There’s a lot of hate going around about TKS right now that I feel is somewhat unjustified. I’m actually writing this article on Medium because I tried to post on Reddit, but it didn’t end too well. This article is for people who already know about TKS, and are debating applying or not. So for those people, here’s my story at TKS (I haven’t finished my first year at the time of writing).
The Very Beginning
I found out about TKS at a house party around 2 years ago, as the host was a girl who was in TKS. She was talking about all this cool shit that she was doing with advanced transportation (self-driving cars and the like) and a bunch of other stuff like meeting with industry experts and consulting for massive companies like Walmart. At the time, I had no clue what the fuck was going on, I was in grade 8 and she was in grade 10 talking about all this crazy stuff that she was doing. She was not what I thought a grade 10 was supposed to be like.
I got home and applied as fast as I could.
When I got in, the price tag threw me off a bit. It’s funny how common this is for most first-years that I talk to (referred to as innovates). What’s also funny is how many innovates said that they were super skeptical about joining because they had little data points (another reason why I’m writing this article).
I took a leap of faith (with some financial assistance to soften the landing) and I’m glad I did. Truthfully, it changed my life and the way I look at it, and I’m not even done with the program.
Before I give a review of the program, first we gotta go in-depth about what TKS actually is. Is it a cult? Well, it depends on who you ask.
What did I get myself into?
Explaining TKS to friends and family has always been somewhat difficult. TKS describes itself as a human accelerator designed to develop the world’s next problem solvers which is pretty accurate. If you are applying to TKS, you are trying to massively impact the world using emerging tech. However, how they do that is what most people are fairly confused about, and so was I for a bit.
In my opinion, there are mainly 6 value props of TKS: Community, Focus (TKS Learning Structure), Mindsets (soft skills and philosophies), Mentorship, Challenges & Hackathons, Networking & Content creation, Velocity (a more intensive program within TKS), and Bossladies (a no-bullshit girl-focused program within TKS).
Community: The community in TKS is one of a kind, 99% of people in TKS want to be in TKS so that they could grow. So you get this community full of people constantly growing and encouraging each other to grow. A lot of people say that “TKS can be done at home,” and I really don’t agree with that. The community gives you feedback, you are mentored so that you are never on the wrong path and there’s always support if you need it. The feedback in TKS is what makes your growth exponential, without it, your growth is fairly slow. There’s this trust amongst the entire community that we only have the best interests in mind for each other and it’s honestly so refreshing. If you want to be in a community full of people trying to level up, and are happy to level you up too, be in TKS.
Focus: The “meat and potatoes” of TKS, and how people grow the most. The Focus is TKS’ unstructured learning structure that’s focused on hands-on applied knowledge. There are 2 types of focuses: the technical focus, the scientific focus
- Technical Focus: This focus is for more technology-centered topics (AI, Quantum Computing, Blockchain). In this focus, you build two projects using someone else’s guidelines or tutorial, afterwards you build a new project by yourself without a tutorial from the knowledge you’ve gained from the other two projects.
- Scientific Focus: This focus is for more science-centered topics (Cellular Agriculture, Connectomics, Optogenetics). In this focus, you would build an experiment surrounding your topic, review 10+ research papers and synthesize them in an article, then finally a scientific proposal or hypothesis.
What’s special about the focus is that there are no grades, and there are no deadlines. TKS is optimized for your growth, so instead TKS gives you instead is feedback. It’s not school, it’s hands-on learning focused on your growth and building your network through content.
The projects and content you create in your focus can be leveraged as “keys,” to open different “doors,” like internships, speaking opportunities, and conferences; to be clear these opportunities are earned not given.
Mindsets: In my opinion, the most important part of TKS. The mindsets are fairly self-explanatory, they’re mindsets. But on average (from what I’ve seen), a lot of people overlook mindsets whenever they hear the word “mindsets” for some reason. Yes, everyone can become a better collaborator, and be more organized but TKS really drills these habits into you; this is why some people call TKS, a different way of life. Because it sort of is, philosophies like stoicism, and antifragility fall under the mindsets that are taught every week (in the session). Once I started to actually internalize some of the mindsets taught in TKS, I started to grow immensely. My family and friends noticed that I was a much nicer person, who seemed more grounded and just “had their shit together.” I do feel that I did change a lot in my demeanor and worldview, but I still have a long way to go.
Examples of mindsets we would learn in TKS: Figure it out, Boss mentality, Stoicism, Anti-fragility, Health (this was just in Velocity, we exercised each day and watched our diet for 2 weeks to train the habit of being healthy), Done > Perfect, On-The-Ball (basically just not slacking), Do What Makes Sense, Bias Towards Action, Compounding habits (becoming 1% better every day), etc. If you haven’t heard of some of these terms, I urge you to search them up
There’s also some confusion as to how TKS teaches you these mindsets. When you really break down what a mindset is, they’re really just habits. TKS provides an environment for you to build those habits and mentorship from people who have mastered those habits. Also, if you are in Velocity, there are some exercises, and thought experiments for each mindset to help internalize the mindset further. For example, in Velocity for the stoicism mindset, we had to sleep on the floor, and make sure each of our meals cost under $2 as well as a water fast from sunrise to sunset. If you’re thinking “TKS is forcing kids to starve themselves!?!?!” my answer would be: they totally are.
