When General Assembly was first founded in New York, the overlying concept was one of community support and interaction. The educational focus of the international entity – which now includes an outpost here in D.C. in conjunction with 1776 – wasn’t always there.
It all started in 2011 and “the whole idea was to create a community center for entrepreneurs to come together and build their passions and sustainable companies, and do it in a really supportive environment,” said Paul Gleger, the regional director heading the D.C. arm of GA, the ninth worldwide so far. “It’s very much focused on creating a community of like-minded people that help each other succeed in what they’re building.” But then as the community worked together with certain people’s skills in demand for instruction, it became apparent that structure and a classroom environment would be beneficial.
Gleger, a Baltimore-native and GWU alumni who worked to open the San Francisco arm of GA before moving back east, explained that they designed a set of classes and workshops that were “clearly defined. There were clear goals so that if a student signs up for something they know what they will get out of it.” Because they were serving an entrepreneurial community, they decided on three main core focus areas: technology, design and business.
“In the process of putting together some of these classes and workshops, we realized there was something much bigger going on here,” Gleger said. “It wasn’t just this GA entrepreneurial community center, it was something much bigger in the startup ecosystem.” Slowly but surely they began crafting a premiere school for entrepreneurs to attend around the nation, and then the world.
But people weren’t just attending General Assembly for a class or two. Many were diving in, hoping to obtain enough from their peers to completely jump ship and change careers to something technical in a startup. And General Assembly was all for it, trying to match the dedication and passion of these students with full-time coursework. As a result, they created both longform courses – the equivalent of what you might learn in a semester at a university in one subject – and immersive programs – the pick for those who want to commit everything for a few months to move into a new career in that subject.
For the immersive program, the aim is to be 100-percent transformational. “It’s a truly intense journey that’s extremely rewarding,” the D.C. director said. “At the end of the program we want to make sure that people are job ready.” Typically, that requires nine-to-five work days five days a week for about three months. It can also include apprentice work in addition. But Gleger said about 95 percent of those who’ve gone through with an apprenticeship have been hired within a few months of their completion of the program. That’s really quite incomparable, and because of that, General Assembly’s actually quite selective of those it accepts into the immersive program.
To make sure they have the most robust curriculum at all times, Gleger said, they have course designers who interview industry hiring managers to find what is most important on the job market at that point in time. Each instructor follows those guidelines, but because they’re also active professionals, they use their own tactics, experience and case studies to make the concepts more graspable.
Gleger said they built everything from the ground up, “So for someone in Sydney, it’s the same experience somebody would get in Los Angeles or Washington, D.C.”
Compared to a typical university education, the GA classes pack a cost-effective punch, especially the one-off workshops, which financially equate to a night out to dinner, or maybe even less. While many might get turned off by the price tag of the longform and intensive courses, which can cost thousands of dollars, compared to enrolling at a university for four years at a time, it’s almost priceless. Plus, they take a much more rapid approach that will lead you to that coveted career much more quickly so that whatever costs you might incur, they’d be replace soon with a fat salary.
“What we’re trying to achieve, I think, is making education a lot more skills based, make it a lot more timely, and make it just more effective overall – you have a very clear sense of what you’re investing into it and what you’re gonna get as an outcome.,” he said. “I think that’s maybe what the traditional educations system is missing a little bit.”
Here in D.C. the big news is the strategic partnership GA has formed with 1776, very much acting as the educational arm of the incubator’s more broad focus. Physically, they also occupy space in the same building as 1776, a few floors down from its main campus. Currently, they are together building out an educational campus on the building’s eighth floor, soon to be complete. But most importantly, it’s a resource for the many government and non-profit workers who may be fed up with their jobs, especially with the political turmoil of late, and want to pursue something new.
If 1776 is “where revolution begins,” for many, General Assembly is the first step of that journey.