LCL2021: Career Panel: Education Technology (aka Ed Tech)

LCL2021: Career Panel: Education Technology (aka Ed Tech)

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Welcome to the Education Technology Session. I'm Kaitlyn Tagarelli, As I said, I work at Mango Languages, so I think that's how I became here as moderator of this panel. And we have Rachel as our support person. Hi, there she is.

Thank you. So we are going to talk to some panelists who have had different routes from linguistics to education technology. We have Sam Cooper from No Red Ink, Emily Moline from Duolingo and Anastassia Loukina from ETS.

I'm going to let them each introduce themselves and tell you a bit more about themselves. I have some questions prepared to get the conversation going and then toward the end, we'll make sure that you all have a chance to ask your questions as well. So I'd like to start by giving each of you a chance to introduce yourselves. Would anyone like to go first? You can tell us a little bit about who you are, what you're doing and how you got there, in a couple minutes. [Anastassia Loukina] I can go first. [Kaitlyn] Okay, perfect.

My name is Anastassia Loukina. I'm currently managing senior research scientist in NLP and Speech Group, which is now called AI Labs at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). I started my linguistics journey as a modern Greek scholar, and I started it as a specialist in modern Greek and actually Byzantine Studies, and I did my Ph.D. in Oxford in phonetics, and my Ph.D.

was on phonetic variation in modern Greek. So I went to Greek villages, I recorded elderly speakers, I looked at how their speech compares to each other. After that, I stayed in Oxford and I did a postdoc which was also in phonetics, but moving more into more technical aspects and into machine learning. And after that, I came to ETS as an Associate Research Scientist, and I've been here for eight years since 2013.

And what I have been doing here, we're building NLP powered backends for various educational applications, that could be automated scoring engine for speech. It could be backend for reading tutors, it could be backend for learning applications. And at this point of my career, I'm primarily managing other people who are doing research or engineering into how to build the backhand that then provides feedback on your speech. [Kaitlyn] Great. That's so interesting.

I'm excited to hear more about how you made that link from phonetics to NLP. Sam, would you like to go next? [Sam] Sure. Okay. So my name is Sam Cooper.

You might be able to tell, but I'm originally from the UK, but currently based out of San Francisco, where I work for No Red Ink, which is an education tech company, that creates writing and grammar curriculum for grades 5-12. I did a B.A. in German and Linguistics at the University of Oxford and during that time had a student job teaching English in the summers in Germany, which set me on the path of becoming an ESL teacher. After university, I spent five years in Spain teaching English as a foreign language to really all levels of absolute beginners to extremely fluent people all ages, from 7 to, I think about 70-ish, so very diverse teaching experience. And when I moved to California for personal reasons, I had to find something new to do.

And Ed Tech was it [Kaitlyn] Great, thank you. Okay, I just see in the chat that some people are a little bit confused about what the "backend" is before we get on to Emily, Anastassia do you want to explain that? [Anastassia] I explained in the chat, sorry for using the specialist terms, so "backend" is actually the piece of software in the back that will take your response to the essay or your recorded response, do various processing and then give back a score or feedback. So this is what we call "backend" the software that processes what you give it.

[Kaitlyn] Thanks. Okay, and Emily. [Emily] Yeah, hi everyone. I'm Emily Moline. My background to Duolingo is, you know, similarly, I started out in a more traditional research perspective, kind of like Anastassia, I got my Ph.D. in Linguistics from UC Davis in 2018. My focus is on Applied Linguistics and Sociolinguistics, and my dissertation was on kind of an applied research perspective looking at adult literacy, English teaching. So I'd always been interested in the applied aspects of language teaching but from this more theoretical perspective.

I also -- similar to Sam -- have a lot of experience teaching English both at the college level as well as also to English learners in Spain as it turns out. So for me, I was sort of just interested in exploring other options outside of academia. I was into the idea and still am that educational technology can have a really outsize impact for folks like us who have linguistics backgrounds and ideas about teaching and scaling language. So my first job was a kind of funny one at a marketing company doing professional naming of products. That was me playing out with what it would be like to use my linguistics degree in other places. That didn't feel like a great fit to me,

so when the Duolingo opportunity came along, that felt more relevant to my background in applied linguistics and theories of teaching. So at Duolingo, I am a curriculum designer, and I think about how to apply the best practices of language teaching and pedagogy to an app. So the skills that I honed in the classroom and through my research, looking at the role of oracy in literacy learning, I now think about teaching to millions of people, which is very different and full of lots of interesting challenges, and at Duolingo, I have done specific work on certain courses like the English course for speakers of Spanish and the English course for speaker of Russian, which are separate courses entirely as you can imagine. But I've also consulted on various aspects, like our teaching of speaking through live events and other languages that are teaching non-English languages to folks with a background in English. So, a variety of things.

[Kaitlyn] Great, thank you so much. I'm really excited to hear more from all of you. So you talked a bit about your career paths, and the first thing I wanted to ask you is how did you get your first job after graduating with your linguistics degree? What did you do to get that job? [Emily] I mean, for me -- I think you will hear this a lot, but I was casting a broad net, I was applying to a lot of different things. As I mentioned, this first job that I had wasn't one that really felt like a good fit for me.

I was there for kind of a fellowship for a year. So that's another tip. You know, your first job that you get doesn't have to be your forever job also. But I had just applied blind to the website. I didn't know anybody. That being said, I also did a ton of informational interviews.

