say I’m an expert,

 

Will Bachman  19:39

I gotta say, I just love this story. And you’re like, you show up in Brazil. You know? You’re just like, Okay, let me just call everybody I know. Boom, get a job. That’s pretty awesome. I mean,

 

Andrew Ott  19:53

it was it was it was there more details, but like, that’s the base basic theme of what happened. All right. And I had a great time it was wonderful. I was there for four years. Wow.

 

Will Bachman  20:02

Okay, four years. So you were building websites and so forth.

 

Andrew Ott  20:06

Yeah, yep. And I worked for some startups. Because I still liked the idea of start, I’d actually worked in one or two startups in Boston before I left. But it was it was they never went anywhere, they kind of fizzled out. But the ones in Brazil were better run like were run by people with a little bit more momentum. And so I worked there for a while. But then I just got, I kind of just felt like I wanted to go back to nonprofits that it took a little while to figure that out. But then in so in Brazil, I started working at a nonprofit, which is an amazing one CDI, which is the committee for democracy in it, which is a resilient nonprofit, which does. They build what they call computer and citizenship schools in poor neighborhoods all across Brazil, and actually, outside Brazil, they have some in Angola, they have some in Japan, they have some some all over the place. I haven’t checked in with them in a long time. But but that’s how they were very, very successful back then. And I worked with him for a while. And then I said, you know, how can I eventually I had to come back to the US because sort of my sort of funding grant out. And it was like, How do I I was like, how do I go back into nonprofits? And how to like, how do I make this thoughtful? And that’s when I went to grad school. Okay,

 

Will Bachman  21:18

I decided grad school is the right. And what did you study in grad school?

 

Andrew Ott  21:21

I studied basically, nonprofit management, international relations, probably nonprofit management is probably the most I went to the Kennedy School. Okay, so in fact, a mother Harvard.

 

Will Bachman  21:34

Okay, so nonprofit management, and the and then how did you end up in Rwanda? And what happened there?

 

Andrew Ott  21:43

So I mentioned I’ve been involved in startups and in nonprofits like these are the things that are really still drawing me in. And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to do social entrepreneurship. That was the part that was that was kind of a phrase that had had shown up that was getting a lot of popularity. And that is kind of a startup approach, as if you’re like a business startup, but you’re trying to do it for a social social goal. And I still had this international bug. And I wanted to travel. And so there was an organization called Technoserve, it’s still around, it’s a great organization, Technoserve. It was at the time, they were doing something called the coffee project was funded by the Gates Foundation. And the goal was to basically draw together smallholder coffee farmers into collectives, and then through some interesting, you know, clever market interventions, sell their product to major Coffee Roasters like Peet’s or Starbucks. So and the big thing about that is you, you end up cutting out several middlemen and you know, from between the smallholder farmer and international buyer, and so that means that all the profit, that when Peet’s buys a creative coffee, or a you know, a container of coffee, a lot more of it goes back to the actual farmer, because if you don’t make those market connections intentionally, all the value gets cut out in the middle by middlemen. Yeah, which is not inherently bad, it’s just that the farmer stays very poor. And so if you’re gonna, if you want to try and lift up the farming, like agricultural communities, in many countries, like, it’s like the if the more, the more you can enrich the bottom of the socio economic ladder, especially in the agricultural areas, it has a lot of positive socio economic effect, for sure. And obviously, for them, particularly, because they get a lot more, they can really improve their standard of living their, you know, their school rates go up, their, you know, education rates go up, their health improves all this stuff.

 

Will Bachman  23:47

And so what were what were you doing there?

 

Andrew Ott  23:50

I worked with, actually, funnily enough, I worked with a middleman, who was I was one of their buyers. And he was, you know, instead of having six layers of middlemen, the idea was have one or two layers of middlemen. So he was in the middle, and he was a small entrepreneur himself. And I had worked for a bunch of startups. And so I said, Well, let me kind of get to know his business operation and see if I can make recommendations to improve it. And I think really, the, the, what I set out to do was build them a database of, you know, basically put in some technology so he could more effectively keep track of lots of coffee and customers and all that stuff. And ultimately, that it didn’t seem to be that valuable. Because he had such a good system that was based on a text message. System he had just on just on his because the cell phones that they had, did not have that were not smartphones at that point in Rwanda. And so he would do he could do so much with just a really long text message. And it was because they had developed all these like codes of how to transmit a great deal of information with just a few characters, you know, so he would he wouldn’t need to write out full sentences he would just write these little SEC messages and what he didn’t have was a good sort of long term inventory tracking system. So we tried to build that a little bit. But then what happened along the way was we ended up finding I ended up finding fraud in some of the cooperatives. And that was helpful because it, it made the overall operation quite a bit more credible, I think, because we had a couple of people got pulled out of their positions because a really one key person who was siphoning off a lot of money for himself was was bounced out. He had been very popular, but he got bounced out and then okay,

 

Will Bachman  25:32

so I love I love hearing stories about fraud. So what was what was, how does someone do fraud on a coffee like this,

 

Andrew Ott  25:39

the best part of it is I’m not revealing his identity, but part of his name, I wouldn’t say it was first name or last name was Faust.

