Coffee Break: An Interview with Chris Castiglione, Co-Founder of One Month
Chris Castiglione is an engineer, artist, and the co-founder of the Y Combinator-backed One Month, the “For Dummies” of online education. Prior to One Month, he was the first teacher at General Assembly, where he created the #1 best-selling coding class for entrepreneurs, “Programming For Non-Programmers.”
In 2013, he taught at Columbia University, and he is currently an adjunct professor at The School of Visual Arts in NYC. In the past, Castiglione has advised companies such as American Express, Donor’s Choose, The New York Stock Exchange and General Electric.
Q. Tell us about yourself. How have you come to development, and particularly to being a co-founder of One Month?
I always wanted to be a teacher. I taught guitar lessons for a few years, and then I taught English in Osaka, Japan for a year. It was amazing. When I was in my mid-twenties, I went back to school to get my masters (University of Amsterdam), hoping that when I returned to the States, I could teach at a university like NYU or SVA.
Little did I know, universities usually only accept PhDs to be their teachers. I started down the doctorate route for a few months, but it just didn’t feel right to be in academia for so long.
That’s when I met one of the founders of a place called General Assembly (GA). I told him (Brad) [about] my desire to teach, and early in 2011, I taught the first coding class at GA. At the time, the staff was only 5 people (today it’s close to 400)… but I don’t know if, back then, I could have imagined just how big coding classes would become. Things that seemed simple to me (HTML, Rails, etc) were selling out weekend after weekend.
I went on to create the best selling classes at the time, “Programming for Non-Programmers,” and “Front-end Web Development.” It was around this time that I met Mattan Griffel. He had just launched the best selling class on the Skillshare platform, called “One Month Rails.”
We were both members of the General Assembly co-working space, and every now and then, we’d take lunch together and dream up ideas for the future of education and what it might look like. There were lots of innovative things we wanted to try, and we both felt held back by the powers above.
Long story short, Mattan applied to Y Combinator. He got in as a solo co-founder, and sometime shortly after, he invited me in as his co-founder on the project. That’s how it began.
Q. How did the idea appear, and how have you come to the vision for what One Month is?
The idea appeared out of a natural evolution from the platforms we were creating. We weren’t trying to create a company at first; we just wanted to evolve online education. We wanted to know the metrics for our students’ happiness, and completion rates; we wanted to A/B test content and provide 24-hour live support.
Q. Who can benefit from One Month, and how? What allows One Month to stand out from the crowd?
One Month is for life-learners.
All our classes are broken down into manageable pieces: about 15 minutes a day, for 30 days. Every skill is project-based (ie. you’re making something from Day 1 of each class, so there’s never a ton of theory upfront) and you have unlimited access to our teachers and support throughout your journey. Which means, if you get stuck (we all get stuck sometimes)… you have someone there to get help you.
I don’t imagine One Month will be in elementary schools any times soon. We know our audience- I sometimes think of our classes as some sort of “Rated R” flavor of education. Our class are meant to feel like you’re at the bar sitting with your best friend who is just shooting the shit and helping you build your project. Approachable. We’re approachable.
Q. What do you enjoy about your project the most? Are there any negative moments you face up with, or is this experience 100% positive?
I love coming to work every day! I’m super inspired to be around everyone on our team.
Q. It looks like you change the lives of tens of thousands of students; how do you feel about it?
It’s hard to imagine what “20,000” people looks like. At that point, the number feels more like a statistic.
Luckily, I get to see progress from our individual students. That’s the best part… the testimonials that come in. Hearing that Patrick in SF was able to land a 120k job, or that Sarah in DC saved $20k building a project herself- I only hope we can help inspire more people!
Q. How can one wow you to become a part of One Month as a teacher?
We’re always looking for teachers, but we’re selective, so if you read this, please do
I’m looking for someone who has taught before, has a portfolio, a intro from a trusted friend always helps, and someone who passes the beer test (ie. Would I want to spend Friday night drinking a beer with this person?). You don’t need to be a rockstar before applying, but you have to want to become one once you join us:)
Q. Last summer, you had interesting experience when you and your team moved to Berlin to work and live in a house together for 30 days. Has this made you think this is the best way to grow stronger as a team? Do you live and work together with your team now, and how does your work space look like?
Berlin! It was the best.
The trip to Berlin was an experiment for sure. It could have gone horribly, but it didn’t. It was truly magic. Before Berlin, our team was only two people (me and Mattan). That month we grew our team to five, so Mattan and I thought, “What’s the best way to get to know our new teammates this month? Let’s try living together with them.” And what better place than fucking Berlin.
We don’t technically live together now, but One Month HQ is technically a “live/work” space. It’s a very large 2-bedroom in the village, and each of us has decorated the space with our personal toys from home (books, an electric piano, Halloween costumes, paintings). So yeah, it’s not home, but we treat it like a home.
Q. What is One Month’s monthly revenue?
I might only say, some months, we’re profitable. Most months, we’re close to profitable. Overall, it’s going well.
Q. How do you keep up with trends and keep your skills up-to-date? What inspires you to succeed in what you do?
How do I keep up with trends? The easiest way has been to surround myself with people that are smarter than I am. I’ve learned a ton over the years this way. I’m pretty sure each of us on the One Month team feels that way. A fun fact is that almost all 9 of us were freelance consultants before joining One Month. Being on the team has helped me grow so much.
What inspired me? It’s hard to answer that without sounding a bit stilted, but the truth is, I’m hungry for learning. I see a world that is much more empathetic and kind than the world we live in now. And empathy (for me) beings with understanding, and education.
To that extent, I’m also personally hungry to learn…I selfishly consume books, people, travel, and ideas. Here at One Month, I have this opportunity to live comfortably in NYC while also connecting people to these amazing books, people, travel and ideas…. and thereby spreading empathy. It’s inspiring for sure.
Q. Do you use your knowledge in practice, then, or is teaching currently the only way for you to share what you’ve learned?
The two classes I teach for One Month right now are One Month HTML, and Programming For Non-Programmers. I use those in practice, in that I was a developer for 10+ years. I still do development work on the side, but much less than I used to a few years ago. It’s more about managing our development team these days.
Q. Here is a tricky MV* Frameworks War question:) What is your favourite framework(s) and why? What do you think about the future of this/these framework(s)?
I’m not sure I have an exciting answer here. I tend to like things that are functional. I used to use WordPress as a backend, and more recently, I’ll use Rails. I think the biggest constant in frameworks is Bootstrap. So I’d have to choose that. Clearly, those guys have revolutionized development with what they’ve given the Web.
Q. What are your plans for 2015 in terms of your project and the class you teach? Do you plan to roll out new classes any time soon?
We’re rolling out a bunch of new classes in 2015. My class, Programming for Non-Programmers, will be released in February 2015, as will Content Marketing (taught by Sarah Peck), One Month Python, and One Month UX. That’s all I can talk about right now, but more exciting twists and turns (even outside of tech) will be out soon enough.
Many thanks to Chris for taking the time away from teaching to answer our questions and run through his pictures to share some of them with our readership. We expect the One Month guys will achieve the goals they have established for 2015 in the near future.