And that's another thing that people have probably told you to do, and I highly do encourage you to take them up on that. It was just a great way for me to get a sense of what was out there and what kinds of skills were needed. I started doing those when I was still in grad school, and I also really found them super valuable to understand the landscape of jobs, and it helped me to prepare for the Duolingo job. I knew that at that point that was something that was more appealing to me because I had done four or five informational interviews by that point. [Katilyn] Great, so that was just like an application that you saw online that you applied to? Great. And did you have informational interviews with people that were at that company or in sort of other areas? [Emily] So I didn't for that job, but it would have been a good idea for me to do that, and that is something that is available for you to do, to reach out to folks who are at that company before actually submitting an application.

That's helpful, both for you to get a sense of what they do, as well as to tailor your application and your cover letter better to more accurately capture what the role's actually going to be [Kaitlyn] Okay. Sam, would you like to tell us next about how you got your first job? [Sam] Yeah, well, my first job out of university was a teaching job. There was a little bit of a gap between me graduating from university and me getting that job because I had intended to go to grad school and graduated in a recession, and the funding was not there.

So I had to take a minute to think about next steps and ended up qualifying as an EFL teacher. That's a separate course that you need to do in order to be able to teach in some of the more reputable schools. I had a lot of clarity going into That knowing that I wanted to teach, and I don't know that I really considered that many other options until several years later.

So for me, the question was just like, "Okay, what country am I going to live in?" Because I figured, "Hey, I have a German degree, I'll go to live in Germany." But turns out there's not a huge need for private English teachers out there the same way that there was in Spain. So that was serendipitous, and linguistics kind of led into that very nicely because obviously when you spend all of that time really analyzing grammar and how language works, that translates quite well into explaining that to other people. So it turned out to be very easy to get jobs as a linguist who became an ESL teacher. [Kaitlyn] Yeah, that's a great point. All that stuff that's kind of intuitive to native speakers is hard to explain.

And if you're studying it, that comes up there and that's a really good and important skill that we develop as linguists. Anastassia? [Anastassia] I was trying to think what was my first job, and it's hard to pin down the exact first job because I had a lot of linguistics-related jobs since undergrad. I worked as a translator and interpreter for many years, and then I was teaching modern languages, I was teaching Modern Greek for three or four years, I'm trying to remember for how many years, And I was also head of Modern Greek Library Collection In Oxford for four or five years. So I've had all those jobs, and each of them I found either through personal network or just seeing an application and applying. And definitely at the end, all those jobs helped me to get my current job because they all taught me different aspects. So I would generally encourage you to just be very open and to go for different types of jobs, because when I'm now hiring people, I always like to see this diversity.

You know, you had a bit of language teaching experience, you have a bit of that experience, you have a bit of that experience. My real full time job after graduation, after my Ph.D., was the postdoc, and that was actually not particularly interesting, partly because that was postdoc in my own lab. So I knew the person who was hiring and they needed somebody and they just asked, "Would you like to be on our grant?" So that was a very easy transition, but the one that's difficult to arrange. The next job was the same as everybody else.

I was applying to many different positions. I got a number of interviews, and the position at ETS was the one that I liked most that seemed to be most relevant to my skills. [Kaitlyn] Interesting.

So I think it's really interesting to see how for all three of you, there are lots of kind of different tactics that worked or different ways of getting jobs that worked over the course of your career. So in some cases, it's really about casting a broad net and actually applying to these jobs that you see online. And then other times there's a bit of networking happening. [Anastassia] One area that I know is not very common in linguistics but is very common in computer sciences, is internships. [Kaitlyn] Internships. [Anastassia] (Keep an) open eye for internships, because often they look for An NLP person they might actually hire linguists.

And we certainly always value people who did industry internships. [Kaitlyn] Mm-hmm. That's good to know, yeah.

All right, so when you are updating your resume, either for your job search or even now as you keep things updated or have you had interviews, how do you talk about your skills as a linguist? [Emily] So the thing that I feel to be true regarding at least my particular role at Duolingo and what we look for is that we understand that if you have a Ph.D. in linguistics, that you can do linguistics, that is not called into doubt. It is if you are going in the academic route and you're worried about tenure and you're worried about standing in front of a room of people asking you hard questions about your paper, but when you're applying to a job, people will assume that you can do linguistics stuff. What they aren't sure of, coming from academia as if you can manage a project, if you can interact with colleagues, if you can deliver something in one week that you'd rather have one month to do. Those are the kinds of skills that I think you might have to prove in industry than in academia. It's kind of switched.

So what I would recommend when putting together a resume or thinking about presenting yourself for those kinds of jobs is mention your research project, mention what you did as part of your particular work in linguistics, but make sure to highlight what Anastassia was saying, the breadth of your experience. So if you did teaching, for instance, in my job, that was very important. I didn't just do research, that I was an active teacher in a classroom as well and that I studied that, but that I also had that experience on the ground. So I made sure to mention that.

