I just completed Startup Engineering, a Stanford MOOC offered through Coursera. There are two broad themes in the course: one that is technical and another that is philosophical.


Although the course assumes limited technical knowledge, it would be difficult for a person without at least moderate technical skills to complete this portion with any depth of understanding. A brief summary of topics covered demonstrates this:

Ubuntu Linux

Any one of those topics could be a lengthy course on its own and, even though the course is designed more for exposure, the depth of the subject matter can be overwhelming. But for those who persevered the reward was a strong foundation along with reference materials (discussed later under Reference Material) to revisit.


Beyond technical knowledge the course offers practical direction on how to think about and execute startup concepts. Two things make this work exceptionally well: first, the depth provided in written lectures (discussed later under Reference Material), and second the instructor, Balaji Srinivasan whose track record and experiences provide the gravitas that separates this course material from the type of people who post inspirational startup drivel with hopes of getting posted to Hacker News.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the philosophy arc of the course comes from its origin: it was initially offered by Peter Thiel as CS183 at Stanford. Thiel is well known as an avowed libertarian, and Srinivasan, beyond describing the course as a “spiritual sequel” to its initial offering, continues along these themes providing credible evidence in support of this political and economic philosophy. One lecture in particular, concerning regulation, makes a devastating case against how interventions impede innovation and business[1].

Reference Material

Most MOOC offerings involve video lectures with some sparse reference materials. The videos are well produced and it’s easy to watch, pause, and rewind. Startup Engineering was vastly different: all of the lectures were written in long form and although there were videos Srinivasan essentially skims through the written material. Some people wanted more screen time for the instructor but this was one of the best aspects of the course for me; I ended up with a book of lecture material on my tablet to consume at the speed of my designation. The lectures are dense: I just counted 130 external links/references in the first provided lecture alone. The lectures that involve tasks performed on AWS were straightforward and methodical. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable these were and I will probably use them to start some of the more technical tasks again from scratch to uncover what I might have missed. One last thing that deserves mention are the guest lectures delivered by founders of some more well known startups. It was the proverbial icing on the cake.

Final Thoughts

I would recommend Startup Engineering to anyone interested in either starting a technology company or to those who simply want a broad overview of the technologies and engineering of web applications. Although the course is officially past its timeframe it’s still available for sign up as I’m writing this blog entry. I would recommend waiting for the next offering and participating in the competition among students for crowd sourcing a business idea.


[1] I’m not “libertarian” myself although I do think all of the ideas and arguments presented in the course should be taken seriously. This wasn’t the crazy uncle on Medicare and Social Security (irony intended) venting personal frustrations on “The Government,” it was well thought out, evidence-based reasoning promoting libertarian thinking.