Michael Hartl - PhD In Physics Turned Education Entrepreneur #77


Michael is an education entrepreneur and the founder of Learn Enough.

Michael is the author of over ten books, including the Ruby on Rails Tutorial, one of the leading introductions to web development, and received a Ruby Hero Award for his contributions to the Ruby community. He is also the author of the influential mathematical essay The Tau Manifesto and founded the internationally celebrated math holiday Tau Day in 2010.

Previously, Michael taught the core physics curriculum at Caltech, where he was a popular instructor with the students and received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is a graduate of Harvard College, has a Ph.D. in Physics from Caltech, and is an alumnus of the Y Combinator entrepreneur program.

Apart from his interests in education and entrepreneurship, Michael enjoys choral singing, studying languages, and reading old books. He is also an advanced student of Krav Maga, holding a Level 5 rank (a “black belt in self-defense”).


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A note from Grant

Over the course of 80 or so episodes, we’ve talked to several theoretical physicists turned technologists, but today’s is the first to turn a background researching chaos theory and gravitational waves into a long standing career at the center of programming and education.

After doing an undergraduate in Physics at Harvard and a PhD in Physics at CalTech and then doing post-doc research in, you guessed it, physics, Michael Hartl turned his science background into founding roles at several tech companies of his own creation, including Quark Sports, Insoshi and his current one: Learn Enough. Along the way, he’s published 10+ books on technology and programming, including the Ruby on Rails Tutorial (which we will link in the show notes).

As if that’s not enough, he’s written his very own manifesto, called the Tau manifesto, showing why the number Pi really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Stay tuned as catch up with Michael Hartl!

-–Grant Ingersoll


“I remember when Google was new. And I thought should I drop out of grad school and move to Palo Alto to work for this company, because it was qualitatively better than any other search engine I’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t have an academic background in computer science. But I have been programming and fiddling with computers for a very long time.”

“It took me a while to figure out as an entrepreneur that what should I be doing is taking the teaching and writing skill sets that I learned in grad school and applying them to product creation.”

“I wanted to do a medium risk medium reward business. I was influenced in part by Tim Ferris’s book The 4 Hour Work Week, so I wanted a product business.”

“Don’t all move to Silicon Valley. Realize that Silicon Valley is on the web and you can find it with a web browser.”

—Michael Hartl

Key Milestones

  1. What inspired Michael to start companies and to be in tech?
  2. Michael recalls some of his early failures as an entrepreneur.
  3. Insoshi was a Y Combinator backed social network that Michael founded. What was it like working with Y Combinator in the early days?
  4. Michael shares his path for becoming an education entrepreneur
  5. How was Michael able to write a book on coding without having the a computer science background?
  6. What is some background on Michael’s tech education company Learn Enough?
  7. What does Michael you have against the number Pi?
  8. The Tau manifesto

Additional Resources

Various ways of becoming an education entrepreneur - click here for a few ideas

Essays by Paul Graham (one of the founders of Y Combinator) - http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html

Ruby on Rails Tutorial - tech book written by Michael Hartl

Learn Python the Hard Way: by Zed Shaw

Check out Simon Willison, co creator of Django framework on Develomentor - click here for episode and show notes

Check out Adam Cheyer, co-founder of Siri on Develomentor - click here for episode and show notes

The Tau Manifesto - Michael explains that Pi isn’t all its made out it be - https://tauday.com/tau-manifesto