Engineering Spotlight: Panorama Education
Panorama Education is on a mission to help schools improve by using data. The company serves over 5 millions students in 7,000 schools in 40 states nationwide.
Just last month, this venture backed company introduced Panorama Student Success, a new platform that provides educators a complete picture of how every student is doing across academics, attendance, behavior, and social-emotional learning.
Panorama Education was part of the Summer 2013 Y Combinator class. The company is backed by Spark Capital, Owl Ventures, SoftTech VC, and Mark Zuckerberg's Startup:Education.
Their engineers are passionate about improving education. Panorama's Director of Product, Daphne Dor-Ner and Software Engineer, Geoffrey Litt gave us the inside scoop on the culture and dynamics of the engineering team.
Panorama Education is hiring! Check out its BIZZpage.
Keith Cline: Daphne, you’re bringing almost a decade of Product Management experience to the Panorama Education team. What was it about the company's culture that attracted you to the team?
Daphne DorNer: Lots of things! First, Panorama is a strongly mission and value-driven organization. We’re tackling huge problems in K-12 education with creative thinking, hard work, and a sense of humor. Second, Panorama is incredibly deliberate about building its culture - that came across to me during the interview process and is a running theme in all-hands meetings and other venues. Third, there is an organizational focus on learning and leveling up as we grow. That manifests itself in things like professional development goals and strategic plans, book clubs, and lunch & learns.
KC: Geoffrey, you joined Panorama Education out of college and as part of Panorama’s time at Y Combinator. How has the team evolved since joining over 3 years ago? What has been your favorite part?
Geoffrey Litt: When I joined Panorama, the company was six people living together in a house in California. Obviously, a lot has changed since then. (For one, we don't all live in a house together anymore!)
One exhilarating part has been seeing our impact grow. We've gone from working with just a few school districts to working with millions of students, and we now count as clients some of the largest districts in the country. It's tremendously exciting as an engineer to know that a new feature will get such broad usage in schools.
Another piece has been the growth of our team. We've hired an exceptionally talented group of over seventy people, with diverse backgrounds ranging from former classroom teachers and education psychologists to people coming from industries like consumer analytics, healthcare, and more.
One thing that we've strived to keep as a constant through that growth is our company value of being friends with our coworkers. It's a significant challenge at our size, but we take it seriously and devote time to it. At a recent company hackathon, one team built an internal bot that schedules people for coffee to get to know each other better, and it's been a huge hit!
KC: Panorama Education’s engineers are continuing to focus on improving student outcomes with the use of data and feedback. What are some of the cool projects you are working on, Geoffrey?
GL: I'm on a team that is working on helping schools measure and improve social-emotional learning (SEL). Many schools today are aiming to emphasize all the important non-academic things that they are teaching children -- like the value of perseverance, for example. But as engineers know, without data, it's difficult for them to know whether a given SEL strategy is working or not, and where they can improve in supporting kids in this area. So we're building tools to help them track progress and make improvements, whether that means a teacher having a conversation with a student about believing in themselves, or a district administrator rethinking a high-level strategy.
KC: How does the engineering team stay involved in the Boston tech community?
GL: We’ve recently had the pleasure of hosting meetups at our office space with Women Who Code, Boston Elixir, and Boston Area Scala Enthusiasts. Many of us also enjoy going to local meetups like BostonRB. I gave a talk there last month about machine learning, which is a topic that some of us at Panorama are fascinated by, and are learning about together.
We also make an active effort to volunteer in the local tech community, especially since we work at an education company. One engineer on our team recently taught kids about making robots. Also, last year, one of our designers taught an after-school course in product design to elementary schoolers, using our own product to improve his teaching over time!
KC: What types of interests does your team have outside of work?
DL: One of my favorite things about the Panorama team is the incredible diversity of outside interests. We have several cooking enthusiasts that host company BBQs (including an annual pig roast!). There are all sorts of musicians on the team, including former professional opera singers and rock guitarists. Many of us love the outdoors, whether that means going on hikes or playing tennis and basketball together. And there are tons of other interests on the team ranging from inventing board games to spending time with kids and pets -- far too many to list!
KC: Can you give us the inside scoop on some of the perks Panorama Education offers?
GL: Our focus is on creating a great workplace that aligns with our values and fosters strong relationships. We have catered lunch every day and most people eat together at our cafeteria style lunch tables, so there’s time to spend each day talking with co-workers from across the team. We have flexible vacation time because we believe taking vacation is an important part of a healthy and happy life AND that taking vacations makes us better at our jobs. We like to say that the best perk we have is coming to work every day to improve education, and working with an exceptional group of people motivated by the same goal.
"I love working at Panorama Education because... I get to see the human side of engineering work. We're solving hard technical problems, but not to show more ads to people who don't want them—we're solving hard problems to make people's lives better. Period. Getting to talk to educators and see the impact of the work we do is what gets me excited for work every single day." Jacob Evelyn, Software Engineer
"I love working at Panorama Education because... we truly lead with our mission. When we consider a new feature for a product, we do not ask, 'Will this lead more people to buy our product?' We ask, 'Will this help educators improve students' outcomes?'" Sarah Robinson, Product Manager
"I love working at Panorama Education because... I get to help build products that really make a difference in the schools we work with. It’s really cool to be able to come to work, solve hard problems, and see the effect we have at the end of the day." Stephen Eckenrode, Software Engineer
"I love working at Panorama Education because... the engineering culture is thoughtfully deliberate about delivering high quality products that meaningfully impact the lives of students." Mitch Peabody, Lead Software Engineer