Abigail Besdin; Content Lead, Skillshare
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a philosophy professor. I thought of education as this great equalizer – it seemed like a core issue underlying a lot of other social issues that if tackled, would have a pretty massive domino effect on other broken systems. I just assumed teaching would be the most obvious way to get involved in that process.
In my angstier high school years I picked up a really old copy of James Rachels’ The Elements of Moral Philosophy that my dad had kept from Law School and I was hooked. In college I majored in Philosophy and concentrated in meta-ethics in NYU’s philosophy department, with the intention of pursuing a PhD – it was a really amazing experience.
What was your path to working at Skillshare?
Just after being accepted to a PhD program, I heard Scott Heiferman (CEO of Meetup) speak at a conference where he described this whole universe of bottom-up, totally decentralized communities that Meetup was powering globally. It struck me that what he was describing was the exact opposite of academia and how narrow my world felt. I decided immediately I wanted to work there – if for no other reason than to shock me back into my intended career path. I ended up deferring the PhD offer 2x before being kicked out. I spent about 2 years at Meetup working on a Brand Partnerships team before being introduced to the founder of Skillshare. He was looking to start up a brand partnerships team and I jumped at the opportunity. Skillshare’s vision for what education access could look like had me at hello and I’ve been here since end of 2011.
Do you like your job?
I love my job. I love it mostly because it’s a totally made up job at company that’s making up how the world should look, and just gunning for it. I feel really lucky that such a wind-y path brought me here.
What are the hardest parts?
The hardest part is the flip side of why I love the job – you’re making everything up from scratch so there’s no protocol or playbook to reference. For a long time and particularly in the early days, every team member feels like the success of the organization sits on their shoulders, and they’re not really wrong about that.
What are the most rewarding aspects?
The most rewarding aspect is actually seeing some of our crazy ideas come to life in a very real way. We can think through what the future of learning could look like, build a class to test it, and have someone halfway around the world point to how the experience changed their life.
The other most rewarding aspect is working with a team of people attracted to the same vision that you are. You wind up in a really passionate, politics-free environment where you can get more shit done than you’d ever imagine.
If you could be anything else, what would it be?
I don’t have a good answer to what else I’d want to be doing. I feel connected to the mission and I’m pretty addicted to the frenetic pace at Skillshare and the level of impact we try to have on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. The risks associated with working at a venture-backed startup are pretty addictive, too. I’m not sure where else the combination of all these things exists. My dad (the lawyer) once took one of those tests that tells you what career you’d be happiest in and he got forrest ranger. I think about that a lot, but I don’t know a test like that would come up with something too far off from what I’m doing now.