Introducing Plato Academy: cohort-based learning with our top mentors

February 14, 2023

Written by Quang Hoang

Cofounder and CEO at Plato

 Introducing Plato Academy: cohort-based learning with our top mentors

We've launched a new product called Plato Academy, offering cohort-based learning with top mentors. Circles, small cohort-based courses led by a mentor with deep experience, provide a peer learning dimension not available in individual mentorship. The first session is free, and participants are charged only if they stay after session one.

TL;DR: Today, I’m proud to announce the public launch of our new product: Plato Academy, cohort-based learning with some of our top mentors

Our story over the past 18 months:

Like many other startups, 2022 has been a challenging year for Plato: Companies are laying off and reducing costs, deals take forever to close, and even happy customers struggle to find a budget. We had to trim down the team to increase our runway and adapt to this new world. For six years, Plato has been helping great engineers become great engineering leaders through 30,000 one-on-one mentorship calls, so we got back to our roots and started to have lots of discussions with our users (Mentees and Mentors) and asked them what we should do next.

Those are the main things we learned:

  • L1. Nothing beats a very motivated mentee in the driver’s seat for their growth. Sometimes we were selling multiple seats to companies, assigning the seat to someone who has been voluntold to use Plato. That’s a loss-loss-loss situation: the company pays for nothing for the mentee who doesn’t feel it’s worth their time and for the mentor who spends the time with a not motivated mentee.
  • L2. Matching is key: when things click between a mentor and a mentee, the impact is phenomenal, sometimes transforming people’s lives and careers - both mentees and mentors.
  • L3. Mentees enjoyed something we did in the past called Circles. Circles are small cohort-based courses on a specific topic, led by a mentor with deep experience. Each cohort has 6-8 mentees who meet regularly for four virtual sessions over 1-2 months. The mentor provides personalized insights and guidance, and mentees learn from each other, creating a peer learning dimension not available in individual mentorship.
  • L4. Mentors don’t want to be paid if they spend 30 minutes a week; it’s a small amount of time enough not to take the burden of paperwork and taxes. But some mentors wanted to spend more time with Plato, but they could not justify spending a few hours per week if it were not paid.
  • L5. Mentors are like 99% of us; they don’t have time to run a blog consistently and often post on social media.
  • L6. Plato 1-1 mentorship is highly impactful and customizable but also expensive if you’re not 100% sure of the mentor you’ll meet

So today, we’re launching a new product as an experiment, and those are the hypothesis we have:

  • H1 - Group Mentorship (a.k.a Circles) is an excellent way for mentors to have a broader impact while preserving the personal aspect of mentorship (we cap at 7-8 people per circle)
  • H2 - We believe that the L&D budget is the best budget to tap into, it’s usually not cut, and mentees using their L&D budget to pay for Plato are motivated because they’re real volunteers and not voluntold
  • H3 - Mentors don’t want to be paid but want transparency and control over where the money goes. We share the revenue with them, and they can cash in, donate to a charity or convert their revenue to Plato credit (at 2x rate) they can use or give to someone they want to sponsor.
  • H4 - After months of experimentation, we believe that with the advances of AI / Transcript / Summarization, we can analyze the transcript of mentorship calls, we can help mentors share their knowledge with more people
  • H5 - To lower the risk, we decided to make the first session accessible, and you’re charged only if you stay after session 1.

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of Plato Academy. Our first feature is bringing Circles back to life. Our first batch of Mentors includes:

