We are living in an era of digital acceleration. Current events have forced people around the world to drastically change how we go about our day-to-day lives, and quickly. This post kicks off our mini-series highlighting the work of developers building for the new normal.
As the spread of COVID-19 forced schools around the country to close, Ryan Kauffman saw his wife’s work routine turned on its head.
“When you’re a teacher, you’ve got one classroom and it’s you versus your 29 students,” said Kauffman, whose wife Kristin teaches fifth grade. “But now that she’s at home, they’re at their homes in 29 different locations, and they’ve got whatever they’ve got going on with brothers and sisters distracting them. It’s much more challenging.”
Classrooms have moved online and that has presented teachers with the unique challenge of continuing to provide individualized attention to their students. How do you know when a fifth grader needs help with a homework question when they are too far away to raise their hand and ask you?
That’s the question that Kristin posed to Ryan one day.
Kauffman devised “Teacher’s Little Helper,” a Twilio app that students can use to alert their teachers anytime they have a question. The app uses Python, Twilio SMS, AWS Lambda and Google Sheets to give students a button they can press on their desktops anytime they need help. The app then sends a text message to the teacher, who can respond.
‘The Jackson Pollock of careers’
Kauffman is a Twilio Champion, a developer we celebrate for the way they use software to help the community. Like many Champions, Kauffman’s formal background is in something other than code.
Kauffman got his start in accounting and he picked up code to help his firm fill a need for automation.
“In the beginning, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a variable and an IDE,” he said. Through trial and error -- and a lot of persistence -- he learned VBA and then moved into Python, which is where he discovered Twilio.
Kauffman uses Twilio at work to send SMS alerts to analysis when Federal Reserve fund rates change, and he uses Twilio SendGrid to send weekly wrap-ups to teammates. At home, Kauffman has built a smart baby monitor, a car seat sensor and a tool for monitoring variable electricity rates in his area.
A self-described “Jackson Pollock of careers,” Kauffman is also running for clerk of the circuit court in his county in Illinois. If elected, he said he has plans to use Twilio to streamline services for his constituents.
‘There’s no reason anyone should ever wait on hold again’
Kauffman said he sees an opportunity to use Twilio’s self-service product stack to eliminate wait times for citizens calling the circuit court. An Alexa app could allow citizens to reach the office via smart assistants, callback features could eliminate the need to physically wait on hold, and a chatbot could cut down on wait times by allowing users to find answers to questions online.
“In 2020, with the technologies that Twilio offers, there’s no reason anyone should ever wait on hold again,” Kauffman said.
As a Twilio Champion, Kauffman builds to serve the community wherever he sees the need -- even when the ones doing acceptance testing on his app are 10 years old.
“Some of the kids use the app as you would expect,” Kauffman said. “They press the button one time when they need it and some of the other kids use it a little more recklessly. She’s got one student that uses it and just press-press-press-press-press-press, and she gets 15 text messages in a row, and he just thinks it’s hilarious.”