 

25:44

  1. All right.

 

Andrew Ott  25:48

And he, he was inflating certain charges, or his bookkeeper was inflating certain charges. So techno serves project would pay for, you know, all sorts of things, you could travel to the, you know, you had to get the chair, the coffee cherries transported to the washing station, you had to run the washing station, which has electricity and staff time, you had to take buses to the downtown to or, you know, from the rural washing station to back into Kigali to arrange meetings and stuff like that. So basically, all these things would be submitted on an expense report. And then the expense reports started, I started to notice that the expense reports were suspicious, a couple of expense reports were suspicious in the sense that like, oh, you know, a $5 bus ride is regularly being billed at $45. You know, or, or a, you know, like little things like that like, like things that even I as a foreigner who didn’t even I’ve never taken that bus. But I was like, huh, because all these other cooperatives, they pay roughly between five and $7 for that trip, and you’re paying consistently $45 for that trip. And when you’re, you know, storing coffee in a warehouse it consistently it’s the same amount of coffee, and for some reason, you have to pay three times the cost that, you know, the other nine cooperatives pay.

 

Will Bachman  27:03

And then I’m curious, like, how did it play out when you reported that, that fraud? And, you know, were you at any point, you know, personally concerned, the guy was gonna come after you or something, or just there

 

Andrew Ott  27:21

was a couple of people told me I should be worried, but I didn’t. I didn’t I don’t think it was a real threat. There was this moment where we, I told the people I was working with in the central office, and we were concerned about it. But the other decision for this particular guy’s job, it really relied on the farmers in his cooperative, right? So the farmers had to be shown this information. Now, I didn’t speak Kinyarwanda and they didn’t speak English. So we had to find some way to get this information to them. And so ultimately, the way we decided was, it was the end it was my this guy who the coffee buyer that I’ve been working with. He’s like, you know, if you give me evidence, I’ll take it to them. Like I he had no problem. He had had amazing history, this guy. And he’s like, so what we the way we did it was I literally made PowerPoints. And I helped I had a lot of help with translation into Kinyarwanda, but I had like little excerpts, little snapshots of the different fraudulent padded, like costs. And so people would like and they were literally I just took little screenshots of the, of the entries that were clearly you know, fraudulent because it’s so you could see it was in so and so’s writing. And it’s their handwriting and then I kind of drew I basically made it like maybe three slides or something like that. And and then we went to went to we got a whole bunch of like coffee grows together, like literally sitting on a hillside, they put three chairs in the field facing the hillside. And I said to one of the chairs in the coffee grower, or though coffee buyers that and another chair and I think the mayor said or some another local official SAT in the third chair, and we faced the hillside of farmers and we’ve made a lot of copies and we handed them all out and then I didn’t say anything I just sat there and like look tried to look intelligent. I didn’t because I couldn’t actually they couldn’t understand if I spoke anything anyway. And the coffee buyer was like you know, Mr. Andrew here has done this research and here’s what he showed and you could see the entries yourself and the guy got fired wow

 

Will Bachman  29:16

it’s like I would have got away with it wasn’t for those darn kids

 

Andrew Ott  29:22

and then later with their later there was even copies stolen and and then we found it I didn’t wasn’t I didn’t I happen to be there when we found it but I was I didn’t it wasn’t because of me. But um it was fascinating. It was like this cloak and dagger stuff. You know, we’re like literally like leaning and looking in the back window of a warehouse and being like it like porbeagle This little like screen away from the window so we could look inside and yep, it’s full of coffee. Like it’s like sacks of coffee are in there. They’re not supposed to be there.

 

Will Bachman  29:45

Wow. I mean, okay, what an adventure. Okay, let’s fast forward. I’d love to hear a bit about the nonprofit that you’re running today. Sure.

