How Practice's mission shapes its company culture
Practice’s origins come in part from cofounder Emily Foote’s experience as a teacher in disadvantaged school districts. After enrolling in law school and taking a class, taught by cofounder, Karl Okamoto, that promoted real-life practice (students would act out negotiation scenarios in front of classmates and law professionals) she saw an opportunity to bring this style of practice-driven learning to teachers, who could ultimately impact students in their districts.
Enter Practice, an edtech company that brings elearning software to workers, students, and all types of learners to promote competence that enriches the work of companies, schools and hospitals, among many other clients. Practice’s interactive video technology is heavy on peer assessment and continual feedback. The team takes this pedagogy to heart, infusing it into its company culture to promote both employee engagement and continual improvement to the product.
Today, Practice’s beginnings as a community impact initiative carry through to the lives and involvements of its employees. Every member of the team stays involved in the local community, whether as charitable board members, volunteer tutors, or by doing their part to develop emerging tech talents.
Because so much of Practice’s work is collaborative across departments, applicants go through an acute screening process to ensure not only the right skill-set, but the right cultural fit, too. This means introducing the video platform as early on as the application process and continuing to develop and learn from it through monthly employee challenges.
Prided on transparency and a candid culture, partnership is fostered within the team through ongoing feedback, team bonding activities ranging from spontaneous happy hours to axe throwing, and a steady supply of snacks.
In late November 2017, Practice was acquired by Instructure.
Practice’s original team is spread evenly across two offices, one in Philadelphia and one in San Francisco, and each are housed in open coworking spaces that provide easy access to co-worker collaboration as well as mingling with the other teams that work in the space. After the acquisition with Instructure, Practice now also has direct access to the head quarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Instructure, Inc. is a leading software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology company that makes software that makes people smarter. With a vision to help maximize the potential of people through technology, Instructure created Canvas, Gauge, Arc and Bridge to enable organizations everywhere to easily develop, deliver and manage engaging face-to-face and online learning experiences. To date, Instructure has connected millions of instructors and learners at more than 3,000 educational institutions and corporations throughout the world. Learn more about Canvas for higher ed and K–12, and Bridge for the corporate market, at www.Instructure.com.
What are examples of Practice’s products?
Practice uses videos to promote interactive learning based on peer feedback and repeated, deliberate practice. Our software reaches a diverse range of clients, including hospitals, universities, and major corporations aiming to assess and develop skills in their employees. Our software builds learners’ competence, and consequently their confidence.
How many people work at Practice?
We have 15 in our Philadelphia office and 15 in our San Francisco office.
What is the team dynamic?
Extremely collaborative and engaged. We all work extremely hard, but we also work extremely well together. Because a large part of our product emphasizes feedback and transparency, we’ve created a candid culture in the team so that everyone can give honest, open feedback that helps everyone to grow and see the impact they have on individuals. Just as much as we care about the users of our software, we care about individual employees’ growth, and that translates into a team that’s happy to lift each other up.
How do Practice employees stay connected?
We mostly use Slack, which is great to feel connected to the West Coast team and create that kind of good dynamic and banter you’d have in an office space. Even with our Philly team working in two separate suites, we feel connected because we’re talking throughout the day on Slack. We also use video conferencing tools like Zoom to have real-time conversations with the San Francisco team, and the engineering team likes to use GitHub. And, every month a team member will do a Practice Talk, where they’ll teach us something new from outside the work space — meditation, beer brewing, anything.
What is your onboarding process?
It’s important for our team members to not only have the skills necessary for their particular role, but to also have the right culture fit. Basically, we want to make sure you’re more than just good on paper. We infuse our own video platform as early as the hiring process, giving applicants six different exercises in addition to the regular interview cycle. Once we have a new employee, we use the platform to help people build the specific skills needed for their team. In turn, the onboarding process is threefold: The typical administrative onboarding process, the learning of specific Practice content and pedagogy and then putting your skills into practice before being fully in your role.
How does Practice use its own software for employee development?
To foster a practice-driven culture, the Philadelphia and San Francisco teams, both use our software, which allows us to not only stay connected but to continue to understand and develop our software. We also have challenges that change from month to month, like asking team members to showcase a skill or hobby they’ve mastered. Again, this not only helps our teams feel connected coast to coast, but gives us a better insight into how our product fits into the broader education technology world, because we’re using it ourselves.
What can a new addition to the engineering team expect?
We’ve always had a strong culture of mentorship. We do a little bit of trial by fire, but we don’t make new hires feel responsible to those things — it’s just not helpful. When you first come on board, you might be surprised by our code review process, which can go into a pretty heavy and long-running back and forth.
Describe the office. What’s unique about it?
We have a great snack selection, which teams on both coasts take very seriously. Both offices are also in shared spaces. We have two suites in the coworking Industrious space in Center City, and the physical set-up works quite well with the collaborative nature we want to foster. Other companies in the space have their own suites but we also all share a communal space on the first level, and it’s a fun way to meet other people in the office, especially when there are more snacks provided.
How often do team-building events occur?
We have Monday lunches every week and organize outings every quarter, such as going to a Phillies game or trying axe throwing. We hold monthly team meetings as well as the Practice Talks, which are bicoastal. At the end of a meeting, we’ll also do something called Appreciation Jolts, where people will give individual shout-outs and positive feedback to team members. It’s a fun way to bond the team and help people continue to grow.
Ryan McMahanLead Product DesignerRyan has worked in product design for a number of industries, including music, gaming and social networking. Now in his second year with the Practice team, he has not only designed the second version of the platform for mobile and web, but is now the self-proclaimed social coordinator of the West Coast office, helping organize […] Read More »
"One of the most important things for me with any job I take on is the quality of the people and quality of character. That is a value shared among everyone here, so when it comes to hiring, we're not just looking for the best and brightest; we're also looking for good people. That will ensure the foundation of our company will stay strong."
Jason BlanchardSenior Software DeveloperJason has been with Practice for four years and seen the team outgrow its first humble workspace to its current home at Industrious. As the company continues to use its own software during onboarding, he uses the process as an opportunity to expose where there is room for improvement to the platform. Read More »
“What is really interesting to me about our team dynamic is that everyone is really good at what they do. It’s a great place to feel like I’m challenged, but in a good way. Bringing our product to market is important, but work-life balance is important too. Everyone is sort of cognizant of that.”
Emily FooteCofounder, Chief Client & Learning OfficerAfter years of instructing in Teach for America, KIPP Charter Schools, and the Philadelphia School system, Emily was a practicing lawyer by the time she cofounded Practice. When the opportunity came along to develop the company’s platform for the use of other teachers, she took a hiatus from the law — that was six years […] Read More »
“I want my team to take ownership of their projects. If they fail, they’ll grow. I believe that is oftentimes the best way to learn. The second best way to learn, is our methodology of frequent practice and feedback.”
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