Learn Enough and the Rails Tutorial have been acquired

Aug 11, 2022 • posted by Michael Hartl

Michael Hartl here from Learn Enough and the Rails Tutorial.

I’m excited to share the news that Learn Enough recently accepted an acquisition offer from a private equity firm run by entrepreneur and longtime Ruby on Rails community member Jonathan Siegel. As part of this, Learn Enough is teaming up to offer an accredited degree in computer science through recently founded Hamming College, for which I am serving as an advisor.

Although the other Learn Enough founders and I have handed over day-to-day operations of Learn Enough and the Rails Tutorial to Jonathan and his team, we have continued producing new tutorial materials, including the 7th edition of the Ruby on Rails Tutorial and a major new chapter + video on CSS grid. We have also signed a deal to publish our tutorials through Pearson Education, including print versions and videos through its online portal. Finally, I am currently working on Learn Enough Python to Be Dangerous and hope to release the book and accompanying videos later this year.

A surprise inquiry

Jonathan Siegel and I have known each other for over 15 years. We first met in 2006 at one of the first Ruby on Rails training courses, taught by Mike Clark and Programming Ruby author Dave Thomas. Jonathan went on to found a series of successful Rails-based companies, while I ended up coauthoring a Rails tutorial called RailsSpace and then produced seven editions of the Ruby on Rails Tutorial. Jonathan and I kept in touch over the years, so when I heard from him a few months ago I wasn’t all that surprised. I was surprised, however, at the subject of his inquiry, which was to explore a possible acquisition.

My first step was to discuss the possibility with the other Learn Enough founders, Lee Donahoe and Nick Merwin. With the publication of the Learn Enough tutorials on CSS & Layout, JavaScript, and Ruby, and the publication deal with Pearson, we agreed that we’d reached a natural stopping point and were open to moving on to other things.

Our top priority was to make sure any potential acquirer really understood our business and was committed to doing right by our learners. In conversation with Jonathan and his team, we discovered that they were actually long-time learners at Learn Enough themselves, so they certainly understood what we are all about! Jonathan also has a passion for creating compelling educational opportunities, and we quickly determined that there was a good fit in terms of philosophy and values.

Having agreed that it made sense to move forward, we signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) and started the due-diligence process. It was a lot of work, but I’m pleased to report that it went about as smoothly as could reasonably be expected under the circumstances.

Hamming College

Part of Jonathan’s vision for Learn Enough and the Rails Tutorial was to take things to the next level by using the Learn Enough curriculum as part of the foundation for an accredited Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Computer Science. The result is Hamming College, named after pioneering mathematician and computer scientist Richard Hamming, inventor of Hamming codes and winner of the Turing Award in 1968.

Here’s Jonathan’s account of how Hamming College was conceived:

Three years ago I joined the first ABA-accredited “interactive” law degree program—offered by Syracuse University. The students in the parallel residential program were unhappy with the idea that my cohort was avoiding “the Socratic method” and the somewhat cliche pressure-cooker environment of law school. When I started the mainly-online program, I was required to do the same reading, lecture hours and engagement that the on-campus students experienced—and to me, I was experiencing the pressure-cooker.

Fast forward 18 months—in the midst of COVID—and the entire campus went online. Those residential students and their instructors became fully online alongside our cohort. What I found was that my classes built for online were actually far better than the residential classes brought online. My lectures were built in bite-sized chunks, reasonably scripted and had frequent, calculated breaks to check my progress and encourage recall. My instructor class time was on Zoom, but jumped right into interactive discussion and every student had to be ready to be on call. Although the on-call feel was similar between both styles of instruction, the traditional lectures were just that—one-to-two hour long stream-of-consciousness with few interruptions. These were less enjoyable and less effective for learning—and I realized that maybe the residential students had it backwards—online learning done right can be far superior to campus learning.

With this in mind, we set out to build an online computer science program that combined the rigor of a traditional university (what I experienced in my undergraduate CompSci degree and a few years as a CompSci Ph.D.) with the joy of well-presented online material (like Learn Enough).

With the Learn Enough curriculum as a foundation, Hamming College is now offering an accredited degree in Computer Science, and is also working to offer independent college credit for Learn Enough courses.

Softcover

As some of you may know, Learn Enough is actually part of Softcover, a publishing platform for technical authors. There are no plans to change how Softcover operates, so authors of current Softcover books don’t have to do anything at this point.

If the Softcover service is ever going to be shut down, there will be ample warning and a generous sunset period. In addition, Softcover has no lock-in, so authors will always have the option to publish their works elsewhere.

I’ll continue to oversee the Softcover open-source project, which has a mature feature set and doesn’t require much in the way of further development.

What the future holds

Lee, Nick, and I are all staying around during a transitional period while I finish up the Python tutorial. I’ll also continue to serve as an advisor to Hamming College even after phasing out my day-to-day involvement in Learn Enough and the Rails Tutorial.

I have lots of ideas for projects going forward, including languages, philosophy, and reconnecting with my math and physics roots. Although I expect to take a little time off to recuperate from the push to finish Learn Enough Python, it’s likely I’ll have things to share publicly at some point. Please subscribe to my personal mailing list or follow me on Twitter if you’d like to keep in touch.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Jonathan Siegel, John Cross, and all the other folks we worked with during this process. Everything at every stage was handled in good faith and with good cheer. A big thank-you to Josh Pigford for his generous advice and for an introduction to Joey Tran and Colby Gartin of Acceleron Law, who did a fantastic job on the legal side of the deal.

Of course, a huge thanks to my cofounders, Lee Donahoe and Nick Merwin. Finding good cofounders is extremely hard, and I got lucky. I remember thinking, shortly after I met them in 2007, “I could definitely work with these guys.” It took a few years for that to happen, but I’m glad it eventually did.

Finally, thanks to all our great learners, who have been a source of so much positive energy and inspiration over the years. Learn Enough is in great hands, and I’m confident there are good things ahead.

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