Last week I wrapped up my ten-week internship at DreamBox Learning in Bellevue, Washington. I had a fantastic experience and was fortunate to work with an amazing team. I learned a lot and wrote several features that were released to production!

This week I started a road trip from Seattle to Boston and the hours in the car have provided plenty of time to reflect on my experience at DreamBox. Here’s what I learned about the company during my ten-week stay.

Meet DreamBox Learning

The DreamBox Learning platform helps hundreds of thousands of students across the United States and Canada learn math by making the subject fun and rewarding (two adjectives rarely seen in the world of grade school math classrooms). Instead of sheets of repetitive problems, DreamBox presents students with new concepts in the form of games and puzzles to be solved.

By constantly adapting to each student’s behavior, the DreamBox platform provides each student an educational experience tailored to his or her needs.

DreamBox also empowers teachers and administrators by giving them the tools and data they need to be effective educators. The goal is not to replace teachers with technology, but to use technology to make every teacher a superstar.

The Special Sauce

You only need to walk around DreamBox’s Bellevue office to see the incredible impact their platform has on students. The walls are littered with printed out emails – parents raving about how the DreamBox platform taught their kids to love learning math while producing incredible growth in the classroom.

Many of the developers I worked with (most of whom had >15 years experience) said that DreamBox’s mission was a key part of their job satisfaction – they go to work every day knowing that the products they build are improving education for young students.

That alone says a lot. Experienced developers who could go elsewhere come to DreamBox because they find purpose in the work they do there. This attitude – the focus on creating real impact – permeates the DreamBox office and was visible from day one of my internship.

The Good and the Bad

There are some weaknesses inherent in being a smaller company. I found the DreamBox onboarding process to be cumbersome, a tough hurdle for a new employee already dealing with the pressures of their first day.

I also found the organizational structure a bit murky. Some people seem to fill multiple roles as needs arise which sometimes makes each individual’s responsibilities ill defined.

These issues seem like growing pains, stretch marks on a startup that is expanding quickly in the face of new investments and personnel.

DreamBox also reaps the benefits of being small. If anyone wants their voice to be heard, the CEO is just down the hall. There’s a sense of community in the office – you can recognize everyone’s face after the first few days and there is lots of cross-team appreciation and recognition.

The Dev Experience

DreamBox uses the scrum methodology to manage its product development, a tool I found both effective and enjoyable. I heard horror stories from the other developers of their terrible experience at past jobs – six hour planning sessions and days wasted each month in pointless, worthless meetings. Not so at DreamBox.

Development cycle planning was efficient, effective, and empowered the developers to do their best work. My team’s ten-minute daily morning scrum meeting was perfect: everyone on the team got to check in and sync up, but the meeting was over well before anyone felt their time was being wasted.

As for the technology, I spent most of my summer getting dirty with AngularJS and Sass. I already loved Sass and contributing to a great project with all the front-end scaffolding in place was amazing. Mmmmmm, modular styling. Delicious.

AngularJS is a beast in every sense. It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything sort of tool and as such it can really get away from you if you’re not careful. I’m glad I got to see Angular in action on a large, commercial project (where it belongs) even if I won’t be using it for any personal projects in the future.

The Bottom Line

DreamBox is an awesome company and I was fortunate to spend my summer working alongside their talented engineers. I’m proud of the contributions I made and grateful for all the mentoring I received.

I learned a lot about software development – the teams, the management, and the process. I also worked with testers and even dabbled in some DevOps. (Jenkins, anyone?) It was an amazing summer. As for DreamBox, they just closed a $10 million investment round and show no signs of slowing down. Watch out, world.

September 5, 2015