Communities, Cohorts and the Rise of Post University Career Launchpads

Few things capture professional aspirations more than an admission to an elite graduate school program.

No surprise that millions of professionals and families invest in traditional university programs. The Education Industry in USA alone is a whopping trillion dollar market. Entire systems built around them incentivize students and professionals of varying ages to take on this path—from coaching institutes, Facebook student communities, test-taking centers, student loan products, structured learning programs to degree certifications, alumni referral networks, internships, student visa (F1) and legal work authorization (OPT) in foreign countries.

However, with increasing acceptance of remote working culture, access to remote jobs, openness to candidates from non-traditional backgrounds and professionals’ appetite for knowledge beyond one’s workplace, a whole new paradigm of learning has opened up, particularly for those in tech.

Born from the internet and for the internet, cohort-based communities and courses (CBCs) are redefining what it means to up-skill and grow into an in-demand professional.

Just so you know, I recently decided to forego admits to top grad school programs across USA for professional and personal reasons. I also recently decided to take up the ODPM Fellowship. I’ll save this story for another day.

In this post, I will give you a quick summary of what has changed in the professional education landscape and a bunch of resources to launch your career through these unconventional programs.

What has changed now?

People find value in new-age internet gurus 

During the formative years of our education, we relied on credentialed teachers, instructors and professors accredited to universities.

In tech, where markets change in a matter of months or weeks, the practice of predefined syllabus is misaligned with the core nature of the field.

As we started our careers in tech, we realized how obsolete traditional education had been all along. We realized that we could learn and grow by collaborating with peers in the industry or by following the work of side hustlers online.

With reliable infrastructure to support peer-based learning and COVID-19 catalyzing the adoption of technology platforms such as Slack and Zoom, side hustlers became full-time creators and new-age gurus of niche fields in technology as people embraced the new normal of online learning.

When several young professionals with just months of actual work experience can build a $33 Million ARR-worth business in tech, traditional proxies of expertise such as age, experience, titles, or affiliation to traditional organizations have become increasingly irrelevant to succeed in tech.

People want more options to prove their ability 

While many traditional degree programs suffer from the lack of immediate industry relevance, MOOCs and YouTube have other problems.

The impersonal and self-paced nature of these online certifications lead to massive course dropout rates.

Most YouTube creators, who learn in public by creating videos, have no pathways for big tangible outcomes in their career with the exception of a few. Neither did the tech industry accept these dozen certifications and popular tech videos as valid signals for talent.

As a result, young professionals sought refuge in the knowledge of the crowd through internet communities. Here they could be vulnerable about their shortcomings, find a tribe of creators they could collaborate and build useful tools.

What made this compelling is that these communities cater to entry-level, mid-career and experienced professionals making sure there is alignment in their expectations.

People want long-term value for money

Debt and stress upend lives like no other.

These are big risks professionals must take in order to get the most value from traditional program such as increasing one’s professional network, breaking into a new field and moving to senior roles.

New business models in education and recruiting have emerged which in many ways reduce if not offset debt and stress. Income sharing agreement is a popular one. The latest one is where recruiting agencies create a robust pipeline for talent and put them in front of recruiters while not charging a dime for these candidates. Just a small fee for the partner when they hire someone from their pipeline. Many cohort-based courses allow flexible payments and even offer scholarships.

Cohort-based courses and communities cater to several of these pain points

  1. Prestige of the program is tied to proof of work than historical reputation of degrees. Especially, it’s useful for hiring managers when evaluating talented candidates from non-traditional backgrounds.
  2. Demand for balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning
  3. Increased appetite for learning beyond what the workplace teaches you. Employers offering online certification programs don’t address unique challenges in the career journeys of their employees.
  4. Cohorts are built around jobs. Direct and continuous connection with industry rather than once in 3-month career fairs.
  5. Payments are flexible and not as inordinately expensive as traditional programs
  6. Focus on true relationship building. With assignments, grades and proxies for measuring learning out of the way, people truly want to help each other out.

However, they are a long way from being an ideal solution for professionals and hiring managers.

While these programs are primarily online, many of the well-known ones are out of reach for professionals living in different time zones and experiencing difference in purchase parity (currency conversions make it expensive). It’s promising though to see the rise of local tech communities to serve this underserved local market.

Here’s a list of such courses and communities in fields such as product, marketing, design, data science, engineering and venture capital you might be interested in.

I have intentionally not included courses, masterclasses, communities and cohorts driven by individual creators such as Write of Passage, Lenny’s Course and Building a Second Brain as the list would become unending.

A small request. If you love what I write, I would love to see you be generous about showing your support. It helps me to continue writing for the internet.

I have also launched a newsletter to help mid-career product managers. I cover a wide range of topics from product discovery and validation, being a disciple leader, improving effectiveness at work, and much more. My goal is to provide you with simple solutions that will save your time and add significant value to your journey.

Subscribe Now:

If you know of other programs, do drop a note to me and I will feature those.

Shout out to Pranav Hari for making this infographic image. Follow him on Twitter and read his content on his website.


The Product Folks:

Stoa HQ

Next Leap:

Zoho University: Alternative to Conventional Education

Skip The Line


Product School 

Product Marketing Alliance

Product Manager HQ



Lambda School

Be On Deck


AltMBA for aspiring management professionals

Break Line for talented minorities to find opportunities in tech

/Ascend for Leadership

Quantic MBA


Jungle program for AI and Data Science professionals

Framework: Business school for UX Research


Scrimba: for Frontend developer bootcamp

PM Dojo

Venture Capital

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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