In all the various roles I've had over the last decade, I've never been asked for introductions to current clients the way I have over the last year working in edtech. So, I know you're at least curious.

via GIPHY

This inspired me to take a little time over the next couple of weeks to sit down with several of Edlink's current clients (virtually, of course), and get the lowdown on what they think of us: their first impressions, why they chose to work with us, things that surprised them, etc. I'll be sharing these with you as they occur, in the hopes that they'll help answer some of the questions you no doubt have about working with such a young company.

If you're following along, and you think of followup questions you'd like to ask to any of our clients, please do let me know and I'll make sure to include them in future sit downs.

What you're about to hear is an interview with Will Crouse, Lead Developer for Prepmedians.

Scroll down and skip to 1:30 to jump straight in. I'll also include some time stamps below, if there are specific questions you want to check out.

Enjoy:

  • 1:30 - What's the hardest part of working on Prepmedians?
  • 2:15 - How did you come to first be introduced to Edlink?
  • 3:23 - What was your first impression of Edlink?
  • 4:45 - What initial concerns did you have about working with Edlink?
  • 5:45 - What was the deciding factor for working with Edlink?
  • 6:58 - How's the implementation process been so far?
  • 8:10 - What was the most surprising part of implementation?
  • 9:25 - How long would it have taken you to build these integrations without Edlink?
  • 10:25 - How long did implementation with Edlink take you?
  • 12:10 - Did you use your time saved to work on something else?
  • 13:12 - What functionality are you utilizing with Edlink?
  • 14:40 - Why were you investigating integrations with school school systems (LMSs and SISs) to begin with?

Transcript:

AG: Hey, welcome and thanks for listening. This is Amanda Goodson, head of growth here at Edlink.

What you’re about to hear is an interview that I did recently with Will Crouse. Will works with a software development consultancy called launchpad labs, based in Chicago. He and his co-developer Kate, have been hired by Prepmedians, which is one of Edlink’s Clients. Will and Kate manage the entire Prepmedians' stack, front end, back end, the whole shebang.

Will was personally responsible for vetting Edlink’s technical capability, and helping Kalyan, the founder, decide if Prepmedians was going to build these integrations in-house, or onboard with Edlink.

For a little more context, Premedians teaches ACT/SAT test prep through sketch comedy, parody, rap, and music. Kalyan, who we’ll hear from in a couple of weeks, is looking at moving into district-level deals, and wanted to have all his bases covered when he gets to the negotiating table with school admins and tech directors. He also just wanted to make sure that his product is able to provide a seamless user experience to teachers and classes of students when the time comes.

So, to start, will and I payed catchup a little bit. I then asked him some introductory questions. The first real question of substance though, was “what’s the hardest part about working on Prepmedians.” Here’s his answer:

WC: The hardest part of working on Prepmedians... well, it's funny that we're talking about this because certainly the hardest part would have been connecting to 20 different APIs for all these different schools' learning systems. I think that would have been the hardest part and I'm not just saying this to sell Edlink, even though I love Edlink, but Edlink made that not the hardest part! They made it so much easier.

edlink has great customer service

AG: Cool, I'm glad to hear that. How did you come to first be introduced to Edlink?

WC: Hilariously, we were first introduced to Edlink because I was tasked with figuring out an estimate of how long it would take, and Schoology is quite complex from an API point of view, and does not have great documentation and I gave Kalyan quite a long estimate. I think it provoked Kalyan to think, "can we do this better?" Kalyan researched, and found Edlink and found that maybe it could help ease our connection, not just to Schoology, but to other learning systems as all. I gotta be honest, I'm always skeptical of 3rd party systems, so I was very like "well let me interview these people and see." And then I interviewed the people at Edlink and I read the documentation, and I was very impressed. I said, "yeah, I do think this could save us quite a bit of time" and we went forward with Edlink after that.

AG: What was your first impression of Edlink?

