Tech Spotlight: Gregg Pollack
Promoting learning by doing at Code School.
Gregg Pollack at work on his laptop.
For Gregg Pollack, technology has always been a way of life.
He grew up in Portland, Oregon, the son of an Intel Corp. engineer. After graduating with a computer engineering degree in 2000 from Santa Clara University—in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley—he bounced around with a half-dozen companies before landing in Orlando.
In 2009, he founded Envy Labs, a software firm with 13 employees that helps design web applications. Two years later he formed Code School, composed of about 40 employees—a third of them women—who offer online software classes to students around the world. The school teaches “learning by doing”—students see their coding results immediately on a split-screen, earn points and badges, and work within a fun, video game-type environment as they learn programs to design web or iPhone applications.
Code School has over 1 million registered account users—there is some free content— and nearly 30,000 paid customers from Brazil to Ukraine to the Far East. Pollack’s two companies generated $10 million in revenue in 2014. Employee salaries at Code School average $73,000, he says.
“The longest I worked for any company was a year and a half,” says Pollack, a boyish-looking 37-year-old with dark-rimmed glasses. “I didn’t work hard when I worked for other people.”
His two prior startups—one involving project management software and another for online gaming tournaments—were good products, he says, but failed because he knew nothing about sales and marketing. He tried again with Envy, then Code School and now anchors their slick promotional Internet videos.
Their unconventional workplace includes no set employee hours, stand-up computer desks, a large dining room, and areas with couches, video games and ping-pong. Free catered lunches on Fridays and yoga are provided, along with visits from a personal trainer and a massage therapist. Monthly off-site bonding exercises range from an Epcot wine festival excursion to go-kart racing.
It’s all very Northern California, catering to creative Millennials.
“It’s a great way to recharge,” says Joseph Perez, 33, Code School’s director of support, as two co-workers play a Super Smash Brothers video game nearby. “You can’t be sitting at your computer all day or you’ll get burned out.
“With creative people, you don’t put restrictions on them. Some developers push code at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. We just try to get people to get their work done.”
Perez, a 2010 UCF grad in digital media, talks about Pollack and co-workers having a “sense of community” and “passionately wanting to help people learn.” He says UCF, Full Sail and private code-writing schools such as The Iron Yard are turning out talented programmers and digital media specialists for his industry.
“I’d put our team here up against any team in the Silicon Valley,” Perez says of Code School. “I think we’re in a period where there is going to be a nice boom here. There is something really, really special happening in Orlando.”
When Pollack came to Orlando in 2006, he discovered the technology community was fragmented and not communicating. App developers, computer software programmers and hardware designers had no clue what the others were doing. So he started an e-mail list of various tech groups to tell them about meetings and events.
In 2007, that led him to help form BarCamp, now an annual gathering of engineers, programmers, students, technology geeks, illustrators, entrepreneurs and the curious. On Sept. 27 last year, 500 attended dozens of free talks and presentations to kick off Orlando Tech Week, which featured technology gatherings known as “meetups” all over Central Florida. Orlando Tech Association Executive Director Orrett Davis says his organization lists two or three events daily. The association also has 2,050 members, the largest group of its type in the Southeast, he says.
At the BarCamp gathering at Church Street’s Cheyenne Saloon complex in downtown Orlando—the former downtown tourist hub of the 1980s—attendees heard sessions on “Dollars to Bitcoin, Step By Step,’’ “Big Data in the Trenches,’’ and “Reverse Brain Drain.’’
Sensing a need to help startup companies—often one or two friends with a great idea—Pollack, Davis and others in 2013 co-founded Starter Studio, a three-month business accelerator to mentor fledgling firms.
“Our goal is to get a starter further, faster in 90 days than they would in one year,” Pollack says.
Today, Pollack’s two companies take up a third of the GAI Building’s sixth floor in Orlando. In order to expand operations there, he is relocating Starter Studio to Canvs.
“Why do I help others? Because it’s fun and it brings me happiness,” Pollack says matter-of-factly.