 

Andrew Ott  29:55

It’s called Code squad. Code squad.org. People want to know Get out. We train folks from low income backgrounds, we focus on people of color. And women and folks from other marginalized communities, we train them to, they do not have to have a computer background or a software background at all. But we train them in entry areas or in full stack website development. And we kept them we work with them to find jobs for them in software. And when it works, it works really well. It can be a major impact on people’s livelihoods among the people who finish our program, and to actually get a job in software, the average reported salary is over $100,000 a year. Wow. So these are folks, some of whom are, you know, at, you know, very low income or low income to begin with. We’ve had folks who were homeless during the program, they didn’t actually tell us that to later. Or couchsurfing. We’ve had folks, you know, living in their car or couchsurfing, we’ve had anyway, some amazing outcomes. That said, Of course, it doesn’t work for everybody. It’s difficult. It’s difficult to make that initial initial jump into the into that first job. But it can be really, really successful. We have sort of small nonprofit staff of 10, part time, everybody’s part time. We, let’s see, what else can I tell you about it, we’ve got some great, great people. It’s a great team. And

 

Will Bachman  31:22

so what’s the what would be a typical job that someone might get after going through your your program, folks

 

Andrew Ott  31:31

get jobs as software engineers, sometimes they are application developers or full stack developers, it’s called, we have people who are freelance web developers. So there, they put up their own shingle as a, as a freelance developer, they can build a website for you, for example. They are trained in one full, they call it a full stack of technology, meaning they can build a rudimentary front end that can make it look professional, they can have interactivity in the website, from scratch without using like Wix or Squarespace or whatever, they can use it from scratch, they can put in authentication, they can have data that saves to a database, they can build the database for you, they can launch that in the cloud or deploy it on some sort of hosting service. And, and then they can write server server side scripting, so like, they can have information that’s processed on the server and sent back to the to the webpage. So that makes it the reason I’m describing that is because that’s called a full stack, like basically the front end and back end. So it’s all the way from the what the user sees all the way to the server and then back again. So we have, we trained them on what’s called the myrn stack, which is stands for a suite of technologies, Mongo, express, react and node, you don’t really need to know what they are mean. But they’re basically different pieces of that value chain, if you will. And because of that, they can get jobs as in a number of different areas, depending on what they want to focus on. If they want to go into sort of user interface design, they can do that. We don’t really train that deeply. But that’s something they have rudimentary knowledge. So that would be like on the front end, they could go be a freelance web developer, where they’re working with maybe small businesses or nonprofits to build a simple website or shop, you know, neighborhood store. But they could also do quality assurance, where they’re looking at a big codebase of, you know, from a from a corporation, and they can go in and provide it, it’s in a language, they know, we focus on JavaScript, which is a programming language, they could, you know, go in and help debug that or do quality control on the code. And then they also are set up for provided they do additional training and probably got a few jobs in the meantime, they could do something even more specialized, like cybersecurity, machine learning, all that sort of stuff. But that was good, that would take more follow on experience after us

 

Will Bachman  33:47

now, what have you learned about the ability to predict whether someone is going to be successful in the program? You know, are there indicators whether, you know, either like level of education received, or maybe it’s personal characteristics, you know, sort of executive functioning skills or emotional control or just, you know, like, or, like, other kinds of what are sort of the predictors that you can have a pretty good sense. I don’t know, if you have if people have to apply to the program get admitted, or even, you know, those who, how do you know in advance, what have you learned about who is successful?

 

