Stanford Y Combinator course brings big-name tech stars to class

Sept. 29, 2014, 9:59 a.m.

Students at Stanford and around the world are tuning in to the new computer science course CS183B: How to Start a Startup, led by Sam Altman ’07, president of the startup accelerator Y Combinator. The class will feature lectures from some of the most successful names in the technology industry.

The course, which can be taken on campus for credit/no credit, is designed to be a one-class equivalent to an MBA program.

“We’re trying to create a class to teach engineering students ultimately, but [also] anybody who is interested in startups, what they need to know about how to start one,” Altman said.

Of the course’s 20 lectures, Altman only teaches the first two and the final lecture. Speakers throughout the quarter include Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ’97 M.S. ’99, Box Inc. founder Aaron Levie and Pinterest founder and CEO Ben Silbermann.

Each lecture is filmed and uploaded online where they are viewable for free. Altman said a large number of universities worldwide have organized viewing sessions of lectures.

Mehran Sahami, professor and associate chair for education for Stanford’s computer science department, believes all of the lecturers contribute to the course in their own unique way.

“It’s not a popularity contest of who we think would be a more exciting lecturer or less exciting lecturer,” Sahami said. “I think there’s a group of people who will all provide diverse perspectives on their experiences on what they’ve done.”

The idea for the class first came up six weeks prior to the start of the quarter, with Altman wanting to expand his reach in offering startup advice.

The course went through the same petition process that other prospective courses go through, Sahami said, and met with a highly positive reception from the department curriculum committee.

Sahami added that the course offers valuable insights for students in a variety of academic fields.

“There are experiences that people had in various aspects of venture formation, and ideation and how do you turn that idea into something substantial,” Sahami said. “And that’s something that’s not just about computing; it cuts across many different disciplines.”

The course quickly caught the attention of several students on campus including Lawrence Lin Murata ’17, who said the room for the first day of class was packed with many students sitting on the floor.

Murata, who runs the social music streaming startup, described how Altman opened up the course by discussing the process of initiating a start-up, from generating an idea to a product to a company. He was later followed by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, who debunked many of the reasons why individuals would want become entrepreneurs, such as the false association of flexibility with an entrepreneurial role.

While the course is being offered on a college campus and largely focuses on the practical steps to starting a startup, Altman said he does not believe individuals should simultaneously be college students and startup founders. He said he views the class as a means to prepare student for something years in the future, and allow them to think about ideas in the right sort of way.

Sahami added that he sees the course acting as a catalyst for many future paths.

“We don’t necessarily see this as part of a particular sequence to get students to a particular end,” Sahami said. “What we see is a course that provides new insights and experiences that are going to get shared with students so they can do a diversity of things afterwards.”

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Summer Program

deadline EXTENDED TO april 28!