At the beginning of a new company there is a lot stress and long hours. This kind of journey isn’t for everyone. Not unlike teaching, while very challenging, a key motivation is a desire to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.
We had to be willing to start from scratch. Manifesting an idea requires a lot of creativity and cooperation.
Before diving in and building a solution, our developers need teachers to help us explore what we are building. In the case of BetterLesson, the founding teachers had a great story about what was wrong with teaching, and what they believed could be fixed with technology.
We use a process popularized by Eric Ries’s “The Lean Startup” - first developed by Toyota, then called “Lean Manufacturing” - to choose the optimally efficient path for making decisions about where to invest our time. With this we can test our hypothesis in structured manner, and get the best product to our customer with the highest quality and lowest investment possible. The process has become so popular that the United States CIO and CTO both plan to bring these approaches to making the Federal Government more efficient.
A key concept is the Minimum Viable Product. Extremely important to learn if we are wrong early. This process has helped us avoid creating products and services that take years to develop based on an incorrect hypothesis.
The mathematical basis for computer science has been stable for a long time. However, Internet technologies change very quickly. Every day is exciting.
The most basic principle of computer programming is abstraction: creating simple interfaces to complex machines. We depend on the work of millions of others before us who have created code and systems that can be used as a platform. These platforms can be pieced together like legos to make new platforms. Often, we are simply making existing processes more efficient and connected.
Open Source software is computer software that is often free to use, and free to modify. Open Source Software allows us to avoid product-lock-in, share knowledge with large, open internet communities and not be limited in our vision because of software costs. Almost all the largest, most connected, most powerful technology companies use Open Source for the same reasons.
We leverage Cloud Computing from Amazon, and have access to one of the largest, secure, most scalable web hosting environments on the planet. Cloud Computing is simply taking hundreds of thousands of computers and making them very easy to use. Five years ago, we would have needed at least three to five people just to manage our many computer servers.
We all have many jobs. We create teams with roles as needed to get tasks done. This flexibility allows us to often outperform companies with 10-100 engineers.
Transparent culture keeps people on the same page and surfaces issues early. Open workspace means being able to participate or at least keep abreast of what everyone is working on.
Self directed and independent learning is essential to a small team. As coders we have our own projects at home and attend a variety of conferences to continue learning.
All of our conversations, code and hopes don’t matter unless we can deliver. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
We work and seek input from consultants, contractors and advisors that care about what they do, and are the best in their field. We also get input from our very own Customer Advisory Board made up of teachers and administrators who use the site.
Not only do we communicate with our users intensely, we can see changes in usage patterns over the course of the day, through the school year. We use Google Analytics for this, which has tools to protect individual privacy, while giving us general data to help us understand how the site is used.
The internet and devices that use the internet will change dramatically over the next decades. No matter the interface, there will be a lot of data.
With information technology, knowledge capture and curation is only the first step.
Standardizing data allows for better information sharing and decision making. The Learning Resource MetaData Initiative (LRMI), the Common Core are data standardization efforts for education data. They are part of a larger web initiative called the Semantic Web. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all work on this through Schema.org.
Once data from very different sources is using the same format, interoperability can create bridges for institutions that used to function separately.
We believe that as long as teachers are central to our development process, there will be results in the quality of teacher’s lives and therefore in education.