Kaplan Inc. is a leading international provider of education and career services with over 31,000 employees. They provide English language education through 45 schools and university partnership programs in North America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region.
“All the X-Teamers who worked on our team brought something unique to the table.” (Danielle Chircop, Kaplan)
Each year, Kaplan trains over 100,000 students to communicate in English and prepares students for English speaking degree programs. KITE™ is Kaplan's global English language assessment system for all Kaplan programs, as well as for commercial clients globally.
X-Team helped Kaplan open opportunities for institutional testing that were previously impossible.
Danielle Chircop, Product Director at Kaplan, partnered up with X-Team in January 2014. She’s been working with X-Team ever since. What stood out to her was how X-Team really cares for its developers and how they always want to learn new things, something that translates into the work they provide for Kaplan. Here we interview Danielle on how she heard of X-Team and what her experience has been since.
Can you describe your role?
My role is transitioning right now. For the last five years, since we started working with X-Team, I’ve been the Product Owner of a divisional startup within the larger Kaplan business. My job was to oversee the development of the product through its entire lifecycle.
In five years, we’ve grown the product quite a bit: we’ve made it agnostic and usable throughout the greater Kaplan business. As a result, we’re now being integrated into the Kaplan Professional division, which handles education for professional certifications. For me, this means I’m now going to be working with more of Kaplan Professional’s, customer-facing technology. This includes, but is not limited to, KITE.
That sounds busy, but exciting. You mentioned you’ve been working with X-Team for five years. How did you hear about us?
We started working together with X-Team in January 2014. Prior to finding X-Team, we’d been looking for engineers for something like six months, if not for longer. Finding good resources was really hard. We made a number of bad hires and decided to open up an office in Santa Monica. But even with an office space there, we couldn’t find the right hires. It was really hard to find the right fit.
But then I spoke with someone that I really liked. He was exactly the kind of personality I was looking for, except that he was getting married and moving to Texas and couldn’t work for us. Remember, we were looking for someone to be face to face at that time. However, he told me he’d been working with X-Team’s engineers at Riot Games and he thought they’d be exactly the people I was looking for. So I filled out the contact form on your website, and that’s how it all started.
And what were some of the criteria you had when looking for software engineers?
Well, I didn’t know what criteria I had or needed. At that point, the majority of our projects were mostly print-based. We were pretty good at setting up the entire workflow and product lifecycle for a print-based project, but I’d never developed any kind of software before, so I didn’t know what I was looking for. I knew where we ultimately need to end up from an operational perspective, but I had no idea how to translate that into creating software.
So what I wanted was a team that would ask me a lot of questions and didn’t just do what I told them to. Because, to be honest, if they’d just done what I’d told them to do, we probably wouldn’t have had much of a product. Now, things are different, considering I have more experience in the field, but working with X-Team ultimately changed the way I thought about this process.
“I've never met a team of people that ever work harder.” (Danielle Chircop)
How has X-Team impacted the success of your department?
We’ve kept the team as lean and as agile as possible. Despite our growth and despite integrating with more parts of the business recently, we’ve always been able to stay really efficient, which has been good. Another thing that’s been really positive is that I travel all the time. If I had an entire team based in one place working traditional hours, we would bottleneck much more. But because we have a lot of flexibility, we can always figure out a way to meet each other in the middle. That helps a lot too.
That’s good to hear! And how is X-Team currently integrated with Kaplan?
We work across four major geographical locations: the US, Australia, the UK, and China. We own products in all four regions. There are different teams too, cross-functional teams to support those products. X-Team touches all four of our regions and all the Kaplan teams that we work together with there.
As a final question, what advice would you have for companies considering to work with X-Team?
If you’re a completely co-located business, you’ll want to think about the way you work. You can’t expect to airdrop in a couple of remote people and achieve a great return. Adjust the way you think about working and you’ll become a lot more productive and more efficient.
You have really great brains at your disposal, who are capable of wonderful things, so you don’t want to exclude or underutilize them. If you really invest time and effort to structure your workflow, you can get plenty out of working with X-Team.