July 23, 2013

The Quest for Innovative Talent

When you think of innovative workplaces, many people think of organizations like Apple or Google. But, what if you could have the chance to innovate while making a difference in helping students plan for their futures?

Scott Frost, Director of Engineering at Hobsons – an education technology company located in Arlington, Virginia – leads a team of innovators to build and improve the company’s college and career readiness platform Naviance. Scott leads the team by cultivating an honest and open environment where engineers can exercise their curiosity, have a voice in what they are developing, and create solutions that maximize student success.

Q: Searching for technical talent is extremely competitive in the Washington, DC market. As a hiring manager how do you differentiate?

Like many of our counterparts around the D.C. area, Hobsons is a very mission-driven organization.  Aside from the fun team culture we have developed, what sets us apart is that we have the opportunity to directly impact the lives of students by helping them prepare for college and make informed decisions about their future career goals.

Hobsons is an amazing company and we strive to achieve a high degree of technical excellence in everything that we do.  We want to hire top caliber technical innovators who are looking for more than just a job. As a mature software company, it is vital that we continuously improve our current products as well as deploy new and innovative solutions.   We want people who are interested in challenging the status quo and bringing new ideas to our organization.

This journey is by no means easy but I am continuously amazed every day by our passionate employees who truly care about understanding our customers and finding unique ways to solve their problems.  I think we all share this passion because at the end of the day our customers will hug us and say thank you for making a difference.  That is very powerful and motivates us each and every day.

Q: Can you elaborate more on challenging the status quo?

One of the things we like to say is that we do not want to be like cooks taking ticket orders in the back of a kitchen.  We want everyone in our organization to question requests that are coming in, explore product features in new and interesting ways, and put themselves in the customer’s seat to make it a better experience.

I think any company building software products has to think that way today or it cheapens the user experience. If we act like a fast food shop churning through tickets, that is the caliber of product we will produce.  If we have the talent and act like a world-class organization, then we will serve up a much better experience for our customers and keep them coming back for more because we are helping them solve problems and delivering tangible results.

We want our technical teams to be collaborative, vocal, and proactive. For example, it is not about testing software to fix a bug; it is about putting yourself in the seat of an educator or a student. How can you make a school counselor responsible for 450 students more productive? How can you help motivate a student to take more rigorous coursework so they can reach their career goals?

How can you provide school principals and superintendents looking to improve graduation and college-going rates with a way to track and measure progress over time? It is not about how an engineer would use our product, but rather how our customers would use it to solve their challenges.

We are constantly meeting directly with our customers.  We also encourage our technical teams to stay abreast of the latest industry news, trends and participate in local development communities and hosting meetups.

Q: There is a lot of talk these days about the changes that software is bringing to the learning and education space. Where does Hobsons fit in?

We believe that our role in education is to maximize student success and institutional effectiveness. Our solutions allow students to develop personalized academic and career plans based on their goals, interests, abilities and learning styles.

We enable students to connect with institutions that are the right fit, and help them stay on track to achieve their goals.  And, perhaps most importantly, we enable academic institutions to leverage data in a meaningful way to help them deliver better service to students and families and improve their college and career readiness efforts.

Our work has a direct impact on students, and that is something we don’t take lightly. We build tools that help students connect what they’re doing in the classroom to what they hope to accomplish later in life.  If we are not on top of our game and our products do not work then students are at risk of not achieving their academic goals, meeting their college application deadlines or discovering how they can use their individual strengths to overcome life’s challenges.

You cannot get any more important than that. It takes passionate people to continue to innovate on a product that can play such a critical role in people’s lives.

And if you are an innovator looking to make a difference, we are hiring!