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Zach Sims: “People are banding together”

Globally, humans are demonstrating an unprecedented level of cooperation in fighting a common threat. If we take nothing else from COVID-19, we should remember that humans are willing to make substantial individual sacrifices in order to help people they do not know and will never meet. If we can apply this level of unified focus […]


Globally, humans are demonstrating an unprecedented level of cooperation in fighting a common threat. If we take nothing else from COVID-19, we should remember that humans are willing to make substantial individual sacrifices in order to help people they do not know and will never meet. If we can apply this level of unified focus and dedication to other global problems, there is no telling what we can achieve.


As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zach Sims.

Zach Sims is the CEO and Co-Founder of Codecademy, a leading global provider of online education dedicated to building skills and employability in the 21st century. Codecademy has served over 45 million people since its founding in 2011, helping individuals in 180+ countries access skills at their fingertips.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I started Codecademy after being frustrated while I was in college that most of my peers and I were learning skills that wouldn’t help us find jobs after we graduated. I was interested in programming, but found it super difficult to learn. So I started teaching myself and decided that a few other people could stand to learn too. My cofounder and I started Codecademy to connect millions of people to economic opportunity after that experience.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love to read, so there are a ton of books that have influenced me and helped me get where I am today. I think one that resonates is Search Inside Yourself, a book by a former Googler who led their meditation and mindfulness training for years. It’s the first book that got me to buy into meditation and deeper introspection, and it’s kicked off a journey that’s made me a better CEO and, I think, a better person too.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1. This is the catalyst the education field needs to be truly disrupted. The current education system is broken. Once this is all over, we’ll have built (or be close to building) the education the world needs — the first truly net native education that’s affordable and accessible for everyone.

2. It’s the perfect time to upskill your life personally and professionally. We can use this time to better ourselves and learn new skills, which will make us happier, more fulfilled, and successful when all of this is over. We have given scholarships to students in over 140 countries and have received so many inspiring stories from all over the world. One that really stood out and brought the entire team together came all the way from Iraq from a high school student who shared in response to what learning to code from home taught them, “It taught me that I can learn anything.”

3. People are banding together — while social distancing — more than ever. Although it’s an election year and we live in divisive political times, covid-19 is bringing us together regardless of their individual beliefs to support each other. While giving away scholarships to students, we noticed that during the early stages that schools/colleges where we say high adoption had 10–15 students sign up. But later, we noticed dozens of schools that had 100–300 students sign up. What that showed us was that students who signed up initially, were sharing this resource with their friends. They were helping their peers out and that was really heartening to see.

4. Organizations are stepping up to provide resources available to those who need economic support. The government is passing legislation to help provide financial assistance, there has been an outpouring of disaster relief response by organizations who are able to help, and tons of companies are providing free or discounted services to ease the economic burden. It’s truly heartwarming to see the rise in corporate social responsibility. Within the first week of the shutdown in NY, my company Codecademy announced 10,000 scholarships to students affected by the crisis, and have now gone well over the number we initially announced. We have always thought of our platform as a community of learners and going forward we are including them in our attempts to help those in need. Starting next week, for every subscription bought on our platform, we will be giving away 5 subscriptions to those who have been affected economically by the crisis, and are aiming to give away a total of 100,000 subscriptions.

5. Globally, humans are demonstrating an unprecedented level of cooperation in fighting a common threat. If we take nothing else from COVID-19, we should remember that humans are willing to make substantial individual sacrifices in order to help people they do not know and will never meet. If we can apply this level of unified focus and dedication to other global problems, there is no telling what we can achieve.

From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
These are challenging times and finding support around you is crucial. Here are a few:

  • Join a community: lots of online communities have popped up to help support people. You can join a book club, club to talk about movies, etc. Being alone in your house doesn’t mean you have to be alone all the time.
  • Practice self-care: this one is even more important in a situation like we’re in today. Find out what you know that makes you happy, like eating healthy or journaling. Make the time to do those things and don’t sacrifice.
  • Be grateful: plenty of science shows that gratitude is good for your mental health. Start each day with what you might be grateful for (your health, for instance, in a time like this) and it’ll reframe everything.
  • Find purpose: for some of us, this might be work. For others, it could be volunteering or learning a new skill. Find a place to channel your energy.
  • Forgive yourself: the NYT had a piece called “stop trying to be productive” that talks about managing our anxiety in today’s world. I think this is especially true now. It’s OK to be anxious. It’s OK to be unproductive sometimes. Sitting with that emotion and accepting it is part of getting over it.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

With the rise of digital technology and the truly net native society we are creating, people who are feeling anxious can teleconference with their trusted loved ones or physicians. Zoom and Google Hangouts are both great options. Another great resource is online learning tools to help keep your mind mentally active and engaged, which relieves anxiety. Last but not least, this may sound cliché, but sometimes a pencil and paper are an excellent resource for getting down all of your thoughts and worries, and clearing your mind. I write out my morning priorities each day, for example.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I like Shinryo Suzuki’s quote, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.” It talks about the importance of keeping an open mind and seeing each experience anew. We should treat the world this way in business, or in our personal lives. Now, having worked on Codecademy for almost 9 years, there are plenty of things that I have experience with and may have an opinion on. Each time, I try to step back and imagine I was seeing it from a beginner’s perspective.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve dedicated my life to trying to connect people to economic opportunity. I think persuading people that anything is possible if they set their mind to it is truly what matters most — this is true as more resources like Codecademy become available for free or for a low cost. If you put your mind to learning, you can accomplish and build something great.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

You can find me at @zsims on Twitter!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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