  • Srinath Kuruvadi (Head of Cloud Security @ Netflix): will host a circle about Becoming a security-conscious leader: his course equips engineering leaders with the basics of security & privacy, risks, and how to protect their companies and users. Participants gain the necessary competencies to make their engineering teams and development processes secure. Ideal for those with new security & privacy responsibilities or partnering with security & privacy teams. Srinath is a Sr Information Security Leader, Advisor, Investor, and Mentor with 10+ years of experience leading security initiatives in Cloud environments, most recently at Netflix. He has also been a Venture Advisor, Mentor, and AWS Technical Community Member. He is an inspiring mentor with extensive knowledge and experience in security engineering, enterprise open source, data security, authentication, authorization, and breach- out-of-reach solutions. He brings knowledge, experience, and passion to the table.
  • Stacie Frederick (CTO @ Osso VR): will host a circle about Establishing an Engineering Career Ladder: CTOs, VPs, Heads, and Directors of Engineering with 50-150 engineers: join this Circle to learn the fundamentals of creating a good career ladder. Four online sessions will help you establish or revise your ladder and clarify the role and career development expectations. Stacie has 30+ years of experience in large and small companies, creating the first career ladder for her last three teams and mentoring leaders. She has developed a successful model for roles, levels, and career paths and is eager to share her knowledge with Circle participants.
  • Sridhar Ramakrishnan (Director of Engineering, Developer Experience and Productivity @ Slack): will host a circle about Improving Org Productivity for Eng Directors: This Circle helps Eng Directors increase productivity with best practices and innovative solutions. Through 4 online sessions, learn how to manage teams, maintain productivity, and inspire staff. Mentor provides strategies to meet challenges. Sridhar has 6+ years of experience in engineering productivity for organs of 500+ engineers and is excited to host a Circle to share his knowledge and enthusiasm. Participants can learn from his experience and each other through interactive sessions, and he looks forward to seeing their successes and helping them on their journey.
  • Sonali Sambhus (VP/Board member @ Square): will host a circle about Effective Wartime Leadership: Maximizing your org’s impact in the ‘Do More with less’ economy: This Circle will help Engineering Directors/VPs/CTOs leading teams of 30+ maximize their impact and grow their leadership skills. Learn to demonstrate and quantify the impact of your team on execs, organize for success, and establish yourself as a thought leader. Four sessions included. Sonali Sambhus is a highly experienced tech exec with 20+ years of experience leading engineering and product org. As VP at Square, she saved $600M+/year and led a cross- functional org. She was recently appointed to an Independent Board of Directors for AvidXchange, bringing tech strategy oversight and transformation efforts. She coaches 100s of leaders and is an invaluable resource to lead this Circle.
  • Jacob Kessler (Staff Eng @ Google): will host a circle about Navigating promotion to Staff engineer: This course teaches engineers how to transition to a Staff role and make a successful case for promotion. Jacob Kessler is a software engineer with 14 years of experience. He has mentored 10+ coworkers through their promotion processes and developed, defined, and ran the engineering leveling process at WePay. His course focuses on distilling, explaining, and putting into practice the techniques he has observed to be effective.
  • Julien Kernec'h (Head of Engineering @ Plato): will host a circle about Prioritization and Time Management frameworks for Technical Founders: This circle helps Technical Founders (CTOs, heads of engineering, and tech leaders in startups) maximize productivity and performance in four online sessions. The last session is a live office hour for participants to bring their challenges and get real-time help from the mentor. Julien has 15 years of experience leading technology in startups and has been a mentor on the Plato platform for the past five years. He has had 100 calls on Prioritization and Time Management and is excited to mentor participants in this Circle, as he knows how vital these skills are for startup success.
  • Sridhar Ramakrishnan (Director of Engineering, Developer Experience and Productivity @ Slack): will host a circle about Success and Learning Patterns for First Time Managers: This Circle helps first-time Engineering Managers (with <2yrs exp.) succeed. It consists of 4 online sessions with a mentor to introduce topics, build relationships, and discuss challenges. Sridhar, a former engineer-turned-manager, shares his experiences and lessons learned to empower participants to become better leaders through his Circle. He designed the sessions to help participants understand and apply successful learning patterns.
  • Sushma Nallapeta (CTO @ Trusted Health): will host a circle about Growing from an Engineering Leader to an Executive: Directors and above with experience managing managers and driving tech strategy come together to explore the transition from engineer to exec. Sessions cover introductions, best practices, and tips, with the last session open for participants to ask questions and get answers from a mentor. (191 characters). Sushma is an experienced engineering, product, and business leader, mentor, and teacher. She is the perfect guide to teach students how to become an executive from an engineering leader, providing the insights and tools needed to reach the executive level.
  • Pete Woodhouse (Chief Technology Officer @ Prosper): will host a circle about Managing Technical Debt for VPs and CTOs: This course introduces tech leaders to managing technical debt and how to explain it to non-tech teams. Ignoring it can hurt productivity and quality, so take advantage of it! Pete has 20+ years of experience managing software teams in large and medium companies and startups. He has developed in many tech stacks, including Javascript, Java, iOS, and C++, and has successfully resolved large amounts of tech debt. At Prosper, he implemented a successful tech debt management program.

Each circle is limited to 7-8 seats. The first session is free, and you’re charged only if you stay after session 1. Plato Academy is live today, with our first 16 circles open for applications and many more planned for months ahead with CTO/VPs/Directors/Managers from Reddit, Meta, Doordash, Stripe, 1Password, and other great tech companies. The link is in the first comment below.

Please let me know in comments what do you think about my hypothesis, I’d love to learn from your experience with Plato and/or with Mentorship!

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