I also mentioned my prior job, how I had responsibilities for delivering things on time and managing projects, which, by the way, if you've done a dissertation, you have managed a big project. If you've done any research experience outside of particulars of what is just covered in your academic experience, That's good to mention too, but emphasizing that you have these working abilities rather than just the language ones, I think is pretty key. [Kaitlyn] Yeah, that's such a great point. These transferable skills. [Anastasia] I second that. We look for resumes coming from any field, but also linguists. We look for,

"Are you able to connect what you have done to what we might be doing?" So definitely you have to do your homework, see what the company is working on and write the targeted cover letter saying, you know, "This is how what I did is immediately related to what you are doing." And we also look for soft skills Like have you worked in a team? Are you able to work with other people? Are you able to resolve conflicts? Even if you worked with somebody on a project where they told you to do something and you've done it well, that's a useful piece of information. [Sam] This is a difficult question to answer in my job because my background as a linguist is sort of secondary to my background as an educator in the role that I'm in.

I mean, I got this job maybe because I have a lot of teaching experience and it's a nice bonus that I'm a linguist because that comes with obviously a much greater amount of declarative knowledge than native speakers typically have about the English language, which is very useful when you're trying to explain it to students. It also means that -- I think linguists have some advantages of things like copy editing and just being able to articulate, "This is why this isn't really working" in a way that a lot of other people aren't even if they're fairly accomplished writers. They might be like, "That sounds weird. I don't know how to fix it."

So I think we have an advantage in that sphere as well. I will also second the thing about transferable skills. If any of you do have teaching experience, that is a big thing that you can parlay into explaining a lot of your work skills at managing people, Managing conversations.

Project managing and teaching have a lot of skills in common in terms of just having so many balls up in the air at once and trying to keep tabs on everything, who's doing what, and as far as linguistics, I think the main thing that I bring to my job from my linguistics background is problem solving skills. Part of what appealed to me about Ed Tech is that it seemed to sit kind of at the intersection of having a lot of teaching experience and also having that kind of analytical linguistics background. There's a lot of problem solving and thinking through solutions.

And I think I've probably adapted to the more technical aspects of my job, -- which are not that many, but they are there -- a little bit more easily than I might have otherwise. [Kaitlyn] Can you speak to those more technical aspects of your job? So, you know, in tech what are some of the these more technical skills that you you think you do actually need to draw on? So, you know, do any of you need to write code, or what other sorts of things come into these technical aspects? [Sam] We do our own HTML, which is actually a coding language I was lucky to learn at school. So that wasn't too bad. The engineers do most of the technical lifting for us. But we are a startup and we have limited bandwidth so everyone has to do a little bit but they really try to limit what we do because it's not in our wheelhouse really.

A lot of what I do in code is actually plagiarizing other people's code and just changing the words, but manipulating code in that way is a little bit, I think, more intuitive if you have come through that kind of understanding how language puts together is helpful. More broadly, but just a lot of understanding how to interface with machines that I didn't really have to do as a teacher at all. Like, I was at a very low tech school so then understanding things like how the backend works, like a working knowledge of "what's going to break the site if I do this?" or just understanding how things work will be engineering. And there's a lot to process. So even though our actual coding is limited, we do have to understand a few things.

I'm sure it might be similar in Duolingo, I don't know how much coding you guys do. [Emily] Yeah, So it's very similar in that as part of my job requirements, I do absolutely zero coding. I don't need to know how to program. This is the biggest question I had in going into educational technology was "Do I have to learn Python?" "Do I have to learn Sequel?" or something like that, database language.

Those things are not, not useful but they were not at all part of my job description, job requirement, and similar to what Sam said, I don't have to use those things -- I could if I wanted, they could be useful, but I mostly have to know how they work at a broad scale and how the people who use them all the time need me to know how them to work -- That made sense as a full sentence (laughs). So these are things that I pick up on the job, understanding the process, what is possible to do with code. And so again, in terms of getting the job, I would not at all say you have to do a special program or learn how to do this stuff, unless it says specifically in the kinds of jobs you're looking at. Some NLP jobs, definitely you have to know Python, for instance. But if you're looking for a curriculum design job, I think it's probably pretty unlikely that you would have to have these skills.

Again, just look at job descriptions and see what is listed there for the kinds of things you're interested in. This is why informational interviews are also helpful. But again, having that knowledge of how things generally work is probably far more useful in showing that you can adapt to that and learn to that, To what you need to know rather than having to come in with those skills yourself because you're not going to be the programmer in these contexts, again unless it specifically said that in the job description. I think the other thing I'll say just in terms of technical stuff is it actually helps to know how Google Sheets work. I use Google spreadsheets so much, so that is something, again, that you'll pick up on the job.

You don't have to say "I am a spreadsheet wizard," but in terms of technical stuff, knowing the basics of excel is handy. [Sam] Yeah. Just to add on to Emily's point. Yeah, definitely you need to know What would be considered the basics. Beyond that, I don't think we require people to really know anything more than basic tech literacy.

But if you do happen to know Sequel or if you have worked with data that is definitely something that you should mention because there's a lot of data in Ed Tech, and to the extent that we can do it ourselves, we like to, there's one person on my team who happens to be very good at Sequel, she's a person whose code I plagiarize all the time to do my Sequel. So if that has been a part of your prior experience, definitely bring that up because they're going to want to know that you can do that it's a big plus, if not a requirement. [Kaitlyn] I definitely want to hear Anastassia's take on this, but I did want to kind of ask a follow up question for definitely Emily, maybe Sam as well. But I was wondering, when you talk about needing to know how to understand code and kind of how it works, can you maybe give an example of why you would need to know that? So something I was thinking about, maybe it's like writing requirements for how a curriculum might be implemented.

