STEP UP FOR STUDENTS
Dedicated Nearshore Development Team Helps Nonprofit Continue to Fund Scholarships During COVID Pandemic
- Education Nonprofit
- Dedicated Development Team Placement
- Code Path Assessment; Offshore Vetting, Screening, and Staffing; Ongoing Support
- 150+ employees
- Florida, USA
If you’re not familiar with the term ‘sprint velocity,’ it’s kind of like a speedometer for how much you can develop in a given sprint. Our needle was pretty low because we just didn’t have the staff. We had a project with a very specific velocity number that we needed to hit in each sprint to meet the delivery of a minimum viable product by a specific deadline date. We were very concerned about how long it would take to staff up and onboard new people, but with Praxent’s help I can tell you we did it, and as of today that the last two sprints have exceeded the velocity figures we needed to see .“So in terms of a metric, I think we have very clear evidence that the people [Praxent have] brought on have been impactful and that they have helped us. … We also got a lot of great help from Kevin, Ryan, Eric, different people in the organization with our best practices. Those were consultative services we weren’t even charged for because the vendor cared. That’s not something you see every day. … For us as a nonprofit, we really felt that Praxent was the right partner for us, and Praxent has come through.— Craig Gonsalves, VP, IT Solutions, Step Up for Students
Step Up for Students is a Florida nonprofit scholarship funding organization that empowers families to pursue and engage in the most appropriate learning options for their children, with an emphasis on families who lack the information and financial resources to access these options. With more than 991,000 scholarships awarded since 2002 through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, Step Up for Students currently facilitates the administration of five scholarships that support 120,000+ school children.
The client was juggling legislative changes and a fluctuating IT staff while struggling to maintain legacy software that couldn’t keep up with its increasingly critical mission—all during a global pandemic. They engaged Praxent to help them build their team by attracting, vetting, and placing high-quality engineers within their organization.
What they got was not just a staffing vendor but a true development partner that is as passionate about the mission of Step Up for Students as they are. Praxent conducted a CodePath Assessment to evaluate the client’s technical priorities and see how their team stacked up. The Praxent team then worked within the client’s time and budget constraints to deliver a handpicked team, primarily composed of high-performing Latin American software engineers, that hit the ground running.
Step Up For Students was thrilled not only with the team’s results but with the ongoing support they received from Praxent leadership, and they are looking forward to continuing the engagement long term.
Six days from contract to kick off
4 engineers selected from a vetting pool of 730 candidates
4 placements within 18 days
“We’re a small nonprofit; we’re not a technical IT organization. So we knew we needed to find a partner that could help us with professional, high-quality, experienced IT professionals. We went through an exhaustive search, and [Praxent] topped the list.
Craig Gonsalves, VP, IT Solutions, Step Up for Students
Team attrition and difficulty competing in a competitive hiring market
How We Helped
Technical Debt Assessment
At the start of the engagement, Praxent conducted a fast but thorough, unbiased CodePath Assessment to audit the company’s existing technology and development practices to get a sense of where the team stood. The assessment benchmarked Step Up For Students in six critical areas:
- Product Management
- User Experience
- Software Flexibility
- Development Practices
- Quality Assurance
- Staffing Risk
Delivered the results in a report, with a prioritized list of recommendations to reduce technical debt and risk.
Dedicated Development Team
Offshore developer sourcing in Latin American countries.
Developer staff augmentation services
Three part candidate vetting consisting of screening, technical and biographical interviewing.
Placed 4 senior, cost-effective and high quality developers within 18 days.
Removed hundreds of thousands of lines of useless code.
Exceeded Step Up For Student’s sprint velocity target numbers on one project for two-consecutive sprints.
“When we were onboarding, Craig and I were having a rough time with attrition. I remember us sitting on a call with Kevin. We didn’t have any tactical agenda; it was more like they were just there to listen to us. They could sense our frustration with what was going on: ‘How can we get out of this?’ and ‘Is this normal?’ Just helping us with how to get out of this rut that we’re in and how to better hire people. It was very nice.”
Gina Lynch, COO, Step Up for Students
Like many nonprofits seeking to recruit top development talent in a highly competitive, global market, Step Up for Students was simply unable to compete. By mid 2020, the talent pool in their small Florida city had all but dried up even as the COVID-19 pandemic was opening a world of opportunities for their U.S.-based developers to literally name their price, set their hours, and work remotely.
Their biggest challenge was attrition: how to hold on to the staff they had in such a competitive market and at the same time quickly find, recruit, screen, hire, and onboard new team members to keep vital projects moving.
They lacked access to highly skilled development talent and needed a partner who could provide it to them immediately and at a price they could afford so they wouldn’t lose momentum.
How We Helped
Step Up for Students conducted an exhaustive search and chose Praxent because of the immediate connection they felt, as well as genuine concern for the mission, as opposed to other vendors’ sales-driven approaches. They knew from the level of knowledgeable, unbiased, compassionate feedback they received early on that Praxent would be a partner that would care and be there for them long term.
