The Edumadic Origin Story

Zach Clenaghan
June 10, 2016

Before reading this story, it's worth mentioning that this was written back in the summer of 2016. Edumadic was merely an idea back then. Our first program was still 6 months away from departure! The response this story received online was the nudge I needed to turn that idea into reality.

“Travel and change of place impart new vigour into the mind.”  -  Seneca


“Five years from now on the Web, for free, you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”  - Bill Gates (2010)

The first quote has always been true. The second, not so long. It’s where these two statements intersect that sparked my interest at the back end of 2015.

I had a high flying job at a consulting firm in London. On the surface, life couldn’t be better. But underneath I was restless, I wanted more. The problem was that I wanted two different things - world travel and a new career in Software Engineering. Two things that conventional wisdom would tell you cannot be attained simultaneously.

The way I saw it, I had two choices.

I could plunge myself deeper into debt with a master's degree. Tying me down for a year to one city, with a schedule and syllabus that someone else decides, meaning I couldn’t possibly afford travel before or after.

Or I could fulfill my desire to see more of the world by taking time out from “the system” and give up on the career change, potentially jeopardising my future prospects in my current field. My employer certainly wouldn’t hold my job for me indefinitely.

The opportunity cost of taking either of these routes seemed too great.

Then it dawned on me, could I do both?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, you will have noticed the meteoric rise in popularity of both Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from some of the most prestigious universities in the world (MIT, Harvard, and Stanford to name a few), and other educational platforms such as Lynda, Udacity, Udemy and Treehouse. The list of such providers seems to be endless and ever-growing.

The appeal of such companies is obvious. The traditional education system is broken. The expectation that plowing yourself deep into debt to obtain a degree that will provide you with a career and life you want is no longer true. As well as the huge expense, you also have to commit 3 or 4 years of your precious time for an undergraduate degree and at least a further year for a master's.

As always, governments are slow to realize such things. Silicon Valley, however, is not. Online education platforms provide world-class learning opportunities in anything from knitting to computational neuroscience, all at a sliver of the price of a traditional degree, if not completely free. Most are self-paced, meaning you can learn alongside other commitments, or study intensely and acquire new skills far quicker than you could at university. The requirements for the courses provided on these platforms are usually low. You’ll require a steady internet connection, and of course the discipline and free time to see the course through to completion.

I figured that I could acquire the new skills I needed while traveling the world for the same length of time I would have spent completing a master's degree, all for a fraction of the cost.

Fast forward 7 months, and I was 4 MOOCs and 5 countries down.

I’d learned a ton on my journey, such as which destinations suit this lifestyle, what’s the best balance between comfort and price for accommodation, and how to keep focused when you’re surrounded by some of the most beautiful and interesting places on the planet.

The number one thing that was missing from the majority of my journey was a community of like-minded individuals pursuing similar goals to mine.

I found myself stuck between two worlds: backpackers and digital nomads.

Backpackers are easy to meet, and most stay in hostels that are geared toward making quick and deep connections with people. There is no doubt that spending time with the backpacker crowd is fun, and you’ll make lifelong friends from all around the world. But when you’re trying to study, you can imagine, it’s distracting to be surrounded by people whose purpose essentially amounts to having as much fun and good times as humanly possible.

Digital nomads are quickly becoming more common and this growth is largely attributed to Tim Ferriss’ book, "The Four Hour Work Week". Digital nomads typically have well-established careers or businesses that can be executed entirely over the internet. Because of this, they are able to live anywhere in the world that has a stable internet connection, often while collecting a western income. This phenomenon means that they can exploit geo-arbitrage to live in absolute luxury. I didn’t quite fit into this community either. My budget was probably less than half of what most digital nomads live on. And although the work ethic of this community better suited my ambitions, the personal connections were much harder to come by. And when they did, they were never quite at the depth of those you find among backpackers.

I found myself bouncing between these two communities, each having its endearing qualities but neither quite fitting what I needed. I wanted the deep connections and good times that the backpackers had, as well as the purpose and work ethic of the digital nomads.

And so the idea for Edumadic was born.