Is that something that you you would do? [Emily] Yeah. So as an example of what I need to understand, so like Duolingo, when we're teaching stuff, right? When we're coming up with how to sequence things, we can't use a word in a sentence that you see on your device that you haven't seen before. Just from a pedagogical perspective, we don't want to show you something that you haven't been exposed to, but that might include, for instance, the exact spelling of the word.

Even though you've taught the concept, say, of third person singular "s", right? Maybe you have long since shown "plays" and "walks" and things like that, but then you forget that you haven't added the exact word that has this "s" on it, and you want to show "gives", right? And if you forgot to do that, you have to understand why that's impossible, and there's like a code reason, which is that the code doesn't care about the word. That's a human concept. The code cares about "G-I-V-E-S" being coded into the system. So when you understand those aspects of what is possible or not possible, then you can communicate with the folks who are responsible for implementing it, which is definitely not me.

And say, "Hey, could you write me something that would allow me to plop on an 's' to any base form of a verb?" or something to that effect. So that's the kind of ways that I need to understand what is or isn't possible with code or how code kind of generally works in our system. And so I can communicate about it.

[Kaitlyn] Thank you. Anastassia, do you have any? So I was thinking that at ETS, we hire linguists in multiple divisions -- and maybe I should give some background ETS stands for "Educational Testing Service" so we are the company behind the TOEFL iBT and GRE and many other standardized tests. So we hire linguists in our test development department where linguists maybe are writing questions, writing answers, questions and items for different tests. And there, there are no technical skills required. What they want is experience in language teaching, good copyediting skills, good understanding of how do you teach language.

Then we also hire linguists, into our research department where we do research into second language learning, and linguists in that department might do a wide variety of studies. They might look wether the TOEFL iBT test is really a good test in predicting your future success in academia. We might be looking into developing future tests, for example, "How do you measure somebody's pragmatic competence?" "How do you measure whether somebody has cultural competence?" And here we're not necessarily looking for technical skills. We're looking for solid research base. If we're looking for PhD preferably in that

same area, second language acquisition. Or if we're looking for cultural competence, maybe something that focuses in that area. And those linguists in that department do very much academic research similar to what you would do in the university.

And so we're looking for skills that are same as you would be looking for in an academic job. Publication records, good knowledge of qualitative, quantitative design methodology, ability to present your work in the right way. Ability to ask the right research questions. Now my group is more engineering, applied NLP group. We hire linguists too. So what we do, for example, We want to give feedback on your pronunciation.

So we're building an app that gives feedback on your pronunciation. And we have engineers who know a lot about signal processing, but we also need linguists who would be able to break the concept of pronunciation error into linguistically meaningful terms. Like are we talking about abstract representation? Are we talking about specific contrasts? Are we speaking about prosody? Are we speaking about connective speech processes? All those things that phoneticians know, but engineers don't know.

Having said that, in our group we are definitely looking for very strong technical skills, so we usually look for knowledge of Python, we look for experience in machine-learning models, and usually people who we hire in NLP would be the ones who have done either a postdoc or a PhD with some machine learning component to it. And there are phoneticians and linguists who come with that background. But for this job I would definitely recommend learning Python, learning shell scripting, definitely learning something about machine learning. (Reading from chat) "Does ETS research team hire primary linguistic research and language testing specifically or SLA in general?" SLA in general. It depends a lot, we have a lot of careers posted on our website. You could see the description, they usually say what the background is expected to be.

[Kaitlyn] And would you say -- is it both? [Anastassia] So we hire people with a background in educational measurement. We also hire people who have a background in second language acquisition. [Kaitlyn] Thank you. Let's see. So we talked about some of the skills that you've brought with you to your jobs.

What about some of the skills that you've learned on the job that you think are useful to what you've done or what you're doing now? [Anastassia] I've certainly become much more of an engineer (laughing). I've learned a lot about engineering and programing just from working with colleagues and being very hands-on. I also learned a lot about test development and assessment. I was not an assessment person before I came in, and it was fascinating to learn about how those tests are designed, how do people ensure their fairness, their validity -- to even the terms themselves.

What do they mean? All the things that I learned I take into ETS. And of course, you learn a lot about how to work with people, how to manage people, how to work in the industry. [Emily] I've definitely learned, like Anastassia was saying, those "soft skills", which is a term I hate, I need to find a better one for it because they're essential, as essential as your technical knowledge, I think, in your field -- about working with others and what it means to actually make something exist in the world that isn't just a paper or a Ph.D., a dissertation that takes a very long time to make and is you know, maybe read by ten people, max, but actually make something that's out there that is used by lots of people and kind of what goes into that and the intense amount of collaboration and giving up of a sense of self in order to benefit the greater good for making something exist in the world. So that sort of very active collaboration and that process has been a big learning for me.

In terms of more technical skills, I have learned a lot about the specifics of -- my experience in sort of my theoretical teaching was more about the basic principles of thinking about how language learning happens or literacy through oracy, and in my job, I have to be extremely specific with thinking about the actual grammar structures, the phrases, the collocations, the words that go into the CEFR levels of English and other languages. And so now I have a very good intuition for what an A2 sentence is or an A2.2 sentence is versus A2.1 and so those are definitely skills I didn't have before starting at Duolingo that I think have made me a stronger person who knows about curricula, language curricula in general. So I think both kinds of soft and hard skills can come through a job.

