Ellevation: Mission-Driven EdTech Company Growing Fast

The product, engineering and design team at Ellevation is entering a pivotal new phase of growth in its efforts to serve EL educators, students and families — and they’re looking for new team members to help make an impact.

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Apr. 20, 2023
Ellevation: Mission-Driven EdTech Company Growing Fast
ELLEVATION EDUCATION
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Growth is a major theme at Ellevation Education: Workforce growth. Professional growth. Product growth. 

Currently, Ellevation is moving away from a monolithic architecture to a service-oriented architecture focused on performance, scalability and reliability. Every member of the product, development and design team — called the DevPro team — has the opportunity to make an impact with this new approach. 

“There is a lot of change happening right now,” said Software Engineer Andrea Guatemala. “On the technical side, we’re empowering engineers to make small changes quickly, safely and independently. Every engineer is researching and experimenting with different tech to determine what they want to use in the new architecture, providing growth opportunities for folks across all levels.”

 

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On the product side, Product Manager Varun Goverdhan explained, “Traditionally we were a compliance-based product for administrators, but we’ve been growing our product suite to serve teachers, students and their families directly. Expanding our services to these new users through an integrated product suite comes with a huge set of user and technical problems to solve.”

Ellevation Education serves a highly-specialized segment of the education industry: English learners, otherwise known as ELs. These are learners whose home language is not English, so they are learning the language in addition to traditional studies for their level. English learners are an often-overlooked segment in EdTech. 

 

What Ellevation Does

Ellevation is a software solution for K-12 multilingual learners and the educators who serve them. The company is driven by its mission to help English learners achieve their highest aspirations, and it partners with US school district administrators to manage complex program requirements, teachers to build their capacity to serve multilingual learners, and students to empower them with the academic language they need for success in school. 

 

Ellevation has a strategic focus on solving real problems for educators of multilingual learners and the problems they face. Its products are focused on data and instructional planning, professional development and academic language. 

“These three areas don’t get a lot of buzz or attention, but they are very real problems for educators and students,” said Goverdhan.

There are many compliance regulations for these programs: laws educators must follow in notifying parents whether a student is eligible for an EL program, laws about communicating with parents in their primary language, and more. “It’s something we need specialized software to support,” said Guatemala. 

Ellevation is currently hiring for engineering, product and design roles to support these exciting changes. Built In talked to key DevPro team members to showcase what growth looks like at Ellevation: including new career matrices, exciting projects and personal development opportunities. 

 

But First, the Interview

The interview process at Ellevation has been refined to an art form, full of grace and transparency for candidates. “Our interview process is the best I’ve ever been a part of,” said Guatemala. “There weren’t trivia questions. It wasn’t about cramming as many buzzwords as possible into five minutes. The interview process makes you comfortable instead of pressured to perform. Anyone nervous about applying: don’t be.”

 

UX Product Designer Madiha Alam backs up that sentiment: “They weren’t trying to trick me during the interview. I felt like they were looking for my strengths. Now, as an interviewer, I see that same pattern. We look out for strengths and potential when meeting with candidates.”

 

Climbing the Ladder

Varun Goverdhan
Product Manager

Ellevation gave Varun Goverdhan his golden break into a career in product management. Before Ellevation, Goverdhan was a Teach For India fellow who taught English, math and science. 

The educator-to-technologist pipeline isn’t abnormal for people on Ellevation’s DevPro team. There are plenty of employees who have pivoted from teaching to software engineering or product management, giving them a lot of empathy for their users. Ellevation has been very intentional with its organizational design to create opportunities that attract people from different experiences. 

“We’ve expanded the career matrix to create more growth opportunities, and we’ve added an associate role, which is really important because it makes product roles more accessible for people pivoting into this field,” said Goverdhan. “The matrices and career levels here give you tangible goals to work toward and measure your growth.”

The product org has grown a lot during Goverdhan’s tenure. When he joined in 2021, there were just four or five product managers. Now, the department has nearly doubled, and the company continues to incorporate diversity at every level of the hiring process and culture. 

