Day in the Life: Zoe Bachman, Curriculum Product Manager

This month, we’re featuring Zoe, a curriculum product manager at Codecademy.

Tell us a little about yourself.

:wave: Hi! I’m Zoe Bachman and I currently work as a Curriculum Product Manager here at Codecademy. I’ve been with Codecademy for over three years now, starting off as a Curriculum Developer writing content. I’ve touched a lot of different content over the years, like Learn HTML, Data Visualization with Python, Learn C#, and Learn How to Code (I like to call the one my brain baby). I currently live in Brooklyn, NY and spend my free time hanging out with friends at Prospect Park, reading longform articles, doing puzzles, and cuddling my cat, Nono. In my prior life, I was an art teacher and I’m currently part of two art collectives: tendernet and The Illuminator.

How did you end up working for Codecademy?

I was finishing up my Masters Degree at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program when I got an email from a Codecademy recruiter asking if I wanted to apply for the Curriculum Developer position. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect - I was right about to publicly present my thesis (like, two hours away) and in the midst of figuring out my next steps. The interview process moved really quickly and in a couple weeks I joined the team!

Did you always want to be a Curriculum Product Manager?

Given that I made up the role myself, not really, haha. I’ve had a lot of different career goals in my life (including, at one point, being the female version of Indiana Jones). What I will say is that as soon as I started working at Codecademy, I became interested in the product side of things. Having gone to a graduate program that focused on invention, early on I wanted to start pushing the boundaries of what our Curriculum content and experience could be.

I started by experimenting in a couple of courses that I built, then moved on to making a highly experimental course (Learn How to Code), which we treated like a product, rather than just content. We did a lot of research to develop it and a series of user interviews to iterate on what we made. I learned a lot from that experience and kept looking for opportunities to bring a pedagogical and creative perspective to how we teach. It took a couple years, but I feel like I’ve crafted my (at least for now) dream role.

What are the best aspects about working as a Curriculum Product Manager?

Making up new things! I love combining what I hear from learners with my research into educational theory to come up with curriculum products, all the while keeping an eye towards the future of EdTech. I have a very interdisciplinary background and I get to pull on my creative thinking, research, design, education, and programming experiences as part of my work. It’s been really exciting to see ideas that I was working through in my notebooks appear as new courses or content items on the site. Another thing I love is that my role is a cross-team role, which means I get to collaborate with folks across the company, including other Curriculum team members, Product, Design, and Engineering. It’s a constant learning experience.

What are the worst aspects about working as a Curriculum Product Manager?

Not having enough time and resources :frowning: There are so many things we want to build, but it takes a lot of people and a lot of effort to turn those ideas into reality. It’s also risky! We can do lots of experiments and user interviews and feel relatively confident that we’re making the right things, but we really won’t know how it will perform until we put it in front of learners. I also like iterating on things, which we don’t often have the chance to do because we need to move to new projects and focus less on maintenance and improvements. But we’re moving to a more iterative approach, we’re hiring more folks, so hopefully it will be smoother sailing in the future.

If you could make one piece of fictional tech reality, what would it be?

Teleportation is always rad, but I think I’m specifically attached to the TARDIS. I like that it can take you anywhere in the universe, but also anywhere in time. Plus, it’s a home! And you get to be Doctor Who’s companion! Sign me up for intergalactic #vanlife.

Do you have any advice for the learners?

Don’t be a perfectionist. It took me so long to get into coding because I kept getting frustrated with errors and went to classmates who knew more than me to help me out, rather than stick with the issue and try to make something - anything! - that worked that I made entirely on my own. I really had to re-learn how to learn when it came to programming and break down my assumptions of what being “good” at something meant, or even if being “good” was important! Getting rid of those types of hangups allowed me to be more exploratory as I built things and a lot kinder to myself as I learned something new.

If you could make one brand new course what would it be?

Just one? So tough! I come from a creative technology background and really want to expand our offerings in that area. I’ve got a p5.js course kicking in the background that we’re finally making (three years after I proposed it!). I’ve also always wanted to make a Unity course, since that interface is notoriously difficult to learn (plus it pairs well with the Learn C# course I wrote in 2019). Three.js is another fun technology that has very few learning resources. I also have a dream of an online, interactive way of learning Arduino and electronics. I have lots of friends who teach creative technology and I think these courses would be useful to them as they approach teaching online for the first time.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Now that I work from home everyday, a typical day for me is getting woken up by my cat at 9am and rolling into the living room to do some morning yoga (she loves yoga because I’m stuck on the mat and have to give her pets).

Most of my days are packed with meetings - I lead our senior curriculum developers in a weekly meeting where we discuss our current content production, then I’ll meet with the developers working on our new career paths. Some days it’s going to a cross-team standup and checking in with the engineers and designers building out our new curriculum products. On some days I get a few hours to myself, which I use to knock out writing specs, reviewing content and designs.

After the work day is over (which can sometimes be rather late…) my boyfriend and I usually make dinner. We like to try new things, but we’ve also perfected what we call “Quarantine Chicken” - bone-in, skin-on thighs with lots of herbs de provence, cooked in a cast iron skillet and finished in the oven. Most of my life I’ve been stuffing my non-work hours with side projects and collaborations, but recently I’ve slowed down my non-work projects and trying to commit to genuinely relaxing. I bought a switch at the beginning of quarantine and Animal Crossing and Breath of the Wild are my favorite ways to unwind. That and the crossword and spelling bee puzzles on the NYT crossword app.