Engineering Spotlight - edX
edX is a nonprofit, open-source online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT that offers free, high-quality courses to anyone, anywhere.
We connected with Diana Huang, Senior Software Engineer, of edX to get an inside look at the company's technology, various projects, the team's culture, and more.
Interested in joining edX? Take a look at all of the company’s openings on the list to the right!
Quick Hit Details
- Year Founded: 2012
- Number of employees: 230
- Number of engineers: 140
- Industry: Ed-tech
Can you share a summary on what edx does?
edX is a learning platform founded by Harvard and MIT that provides MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) and online degrees to learners around the world. Today our platform hosts thousands of courses from reputable learning institutions on a global scale. Our engineering team is focused on improving and maintaining the platform while our partners provide the content. Our mission is to provide access to education to learners across the world.
What are some of the different technologies that the engineering team gets to work with and at what scale?
We are primarily a Django/Python shop on the backend with front ends built in React. In terms of regular traffic, we see millions of unique, daily users across hundreds of servers. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has sparked a lot of interest in online learning.
What are some of the interesting projects that the engineering team is tackling?
We have a lot of things in flight. On the customer-facing side, we’re working on a new course catalog search experience to make it easier for learners to find what they’re looking for. Also, we’re working on improving our integrations with our university partners who are offering MicroBachelors programs and MicroMasters programs. Generally, we’ve been putting a lot of work into making our courses customized for our learners.
On the infrastructure side of things, our Site Reliability team is working on getting all of our services onto Kubernetes. We’ve been tackling a ton of software upgrades and we’re looking into replacing our crusty old courseware frontend with a shinier, more flexible, frontend application built in React.
Does your engineering team have a chance to work on projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities?
Well, we are open source! We have a few working groups that do work on projects outside of just team/sprint work, like the Security working group, fedX (front-end development at edX), and the Deprecation Working Groups. These help foster a cross-engineering understanding of best practices and direction, and they are happy to welcome folks of any skill level to help them learn the ropes!
In addition to those, the Site Reliability Engineering team/DevOps group, is piloting a program to train up non-SRE engineers on each team so that each team has an SRE resource embedded. That way, our feature teams can assist with any necessary SRE-specific tasks while the DevOps teams can continue to drive strategic initiatives.
We also have regular multi-day hackathons -- about three times a year -- where folks all over the company (not just engineering) can take on experimental projects and work with people they don’t usually work closely with. The most exciting part of these events is the demo meeting at the end of the hackathon. This is the time where you can present your project, see everyone else’s cool ideas and hard work!
What is the culture like at edX for the engineering team?
The engineering team is full of passionate, helpful people. It’s a very friendly environment, and it’s respectful of people’s desire for work-life balance.
What can a potential employee expect during the interview process?
We have a standard technical interview process that is made up of both technical questions and non-technical, behavioral questions. We like whiteboarding for our technical questions and we try to mix it up with some other types of questions as well. Given the recent move to remote interviews, we’ve been utilizing interactive solutions like Coderpad, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Mural.
The process is a bit more structured than it was when I first started at edX 7 years ago (we’re currently 8 years old). No matter what, we always strive for a good candidate experience with clarity throughout the process.
Are you involved in any local tech organizations or Meetups?
It’s challenging to get to do all the things you want to do between work, social time, and extracurricular activities. There’s a friendly culture at edX of sharing our hobbies with one another, whether it’s DIY projects or bread baking (our bread Slack channel is called #breadx) or parkour classes (which I have spent many, many hours trying to convince my colleagues to join me in -- and have even succeeded at on occasion).
Unfortunately, professional meetups have fallen by the wayside for me (especially lately), but in the past I have gone to Boston Python, organized by our very own Ned Batchelder. You can find other members of the engineering team at a variety of different events hosted by organizations like Boston DevOps, Boston EdTech, and She+ Geeks Out.
Rapid Fire Q&A
What’s on tap?
Sometimes on Friday, we have Scotch ‘o’ Clock, though I think it’s more of a virtual beer ‘o’ clock these days.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
As much as I like the scrappy rebellion of Star Wars, we’re definitely closer to the very earnest space communism of Star Trek.
Our puzzle bar in the Cambridge office is tucked in between fictional education-themed conference rooms, “Starfleet Academy” and “Jedi Temple.”
iPhone or Android?
Android, as we’ve managed to foster an Open edX community that has managed to set up over 1,000 independent Open edX installations with their own courses and their own learners. It’s always cool to see some of the things the community has done with our code!
Coffee - hot or iced?
I’m not a coffee drinker, but maybe hot? We have a genuinely surprising number of people who show up for the early shift (around 7am), so that they can beat the traffic around Cambridge and Boston.
Favorite employee perk?
When we’re not in the middle of the pandemic, the free lunch. We can pick from a few tasty and interesting options, and they deliver to the office. It’s great!
What TV show describes the engineering team’s culture?
I think Parks and Recreation -- especially since I just watched the recent special! We’re all different, and we bring our different perspectives, attitudes, and approaches to the table, but ultimately, we care about doing the right thing in the end and want to work together to get things done. We’re probably not quite as entertaining to be around as the Parks and Rec. characters, though.
What music is playing in your office?
I like listening to the Chillhop Music Youtube channel. It’s good and un-intrusive when I need to focus, and their raccoon mascot is super cute.
View from the office...lately:
Want to learn more about edX? Check out their Company Page