ImBlaze Monthly Newsletter: March 2020
Welcome to the ImBlaze monthly newsletter. Every month we’ll be updating you on the latest updates and improvements, and checking in with Co-founder and Director of Technology David Berg and lead engineer Soumya Basil.
March 2020 turned all of our worlds upside down. For this issue of the newsletter, we'll be putting our interviews with David and Soumya first (humans first), and product updates at the bottom.
Let’s get into it.
Monthly Check In With David Berg
Hey David, thanks for doing this again. This is a preface that feels somehow more tired and more important with each day that goes by but ... it's been a pretty big month for everybody. With schools closed nationwide, what's the thing you most want to say/convey to folks right now?
First it's to express a lot of compassion for what's going on right now, and what folks are going through. And secondly that we're balancing the dark with some real feelings of excitement that there may be some big changes to education ahead.
What do you mean?
If we think about it, for 150 years, a large comprehensive school building has been the primary solution to secondary education. Suddenly, we take that away, not for some, but for every single student in America. That's a profound individual moment of reflection, and one that's now set to last months. But the structural impact may not revert all the way to normal at the end of that period. I was reading a recent article in the Atlantic magazine on the ways we get out of this, — how will the pandemic 'end' so to speak —, and the middle ground scenario they described is that we slowly start to resume some normal things. Like we go to restaurants but people will be more separated. Bars with space between people. The 1,000 person rock concert… might be a long time before that happens. I read that and translated it to school. What if we can't go back to school all at once? There might be smaller gatherings peer to peer -- some kids might go on some days, but not all kids on all days. So there might be smaller cohorts of kids going to school. When they’re not at school, they’ll likely do peer to peer learning like study groups, parks, online learning, and internships. Internships in particular because people will be going back to work and may need some help adjusting to the crisis. And I believe that schools that already have robust internship programs are going to have an easier time managing this transition. They're going to have more resilient programs.
Why is this so important to highlight, for you?
First of all, I think this is better for kids. It resembles life. Second, it’s more resilient to shock. It enables students to find and emphasize the right learning mode for them. Some kids are really strong online. Sometimes a really compelling lecture can be the most important learning in a life. Some kids need 1 on 1 real-world learning. Providing more distributed solutions to learning, rather than a single-focused solution that school is the place where we go to learn. This health risk is forcing some shifts to the architecture of learning and enabling us to be more responsive and personalized. And yes, that may cause some challenge to a traditional comprehensive high school. For 150 years there’s been a school where science teachers teach science, math teachers teach math, and that all happens during bell schedules. I just don’t know when that’s going to be the norm again.
Obviously we've seen a large dip in ImBlaze activity. What, if anything, should folks know about ImBlaze from the month of March, either to address some of the personalization and responsive challenges you mentioned, or looking forward?
The first thing is that we stopped everything to build a new part of ImBlaze called ImBlaze Connect, which most folks should have gotten an email about already. For those that haven't, we built Connect because we know that for many educators working within internship programs, the content you’re getting from your district at this time may not be relevant. Connect is a community connection platform where a disparate group of practitioners can get together and solve some problems. We wanted to give the ability for someone trying to figure out ‘How do I find a kid an internship who has an IEP’, and they’re in California, and someone in Rhode Island, or Vermont, or Australia, has a really great answer. One of the best ways we have to manage this challenging work is our network. We hope this helps people find new networks, both in this moment and the next ones.
Anything else you want folks to know or think about moving forward?
Keep leveraging the resources we have around us, and recognizing there’s real power in that. If it's in relation to us, then that’s Big Picture Learning, the ImBlaze team, ImBlaze Connect, if not that's fine too. We just have to be really careful right now that there isn’t this ‘kids have lost 2 months of algebra so we have to double up on algebra’ response. I think it leads to huge problems if we do that. Instead, we have a real opportunity to have folks think about ‘what is school’ and think innovatively. More than in a generation, we have an opportunity to address some of the systemic ways inequity is built into our education system.