[Sam] I have become a better writer since starting to work in a writing and grammar company. I feel like, now that I'm making this curriculum it's like, I wish I had this in school because we were really not explicitly taught how to write very well. So I've actually learned a lot just in doing the job. But it's also a very different way of presenting information from being in the classroom where, you're live, and you're talking and you see the kids, and you're like, "You look confused, I'm going to try to say it another way." With what I do now, it has to be totally clear on the screen, there isn't any space to add that clarification.

So it's really finding very specific and concise language. I would second what Emily said about collaboration. That was a big shift for me. Coming out of the classroom where really it was all on me, just me and the students, now working with other adults and having to be in a team and working together also over long term projects, like some of our projects take weeks, months to complete. It's not, "Okay, you gotta plan today's Lesson. Okay, you did today's lesson, that's done. Next thing. Maybe it went well, maybe it didn't."

There's a lot more back and forth and revising things and that's been an interesting shift as well, I would say. [Kaitlyn] You probably have the opposite, too, if you're coming from academia and a Ph.D. where things happen very fast in industry, I think at a much faster pace than they do in academia sometimes as well.

So kind of depends on the project, maybe. And I was going to ask if any of your learned, on-the-job skills have kind of contributed to your current responsibilities and your current roles. Like basically if you've been able to find some expertise in what you're learning on the job and distinguish yourself that way. I have an example that I can share for context.

So I have a colleague who has a a bachelor's in Mandarin and linguistics. She's a very talented linguist, and she came on to work with us at Mango, and she just really honed in on our authoring tool. So basically, the tool that we use to to enter and create content. And she now knows that system probably better than anyone in the company, aside from the person who created it.

And she's always looking for ways to improve it for the teachers and stuff. And she's become essentially like our expert on that, which is very different from what she learned, you know, in her linguistics degree. And I see that a lot at Mango where people kind of find niches for themselves. And I was wondering if you guys had any experience with that or examples of where you learn things on the job that have really contributed [Anastassia] I would say most things I'm now doing, I learned on the job.

[Kaitlyn] Yeah. [Anastasia] Because really also the field is changing so fast. Also thinking about most of my colleagues, those who graduated more than ten years ago, everything we learned from the University about the theory is there, but the technology has moved on so fast, the methodology has moved on so fast that it's just all continuous learning on the job. In fact, everybody I know is constantly taking Coursera courses, or Udacity courses to learn new methods, to learn about new models, to learn about new approaches.

Really, I can think nothing that I used in my Ph.D. that's still apparent -- some of the models, maybe linear regression, of course, is still there. But beyond that... And suddenly we see a lot of people moving, they come as a linguist and some people become chief of technology or maybe they become business CEOs. There are lots and lots of possible career paths.

[Emily] Yeah, it's the same at Duolingo, where we really emphasize the continued learning within our field, not just things within the job, but we all are encouraged to attend conferences like LSA or others that are relevant to our subfields and are paid to go to them, to attend them. In terms of stuff that's unique to learning on the job, In my case, I had the opportunity -- I've always been interested in pronunciation teaching and just oral language proficiency in general. And so at Duolingo, there was a project floating around that people were sort of like, "Oh, I don't know if I really wanna do this." So no one else was as excited but I was like, "Oh, I really want to come up with all the different sound teaching for English, and I want to come up with all the different sound letter mappings and all the different phonological contrasts," Anastassia and I are similarly nerds about that, even though it's not like my sole role -- not to be the sound teaching person, but it was something I gladly signed up for. And as a result, I have this knowledge of our English teaching courses as they relate to the sound aspects.

So that's an example of something that was available that I could express my personal interest in and kind of own as an opportunity as sort of a niche thing as a linguist or curriculum designer person at the company. [Kaitlyn] That's really cool. [Sam] Yeah, for me my trajectory over the last three and a half years that I've been doing has been one of starting out basically writing content to spec. So here's what we do, do the thing. again that turned into, "Okay, now you help the team do that thing. You're in charge of making that one thing

that we've figured out. And since then, having learned more about Ed Tech and having completed more of that work, that has turned into managing bigger and much more ambiguous projects and really solving design issues and thinking about user needs: What do teachers need? What do students need? Especially this past year, working for K12 content, where there's been remote learning, it's been a lot of, "Okay, what can we do that's going to be helpful?" And really taking on more of that design work and thinking about myself, "Okay, what are we going to make here?" Which is big and sometimes a little bit overwhelming because it's like a blank canvas almost. Kind of increasing amounts of ambiguity and autonomy, but probably fair to say they've never given me anything that was outside of my sort proximal development (laughs) from teaching. We also emphasize continued growth.

We have levels within each role -- I think even some levels within each level that we're expected to just move through and increasingly you take on a whole lot of things that we're continually growing into those. [Kaitlyn] I think sometimes in the job process, we're looking for a role that we want to fill. And it's really important to keep in mind that we can grow and change in that role and within that company as well, and possibly onto other career moves. So it's good to see examples of how that can happen.

Okay, so moving on, I have a lot of skills questions. So I think we have a range of people with different backgrounds in linguistics here. And so I wanted to ask a bit about the degree requirements for your jobs, so does your position require a Ph.D.

or a master's or a bachelor's, either to get hired or to actually do the job? So could you have gotten the job without one of these more advanced degrees and are you able to perform at -- or are people at a similar level able to perform it without that training? [Sam] I'll go first. I don't have a Ph.D, I don't even have a master's. I have a B.A. in

German and Linguistics and a postgraduate diploma in TESOL, which is a useful diploma to have when you work in TESOL, but not really one the people in the U.S. have even heard of. So that's nice, but definitely not helpful. On my team, we have a couple of people who don't have master's degrees. Most of the people have master's.