WC: Yeah, I think my first impression of working with Edlink was that it was a very professional company, with people working very hard to, I think, solve an important problem which is: How do you make integrating with all of these different, complicated, [LMS] APIs, simpler? It's actually, I think, a problem that I see in other industries. There are other companies, that work similarly to Edlink - they see that your company needs to connect with all of these disparate third parties, and maybe share the same kind of information, but, all these third parties have a bunch of nuances that take a lot of time to connect with them.

So, Edlink, and I know there are similar companies let's say, in the healthcare field, who realize, oh, if we standardize the portal to these companies, we can actually make our clients' lives' easier. It was really cool to see that someone was solving that problem. And yeah, my impression was one of a lot of professionalism in solving that problem.

AG: What initial concerns did you have about working with Edlink?

WC: If I was to have any initial concerns working with any third party, or Edlink, it's always, does their system actually work how their documentation says it works? If I have questions, cause you invariably have questions about the deep nuances of what you're doing, will I get quick responses? And I think that what I found from Edlink that was refreshing and that made me all the more dig in as we got into working with them,  was that the team was very responsive, the documentation was good and questions that I had were pretty quickly addressed. And the team really wanted to help us go live, and treat us like a partner, which was great.

AG: Thanks Will. So, sort of, going through the evaluation process of deciding to work with Edlink, was there a linchpin for what sold it for you guys? What was the deciding factor?

WC: I think for me the deciding factor was when I first talked to their head engineer Dakota and he really went through with me a lot of the different problems that he'd already solved with the Schoology Integration. He went over with me a lot of traps of a typical Schoology integration that he'd already encountered and gotten around and when I started to realize that and think about and my initial estimate with Schoology, I did realized that yeah, we'd save a ton of time. If these people had really made it as smooth as they say they had, we'd save a ton of time working on this project. And when I started to work with Edlink, I did in fact find that they'd saved us time. We ultimately launched our project with the Schoology [integration] maybe a month or so ago. It was just so much smoother and faster than it every would have been if I'd ever tried to build totally myself.

sometimes it does make more sense to buy integration software than it does to build it
Will, talking about Prepmedian's integration with Schoology


AG: I guess that sort of leads me into my next question. How's the implementation process been so far?

WC: The implementation process has been really good, working with Edlink, I think they've done a great job. We actually expanded. We initially just wanted to connect with Schoology, but then we decided, well, Edlink connects with all these different services, and we had done Schoology quicker than I initially thought we would, so we decided to expand our connections to all of the different third parties that Edlink connects to. That was great cause it brought a lot more utility to our company on relatively the same timeline, and it was also great because Edlink has been there before and seen all of the nuances of these different integrations so they could help guide us through the nuances of getting setup up, the nitty gritty, beyond code, the implementation stuff that we have to setup, which was also great, because if you work in a space, you'll find that a lot of these companies it's a lot of hoops you have to jump through to get setup with them. And I think the fact that Edlink has been there helped our implementation process exponentially.

AG: What would you say was the most surprising part or favorite part of implementation?

I'd say the most surprising parts of implementation working wih some of these third party classroom systems, is just how clunky they are on their own. Just how difficult they are to work with. Dakota and I, one of them had released an update and we were finding bugs with this third party and  reporting them to the third party. Dakota and I were sitting there going "where's their QA team doing this?" This is the kind of stuff that really made me appreciate Edlink, I'm glad I had a partner there with me to talk to them about this. To bring this kind of stuff up, and guide us through the clunky-ness of [the LMS] systems. I want to reiterate, these were not bugs on Edlink's side. These were on the LMSs side that we were ultimately trying to get [integrated] with.

AG: Cool. How long would it have taken you to build these integration if you weren't working with Edlink?

WC: Gosh, How long would it have taken us to build the integrations without Edlink? Man, I mean it's really hard to say. I do think that we, in the end, saved on the magnitude of hundreds of hours of dev work. Not like, tens, not like one hundred, like hundreds of hours. Because we've now integrated with so many third parties thorough Edlink. Yeah, I don't know exactly, but honestly it could be in the magnitude, if we were trying to do all of what we did, of something like 500 hours of work.  I mean, it's a lot. Maybe that's an overstatement, but it's not 50 [laughs].

save time with a unified API K12 LMS integration
The amount of time Prepmedians has saved by integrating with Edlink... so far.


