Minerva Active Learning Forum
The Minerva Active Learning Forum is a real-time learning environment that gives Minerva students freedom to travel the world while taking classes. (You can learn more from our book Building the Intentional University.) As a tiny team in 2012, we designed and built a seminar environment that was seamless and closely tied to Minerva's Active Learning philosophy.
When I joined Minerva, the product team was 3 people, and there was no production software. I had the privilege of architecting the Active Learning Forum from the beginning—including the live seminar classroom and the courses system. With a fellow engineer, I then built the initial production application and DevOps stack and onboarded new team members as we hired them.
My primary goals were to create a robust, easy-to-change platform for learning that could easily adapt to student and faculty needs as Minerva evolved.
Active Learning Forum: How we got there
To establish a vision for the product—which didn't yet exist—we used Design Sprints (from Google Ventures) to develop our vision and roadmap for the product. After just a few of these, we had a plan that could be measured in years, not months. And we needed to make the vision a reality.
From a technical perspective, my goals with the architecture were:
- Balance flexibility with speed to support rapid iteration—without sacrificing quality
- Use clean modular interfaces to let the system's components evolve
- Create a seamless interface and real-time interactions using the best of browser technology
Some technologies we used included:
- Clojure/Compojure, and later Django REST Framework, as the REST API servers
- A simple Postgres database
- Redis pub/sub—in conjunction with asynchronous Clojure and Websockets—for all real-time interactions
- A hosted video provider
Since the initial application, the team has grown and has developed Minerva technology into the robust and delightful learning system that it is today.
Being Founding Engineer was satisfying because I got to wear lots of hats. Outside of product team work, I got to play a part in milestones led by other departments:
- Brand & voice creation
- Recruiting brilliant students from all over the world to Minerva through Ascent Weekend (student preview weekend)
These experiences were formative and pushed me to become a Product Manager.