We have in the past had people who had PhDs. It certainly doesn't hurt, but it's not a requirement. I don't think my team would hire someone who doesn't have a bachelor's, just because they don't hire people who haven't had teaching experience, and I think one is a prerequisite to the other. So certainly in my company, PhD not required. [Kaitlyn] Not required, yeah.

It is a lot of like internships maybe for the the pre-bachelor's level. [Anastassia] ETS is very formal in this respect. We have all the specific rules. The research scientists must have a Ph.D.,

even though they would often be open minded to what area the PhD is in but the PhD must be there. But we have positions for research engineers and research associates and those two require master's. And then I believe positions in test development might only require bachelor.

I do not think we don't hire without bachelor but we have a number of internships I posted some links into the chat. [Kaitlyn] Thank you. [Emily] Yeah, similarly, Duolingo will specify if a master's is required or if a Ph.D. is required, but something that I think surprised me about coming to the company was that, sometimes for certain roles, it's not so much that you need the PhD to do the certain thing, like being a curriculum designer is a good example. I have colleagues who are at different points of the career ladder based on their educational background.

So I'm a Curriculum Designer 2. I have a colleague who has a master's degree who does extremely similar work to me, just with slightly fewer responsibilities, who's a Curriculum Designer 1. And then I have colleagues who are Senior Curriculum Designers who, again we do really similar work, just they have slightly more responsibilities than I do.

So in that sense, although we might try to hire for a band within those a job announcement might say "Masters is the minimum." And then if you have a Ph.D. or Ph.D. plus five years of experience, you might just get hired on one of those different points on the career ladder, but do similar things essentially.

So that's another thing to keep in mind is that there might be jobs similar to what Anastassia mentioned, where there is a certain degree minimum, and we do have jobs that are like a PhD minimum, but we also have jobs where you might fall just on a certain range in that ladder and still be encouraged to apply. So that's one of the reasons why you see "bachelor's as minimum, Ph.D. desired" or something. You should still apply because they might just be looking for someone who could be the first role or first tier of the career ladder, but still do similar kinds of work.

[Kaitlyn] Yeah, that's a great point. Okay. So my next question is, what do you wish you had known about your industry before you graduated? So maybe like what skills would you have acquired? What classes would you have taken? Would you have started networking earlier? Any other hindsight insights? [Emily] I think for me, so I only started thinking about Ed Tech my fifth year, my final year of grad school. I guess that was technically my first job in Ed Tech was freelancing for, I think it was Amazon doing like a freelancer thing, a gig on kind of like a natural language recognition, checking, something they needed to hire like a cheap grad student to do, and it was the first time I realized that I had any skills that were transferable whatsoever to anything related to tech.

I thought I just at a baseline, had to know how to code, and I just didn't for this. They just needed someone who knew linguistics and could compare their human linguistic knowledge to machines. And I immediately tried taking -- like signed up for the class in my department in NLP that we just hired someone. And previously I thought, "Oh, that's going to be way outside of my wheelhouse." And I really enjoyed it. I was finding it super interesting and very transferable.

And then I just had to drop it because I had to write my dissertation, (laughs) that was more important at the time. And so I wish that I had started earlier, but at the same time I have been able to find this career in Ed Tech that didn't require me getting in earlier. I think if I could go back in time, I would just say, "Don't be afraid -- don't feel like I'm pigeonholed -- I wish I could have said, "Don't feel like I have to do this certain thing in a certain way because I always have."

But to say to be more open to a breadth of things to trust myself more, that Ed Tech is a possibility for myself. That just because I don't have this background in coding or technical stuff doesn't mean I can't be interested or explore these things. And kind of, as has been mentioned, casting this wider net for yourself is I think something to -- and being creative, something that I personally encourage, I wish I had done a little earlier on, but it still worked out. [Anastassia] I wish I would have been more proactive about looking for internships. I had various jobs, but I actually never had an internship while I was in grad school. And I wish I was more proactive, looking for opportunities and doing them more because that's a very good experience.

And another thing I wish I would have done -- it's different in the UK Where I did my PhD than in the U.S., but I would look for more opportunities to work on various projects, not just on my PhD project, but you know, if somebody needs a research assistant I would try to embed myself into that to learn because this gives you a wider network that gives you new skills and it gives you much more to speak about when you apply for a job. Because I know when I interview, I like hearing "I worked on that, and I also did a bit of this and I also did a bit of this." [Kaitlyn] Yeah, You guys have mentioned this breadth of skills and experience a couple of times, and it's a really good point. Sam?

[Sam] I don't think there's anything I would have done differently about my university experience or my years spent teaching. I really loved teaching, and there was no doubt that I was going to be doing that. But moving to the States I'm not certified to teach in this country, and there was a lot of uncertainty about, "Okay, what do I even do now? Do I want to throw myself back into teaching?" and I think just taking the time to figure out what I wanted to do and like for the first time since starting my professional life, just taking a break and sitting, you know, not like "I have to find something right now!" and trying to figure it out. Shout out to Anna Marie Trester.

and her career camp, which I did shortly after I moved to the States just to connect with other linguists who were trying to figure out their next steps and also just get some clarity around job searching, and "What even are my options?" "What can I do with this Linguistics degree that I have in my back pocket?" Doing a lot of informational interviews then and talking to people was very helpful in thinking about next steps. So perhaps one thing I should've done more was networking earlier in my career. It's not really a thing you do when you're a teacher, you don't really need to that much, but it's actually been very useful in getting this job. And then afterwards just connecting with other people and hearing, "Hey, what do you do?" "Do you do a cool thing?" "Tell me about what you do." Just like approach with curiosity And be open minded. Another thing I would say is that tech job descriptions are very intimidating.