AG: What was the sum total of time it took you to implement with Edlink and then onboard your schools?

The sum total of hours implementing will be different for everyone. We, specifically, sort of jumped into the deep end, doing, I think, the hardest of the connections you can do which is the Schoology implementation. The Schoology implementation requires that you launch your app in an iframe, which, if you work on the web, and you're listening to this post-2020 then you know that iframes come with their own difficulties. Cookies, have their own problems, you won't even be able to store cookies on Safari, haha, good luck with that! Anyway, we did the hardest implementation and it took me somewhere in the magnitude of 80 - 100 hours all told. I think that if you're doing a simpler implementation where you aren't launching an iframe, you're just passing OAuth information back and forth, you could certainly implement the basic OAuth connection much faster than 80 hours. Probably more in the magnitude of 40-50 if you're including all the testing and everything. That's my sort of, very rough estimate. Everything is unique to everyone.

AG: Ok, so you're talking, roughly two, maybe three weeks?


WC: Yeah, if this is your full time effort, I think you could get up and running with Edlink and a basic connection in something like two weeks to a month depending on what the specific nuances were of your case.


AG: Helpful. Very helpful. If you think of the time you saved implementing with Edlink, did you use that time to work on something else, or?

WC: In terms of what we worked on with all the time we saved with Edlink, we ended up expanding to so many more integrations than we ever would have without Edlink, so, beyond time save, we've just opened ourselves to a lot more schools that we can say "yes we use xyz classroom tool and we integrate seamlessly with that." And that's really wonderful. I'm not a salesperson but I can only imagine that gives Kalyan a lot more selling power with Prepmedians.

It did allow me to get to a more advanced build. We sort of extended our capabilities within of some of the specific testing regions on the ACT with science and math. So it allowed me to get to that much quicker.

AG: Tell me about the functionality that you guys are currently utilizing with Edlink.

Main functionality we're using with Edlink right now is the sso functionality, the easy OAuth 2 handshake. From a nuts and bolts point of view, this is the thing that Edlink really helps you with. All of these different third parties can have different ways they implement the handshake.

Schoology, for instance, would have had to be, they use like a SAML connection first then all requests after the initial sign up have to be in OAuth 1. The current standard in OAuth is OAuth 2. So, you know, with Edlink what it simplifies, all of your calls are made to one API, they're all called with an OAUTH 2 protocol, that's standard it's the same as any modern company with an OAUTH 2 protocol would have it built, so we're using that for SSO.

A cool thing is that Edlink, beyond SSO, you can also pass other information back to these third party systems. So if you do grading, they offer, you know it's a standardized API. So for all of these different systems, if they take grades, you can be sending your grades back to one API endpoint with Edlink, and have that one connection you have to make. Which is super useful... if you've ever connected to different APIs, it can get nasty all the different nuances.

AG: Why were you guys investigating integrations with school systems to begin with?

WC: We were investing integrations into school systems because as a company that is selling a product for students that is frequently taught in schools, there's a lot of SAT prep in schools, and where there isn't there should be. We knew that a lot of these schools were going to operate in a way that they wanted all of their applications and technology to come from one source. And that they'd be less likely to adopt our platform if every student had to have a new log in. A lot of these school systems are very risk adverse. They want to keep things as they know them and as they're already setup, so I think, you know, it greatly expands our ability to sell to school systems, and integrate with their classrooms if we're integrated with a system they already use.

k12 LMS API and LTI Integration sells better than third party integrations
Will describing why Prepmedians was investigating LMS API and LTI® integrations


AG: That concludes our interview. If you've just listened to this and you think "gosh Amanda I wish you'd asked xyz" send me a note, let me know. Nothing is off limits and I'd be happy to add your questions into the next interview that I do with a Client. Thanks to Will for volunteering to answer some questions for us. We love working with Will and the Premedians team. I'm Amanda, Head of Growth at Edlink. Have a great day.


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