Lead Engineer Soumya Basil
Hi Soumya, good morning. Thanks for making time for this. To start off, what’s your life been like this month, as a mom and as an engineer?
Crazy. Especially the first two weeks. For me this is like the fourth week since schools closed here and the second week of the official country wide lockdown in India. Now we’ve all settled in some kind of routine. It’s been a lot of juggling for me - I’ve got my son who's a first grader, constantly looking for ways to entertain him, and a 10 month old baby at his exploring best. Then my husband, Basil (who is also an engineer), is at home working as well helping me juggle baby care. So it's been a lot of juggling adjusting to the new normal, but I'm also mastering the art of delegation.
As an engineer?
As an engineer, work is keeping me busy and my mind engaged. You get to create and build stuff and that is always uplifting. In fact, I look forward to my work hours a little more now. A chance to escape and not always be browsing through the news and not thinking about what's going to happen now or after.
What are the biggest things to know about ImBlaze from the last month?
I'm about to get technical here so apologies if I lose you. Right now, most of ImBlaze is built in Salesforce Classic, but we're trying to transition it to Salesforce's new language -- Lightning, for a variety of reasons. As long as ImBlaze has been around, documents in ImBlaze have been captured as ‘notes’ and ‘attachments’. In the switch to Lightning functionality, they have to be captured as 'files' -- and there's lots of work there. For the end user it might not be obvious, everything should work the same, but it’s a huge engineering shift to migrate everything into a different structure.
Pardon my ignorance but... why does any of that matter? Why does Lightning matter?
Speed, functionality, customization, everything. Here's the best example. You've seen ImBlaze Connect ... it was built in two weeks. With Classic you wouldn’t get that functionality, and you wouldn't be able to build as quickly. But with Lightning you don’t really have to write code, since it’s all standard components. We still put in content [for Lightning], but the framework was really easy. And... that’s the power of the Lightning community. We put in the content, but the framework is already built for you. It's really powerful.
So hypothetically, once we're fully converted to Lightning, we could add new features more easily?
Yes, that's correct! New features can be added more easily and faster. And Salesforce keeps adding to the Lightning features, they have three releases each year. So that's a lot of built-in functionality you get right out of the box. The harder part is what we're doing now, transitioning the old stuff over to Lightning.
What should folks expect, engineering-wise, during this extended time.
I see this as a time to get a lot of stuff I just didn’t have the time to deal with. Improving mobile experience, ironing out some User-Interface designs, things to make the entire experience a little easier. Continuing to improve our ‘regional admin’ portal as well - we'll definitely be spending some amount of time on perfecting that and making it more usable for admins around the world.
Thanks so much, Soumya.
ImBlaze Updates and Improvements
1. Opportunity visibility and request-ability toggles. Internship coordinators can quickly control if the students can view and/or request any individual internship by toggling either of the two switches in the details of every Opportunity.
2. Multiple Tabs begone! Multiple tabs will not be opened when clicking links within ImBlaze. ImBlaze will stay within a single tab.
3. Compliance Complies - Fixed a bug where approving a compliance document wouldn't register on the bar or the check mark.
4. You Have The Power...to Automate Internship Ending! In the Internship Set Up wizard, advisors will now see a checkbox against the Proposed End Date. If checked, the internship will automatically end on that date -- the student will be unpaired and the opportunity will be set to 'available'. This can be later edited by the IC/Advisor through the Student -> Internship -> Event History Page.
5. Check In/Out Layout Easier for Students - Interface has been adjusted to ensure that the users do not misunderstand the CheckIn/Out buttons to be actions and miss clicking Submit. The only actionable button is the 'Submit' button now, and the CheckIn/Out are the page headers.
6. Option to Deny and End Internship - Advisors + IC's will now be presented with an additional option when students request to start an internship. Approve(1)/Deny(2)/
Deny and End Internship (3 - new). On 'Deny and End', students will receive an email notification and the internship will be ended immediately and made available. This is useful when Deny is used when a student should continue to pursue
That's it for this month. Be safe, be together (in every way we can), and be well.