Wozniak’s Khan Academy Carbon-Copy Could Change the Technology Sector

In a press release Friday, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of the Apple computer, launched an online educational platform aimed to get people into the workforce “quickly and affordably.” The website, coined “Woz U,” is a 24/7 online service that grants students of all backgrounds access to programming and related courses. Woz U is equipped with live instructors and mentors, alongside a high-quality video-based curriculum and career resources.

Education Reprogrammed

The program’s specialty is flexibility; it’s built primarily for men and women currently working full-time, traveling, or—as Wozniak’s website puts it—in simple need of a more adaptive, personalized approach to learning. Currently, the site only offers a single course in software development and a training program in computer support. Wozniak forecasts that the company will make three additional courses available in 2018, exploring topics in data science, mobile applications, and

Currently, the site only offers a single course in software development and a training program in computer support. Wozniak forecasts that the company will make three additional courses available in 2018, exploring topics in data science, mobile applications, and cybersecurity.

Wozniak’s business plan resembles that of Salman Khan’s, whose multimillion-dollar ed-tech company amassed thousands of users and is seen today as a leader in driving heuristic, simplified education. But Woz U’s wide range of educational purposes differentiates its offerings from Khan Academy’s: its focus on recruiting, re-training, and retaining employees is marketed specifically toward improving the quality of human capital. Nonetheless, Woz U sees itself in K-12 STEM education, with the hope of unleashing the full potential of project-based learning in the typical American classroom.

Most interesting is Woz U’s “Accelerator,” an ambiguous, provocative idea that Wozniak—intentionally or accidently—chose not to display on the site’s front page. With a release date of 2019, Accelerator is a program meant to identify and develop the most elite students in Woz U’s online courses. Accelerator then places these students into the world’s fastest-growing technology firms and arguably ensures them lifelong success. Students in this program will take entrepreneur courses and learn how to finance and run their own startup ventures. The aggressive program hopes to last 12-16 months.

Woz U concept art.

Woz U comes equipped with a mobile app aimed to lead students to the best available career path for them. I’m unimpressed by Wozniak’s initial pitch: to me, the app is merely an aptitude test designed to assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Current students, however, can access course content through the app. Still, I’d pass on this download if you’re a student unphased by Wozniak’s lofty goals for this premature venture.

The Verdict

Woz U’s core values defy the status quo. I especially like the emphasis he places on “family spirit”: one of his primary objectives for the new startup is to develop teams and provide resources to empower students who otherwise couldn’t afford technology-based classes. Woz U’s mission statement is a bit fluffy—the company hopes to be “open-minded” and “determined”—but I’m interested to see how it translates to educating the less-fortunate. I doubt that low-income students will take advantage of Wozniak’s opaque platform. Wozniak’s online platform has amazing, philanthropic intentions, but it’s far too early to be assessing its long-term feasibility in the already competitive, heavily concentrated ed-tech industry.


Source: Woz U

Amazon’s Purchase of Whole Foods Isn’t What It Seems

“Are you interested in working in a fun, fast-paced atmosphere earning up to $12.25 per hour?” -A 2011 Amazon warehouse ad

In June, Amazon purchased Whole Foods Market, a relatively upscale supermarket chain that offers foods without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, and flavors. At first glance, commentators assumed that Amazon’s multi-billion dollar purchase of Whole Foods was meant to save the grocery chain from declining revenue. John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, assured that the purchase saved the company, but from its “own reputation.”

Mackey believes that the company’s high-end notoriety is damaging its position in the global marketplace. Executives have aimed to rid the stereotype of Whole Foods being a grocery store for the wealthy, and as a result, Amazon immediately began to lower prices at the grocery chain after the $13.7 billion sale was approved.

A Whole Foods supermarket.

Mackey has expressed his excitement about Amazon’s “cultural fit.” He sees a positive personal relationship with upper-level management and believes that the company will “take Whole Food’s mission […] to new levels.” Reflecting upon the importance of ethics in business, Mackey resented activist investors that continually criticized many of Whole Food’s branding techniques. He feels that these investors have “no agenda other than short-term return,” and in response, Mackey wants to reinforce and promote the idea of investing in order to grow the company’s prosperity.

Whole Foods’ comments emphasize a larger issue surrounding Twenty-First Century corporations: how big business today is often perceived as “greedy, selfish, exploitative, and uncaring.” In the environment, the role of massive corporations like Amazon is especially significant in that companies often exploit natural resources at unsustainable rates. In Mackey’s situation, he places higher value on his credibility—his company’s ethos—than finding quick ways to make money. In fact, friends of Mackey report that he “wasn’t going to sell [Whole Foods] to the highest bidder” if it would leave thousands of workers unemployed and ultimately dismantle the company’s ethical mission.

A Bad Report Card with Working Conditions

But Amazon’s track record doesn’t exactly align with Whole Foods’ demand for a “trusting, authentic” buyer. What’s odd is that Amazon is notorious for squeezing its suppliers and pushing workers to extremes—so much so, that in 2011, Amazon warehouse workers suffered heat exhaustion and needed medical attention. Amazon has a history of bringing in employees as “temporary staff,” giving workers little reason to complain: in the warehouse incident, employees began to neglect their work environment and more than a dozen collapse when the warehouse reached a staggering 102 degrees.

On top of poor working conditions, Amazon’s slow, steady integration into our lives as consumers and our domestic supply chains is frightening. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods potentially means that it can now eliminate local and regional competitors with ease. Whole Foods generally receives its supply for local farms as part of its mission to give back to nearby communities, but these farms are now going to have to deal with a massive, multinational corporation that hopes to implement itself into a wide range of industries.

Automation is Amazon’s Rise to Global Power

The merger has less to do with increasing the quality of Whole Foods’ products and services and more to do with the further implementation of Amazon automation techniques. Amidst the announcement of Amazon drones, the company’s growth strategy is to remove as many humans as possible in its supply chain. As a result, Amazon can really hurt the country’s nearly 16 million retail and services workers.

Amazon now has a branded air cargo plane.

The company recently announced “Amazon Go,” a grocery store prototype that replaces cashiers with technology. Amazon’s long-term goals for Whole Foods contradict its plans to reinvent the supermarket; if it plans to rid the human element from the food services industry, it must say so clearly and strongly.


Sources: CNN, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Quartz