‘The Universal Language Of The World Is Going To Be Code’: Career Karma CEO Ruben Harris Wants You To Be Ready

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Career Karma
“Workforce development is the economic issue of our time,” says Ruben Harris (center), CEO of Career Karma, a marketplace that matches people to coding bootcamps. Harris is pictured with co-founders Artur Meyster and Timur Meyster. Photo provided

Coding bootcamps became the go-to resource for adults looking to work in tech but skip the traditional four-year university degree program route, so we all wondered about their fate and ability to thrive when Dev Bootcamp and Iron Yard announced their closings in 2017.

Job placement was a concern.

Good news. There has been an increase in bootcamps since the Coding Bootcamp Market Size Study was released in 2017. We have gone from 91 to 110 full-time coding bootcamps, according to a recent report on the 2018 status of the market size. If all coding bootcamp participants continue to the end of their programs, 2019 could see more than 23,000 graduates from one of these programs. The rise of income share agreements, where students agree to pay back their bootcamp tuition with a percentage of post-graduation salary, is proving to be an allure for many of the programs.

One million computer programming jobs in the U.S. are expected to go unfilled by 2020 — something educational institutions can no longer ignore. Since most K-12 schools fail to teach computer science, the need for veteran and startup companies is vast.

Ruben Harris, CEO of Career Karma, along with co-founders Artur Meyster and Timur Meyster, are looking to address the gap in the tech pipeline. Harris describes Career Karma as a marketplace that matches people to coding bootcamps and job training programs.

Career Karma users can access and prepare to become enrolled in a bootcamp without a fee because training programs pay Career Karma directly. The programs provide a pipeline of potential students who have been prepared for training by Career Karma. Students looking to start a new career get access to a starter kit, notifications about scholarships and stipends and connections to bootcamp alumni.

Career Karma is revenue positive and has raised almost $2 million since launching with the success stories to prove it has a clear direction in helping to fill the talent gap in the tech industry.

Harris shares how revenue helped Career Karma to set its terms when raising funds, his methodical approach to getting a billion people working in tech, and why the podcast he co-hosts is meeting the needs of tech workers.

Ruben Harris, CEO and co-founder of Career Karma. Photo provided

Moguldom:  Why did you start Career Karma?

Ruben Harris: Workforce development is the economic issue of our time. We realize that most people are in school preparing for jobs that are not going to exist in the future. There are jobs that exist, that are being destroyed, just like since the beginning of time. And people aren’t aware of what jobs those are, and where to go to get the skills they need. Over the last six years, my co-founders and I have been able to work different jobs. We have been able to discover which types of jobs there are, and which have the type of training that you can complete in a short period of time.

Based on our personal experiences of getting high-paying jobs in tech, we realized that people need to figure out how to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We started with the understanding that tech is no longer an industry anymore and the universal language of the world is going to be code.

There’s a growing need for software engineers but not enough engineers are being created by four-year universities. We realized bootcamps are the fastest way to get a software engineer in tech. It’s not enough to know bootcamps exist. We created a resource to point them to a bootcamp and gave them pointers on how to start and finish them, find a job and have a support system for the rest of their career.

Moguldom: You have a podcast, “Breaking into Startups,” where you go beyond talking about coding. You’re not only speaking with some notable and up-and-coming CEOs, but people in various roles of startups. What are you hoping to share with your audience through the podcast?

Ruben Harris: I have worked in radio before. Something that was alarming to me is that millions of people listen to podcasts, and millions of people listen to music on the radio. The majority of people that listen to podcasts are rich, and the majority of people listening to music on the radio are poor. And the content that comes out of the radio, for the most part, I would argue — and people can debate me — keeps people either comfortably numb or makes them dumber.

Most podcasts actually make you smarter, depending on the podcast, of course. If we’re trying to reach people that are outside of tech, and they don’t know that podcasts exist, we first have to let them know that podcasts exist. Then we have to create content that doesn’t just inspire people but also gives them actionable items. I realized most startup podcasts and tech media podcasts tend to cover CEOs and venture capitalists, but not the people that are actually building the company.

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It’s going to be very hard for a janitor to relate to Elon Musk because they are in different worlds. But if a janitor can hear from another janitor how they did what they’re trying to do and give tactical advice on what they can do today, that’s powerful. The podcast was created not just give people hope but to explain to them that achievement is a skill that can be taught, and you can act on it today. And if you want to act on it, not only will you be able to listen to this podcast and follow the steps that were laid out to you, you will have contact information for someone that has been in your shoes that will respond, if you send them a message. Now, whenever that person gets a job, we want to be able to speak to them on the podcast. People of color and people in nontraditional career backgrounds have similar issues with today’s journalism. They are not able to hear and tell their own stories. They have a chance to do so with our podcast.

Career Karma
Ruben Harris, CEO and co-founder of Career Karma, goes beyond talking about coding in his podcast, “Breaking into Startups”. Photo provided

Moguldom: You’re a methodical person in trying to lay a pathway for people, whether it’s podcast listeners or Career Karma users. The way you take your users step by step from the start and support of their career is methodical. Is this your approach to building your company?

