It all starts with Literacy.

Staff reflections: John Friedman

In this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work. 
Today: John Friedman, Director of Software Development.

DSC_0013 - Version 2My name is John Friedman and my title is Director of Software Development.

In the late 70’s my interest in visual and audio art, math and science led me to investigate the use of digital technology for creative production and teach myself programming.

I started working with Innovations for Learning in 1997 after having been an independent contractor in educational software and the video-game industry for about 15 years.

I have some responsibility for almost every bit of technology that IFL uses, but my primary responsibility is managing our relationship with the development team located in Chennai, India.

There are no down periods in our development cycle; with Innovations as our first name, we are constantly developing new applications and upgrading and maintaining our existing technology.

My work day normally begins at 6 a.m. Central Time (I’m based in Chicago). That gives me a few hours of instant communications, either by chat or by phone with our developers before the end of their day in India. Tutoring on the East Coast starts around 7:30 Central; at that time, I also begin fielding requests and bug reports from IFL staff.

Most of the day is spent addressing staff needs, verifying reports of software defects, clarifying our requirements to our developers, and testing new releases. Meetings, staff requests and tutoring on the West Coast generally conclude by 5:30 p.m. Central. That’s when my day usually ends. But if there is a technology problem that prevents our teachers, students or tutors from using the system, I’ll keep on going.

And sometimes, problems crop up that demand greater urgency.

In those crisis situations, I will be involved in testing solutions to the problem that was delivered to us by the developers. The developers generally start their day around 9:30 a.m., India time, or 10 p.m. Central — although the business analyst I work most closely with frequently contacts me before and after her normal business hours. She and I will discuss the results of my testing and address the priorities for the next day. We usually talk no more than an hour or two, but occasionally I will also help the development team with testing through the middle of their day — meaning, the middle of my night.

Generally, these kinds of emergencies last no longer than a few days or a week, but on occasion they’ve continued for several weeks. No doubt many technologists would recognize this story.

There are several joys that I derive from working at IFL. Each member of the IFL staff is personable, expert in his or her field, and hard working. And even though we work remotely, I find their humor and camaraderie supportive and their expertise and commitment inspiring.

And though even more remote, I enjoy working with our developers, learning something of the slang and festivals in Chennai, and even trying, without much success, to learn some Tamil script and phrases. My Indian contacts are a lot more than voices at the other end of the phone calls, chats and emails. They’re individuals, and friends.

Whenever I hear some piece of information that a staff member picks up from a client regarding the growth of IFL — or a report of positive feedback from a tutor, teacher administrator or even researcher — it makes me feel proud to be a part of our organization: doing our best to do good.

Ultimately, I feel a sense of duty to everyone who relies on me to do my job as well as I can, whether our founder, funders, coworkers, partners, tutors, educators, students and families.

John Friedman

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