It is not always clear what is a "must-have" and what is a "nice-to-have". And my company might be a little bit more flexible than some, but as I said, we don't require advanced degrees. We don't require a ton of technical experience.

My experience is that tech companies care about whether you can do the job. So if you think you have the competencies that they are looking for, don't be put off applying. There are definitely some jobs that I looked at and I was like, "Wow, I definitely can't do that." And in retrospect, I think I probably could have done that. So, there's a lot of big words and jargony things, you will totally learn them on the job if you get into the field. I would just say if it looks good to you go for it.

And just don't be put off by the technical stuff. [Kaitlyn] Yeah, there's a lot of behind the scenes stuff happening with job applications and you never know what's going to be prioritized for a given team at any given moment, for sure. I know we definitely have situations -- and this is probably similar to what Emily is saying -- where we end up hiring someone with a master's, even though we had a lot of PhD applicants because that person fit better with what we were doing at the time.

What's an interesting project that you're working on right now? [Anastassia] I can't tell you about the current project (laughs), but I can tell you about my favorite project I worked for the last several years, we've been prototyping an application to encourage children to read, and the concept that we came up with was a child listens to a page of audio book and then reads aloud, and then they listen to a page of audio book and then they read aloud. And when they read the audio, their reading is recorded and is being sent to our servers where we evaluate their accuracy, their words they read per minute, they're reading fluency, and then we give teachers the reports about how they're doing. and the whole concept relied on the fact that it's not an assessment, it's not a test, we're giving you a fun book to read. Initially, for the first experiments we had permission to use Harry Potter.

But this was for first experiments. Later on, we used a variety of books like Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, some O'Henry stories, some Sherlock Holmes stories, and we have the actual app, I can post a link later in the chat, but the most fulfilling part of it was going to schools, going to summer camps, and observing kids interacting with our app and then seeing how they were getting into reading, how they were loving reading, and then going back and listening to their reading and thinking, "What can I do to help this child read better?" And as a phonetician, I would think of things like, "Can I help them with intonation?" "How can I work on intonation?" "What can I do with pausing?" and then I would talk to reading scientists about their point of view, what helps people improve their reading. And that was really lots of fun to do. [Kaitlyn] That sounds fantastic, yeah. [Sam] My current project is expanding No Red Ink's library of texts over the time I've been with the company, we've kind of moved -- when I started we were really building out a guided writing curriculum. This is basically a guided interface to help students write essays, and, you know, tips and tricks along the way.

And we finished building out all of the different guides we wanted to do for that. But a couple of years into my time here and since then, we've been trying to move more into literacy more broadly and getting texts on the site that kids can read, analyze and engage with. So a lot of what I've been doing this past year has been sourcing texts and creating text analysis content to go about, which is super fun, For anybody who has any kind of literature background, to be doing. And the other fun thing about that is that we're always trying to one up the big curricula textbooks in terms of, what can we do that's a bit more engaging, a little bit more unexpected? Not always necessarily the safest options or just the ones that are really in every English language arts textbook Since the dawn of time.

That has been a lot of fun to work on. [Kaitlyn] Great, awesome. [Emily] For me, I would say that I'm basically in a position where I'm finally able to help improve Duolingo's teaching of indigenous and threatened languages, which is something I somehow forgot to mention in my background, that my undergrad and master's degree were in indigenous language documentation and revitalization, a big focus on that and the social aspects of those things.

So that's something I'm just passionate about, and Duolingo teaches maby around ten or so languages, you could say fit under that broad umbrella. And they've traditionally kind of received the fewest resources because there's more folks who are interested in learning French and Spanish. But I feel really strongly about their importance, both for the speakers as well as for the world and the ecological potential that languages have. So I'm really happy that I get to work more closely on those courses, And recently we just launched our Yiddish course for speakers of English, and that's one of my heritage languages, so it was really fulfilling to be able to put this language that many people think of as being kind of antiquated into the hands of people, many of whom are much younger than my family, who's currently speaks it to our grandparents and getting people using this app and to re-engage with this language was really deeply satisfying and wonderful. [Kaitlyn] That's amazing.

Yeah, and there's such a big role for tech in the preservation of indigenous languages right now and getting \it to speakers. Awesome, well, I want to make sure that we have time for the attendees to ask questions. So I'd like to now turn it over to the rest of you who are participating. So feel free to turn your cameras on and ask questions, in the meantime, I'll try to scroll through the chat and see if there are any questions that we miss. But you can go ahead and ask questions if you like.

[Jennice] Hi, everyone, thank you for coming and talking to us it was really informative. Recently I've been looking at different ways I can learn different skills, and one of the things I've noticed is there is a lot of certificates offered now for like industrial design, Ed Tech, and curriculum design, those kinds of things. So I'm just wondering if it's a good idea to sign up for those courses, whether they're online in the free versions or with a local college or something to kind of beef up our resume because a lot of the job descriptions can ask for that, or if it's okay to just go in with like a linguistics degree? [Emily] So I'm not a hiring manager, meaning I don't regularly screen resumes to approve or deny them. My feeling is that that is sort of, not bad, it's nice to have it, but not a really a make or break for you or for the role. I would sort of be inclined -- I already said this -- to look for what the job description is and if, for instance, it says it needs a certain amount of experience doing a certain thing, but the certificate won't replace that, but that it could maybe potentially help you to get experience in that field.

