Take Five with Ryan Bubinski ’11

Ryan Bubinski ’11 is an entrepreneur living and working in Los Angeles. While a senior at the College he started Codecademy, a leading online education company that offers free programming courses, closing the skills gap by bringing modern digital skills to the world.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I moved to New York City from Southern California and, because I was a late admit, move-in weekend was the first time I set foot on 116th Street. West Coast students were invited to arrive a day before the rest of the class, so the lounge on my floor was empty. This clashed with the cliché expectation in my mind of students meeting and immediately bonding over obscure shared interests, so I set off for the other dorms. Carman was uncharacteristically silent so I left for John Jay and spent the rest of the evening visiting all 11 of the residential floors and introducing myself to anyone who in sight when I got off the elevator. It was a strained gesture, but I met some of my best friends that night, and it certainly beat spending my first night on campus holed up in my Furnald double.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

It’s difficult to forget your first-year living situation when it’s a Furnald double. I met my roommate for the first time with a rehearsed “hello,” an open mind and a hint of trepidation. Whoever matched us perhaps saw we were both from California and thought that would be enough common ground to carry us through the year. For the most part they got it right, with one small exception — we had wildly disparate definitions of what constitutes a hygienic living environment. I’ve routinely been described as “intense,” and naturally I projected my anal-retentive personality onto my half of the walls around me. Piles of clothes, scattered suitcases, and at times an unplugged refrigerator would split our dimly lit double (it certainly didn’t help that the door was on his side of the obstacle course). In retrospect, it might have been his way of suggesting I spend less time organizing the room and more time enjoying my first year of college — a valuable message to hear, but a challenging one to live with.

What class do you most remember and why?

Contemporary Civilization was by far my favorite. It exposed me to great thinkers whose ideas continue to influence my life.

In my third year I slogged through a math class I thought was a requirement for my major, only to discover later in an uncomfortable adviser meeting that I’d misread the course bulletin and had to retake the same course with a different call number.

University Writing taught me that no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to write a proper lens essay.

It was the absence of a coding course offering that prompted my friends and me to get together on weeknights in whichever empty Hamilton classroom we could find and teach each other the tools and tricks we learned writing our own software apps. That experience ultimately motivated me to start Codecademy with a classmate.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Butler is beautiful, but overrated in my humblest of opinions. Avery was my study spot of choice: quiet, comfortable and you never had to passive-aggressively leave tissues or a dirty sweatshirt behind to reserve your desk while you stepped outside for a break. Plus Brownie’s Café serves delicious roast beef sandwiches one floor below. What more could you ask for?

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

My first year was a rough adjustment period but the following three years were better because I took the time to enjoy Columbia and the world-class city that sits right outside its gates. There’s no guarantee that college will provide the best years of your life — it’s very much what you make of it.