Andrew Ott  34:28

That’s a great question. Um, we have iterated a bunch of times, because we’ve gotten it wrong a bunch of times. The, I would say the single most predictive thing is what we have a, a free what we call a mini course, that is part of the application process on the front end. So like at the very beginning of the application cycle, what they have to there’s a sort of information form they fill out. It’s sort of like a miniature version of a college application. They have to upload their resume they have to write a personal statement, which is a short essay they have to solve a logic problem, a few things like that, they upload that. We do an initial screen there, which which is, you know, based on what they’ve told us. Then provided they pass that first screen, they are enrolled into what we call this mini course. And the mini course is essentially teaching them the very, very threshold skills of our boot camp. And we do it all with pre recorded videos. And they have, I think, three weeks to complete it. And then at the end of that three weeks, they have to submit a simple and I mean, very simple web page, it’s just made out of HTML, and maybe a couple of pictures. And then we’d graded we say, like, did they do it properly? And that’s actually that process has been the most predictive of us a productive thing for us. So far, we used to rely more heavily on interviews, we do actually do an interview, if you depending on how well you do in that initial step, we do an interview, we, you know, we screen for a few things. Like, if they don’t, a lot of it’s about schedule, like do they honestly have the time to do the bootcamp because it’s a lot of people come through, and they don’t realize how hard it can be. They’re like, Oh, I learned I learned HTML, and you know, very quickly, so therefore, I can do all programming very quickly. Of course, that’s not true. It’s HTML is a lot easier than a lot of other types of programming. But we want to encourage them. But we also want to be realistic that if you’re working full time, and you’re going to school, for a degree you’re paying for, you’re not going to make it like, typically, you won’t make it all the way through our bootcamp like you’re going to drop out. So therefore, we don’t want to admit you, because we’re afraid that would take away a spot from somebody else. But I used to rely on what I’ve learned, you asked us what I learned, we’ve learned that interviews are not a great predictor of success I used to, we’ve actually shortened interviews used to be an hour. And they used to really be a big, big part of our admission process. And we’ve shortened them to half an hour. And they’re only at the very, very end of the process. Because we’ve kind of made our decision by the time we interviewed. If you bombed the interview, and you’re terrible in a terrible way, conceivably we’d pull you out because of a bad interview. But most of the decision process happens before then. Like we’ve we actually had for the first time ever, we had over 1000 people interested in the program for this. For this year, it was in the fall. We’ve never had that kind of attention. And we only admit 20 people crazy. It was a huge interest level this year. So we’re trying to figure out how to how to serve that larger audience.

 

Will Bachman  37:22

How long does this program last? Like? What’s the what’s the instruction? Like?

 

Andrew Ott  37:27

It’s 12 and a half hours of live classes per week, for 24 weeks. Oh, live clouds live such that 250 hours of class. And then plus homework plus six or eight hours of homework every week.

 

Will Bachman  37:42

And this is in person or on Zoom? It’s

 

Andrew Ott  37:47

all on Zoom. Now originally, it was all in person. Oh, wow. Okay, but then the the COVID happened, and we had to switch to 100% zoom as, like everybody else. And since then we haven’t gone back.

 

Will Bachman  37:57

Okay. And where’s I mean, this is I mean, that’s sounds like it’s pretty expensive to run? What’s the what’s the source of funding? And what’s the source of funding for this?

 

Andrew Ott  38:09

We have about six or seven, like institutions and foundations that that fund us their family foundations, there’s a couple banks, there’s some individual donors who have been very generous. There are some generous donors in our class of 92, Harvard class of 92. There are Yeah, that’s it’s really a mixed. So it’s we’ve had a couple of government grants, not very many, but a couple of government grants we just applied for our first ever federal grant. So it’s, um, it’s exciting. It’s a it’s a mix. And we’re learning how to do that as we go as well.

 

Will Bachman  38:41

When you kind of take the funding and you divided by the number of people that go through, what does it like? What’s the cost per, you know, per graduate of the program? When you look at the people that actually graduate? It’s

 

Andrew Ott  38:53

probably, I mean, it’s I haven’t done that numbers recently, but it’s probably eight to $10,000 a person. Oh, okay. But if you think about it, they’re the Delta in their salary can be your mean, like, it can be dramatic. It can be several times that.

 

Will Bachman  39:08

Yeah. Okay. Interesting. I mean, there’s that other Academy, I forget the name of it, that Austin, somebody right, that Austin alread or something where they basically take a cut of some of somebody’s future salary. Right. Yeah, I forget the name of that. That code teaching organization. And I think they’ve recently got sued or something for, for treating it as a loan or not treating it as a loan. It was, yeah. Yeah. But they were sorry. But there’s that other organization that you know, basically self funds by by that. That’s interest. I mean, that’s actually not you know, I thought you might say a higher number because, wow, if you can get someone who’s homeless $100,000 a year job and it costs you 10,000 bucks. It’s like a pretty good investment. Right? What does it What sort of the minute like the educational requirements? Would you say? Someone has to be, you know, fairly decent at math and English or something just or have some good, basic conscientiousness type skills? I guess you sort that out with the three week self study thing. But like, what, what would you say is like the minimum requirements?