I would think of it as like a bonus or a "nice-to-have", but not necessarily something that would probably replace that requirement if it's a hard one. That being said, I don't think it can hurt, and it could also give you some exposure to whether or not you like that thing with the caveat that the experience of taking an online course could be very different from actually doing the thing, for better and for worse. So that's all to say, "maybe", and probably you'll get a richer experience, talking to someone or reaching out to someone from that company. And getting a sense of if that course, if companies are interested in it and seeing if that's the kind of thing that would be beneficial or not. [Kaitlyn] That's a great question. Thank you, Jennice.

Sam or Anastassia, if you have any anything to add to that? [Anastassia] Hmm, we don't pay attention to just certificates if they're not supported by something you've done. So if in the highly unlikely situation, when you're really the same with another candidate we might look at that. We might appreciate a certificate as evidence -- what we are looking for is evidence that you are not just doing what your supervisor, what your advisor tells you, but you are willing to go and explore things yourself. So going and doing other courses could be evidence of this sort of being proactive and curious and exploring other areas.

But I wouldn't focus on just getting credentials if they don't lead to some sort of output on top of that, unless you just yourself want to do it. If you just want to do it for yourself, by all means go into it of course. [Sam] We haven't hired in a while, we're going to be hiring soon. I haven't seen the job post that's going to be going to out.

I don't think we're going to be asking for any credentials at all. We're pretty nonspecific about what actual qualifications people need to have. So yeah, I would agree with what Emily said. It might be a plus, but it's certainly not -- I don't know how much stock a hiring manager's going to put in online courses versus experience or demonstrably having the skills of the job. We also tend to not hire people who have Ed Tech experience. I think only one person on my team has previously worked in Ed Tech and the rest of us came more or less out of the classroom, and kind of learned on the job.

[Jennice] Okay, thank you. [Emily] There was a question just recently in the chat about the length of the hiring. [Anastassia] We have a very lengthy hiring process in general because it's usually open position, and then there is the phone screen and after the phone screen we have the, what we used to call "on campus visit", now it's virtual, and after that we would usually wait until we have a couple of candidates so the whole hiring process can easily take a month or two, although it depends if somebody is really strong and we feel like we must have them, it might move a bit faster.

But I would say in general, with companies like ETS if you submitted your CV and you haven't heard for a week, it's not a reason to despair (laughs). [Emily] Yeah, it's the same, exact same as Anastassia. It can vary, but a month or two is pretty normal and you probably wouldn't go longer than a month without hearing from someone. Although things can also change, and I think someone mentioned this, but you have to keep in mind that there's so much you can't see about the hiring process.

Like maybe you applied for the perfect job. You're an amazing fit, but you're the 100th applicant and they already have three people in interviews. Like you're probably not going to get it even if you're amazing. And someone might say, "I encourage you to reapply. We really liked your profile." We're so busy, we get so many applications, we're not going to "keep it on file", reach out, like that's just really unusual because there's just so many really qualified folks.

So you have to resubmit your application (laughs), even if you're outstanding and amazing. It's not a reflection of your quality. You just have to keep resending your application. That happened to me at Duolingo, I submitted like at the tail end of one hiring process and got a nice email that said, "Look out for the next one," and I did.

So, yeah, you have to have some vigilance about those things. [Kaitlyn] I'm just going to -- [Sam] Similar in terms of time, but we hire on a rolling basis. So I think for me it was a month from start to finish but that was all actively in the process. So I applied and then had to go through screens and then "on site", which I guess is virtual now. And then on technical interviews and kind of job tests, like I think I had to break down how I would teach a concept on a whiteboard at one point, which was not a part of any of my previous hiring experiences for teaching jobs. So that was new.

I'd say be prepared for there to be a lot of stages and yeah, similarly, volume of applications is very high. So just be prepared not to hear back, There were definitely some jobs in EdTech I applied to and I still haven't heard back. I guess they're not interested because it was three years ago, just be prepared for that too. [Kaitlyn] I know like at Mango, we have a certain window where we have to at least respond to people and then kind of -- but how long it actually takes in the process could be a month, could be a few months, depends. I see Wei, I see your hand up do you have a question? [Wei] Yeah, thank you for the panel, I'm wondering how these kind of job opportunities work with international applicants because, you know, this is training, education position. I am a phonetician and I think I know a lot about pronunciation and contrast, but I am not a native speaker.

And so I might make errors in my grammar, so in that situation, how are we supposed to contribute if we are interested in this kind of opportunity? That's my question. [Anastassia] I'm not a native speaker (laughs). [Wei] Yeah, I noticed (laughs) about that. [Anastassia] Usually we don't look at -- unless it's a position which specifically says "native level of English" -- most of our hires actually are not native speakers, thinking through my group, we have about 60% of non-native speakers. We look really for ability to communicate in English, for ability to communicate research ideas.

But beyond that, you don't have to be a native speaker to be a good linguist. [Emily] I think being a non-nati

2022-03-09 06:15

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