“We have actual OKRs for our diversity and inclusion efforts. The company has been clear about those goals and working towards them,” Goverdhan explained. “On the DevPro side, our flagship product is headed by three women, which is great to see! Ellevation continues to focus on DEI initiatives to foster a workplace of belonging and it’s one of the most inclusive places I have been in professionally.”

 

“It’s one of the most inclusive places I have been in professionally.”

 

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You Can't Spell Mission-Driven Without DEI

Madiha Alam
UX Product Designer

“Embracing diversity is baked into our mission,” Madiha Alam said, explaining, “ELLs are a diverse group. Being here, in and of itself, draws you into that.” 

She added, “Beyond that, employees have the space to express their individual needs and priorities.” 

Alam has experienced this firsthand. After informally stepping out for weekly Friday prayers, her colleagues encouraged her to block off time in her calendar so she would always be able to attend. Her team’s support — ensuring that not only are there no individual meetings during that time but there aren’t team meetings, either — meant a lot to her. 

“I have a level of trust with people on my team that you don’t find everywhere,” Alam said. “We are very collaborative. Designers, product managers and engineers meet throughout the week to ensure we are working toward the same goals and solving problems together. That structure informs the culture of our teams: We work together so much that we can anticipate each other’s needs. I always feel comfortable asking questions.” 

This trust and empathy extends into Ellevation’s close partnership with its users, which helps the product design team immensely. “Our partners at school districts are eager to improve our product. They’re very busy, but they are always willing to jump on a call and give feedback. There are a lot of opportunities to learn directly from our partners. It’s unique because we get to see how the growth at Ellevation is having a direct impact,” said Alam.  

 

Opportunities to Grow and Connect

Ellevation’s DevPro team hosts a “Word of the Fortnight” activity where an employee chooses one word to highlight. When Guatemala first joined the company, she picked the word “constellate,” which means “to gather.” 

 

The team recently constellated in Phoenix for an off-site meeting full of team-building activities against a backdrop of red mountains and saguaro cacti. 

DevPro teams also regularly have Jam Times, where they hang out, chat and maybe play a quick game of Codenames.

One of Alam’s favorite events is Demo Friday, where the team gets to celebrate accomplishments. Alam explains, “The company gets together and cross-functional teams can share completed or in-flight work. It’s exciting because when someone is presenting you can look at the chat box on Zoom and see the entire company engaging and blowing it up!”  

 

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Diversity at the Core of Growth

Andrea Guatemala
Staff Software Engineer

Earlier in her career, Andrea Guatemala was one of five women in a 100-person engineering department at another company. 

Today, she’s part of Ellevation’s Platform product department, where women make up over 50 percent of the team, distributed across every level. That solidarity gives Guatemala the confidence to speak up and share her opinion at meetings. 

“DEI is part of everything we do — from interviews to meetings to defining core competencies — to ensure everyone has a seat at the table. As we get more senior team leaders, we want to make sure that’s something they are fostering and encouraging,” said Guatemala.

While DEI is integrated deeply into its business strategy, one of the main engines for activity comes from the Diversity for Ellevation employee affinity group. DELL is dedicated to broadening cultural awareness, providing support and fostering community engagement.

“DELL has helped me reconnect with some of my own cultural traditions from my childhood,” said Guatemala. ”I hadn’t really ever shared traditions with anyone outside of my family since I moved away 15 years ago. It wasn’t until I attended a DELL event that I dedicated myself to sharing more of those things, and to speaking more Spanish. I spoke with some co-workers who also want to speak more Spanish, so we decided that we will speak Spanish at our check-in meetings.”

 

“Diversity at Ellevation has helped me reconnect with some of my own cultural traditions.”

 

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What Are You Waiting For?

For engineers, designers and product managers looking to get in on the ground floor at a pivotal time for a mission-driven product, Ellevation is a perfect fit. And there’s no need to be anxious about inquiring. 

“Our entire leadership team is really approachable. We run into our CEO and co-founders all the time. I almost have to stop and remind myself, ‘This is the CEO’ because it’s always so comfortable,” said Goverdhan. “Ellevation is a really nice place to be.”

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Ellevation Education.

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