At the start of the engagement, Praxent conducted a fast but thorough, unbiased CodePath assessment to audit the company’s existing technology and development practices to get a sense of where the team stood. Step Up For Students found the assessment to be extremely intuitive and actionable. Praxent then went to work on providing high-quality contractors that required little ramp-up time and immediately started development.
Praxent leadership made themselves fully available, maintaining almost daily communication with the client from day one of the onboarding phase, something the client again felt set them apart from other vendors.
“They were very supportive and willing to do anything to help the customer. We have calls with them just to see how things are going and what they can do for us. … They’ve given me books to read about hiring and helped us with hiring processes for staff and for things that don’t have anything to do with Praxent, just for our internal staffing up. I don’t know a lot of vendors that would do that.”
Craig Gonsalves, VP, IT Solutions, Step Up for Students
Step Up for Students depends on its legacy software for day-to-day operations and oversight of its scholarship programs; however, its small internal engineering team lacked the capacity necessary to maintain it while still delivering on all of their other projects. Praxent conducted a CodePath Assessment to help the client quickly evaluate the health and long-term viability of their custom software assets as well as identify a path toward eliminating their operational risk, laying the groundwork for ongoing technology innovation.
Using a scoring system that assigns values from 0 to 120, the CodePath Assessment evaluates an organization’s effectiveness vis-a-vis its legacy software in six areas:
1.Product Management: How well aligned are your business and technology initiatives?
2.User Experience: How effective are users at leveraging your software investment?
3. Software Flexibility: How adaptable is your software to evolving business needs?
4. Development Practices: How effective and efficient is your development team?
5. Quality Assurance: How often does your software malfunction?
6. Staffing Risk: How dependent are you on your current software developer?
How an organization scores in these areas indicates whether they should stay the course, invest in an upgrade, bring in new leadership, or consider a rewrite or new software. Praxent delivered the results in a report, with a prioritized list of recommendations to reduce technical debt and risk.
The client was able to quickly build a high-performing, highly motivated team of expert software engineers thanks to the access Praxent provided them with to top Latin American candidates, and they experienced positive results from their new hires from day one. During his first week on the job, one of the engineers removed potentially hundreds of thousands of lines of useless code in the system and was immediately moved to a more complex project.
While they were initially concerned about losing momentum on projects with so many new staff to onboard, they instead saw an increase in velocity and were able to exceed their target numbers on one project for two-consecutive sprints. Other projects that had been lagging are now back on track.
Having now completed four statements of work (SOWs), the client says they appreciate how straightforward the process is with Praxent and that there’s no unnecessary complexity involved in getting MSAs and SOWs written and approved.
“Praxent is very clearly behind the people they serve. They’re not trying to hide behind legal and contractual terms; they just want to get everything done and help. … Objectivity, compassion, support. Those are the key things that jump out at me.“I see the partnership continuing. Long term we will need some people from Praxent to continue with us. The compatibility of our organization working with the Praxent team is high; it’s been a great experience.”
Craig Gonsalves, VP, IT Solutions, Step Up for Students
“Step Up for Students was in a very vulnerable position staffing-wise. We had been undergoing sweeping changes with some of our core development team that helped us deliver on our mission: to empower families to pursue and engage in the most appropriate learning options for their kids. We have 120,000-plus children on our scholarship programs today, and we’re trying to give those children more opportunities for a better education. That comes in the form of an educational savings account and the Florida legislature is helping us by making those changes and helping the scholarship community also by making those changes. Which means that we’ve got a lot of changes to make on our platform to adopt into that.
We found ourselves in a position where we weren’t ready to undertake those changes. We wanted more flexibility. One year, we can get a lot of work from the legislature changes—in some cases internally as well to build efficiencies and things like that—and then another year, it can be a lot smaller. So we need to staff up, we need to staff down.
We’re a small nonprofit; we’re not a technical IT organization. So we knew we needed to find a partner that could help us with professional, high-quality, experienced IT professionals. We went through an exhaustive search, and Praxent were the ones that topped the list.
We have much older software that we’re struggling to maintain, also a lack of staffing. I would say, for us in Jacksonville, I find that we don’t have a very wide talent pool to draw from in terms of our staff. It’s a small town, and people move through those people very quickly, so being able to tap into Latin American resources really helped us.
They brought new pools of employable people to us—people we would want on our teams—very quickly.
With the pandemic, I noticed what a lot of people are noticing: IT jobs are not local anymore; they don’t need to be local. Our IT staff, just like all other companies’ IT staff, can look across the country now, work from home, work for people who are on the East and the West coast, and make higher salaries. It’s very quick to get out if they want to.
We’re finding no matter what benefits or offerings we can give, there was always something shinier out there, and the pandemic made that easier for people to find. Either it was they have something I want to play with, or I can work less hours because they’re on the West coast, or they’re paying me more. We had a challenge with just how do we maintain software people?
