Year of Graduation: 2009
Major: Computer Science
Position: Math & Computer Science Content Manager, Khan Academy
Please give a brief description of your current position and where you are working.
I manage the math and computer science teams at Khan Academy. We produce videos, exercises, articles, and programming challenges to help students learn.
What led you to become a Math & Computer Science Content Manager for Khan Academy?
I have always been interested in the problem of education. After graduating from St. John's with a degree in computer science, I became a middle school math teacher. After teaching for a while, I realized that I wanted to improve education more broadly—beyond what I could do in my classroom. Inspired by Khan Academy's mission of "a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere", I did what I could to get involved. Initially, I contributed as a volunteer, then as a contractor, then as a one-year content fellow, and so on until eventually arriving at my current role managing the math and computer science teams.
What are the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position? The most challenging?
My work is enjoyable, my teammates are inspiring, and the product we're building seems to be making a difference. Each day presents novel, interesting problems to solve. I feel very lucky to be where I am.
The most challenging thing is teamwork. Building great products requires collaboration with engineers, designers, product managers, and other content folks like me while everybody working together towards a shared vision. There is an art to it, and I'm still learning.
What skills are most important in your work?
Communication is everything. My team's job is to craft clear, deep, and engaging explanations to help students learn. In that sense, I am a professional communicator. My work also involves internal communication. This afternoon's communication challenge involved writing up a plan for releasing our new calculus courses. This plan will impact stakeholders across the company, so it needs to be clear and compelling.
How has your liberal arts education been important to your career path?
I'm unsure, but I will say that I am deeply grateful for the diversity of coursework and professors I encountered at CSB/SJU. Whether or not my Great Books class advanced my career is uncertain, but it certainly advanced my life.
How do you stay current (skills and knowledge) in a fast moving field?
I read, do side projects, and surround myself with people I can learn from.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for your work?
This could be a long list, but I will limit it to three things:
Learning to code: My computer science courses at CSB/SJU sharpened my mind and gave me foundational skills that are still paying dividends.
Making art: I minored in Visual Arts at CSB/SJU, which was a great experience. Outside of class, I was constantly designing and building things—photo shopping silly images for people's birthdays, editing video for friends, and so on. I think that part of becoming a great creator is creating a great many things.
Teaching: Spending four years teaching in schools filled me with empathy for teachers and students, which is indispensable in my current role.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Fall in love with a hard problem. Mine is education.
Keep growing your technical skills. Don't shy away from things you perceive to be difficult. The harder something is to learn, the more value it is likely to have.