After over 2 and a half years at Packback, I’ve decided to move on and have accepted the first engineer/CTO role at The Graide Network. When I joined Packback I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. During my time with the company I went from the team’s only in-house engineer to the manager of a small team. It was amazingly fun, and while I hadn’t been actively seeking another job, when the opportunity to do what we did at Packback again came up at The Graide Network, I knew I would be a great fit. Here’s a little more information about the company and my role:
What is The Graide Network?
The Graide Network connects middle and high school teachers with qualified teaching assistants to grade and provide feedback on student work. What that means is that teachers upload their students’ assignments then we find college students who can grade their papers remotely and get them back to the teacher. My life is full of great teachers who I know first hand are overworked. My mom, a couple of my cousins, my girlfriend’s brother and mother are all teachers, so an opportunity to help make their lives better through technology appeals to me. On the flip side, the college students we get to grade papers are mostly studying to be teachers, so we’re offering them real-world experience as well.
What I’ll be doing
When I joined Packback I had no idea how to fix a messy MVP. I didn’t know how to work with an offshore team, and I definitely didn’t know much about building an in-house engineering team; I had no idea how to create an effective product management process. My time at Packback helped me develop tools and processes for many of the technical problems early stage startups face. At The Graide Network, I’ll be implementing those tools, and helping prepare the company for growth in the future. Of course, there will be plenty of exciting new features to implement, but the reality is that we’re a company that needs to build a single great feature set before we branch out too far. In the first few weeks I’ll be taking a look at our current web application’s architecture, security, and scalability in order to figure out what we need for a successful fall semester. Unlike at Packback I won’t have a team yet. We do have a solid local freelance engineer working with us already, so I won’t have to build everything alone. Still, much less of my day-to-day will be management. In other words, I’ll be doing a bit of planning and a lot of writing code.
What’s next for The Graide Network?
Our imminent goal is to clean up the product for a new round of teachers and Graiders who will start in September. Last year the team (mostly just the founders, Blair Pircon and Liz Nell) worked with a small number of teachers and at times had to grade papers themselves manually. This fall, we’re looking at a healthy pipeline of possibly 10 times as many teachers and Graiders, so a lot of the manual solutions we used before will start to break down. My goal will be to make sure pain points are alleviated by the product. My next goal is to prepare the codebase for future engineers. It’s very hard to hire good engineers to work on a messy product, and even harder to have multiple developers working on one that doesn’t separate concerns well. If we hit our goals and 2017 is focused on growing the team, then we’ll need to have a good development process and architecture in place. Finally, I hope to continue to test the systems I helped implement at Packback in a new environment. At Packback I had Jessica Tenuta, a great in-house designer and cofounder, to help with spec and product details. We won’t have dedicated design resources initially at The Graide Network. Implementing a workflow that accounts for this will be an interesting experiment. I’m sure I’ll have much more to write on the challenges specific to very early stage startups (there are just 4 of us working full-time now), but if you have other questions or comments, feel free to find me on Twitter.