Ciro Santilli
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Since Ciro Santilli was young, he has been bewildered by the natural sciences and mathematics due to his bad memory.
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The beauty of those subjects has always felt like intense sunlight in a fresh morning to Ciro. Sometimes it gets covered by clouds and obscured by less important things, but it always comes back again and again, weaker or stronger with its warmth, guiding Ciro's life path.
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As a result, he has always suffered a lot at school: his grades were good, but he wasn't really learning those beautiful things that he wanted to learn!
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School, instead of helping him, was just wasting his time with superficial knowledge.
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First, before university, school organization had only one goal: put you into the best universities, to make a poster out of you and get publicity, so that more parents will be willing to pay them money to put their kids into good university.
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Ciro once asked a chemistry teacher some "deeper question" after course was over, related to the superficial vision of the topic they were learning to get grades in university entry exams. The teacher replied something like:
You remind me of a friend of mine. He always wanted to understand the deeper reason for things. He now works at NASA.
Ciro feels that this was one of the greatest compliments he has ever received in his life. This teacher, understood him. Funny how some things stick, while all the rest fades.
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Another interesting anecdote is how Ciro's mother recalls that she always found out about exams in the same way: when the phone started ringing as Ciro's friends started asking for help with the subjects just before the exam. Sometimes it was already too hopelessly late, but Ciro almost always tried. Nothing shows how much better you are than someone than teaching them.
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Then, after entering university, although things got way better because were are able to learn things that are borderline useful.
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Ciro still felt a strong emotion of nostalgia when after university his mother asked if she could throw away his high school books, and Ciro started tearing them all down for recyling. Such is life.
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University teachers were still to a large extent researchers who didn't want to, know how to and above all have enough time and institutional freedom to teach things properly and make you see their beauty.
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The very fact that you had very little choice of what to learn so that a large group can get a "Diploma", makes it impossible for people to deeply learn what the really want.
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This is especially true because Ciro was in Brazil, a third world country, where the opportunities are comparatively extremely limited to the first world.
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And all of this is considering that he was very lucky to not be in a poor family, and was already in some of the best educational institutions locally available already, and had comparatively awesome teachers, without which he wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't had such advantages in the first place.
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But no matter how awesome one teacher is, no single person can overcome a system so large and broken. Without technological innovation that is.
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The key problem all along the way is the Society's / Government's belief that everyone has to learn the same things, and that grades in exams mean anything.
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Ciro believes however, that exams are useless, and that there are only two meaningful metrics:
  • how much money you make
  • fame for doing for doing useful work for society without earning money, which notably includes creating new or better free knowledge such as in academic papers, either novel or review
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Even if you wanted to really learn natural sciences and had the time available, it is just too hard to find good resources to properly learn it. Even attending university courses are hit and miss between amazing and mediocre teachers.
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If you go into a large book shop, the science section is tiny, and useless popular science books dominate it without precise experiment descriptions. And then, the only few "serious" books are a huge list of formulas without any experimental motivation.
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And if you are lucky to have access to an university library that has open doors, most books are likely to be old and boring as well. Googling for PDFS from university courses is the best bet.
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Around 2012 however, he finally saw the light, and started his path to open source software Enlightenment.
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Firstly, he was introduced to LaTeX, and his mind was blown:
Ha, so I can write my own books, and so can anyone, for free?
he though. Why isn't everyone doing that!
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Then he found two websites that changed his life forever, and made be believe that there was an alternative: Stack Overflow and GitHub.
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The brutal openness of it all. The raw high quality content. Ugliness and uselessness too no doubt. But definitely spark in a sea of darkness.
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University was not needed anymore. He could learn whatever he wanted. A vision was born.
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To make things worse, for a long time he was tired of seeing poor people begging on the streets every day and not doing anything about it. He thought:
He who teaches one thousand, saves one million.
which like everything else is likely derived subconsciously from something else, here Schindler's list possibly adapted quote from the Talmud: "He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world.".
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So, by the time he left University, instead of pursuing a PhD in theoretical Mathematics or Physics just for the beauty of it as he had once considered, he had new plans.
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We needed a new educational system. One that would allow people to fulfill their potential and desires, and truly improve society as a result, both in rich and poor countries.
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And he found out that programming and applied mathematics could also be fun, so he might as well have some fun while doing this! ;-)
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So he started Booktree in 2014, worked on it for an year, noticed the idea was dumb, and then started building this new idea and the courage to do it.
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Ciro is basically a librarian at heart, and wants to be the next:
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Video 1. "Jimmy Wales: How a ragtag band created Wikipedia" 2005 TED talk. Source. Original source: https://www.ted.com/talks/jimmy_wales_the_birth_of_wikipedia. One thing to note is that Jimmy was a finance worker before starting wikipdia, e.g. he had capital to hire Larry Sanger. Maybe that's the way to go about it, make money first, and later on change the world. Starting just after the beginning of the Internet can't hurt either.
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Video 2. "Brewster Kahle: A digital library, free to the world." 2007 TED Talk Source. Talks about the Internet Archive which he created.
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Video 3. Sal Kahn from Khan Academy 2016 TED talk. Source. Ciro is not a big fan of the "basis on top of basis focus" because of his obsession with backward design, but "learn to mastery at your own pace" and "everyone can be a world class innovator" are obviously good.
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Ancestors

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