Anthony Phillips: CEO & Co-Founder, Hack Reactor

My NativeAdVice:


Tony co-founded Hack Reactor drawing from his time designing language curriculum in South Korea as a Fulbright Scholar, managing language immersion schools, a stint teaching Rails at Dev Bootcamp and his own self-guided experience learning Ruby and JavaScript.

How did you get into the industry?

Like a lot of our students, I learned to code after spending a few years working in a totally different industry; I was teaching English in Korea. When I came back to the U.S., I wanted to try something new. My friends were all software engineers and encouraged me to learn how to code, so I did. However, I was disappointed with the limited options for learning any more than just the basics and realized that there were likely a lot more people like me - people who were interested in software development, but were frustrated that there weren’t better options for learning out there. That’s when I started thinking about founding a coding bootcamp that focused on high quality, immersive instruction, as well as helping students jumpstart their new career as a developer. 3.5 years later, Hack Reactor is now known to be the “Harvard of coding bootcamps in the country.”

Any emerging industry trends?

The current trend is a new focus on the transparency of school outcomes: how effectively are students learning and do they end up with a new, higher paying career in software development? We are among a few bootcamps out there who have proudly published audited results of our student placement rates and average salary, and have very high standards for measuring how we are creating real value for our students. According to our estimations, many of our alumni have had $30-50K salary jumps after taking our 12-week bootcamp. Traditional schools measure student comfort and comprehension with the material once or twice a semester. Other classes might have a regular quiz, and get a snapshot of how students are doing. We measure student comprehension many times a day, and we react accordingly. We’re constantly tweaking our instruction based on what worked and what didn’t, which is why our students find so much value in our curriculum

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The coding bootcamp industry is relatively young and rapidly growing -- the world simply needs more software developers in the digital economy; everyone from startups to big corporations leverage technology to scale and innovate. As we grow the coding bootcamp industry, we’re constantly trying to figure out the best way to scale and expose more people to this new way of accelerated learning without having to go through a 4-year degree program, while still maintaining our high student outcomes and industry-leading standards. Since the beginning, we’ve been deeply rooted in transparent results; were the first ones in the industry to create the placement rate and average salary benchmark for quality measurement and ensuring that we hold these to the highest integrity possible.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

I was inspired to start Hack Reactor in 2012 when I read a report at the time that revealed that as many as half our recent college graduates remained either unemployed or jobless, while student debt rocketed to $1 trillion dollars. At the same time, the tech industry was starting to pick up and were struggling to find enough qualified developers to meet demand. We founded Hack Reactor to empower almost anyone with the passion and drive to learn how to code to meet the ever growing demand for high quality software developers.

What’s next for the Business in the near future?

The top 3 things that make our curriculum so unique is the fact that we focus on teaching students how to learn (i.e. we don’t give them the fish; we teach them how to fish), we teach them how to effectively collaborate with others via pair programming and engineering empathy, and we prepare them for the real challenges in the industry. We constantly iterate on our curriculum to be industry-relevant so we have the best, and our grads go on to do amazing things with incredible companies. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved in four short years and moving on, we’re expanding our campuses to more locations, the newest one being in New York City. We just announced a partnership with ReBootKAMP that is using our curriculum and teaching methods to train Syrian refugees and Jordanians to be software developers. You can expect to see more of these initiatives as we expand our reach to empower more people to code.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

We have always prioritized quality over quantity. I’m heavily involved in rapidly iterating on our curriculum so that it continues to be a life-changing experience. With that, one of our key successes is our ability to expand Hack Reactor’s curriculum and reach to other locations via our acquisition of MakerSquare, to Austin, Los Angeles, and New York. We also have an excellent virtual program called Hack Reactor Remote, which impressively yields student outcomes that is on par with the immersive on-site programs. Ensuring the professional growth of our team is another priority. I’m passionate about making sure that everyone who comes into our organization has an opportunity for growth and learning. Being able to curate a culture of continuous learning not just for our students but for our team, has been incredibly rewarding to me personally.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

Starting and growing a successful business is never an easy process, but the hardest part was probably at the very beginning when we were doing everything ourselves. We were the teachers, marketers, job support staff, curriculum designers, and at the same time ran the endless behind-the-scenes logistics of running a business. We often worked through the night and would wake up in the office to start things up all over again. One of the biggest learnings is  how important it is to hire the right people with the same core values, culture and vision that we’ve set for our company.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Life-changing, career-accelerating education in three months. It’s a rigorous process to devote a full three months to learning a new skill like software engineering: however, the warmth of the community, depth of the curriculum especially in teaching empathy and communication as well as the technical skills and career support that we offer gives our students everything they need to go on to become successful software engineers. Our program is designed to change lives and the impact we’ve had in helping people make the shift into engineering has made the long hours worthwhile.  

How do you motivate others?

I’ve learned that people do their best work when they feel like what they do matters, and that their ideas and contributions have value. You can ask anyone in the company what our mission is and without a doubt they will share not only what we are doing but how they are personally connected to it.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Figure out what to measure early on, and how to measure that frequently in a way that will keep you on track for success. Also to never lose sight on strengthening the foundations from early successes, so that you can grow your company sustainably.