Mentorship: In TKS, there are Directors overseeing the program and providing mentorship. Director is just a cool way of saying mentor, and these guys are very dedicated mentors. They are available to contact basically 24/7 and what’s even cooler, is that they aren’t just there for a paycheck. They really care about the students and it shows. The Directors aren’t like teachers, I don’t call Harrison (Toronto director), Mr.Nolan; he’s a normal guy who’s my mentor.
You can book meetings with the directors whenever, you just have to use their calendar link and set one up, it’s super easy and the directors can help you with almost any problem. If you are struggling with stress, they can help you, or if you need some guidance with your project, they can definitely help you.
Challenges & Hackathons: The coolest part about TKS. If you’ve been following TKS recently, you’ll know that TKS has recently partnered up with UN for this year’s global challenge. TKS partners up with different companies twice a year for a consulting challenge. Usually, these companies are multi-billion dollar companies with some super hard problems.
During these challenges, the company would give TKS 1–3 of their top priority problems in the company, and students would work on them for ~30 days and send a recommendation deck to the company (after being filtered out from the directors).
TKS does this because when students do case studies and stuff like that, the problem is outlined for you, the data is handed to you, and there’s usually an answer or at least a best course of action. In the real world, that just doesn’t exist. In the challenges, we have to work on real problems that don’t have solutions. I just finished the UN challenge yesterday (March 26th) and I have to say, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The complexity of the problems as well as how we could form an actual world-class solution was so fun. We talked with different NGOs in our country to try and leverage their resources, cleaned datasets to create decision matrixes, and applied first principles to almost all the problems we encountered. Here is our recommendation deck.
In TKS, hackathons are more like idea sprints than hackathons. You come up with a product that has a theme surrounding it like AI or your Focus and then in a short period of time you build a presentation and present them to judges. They’re cool ways to meet people in the community and get a “trial” for how they work for the longer challenges.
Networking & Content Creation: I grouped these two together because I feel that they go hand in hand. In TKS, there’s an emphasis on building your network, especially through your content. It’s so that you can get different opportunities and just get your name out. It’s encouraged that you send out a monthly newsletter to your network so that they can be updated on what you’re doing and keep in touch with them without much effort. TKS teaches you how to cold email, how to leverage meetings that you have, and just leverage your network in general. Not much else to say here.
Velocity: Velocity is an accelerated program within TKS for people who want to go 100% into TKS. This means that they are fully committed to their personal growth and that TKS is their first priority. When you’re in Velocity you follow a weekly guide that has specific requirements that are Velocity exclusive. This summarizes Velocity fairly well (written by Navid, a co-founder).
Velocity is (IMO) super important to TKS. People’s growth in Velocity absolutely skyrocket. This is also where you meet your closest friends who have the same goals as you. Weekly you have syncs with around 3–4 other people where you talk about your week and your ups and downs and bond over it. I’m super close with my velocity squad because of these syncs and what we do in them.
Bossladies: Since I’m not a girl, I can’t really give first-hand experience of what Bossladies is like. From girls in bossladies though, it sounds really great. Women are underrepresented in STEM, so TKS has bossladies to uplift and acknowledge the gender disparity in STEM, and help TKS Students navigate different topics or issues they might come across. Often there’s legit women speakers from Silicon Valley or in STEM who talk about their experiences and knowledge. What’s cool about this is that it’s suuuuper close-knit and the speakers get to fully engage with all the Bossladies in a Q & A. Apart from the fact that women are underrepresented in STEM, bossladies does more than just speak about that issue. Like I mentioned, it’s a community. They have loads of activities like movie-nights, mental health talks, and self-care nights too. From what I’ve heard, before COVID, there were loads of in-person events for bossladies. This includes fun community events and attending conferences. When I was asking around about boss ladies, one of my friends sent me this: “BOSS LADIES IS AN AMAZING COMMUNITY AND ITS SUCH A JUDGEMENT FREE SPACE WHERE EVERYONE FEELS COMFORTABLE TO TALK ABOUT ANYTHING UNDER THE SUN. SINCE ITS VIRTUAL WE HAVE TALKS FROM LEGIT BOSSLADIES IN THE FIELD AND THEY TALK ABOUT THEIR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES BEING WOMEN IN STEM. BOSS LADIES IS AMAZING BC WE’RE ABLE TO TALK ABT STUFF AND BE OURSELVES LOL ITS HARD TO DO THAT GENERALLY BC IT JUST IS.” She is always super hyped about bossladies, and if I was her, I would be hyped too.
What about the cost?
Don’t worry, I’m broke too. The cost is really scary but they give out a lot of financial aid. Usually, people get a decent amount off their tuition if they meet the financial aid requirements.
The Final Verdict
Although it does cost a bit, I highly encourage you to apply if you’re within the age range. Applications are open till April 5th.
Because of TKS, I’ve gotten exposure to Brain-Computer Interfaces, UI/UX design, and how to solve the world’s biggest problems. I’ve started to grow at an exponential rate to the point where what I was doing 2 months ago seems so outdated now. As in, I know so much more now than I did 2 months ago, the difference is crazy.
I’ve also found so many new friends because of TKS. Before, whenever I tried to do anything like side-projects, or content creation, I would get called a “try-hard.” The people at TKS are super supportive, and will sometimes even go out of their way to help you and give you feedback.
If there’s anything that I missed or any questions that you guys have, let me know in the comments. I’ll be checking it till applications close.