What do you do at Chalk Schools and why do you love it?
I’m a software engineer at Chalk. At a high level, I help architect, build and ship software that enables educators to better manage their paperwork and workflow processes – literally saving them hours each and every day. Beyond the impact of our work, one of the best parts about working as an engineer at Chalk is that we’re afforded a lot of freedom to get involved with all parts of the engineering + product process – whether brainstorming with our design and product team, proposing new architectures and building new tools, or implementing process improvements to enrich our engineering culture, we’re entrusted to both serve our customers and truly build a company. Those dual responsibilities are both empowering and rewarding more than I could have ever imagined.
What were you doing before you joined the company?
I had a bit of an interesting journey before landing at Chalk. Right after college, I took up a job doing economics and financial research at the Federal Reserve in DC. Pretty quickly, however, I realized I was much more interested in developing the software that enabled me to do my work than I was in the actual content of the work itself (e.g. forecasting interest rates). I was lucky enough to be able to transition internally to a programming job and started learning as much as I could about web development and programming more generally.
After a year into that career shift, I left the Fed to work on my first startup, Clovest, where we enabled small businesses to raise capital from their local communities as zero interest loans – it was an incredibly exciting journey and an invaluable experience that taught me a ton about building products, community, and a business (and to date, we’ve still maintained a 100% repayment rate on all of our loans we facilitated!). Around the same time, I helped out a friend by building a rudimentary version of what would then become tinyGive – a platform focused on making giving more social, simple, and meaningful by enabling people to donate to their favorite causes via Tweet. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, we had gone through an accelerator, raised seed funding, surpassed 200 customers, and eventually were acquired.
To help offset my life expenses during this time, I also consulted part-time with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a technical contractor helping them build digital platforms on their college readiness initiatives, including PDredesign and the Redesign Challenge – which is how I stumbled into the world of ed tech.
How did you first learn about Chalk Schools and what attracted you to the position?
After three years of founding companies and moonlighting as a technical contractor, I was a bit burnt out of the early stage startup cycle and wanted to find a company that I both believed in but also where I could grow as an engineer and teammate (a lot of my prior experience in the startup space was with super small teams and companies). Though I had gotten to learn a bit more about the ed tech space through my consulting work, I hadn’t found a company in the space that I could passionately get behind. In my mind, they all seemed focused too strongly on either relying on technology to improve educational outcomes or pushed educators to use a one-size-fits-all service / product. And then I stumbled on Chalk.
Chalk was unique in that we focus on being able to adapt to every district's existing workflow and paper process rather than forcing our customers to change and adapt to our software. After all, our primary mission is to save educators time so they can get back to what they do best– teaching! Until that point, I hadn’t seen a company that had built that commitment to their mission all the way down to how the product is built and the engineering team operates.
Do you have any advice for engineers looking to work in the edtech space?
I think the more general advice I'd have for anyone looking for their next career move (either engineer or otherwise) is a lot of what I learned as a founder: optimize for your passions. No matter if it’s the product, the impact, the team, the culture, or other aspects of the startup, make sure there is at least one thing that you’re deeply passionate about that the company is working towards. And even though it’s “education” technology, that passion does not have to be limited to something specific about education in general. In my case, the passion behind my work and efforts at Chalk have a lot to do with my strong interest in being able to have as big an impact as possible (saving people hours of time) with the minimal amount of disruption (by letting them use their own best practices). If you first find a place that matches those passions and interests, then the rest will follow.
What’s something about you that few people know about you or that would surprise those that know you?
I’m an Eagle Scout! Though I probably don’t think about it much in my day to day life, I think there were a lot of lessons that I learned over the years (always be prepared, managing large projects / tasks, leading a troop) that have probably subconsciously stuck with me and helped me both personally and professionally since I was active in scouting. Plus, I can make one hell of a fire!
What's your story?