This summer, along with fellow classmates Slater Victoroff ('15) and Jimmy Wu ('15), I have had the opportunity to work as an intern at Alleyoop, an ed-tech startup in Boston. 2011 alum Marco Morales is also a Product Designer there. Alleyoop is a company that aims to prepare middle and high school students for college by gamifying the process of learning.
By creating a currency called Yoops, students are given an incentive to continue to do the activities and watch the videos provided on the web application, tailored specifically for them through a recommendation engine. Currently there is a focus on providing math help, but there will also be material on science soon, and the goal is to continue adding more subjects.
Slater, Jimmy, Marco and I took a moment to reflect upon our experiences at Alleyoop, and why we think Oliners are a great fit for startup companies.
Olin's focus on continuous improvement mirrors the flexibility and openness to change which startups must embrace to get things done. The participatory feedback culture and learner-centric educational experience I had is similar to the opportunity startups provide to make an impact on overall project direction and product improvement. Not surprisingly, this cultural flexibility and emphasis on proactive problem solving is something Olin students are often drawn to in their employment opportunities.
Finally, Olin's curricular mix of engineering, design, business and the humanities is helpful in startups, where the ability to tackle problems using a different, often interdisciplinary perspective helps find creative ways to solve the often unsolved problems startups tend to set their sights on.
I am growing increasingly fond of the startup culture, because the smaller size of the company ensures that each individual is invested in the idea and goals of the company. One of the main factors that drew me to Alleyoop, and I'm sure this also goes for the other interns, is that Alleyoop is addressing a fundamental problem within the public education system. We target the students who need help to provide them with the resources they lack and prepare them for college. Having everyone work towards that larger mission allows for more engagement and ownership, and I find that important when working on a project.
Just to echo what Marco said, I also appreciate the flexibility within the organization of the company. Recently we had an in-company 50-hour hackathon, where we formed teams with people we don't normally work with on a day to day basis. The goal was to ideate and bring improvements to our work at Alleyoop. The resulting creativity and drive was invaluable! I'm not sure you could find that in any other setting but a startup.
Startups develop with agility and can turn on a dime, something that [larger organizations] simply cannot do. They have the ability to experiment rapidly with a variety of approaches and scale up the methods which are proven to work. I feel excited to be a part of a group with this sort of power, which also is a force for positive change. Alleyoop is great for me because it combines a great majority of the things I am passionate about: education, agile software development, policy change through positive disruptive technology, data analysis, and small but high-functioning teams.
Olin gave me the skills to work on multi-disciplinary teams effectively. More importantly, it gave me this attitude and mindset toward "hacking" / "building" / "making things" which has been infinitely helpful toward my progress on my project. Olin also taught me how to think experimentally, or in a "hands-on" way, which is essential if you want to learn how to use many new tools in a short span of time.
Alleyoop is taking on a massive problem right at its heart. Their ability to recognize the college readiness problem pervading the US and their drive to take the problem on at its source and help kids prepare for college as early as middle school is inspiring. They are trying to take learning and make it a social, fun, and engaging experience that I believe will ultimately occupy a huge role that cannot be fulfilled by current public school systems.
Olin taught me to be comfortable not knowing things, and to be willing to ask for help. I have become very comfortable with interacting with mentors in a work environment. Also, at Olin I learned not to be intimidated by a difficult task. I learned to look at things that are difficult as immediately approachable, and it has helped me learn more in an environment like this than I would have otherwise.
Written by Ariana Chae '15