PKG Social Impact Internships: David Ulloa (’23)

Hello, my name is David Ulloa, and I work as a Data Engineering intern at Cognitive Toybox. CTB is an educational technology company that develops pre-K student assessment tools for teachers and schools. In my role, I develop the reports that teachers see where all the data is aggregated and summarized so that teachers can adjust their teaching strategies and identify the strengths and weaknesses of their students.

Through interning at Cognitive Toybox this past summer, I’ve learned a lot of things. As a software developer, I’ve learned multiple new tools and systems to work with large streams of data and, for the first time, how to handle a large code base with multiple developers working concurrently. I also learned how integral communication is while working with a team, especially in a remote environment, to ensure that onboarding, bug-fixing, and overall development goes smoothly for rapid iteration–all of which is crucial in the startup environment.

However, while I do think the above is important, it’s not the primary reason I decided to do an internship at an edTech startup. In reality, I wanted to learn two things: what the culture was like at a startup and how the startup community is working together to solve different social issues including education, specifically for people of low socio-economic status who often don’t have access to quality instructors or instruction tools.

Going into this internship, I had this image in my mind that startups are highly cutthroat, heavily profit-driven, and in general not as helpful to the community and society as a whole in combating social issues compared to government programs. My short time at Cognitive Toybox has flipped that perception entirely. While I was working there, I often saw that my coworkers would always go the extra mile to not only address the concerns that some teachers and administrators had, but bake those fixes into our system so it’d never be an issue again. From my experience working with the code, it was obvious that I was only seeing the tail end of all this iteration as there were lots of different edge cases and utility built in for any potential request, likely from experience. Not only this, but during meetings where we discussed various product-related things, we made it a point to talk about exactly how each feature would help the teacher. While discussing profit was important in ensuring that the operation stays afloat, it always took a backseat to making sure that we delivered a quality product.

On that note, I observed something unexpected yet incredible during my internship. At some investment meetings I attended as part of my desire to learn about all the facets of running a startup, I got to see presentations from myriad different startups all tackling different relevant social issues. They ranged from CTB’s focus on preschool assessment to interpersonal loan organization to clothing for African-American women. Even better, the reason that particular meeting was so dense in companies tackling social issues was that that was specifically what the investors were looking for. Several companies were willing to invest lots of money into these companies with the hopes that they’d really make an impact in closing the wealth and social gaps. This gives me renewed hope that startups like Cognitive Toybox, investors, and even large companies are genuinely working toward these goals that are so important to me.

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Tags: Data & Research, K-12 Education, Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships Summer 2021

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