On May 4th, 2017, I celebrated my two year anniversary at Presence, our student engagement software company.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about the higher education technology sector and how much I’ve seen it grown in the past few years. It’s pretty amazing.
A bit of a background: I’m the Community Engagement Manager at Presence, and I talk often with student affairs professionals and campus partners while working on our latest marketing projects (like these fun and informative blog posts). I made the jump directly from the student affairs field, now working in higher education in a more broad sense. Since making the leap, it’s been an incredible journey.
I often get questions like, “Why did you leave student affairs? What made you want to start working in higher ed tech? Don’t you miss working with students?” I wish there were simple answers to all of these questions!
In this post, I hope to bring clarity to why people (maybe you!) should consider making the switch and all of the benefits you open yourself up to when you consider working at a higher ed tech company. Now that I have been working in the sector for a few years, I can speak to other companies and individuals positive experiences in higher ed tech.
I rounded up a few colleagues and I asked why they made the switch.
Reflecting on my own journey, I always found ways to incorporate tech or social media learnings into my role in student affairs. After learning how student engagement software was at the intersection of student affairs, technology, and higher education, I fell head over heels. I, too, wanted to get behind-the-scenes and help support students and student affairs professionals on a larger scale.
Let’s dive into some of the benefits, highlights, and new knowledge to gain from working at a higher ed tech company.
Moving technology forward in student affairs
One of the largest benefits of “leaving” student affairs is that I’ve never really left.
Higher education tech companies work alongside student affairs professionals every day. We have to stay up-to-date on the latest literature, news, and articles, and also understand the pulse in student affairs to stay relatable. I can’t tell you how many times a campus partner has asked us about programming ideas, and we want to be able to provide top resources while student affairs professionals do what they do best: Build in-person relationships with students.
Student affairs professionals need and want to utilize software tools to streamline their work processes. Often, things like residential life roommate contracts, assessment processes, and student organization management are bulky (and use lots of time and paper).
In a recent article by Academic Impressions, student affairs experts were asked what the future of student affairs will look like in the next three years. Paul Marthers, Vice President of Student Affairs at SUNY, said:
“Areas that I think might get renewed attention are: How to assess the effectiveness of student affairs programs, how to partner with chief diversity officers, and how to foster cross campus collaboration to raise retention and graduation rates.”
We move forward conversations around technology with student affairs and information technology (IT) professionals alike. Because higher ed tech companies are always iterating, we have to work with our end-user and form close relationships with our campus or educational partners.
Gaining diversified skills
Similar to student affairs, start-ups and higher ed tech companies want to hire individuals who can be resourceful with limited resources.
Sure, it can be a little intimidating at first if you feel like you don’t have any skills that match up. But if you take an index of the skills you have now, you can start to fill in the gaps if you want to make the move. What skills do you have now that are transferable? Things like project management, creative problem solving, and managing budgets are critical skills in many different sectors.
When I entered my marketing role, I was aware of the skills I needed to improve upon. For example, I’ve enrolled in a free codeacademy class to learn HTML & CSS to help me understand more about the basics of coding. There are positions where you may be able to more readily transfer a student affairs skillset, such as research development, customer service, or curriculum design.
My student affairs lens is also beneficial to our entire team. I have the opportunity to build, test, and provide feedback directly to software developers — and at times have pondered the possibility of becoming a software developer myself. Anything is possible!
One aspect of higher education technology I was immediately attracted to was the amount of change that occurred in the work environment. For the most part, the hierarchy is diminished and requires more self-motivation on projects. When disagreements occur, they’re met with an open mind, even when conflict is present. I’ve become more responsive to change, which I know a lot of my higher ed tech colleagues can speak to as well.
Benefits and company culture
Before I joined Presence, I didn’t really understand what company culture was. I understood campus culture, and how it was shaped by students, faculty, and staff. At software companies, you typically have a larger impact on company culture, and with all of the companies out there, you can find a place that you’d like to be a part of. I’ve learned that culture is exactly what each individual brings to the workplace – what you put into it is what you get out of it. For me, company culture is incredibly important because it manifests in everything we do in the company from software development to working with campus partners.
Typically in software companies, we play by less restricted rules and red tape compared to that of an institution, allowing for more collaboration and play. I know myself and many colleagues have experienced a vast amount of knowledge-sharing and transparency, which has only helped us all develop in our roles.
I’ve noticed that benefits across the board are in tune with workers’ needs, specifically work/life balance and self-care needs. Unlimited or recommended vacation days are popular, as well as flexible working hours and the option to work multiple days from home, as long as it doesn’t impact your quality of work. As our CEO Reuben Pressman says it, “As long as you’re kicking ass, we don’t care how you do your job.”
Along these same lines, I’ve noticed that your success is measured much more closely on results than hours spent on a project. Managers and employees focus more on quality over quantity, so if you say “I worked 50 hours last week” what does that really mean? We often look at quality and time as a balance in terms of measuring our efficiency and effectiveness as a team.
Considering the switch to higher ed tech
Unsure how to make the switch or get started?
- Volunteer your time at a STEM non-profit
- Volunteer as a product tester, if available
- Use days off to brush up on skills and network with people in the jobs or companies where you want to work
- Spend time at local ed-tech events and, if looking at an ed-tech startup, volunteer at a startup weekend
- Want to build your own ed-tech company from the ground up? Read more about our CEO Reuben Pressman’s story and how Presence started
Here are some awesome companies who are moving the needle with amazing tech:
Civitas Learning focuses on predictive analytics, best practices for design thinking, and work with campus partners to bring the best student success solutions to higher education.
Check out Civitas’ Careers page.
2U provides institutions with the ability to attract, enroll, educate, and support students globally.
Check out 2U’s Careers page.
Roompact focuses on digital residential education management such as roommate contracts, student concerns, and much more – they are working to streamline residence life and housing processes.
Check out Roompact’s On-Duty blog here.
Tassl offers a convenient way to understand if you’re alumni engagement strategy is working via data analytics and a streamlined management system.
Check Tassl’s blog here.
Maxient focuses on delivering streamlined student conduct management processes, specifically around student discipline, academic integrity, and Title IX concerns.
Check out Maxient’s site here.
With many opportunities leading to the higher ed tech realm, there are a number of companies and roles to consider if you’re thinking about making the switch.
Are you currently working at a higher education technology company? We’d love to hear from you.