Ruben Harris: Absolutely. I’m a believer in the “think big, start small” philosophy. We have this big vision of wanting to help a billion people work in tech in 10 years. In order for us to do that, not only do we have to narrow in on a specific role we think will make the most impact first, but we also have to break down that role into little pieces and stages. So, we chose software engineering. Just as music is the universal language of the world no matter what language you speak, you’ll be able to connect with others. Similarly to tech, the universal language is code. Whether you’re an engineer or not, you have to be able to communicate with people and their language to get things done. Companies have money to hire engineers, but they’re always struggling to hire them. They’ve been doing the same thing for years, and only focusing on recruiting through four-year universities. Even if they hire perfectly, there are still not enough people graduating from four-year universities to fulfill the need we will have for the roles that will exist. We looked at the alternatives, which are online courses, self-taught individuals and bootcamps.

Moguldom: How were you able to see you would one day be able to service thousands of people?

Ruben Harris: When we looked at bootcamps we saw they were graduating people at the same rates as universities. The majority of people that apply for the bootcamps don’t get in. We realized we could focus on the admissions funnel into bootcamps, attracting people to bootcamps, job searches after bootcamps, and employing people, which we are going to fully focus on in the future. But rather do all of that, at the same time, we decided to start small and focus on the admissions funnel which is also a problem for colleges, as well. If you look at companies, it’s also an issue for them. Thousands of people apply to these companies and get rejected, not because of a lack of their competency but a result of the hiring process. It’s very important for us to stay laser-focused on the hiring model as well.

Once we perfect the admissions funnel, then we will focus on retention for schools. Once we have perfected the retention funnel, we will help them with the job search and get them employed. Our North Star is to make sure we are there to help individuals make their most important career decisions. And we will stay there with them even after they are employed, through their next job and the next job to where they think of us as a career GPS. Today, we’re a marketplace that matches people to bootcamps and job training programs starting with coding.

Moguldom: There is obviously something to your approach based on feedback of your platform. Do you mind sharing the success rate you’ve had with helping people get into bootcamps?

Ruben Harris: Since we launched, we have gotten over 30,000 people to our app and we are working with the schools that represent the majority of outcomes. We are putting hundreds of people per month into schools, and our company is profitable.

Moguldom: So, the method to the madness is working?

Ruben Harris: Yes. It’s definitely not perfect yet, but what we’ve been doing is working. When we raised our seed round of $1.5 million to bring us close to $2 million total raised, we were not profitable. Fast forward to today, we are profitable. I think by the end of this year, we’re going to do some things that have been unprecedented.

Career Karma
Ruben Harris, CEO and co-founder of Career Karma. Photo provided

Moguldom: What was the fundraising process like for you? Did you go through accelerator programs or did the VCs seek you out?

Ruben Harris:  For me, it was very important, and it continues to be important, for our cap table to reflect the world, just like our community using Career Karma reflects the world. The majority of our investors are women. And not only do we have big-name venture capitalists, as investors, but we also have a deep bench of angels that could serve as potential future board members if we need that. I did that on purpose.

Our approach to fundraising has always been to have traction before we raise. Understanding what made good metrics and not just growth without knowing where it leads to was important for us. Focusing on just growth may work for some, but for us, our attraction was revenue and how much money we are making. I think, as a founder, that’s the most leverage you could ever have, revenue. Because if you don’t have traction, then the investors can set their own terms. We wanted to raise as little as possible to get to the point where we can make revenue be sustainable and get accepted into Y Combinator as first-time founders. Originally, we were just an idea, in March 2018, with no traction. We also didn’t know how to communicate the idea and we got rejected. We launched. Raised $100,000 and got traction. We applied again and got in. It was a cool experience. Fast forward to today, some of the people that told us no before we raised the initial money turned into bigger checks later for us. Some people came to us and some people, I sought out. Some people thought I was crazy to reach out to some of the people we have now who were outside of the network, but again, it was very important for me to have a cap table that reflects the world.

Moguldom: Your website has some feedback from your platform’s users. What are some others not listed you can share with us?  

Ruben Harris: They love it. My brother is an example. When we first started Career Karma, he started APP Academy. He finished it, got a job, paid off the deferred tuition and is making over $150,000. There’s a lot of stories on our podcast too. Since we launched, we have people working at Tesla, Walmart Labs and Twitter. So, I don’t think they’re complaining about the six figures they’re making now since they weren’t making that before.

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Career Karma?

Ruben Harris: Before going into other countries, we will be expanding into other skillsets. I can’t predict what jobs are going to be in demand in the future. Who knew being a podcaster or a YouTuber would be a professional role? Who knew gaming was going to be a profession? What I do know is that people are always going to want to know what jobs are available, how to get the skills, guidance, and the ability to talk to people that can help them get to where they want to go or to be able to follow a guided path. For me, our North Star will always be to help people make their most important career decisions. Today it is coding bootcamps. I think that in the future, you should be able to pick any skill set that you want, find the right training for it, and be able to connect with the people like you who are doing the same thing. You should be able to have the support needed in order to start and finish the programs and reach your goals. Once we get that right, we can go global from there.