Engineering in EdTech: How We’re Building a Better Future for Students
At Panorama Education, we’re aiming to provide a robust MTSS software solution to give educators the tools they need to reduce busy work and make the data they need easily accessible so that they can spend more time focused on helping students. MTSS (multi-tier system of supports) is already used by many schools to identify struggling students and create interventions to help them get on track, but the process is often undertaken with spreadsheets and lots of manual work.
Our engineering team is split into several squads, and mine, Intervention Squad, is tasked with making our vision for MTSS a reality. I couldn’t be more excited to be part of a project that will impact so many students across the country, and I’m confident we’ll succeed in this work is because of the culture at Panorama.
I have been in education technology for most of my career, approaching twenty years at this point. At my last job, I managed a development team building a student information system. After many years in this role, the time finally came to move on when I found myself missing being a full-time coder. One concern I had as I began my job search was finding myself as just another coder on a team receiving marching orders from up the chain of command.
When I interviewed at Panorama, it was clearly a different kind of company. The process was thoughtful and engaging, a far cry from the coding problem after coding problem assault I’d often experienced. I would enjoy working with everyone that interviewed me, I found myself thinking as I left the last round. When I got the call with an offer, I accepted immediately.
There’s always a concern when starting a new job that you are being sold a bill of goods, that the rosey view you’re given while interviewing is conveniently omitting some unpleasant details. This was not the case for Panorama. I found a culture built on the idea of servant leadership: that everyone had a voice and that managers were there to enable engineers, not dictate to them. Instead of being told what to do, I was encouraged to think of solutions to any problems I saw and propose them to the team. It was a system of influence, not authority, where the best ideas ruled the day, not job titles and seniority.
The result of this philosophy is a culture of engagement. Engineers aren’t expected to just write code all day, every day: we learn about our product domain, K-12 education; we create working groups to tackle important technical areas that can easily be overlooked in the rush to the next deliverable; and we all contribute to the technical direction of the company through discussions and RFCs (request for comments). Having worked at a company where an executive once referred to the rank and file engineers as “worker bees,” it is exhilarating to have given up a position of authority but still have input and agency. There are certainly challenges to having more voices in the room, but those challenges help our team build up collaboration muscles, improving communication and empathy.
Fast forward several months into my time at Panorama, and we found ourselves at the beginning of our MTSS project looking up at a mountain with a long trek ahead of us. Our ambition was simple but grand: we wanted to make a software system that revolutionizes how educators help students such that they all would be on track for graduation and success beyond school. So how do you climb a mountain? As we had learned in our past projects, you simply take one step at a time.
We went to our playbook: we all learned about the problem domain; we got external input early and often; we collaborated constantly; we built small slices of functionality and shipped them quickly; we never accepted technical debt; and we never said “good enough.” Soon, we had the early pieces in place and the feedback from existing clients and prospects was glowing, giving us the confirmation we needed that we were on the right path in our climb up the mountain.
We still have a long way to go before we realize our full vision for software that can supercharge MTSS. There are many steps before we reach the peak, and, truth be told, we may never get there: to say that we have finished the job and things are “good enough” is just not our style, so our climb will continue indefinitely. But thanks to our culture, we will also constantly release great software that pushes MTSS to better places. We will do that as a team of equals, always engaged and constantly collaborating. That’s the Panorama way.
Originally published at https://engineering.panoramaed.com on June 19, 2019.