*Cue the sound of Auld Lang Syne and popping corks resonating softly in the background*
2019 was a year of growth at Amplified Labs – we launched some visionary new products, learned new development techniques, gave the people what they wanted – live chat support! – and added three new people to the team. As we look ahead to what 2020 brings, let’s take a few moments to reminisce over the past year and get to know the new team members!
What was new in 2019?
Much of the beginning of the year was spent making big bets on the future, with our engineers focused on expanding their skills to create more robust and user-friendly tools. Our early tools, like Gopher for Chrome, operate in Google Sheets, relying on the team’s unique expertise in Google Apps Script and the publishing of Google Docs Add-ons.. Our desktop applications, like the Little SIS Sync Agent, require a good bit more design and backend expertise, using Angular.js on the front end, and Node.js and a variety of database technologies on the backend. All of our tools utilize Google APIs to obtain and update data.
This year, however, the team moved towards developing “full stack” web applications, focusing both on the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that support the tools, as well as the speed, user experience, and design aesthetics that we all expect from modern web apps. Upskilling and expanding the team meant that we were able to deploy two brand spankin’ new web applications in 2019!
Backpack for Google Drive, a robust Google-centric digital student portfolio curation and 21st-century learning assessment system that was developed in close partnership with Jefferson County Public Schools, was our first web app release this year. Originally prototyped in Google’s App Maker platform, Backpack was deployed to the first round of beta districts as individual App Maker instances, which meant separate domain installs and code for every district using the tool. The decision to transform Backpack into a full stack web application was prompted by convenience – what a pain it was to update the same code for every district – but more importantly, by user feedback. We needed to be able to provide a more performant solution: one where we could better integrate feature requests into the live product for teacher and student use. Now we have a much more performant application that has supported 132,000 students and teacher in 2019, who submitted over 1.3 million individual student artifacts!
Second on the web application launch list was Little SIS for Classroom (the completely new, web application version), which was first released in early Spring 2019 to our Admin Tools Unlimited subscribers. Affectionately dubbed “the missing Admin Console for Google Classroom,” Little SIS allows school districts to peek under the hood in Google Classroom, perform bulk actions, and grant delegated access to a range of powerful Classroom admin privileges for anyone in their district. Building on the data we have historically displayed in the sister desktop application, Little SIS Sync Agent, Little SIS for Classroom is a robust web app with real-time reporting, visibility, and administrative powers over all Google Classroom classes on a G Suite domain. We spent the first several months after release iterating weekly, or even more often, using beta customer feedback to prompt feature updates and bug fixes. We held weekly customer feedback panels in May and June, and released the app to the general public in June, where we’re now seeing an average weekly user base of 200+!
You asked – we listened! Live chat launched this summer in most of our tools and on our Help Center. One of our biggest goals for 2019 was to greatly improve the overall support experience for our tools, and thanks to a very fortuitous hire (more on that below), we were able to not only dramatically reduce the first response and resolution time on our support tickets, but we were also able to test and launch in-tool chat support for real time answers to your most pressing questions. We answered over 900 chats from the launch in April until December!
In addition to these new large-scale releases, we also released bug fixes and performance updates throughout 2019 for all of our Sheets Add-ons, and a slew of updates for the Little SIS Sync Agent application.
Who was new in 2019?
2019 brought us three new hires for the Labs team – Andrea Frendo in Support and Onboarding, and Jason Sadler and Geraint Anderson in Engineering. Read on to get acquainted with them and learn about their role on the team.
Andrea Frendo joined the team in April as an Onboarding and Support Consultant, having previously worked in a neighboring school district’s Chromebook and Support team. There, she managed a 70,000 Chromebook deployment, supporting the district’s one to one initiative for grades 1-12. Last year, she bravely moved all Chromebook repairs in house and managed the team in charge of repairing damaged devices. Here at Amplified IT, Andrea has taken ownership of the Support process and rolled out live chat in Gopher for Chrome in her first few months in the job. Andrea is based in the home office in Norfolk, Virginia, and when she’s not working she enjoys spending time with her fur baby, Maverick.
Jason Sadler joined Amplified IT in early November, and is based in our Norfolk office. He has developed websites and web apps professionally for the last 14 years. Prior to joining Amplified IT, Jason most recently worked as a Senior Software Engineer with Brave Software, based in San Francisco, developing the rewards features for the company’s flagship product, Brave Browser, built on the Chromium platform. Jason takes pride in coding and seeing the results of his work come to life. Since he joined us, he has been spending a lot of time reimagining the infrastructure that powers some of our Gopher tools. In his spare time, Jason enjoys spending time with his family, vacationing, and video games.
Geraint Anderson joined us two weeks after Jason at the end of November. He has been working in software development for 8 years, building a range of applications for government, charity, and business use. He enjoys finding simple solutions to complex problems and specializes in building intuitive web apps. Prior to joining Amplified IT, he built a system to remotely update TV screens in some of the UK’s largest football stadiums, and led the development of a suite of applications for emergency response. He’s spending his time these days getting started with improvements to Little SIS for Classroom. Outside of work, Geraint loves spending time outdoors kayaking, mountain biking, and kite surfing. He is based in St. Annes, England.
What’s next in 2020?
With some extra hands on deck for 2020, we have some big plans underway to bring improvements to current tools, and to debut some new ideas as well. The team is continuing the work they’ve done in 2019 on Backpack for Drive, adding more features — like the ability for teachers and students to engage in threaded feedback — in the coming weeks. We’re also planning some key fixes and new releases in Little SIS for Classroom, including additional report offerings for end users to analyze Google Classroom use in greater detail using heatmap visualizations. We’re also spending some time reimagining the way we store and surface data in Gopher for Chrome and Gopher Buddy, with the goal of providing richer and more longitudinal device activity reporting, much faster in-tool performance. Finally, we are nurturing some new ideas for Gopher tools, and have a few already in mind from customer conversations over the past year.
Our mission is to create tools that reimagine the way that work gets done in schools, and we’re always keen to hear your thoughts on current tools, as well as your new tool ideas. In our Helpdesk, we have Feature Request boards (Suggest New Features button) for all of our current tools located in the tool’s main page. Feel free to upvote current requests — this is where we look for tool improvements — or add in your own if you have a great idea that would help you in your day to day. If you have an idea for a tool that we’re not currently offering, feel free to email us — firstname.lastname@example.org — with “Tool Idea” in the subject line.
Data, Implementation, and Engagement Consultant
About the Author:
Melanie lives in Virginia and is based in Amplified IT’s home office located in Norfolk. One of the first members to join the Amplified IT team, Melanie has worn many hats at the company. She most enjoys interfacing with customers and helping them implement tools that solve common pain points and frustrations. Today she leads the onboarding and interfacing with Labs tool clients, making lives easier and breezier one implementation at a time.