We had someone field a number of vendors for us, and there were two that I spoke to. They were both very high quality, but I knew when I spoke to Praxent, right off the bat, the conversation felt very genuine. It felt like it came from a very neutral spot, not ‘This is how you should be doing things in IT.’ It was very much, ‘We want to understand before we do anything,’ and ‘We’ll work with you however you think is best. We’ll make recommendations; you don’t have to listen to them.’ It was very neutral, very unbiased, and very early on, I realized this was a partner that would care and that would be there for us.
The other partners just wanted to say what it took to get us to sign on the dotted line. They literally said that. They were very sales oriented, versus Praxent was very driven on the mission and what we needed.
There was a level of compassion in speaking with Kevin Hurwitz and the other people he had on the phone call that came right through. There was no guessing; I knew really quickly that this would be the right fit for us.
In our capacity with Praxent, what they brought to the table was a CodePath assessment that let us know where our IT department really stood in the world of IT departments.
They gave us a very fair and factual, unbiased CodePath assessment that was extremely intuitive and that we were able to interpret. It was also very actionable. That was something we needed; we needed to hear that. They also provided much-needed, high-quality staff for us: contractors to come in and learn. They just jumped right in and they went.
We also got a lot of great help from Kevin, Ryan, Eric, different people in the organization to help us with our best practices. Those were consultative services we weren’t even charged for, because the vendor cared. That’s not something you see every day.
For us as a nonprofit, we really felt that Praxent was the right partner for us, and Praxent has come through.
I don’t work day to day with the staff that we actually brought on, but it almost felt like day to day that we were talking with people like Kevin Hurwitz and Ryan Ostrom, and it was good. The conversations were very easy; they made us very comfortable. They were very supportive and willing to do anything to help the customer. I truly felt that from them, and to this day, I maintain that. We have calls with them just to see how things are going and what they can do for us and ‘What questions do you have about IT in general? How are you doing this? And have you ever thought about this? They’ve given me books to read about hiring and helped us with hiring processes for stuff and for things that don’t have anything to do with Praxent, just for our internal staffing up. I don’t know a lot of vendors that would do that.”
When we were onboarding, Craig and I were having a rough time with attrition. I remember us sitting on a call with Kevin. We didn’t have any tactical agenda; it was more like they were just there to listen to us. They could sense our frustration with what was going on: ‘How can we get out of this?’ and ‘Is this normal?’ It was just a friendly conversation. Just helping us with how to get out of this rut that we’re in and how to better hire people. It was very nice.
Offshoring Pros and Cons
As a nonprofit, we pay differently, and we can’t compete. Praxent brings to us the Latin American employment market. For us, that’s a big thing. It gives us that advantage; we can now compete. They hired a lead developer. We had been looking for one since January. Three months is a long time.
My assumption based on how fast they’re ramping up is that—and it’s consistent with what I’ve seen in the Latin American software engineering community—they’re thirsty. They’re hungry to do good work. And they value working for a U.S. company, because with the U.S. company experience, they can get a job anywhere in their country just by knowing they worked for an American firm. Everybody wants that U.S.-based experience.
If you’re not familiar with this term ‘sprint velocity,’ it’s kind of like a speedometer for how much you can develop and how fast. Our needle was pretty much around the zero figure, because we really just didn’t have the staff. They had moved on to different areas and moved outside of Step Up for Students. We have a project that has a very specific velocity number that must be hit per sprint. We were very concerned about how long it would take people to staff up and learn and onboard. I can tell you today that the last two sprints have exceeded those numbers.
So in terms of a metric, I think we have very clear evidence that the people we’ve brought on have been impactful and that they have helped us. The first week that one of them started—I believe his name is Juan—he removed potentially hundreds of thousands of lines of useless code in our system. He was very quickly identified to be a person that we could use on more complicated projects, and we moved him to a more complex project. The very first week it was clear to us about Praxent’s hiring process – I know that they use the ‘who’ method for hiring and scorecards. It is an astounding metric to look at, that Praxent have people who are that effective that quickly. It goes beyond Juan to just looking at the velocity and how well we’re doing, so I’m so pleased.
Every week we were showing the status report of some of our major projects, and they were in the red, which is just bad. Now they’re all on track. So there’s something to be said there.
I see the partnership continuing. Long term we will need some people from Praxent to continue with us. The compatibility of working with the Praxent team is there; it’s been great.
There’s no unnecessary complexity involved in getting MSAs written, in getting statements of work written and approved—it’s very straightforward. Praxent is very clearly behind the people they serve. They’re not trying to hide behind all kinds of legal terms or things like that; they just want to get everything done and help. I would say that that is very evident.
Based on the four statements of work and the one MSA that we’ve signed with them, that objectivity, compassion, support. Those are the key things that jumped out at me.”
— Gina Lynch, COO and Craig Gonsalves, VP, IT Solutions – Step Up for Students