 

Andrew Ott  40:20

So our official minimum requirements are you have to have a high school diploma or a GED, and you and then you have to pass through our you have to have authorization to work in United States. And you have to pass obviously go through our admissions process. I think in terms of what determines success, is it it really varies we have we actually, we’ve never required a college degree. Yet, about half of our students have them before we could before they come to us, is that right? Which was surprising. It’s really, it’s hard to pick up trends. You know, like, what really determines success? I think, so much is perseverance. And it’s really hard to measure that front. I mean, obviously, you can look at work history. But it’s hard to know, it’s because there’s a there’s perseverance. And there’s, you could call it code switching? Like, how much are they able to kind of, like, if they don’t have corporate work experience, which most most folks don’t? How easily are they to how comfortable are they switching and kind of turning on a corporate persona. And that’s, that’s a surprisingly hard thing to do. If you’re not used to it. If you’ve worked in warehouses, you know, your whole life, it’s hard to then work, you know, put on khaki pants and go work as a software developer. If you Yeah, I mean, it’s Oh, then the other the other big thing, which is looms large for us is one term for it is imposter syndrome, which is just not believing, you know, you don’t have the same background, as the other people that you’re working with, whether that’s your race, your gender, your sexuality, your and or your neighborhood you grew up in. And it’s very hard to, to stay confident about your newly learned skills, when also You’re so different from other folks are not so different. But you’re when Yeah, when those when those differences are layered on top of each other, it just it adds to the sort of sense of imposter syndrome.

 

Will Bachman  42:21

Switching gears tell me about any courses or professors or activities that you were involved in at Harvard that continue to resonate with you.

 

Andrew Ott  42:32

Sure, I was really interested, you mentioned that in in your initial email, and I thought about it, I think the person, it’s a professor that I’m going to mention, and that’s Professor Joe Knight, Joseph Nye, Jr. I was, um, I was really impressed by his, I can’t remember the name of and that was like historical studies. 812. Or maybe it was this great, like survey course on international relations. I might have the name wrong. But anyway, the story like a survey course was taught in Sanders Theater, professor and I it was it was the taught it. And I was fascinated by the geopolitics, and I really, I don’t really use geopolitics in my work, but I don’t think I really have or have. But that said, I’ve traveled a lot. And I, and I’m an avid reader, you know, all about just I love to sort of think about international politics and, and just power dynamics between countries in other groups and how that happened. You know, how that how those conflicts play out, right? There’s a lot obviously, in the headlines today, these days. But I, as an odd coincidence, I actually took ceramics from his sister in high school, Audrey Bensley, and that was a toy. I didn’t learn that so many years later. I remember I just I enjoyed professionalized class a lot. And I was very nervous. But I went up and asked him a question I remember and he’s like, Oh, I wrote a book about that, you know, here’s, here’s the title of go read the books. But then he was he said that about an added about as nice away as you could. And then and then actually, I later in grad school had a chance to be in a small seminar with him. Super cool. And, and I, and I loved them. Anyway, so he was just someone who I just was, I think I’ve always wanted to see the world through his eyes, I guess. And, you know, I’ve been sort of, I’ve learned, I think that was a real, that was a real, like, influence for me.

 

Will Bachman  44:25

So I didn’t take his class, what is sort of one insight or one framework are one way of thinking that you took away from from Gemini,

 

Andrew Ott  44:33

probably the thing he’s most famous for is soft power. So that’s kind of the in simple, simple terms. It’s like the I mean, I’m probably going to butcher it. But it’s the idea that, you know, like, for example, United States has a huge amount of influence based on our cultural production, whether it’s movies or TV shows or whatever, all the different parts of our culture that’s spread out around the world,

 

Will Bachman  44:55

especially especially

 

Andrew Ott  44:56

podcasts, especially the podcast that’s like a major source of insight. went internationally. him I don’t even know how many languages you’re translated into the show. But that’s what that’s what he’s best known for. But he’s he was in several presidential administrations He’s like, he’s got a lot of foreign policy chops. He was the dean of the Kennedy school for a while. And yeah, so I think probably toughpower is his is his big contribution, but there but he’s written, you know, a whole bunch of books on analyzing different power dynamics and whatnot.

 

Will Bachman  45:30

That’s great. Yeah, I got tired of answering that question. So I wrote a book on it. You might want to read that. Yeah. A little bit of a long, long answer. Andrew, where can we find you and your organization online, if people want to follow up?

 

Andrew Ott  45:49

Thank you so much for asking. CodeSquad is at codesquad.org. Don’t forget the org. So cod SQ au ad.org. They can folks can find me through that. I’m also at Android codesquad.org. That’s my email address. It’s not that complicated. But yeah, we’d love to I’d love to meet up with folks and and hear from anybody who’s interested. Wonderful.

 

Will Bachman  46:15

Andrew, thank you so much for joining today. This was really a lot of fun. I

 

Andrew Ott  46:20

appreciate it very much. Well, and this is I’m a listener. So I’m excited to to keep to keep going into the archive. I’ve only I feel like I’ve started but I haven’t. I need to keep going.

 

Will Bachman  46:29

Thank you very much. Have a great afternoon.