There’s no denying that the education technology (edtech) industry is an interesting, impactful place to work. The question for job seekers should be more if it’s the right industry for you based on your interests, experience, and skills. We love it and call it home, but it’s not right for everyone.
Let’s take a closer look:
Is the edtech industry hot?
Edtech investment steadily grew until 2020, then exploded in 2021 with the pandemic since everyone needed to offer online education options. Since then, it has been constricting to a more “normal” level mainly based on the amount of venture money invested in edtech companies. This is happening around the world, not just in the U.S. So while the edtech market is still strong, it’s slowing down from its post-pandemic madness.
That said, private equity money in edtech is not slowing down – capital is being raised in a variety of ways, so the future is bright. If you want to dig deeper, HolonIQ has a full report on the state of VC funding in edtech, or you can check out a TLDR summary here.
Is it a good place to work?
The edtech industry has some quirks that make it a bit different. Whether it’s a good place to work or a good fit or not depends on you.
Business cycles are so slow in education that entrepreneurs often need to have outside investors. If you want to work in edtech, it’s important to know that you have to contend with venture capital and private equity investors, within your company or within your competitors. Investors often have significant influence in their companies and that can surprise many newcomers. Don’t read that the wrong way – those investors often give companies important resources to survive and to carry forth their message! We just think it’s important to mention the underlying financial reality within much of the edtech industry because it’s not immediately apparent from the outside.
This also means that there are outside financial pressures with almost any edtech company. Investors may demand specific things of the organization. During the pandemic, a lot of money was thrown at edtech with more of a focus on impact and making students’ and teachers’ lives better – now the pendulum has swung back to more of a focus on profitability, so financial concerns may trump impact considerations. Are you comfortable with that?
Additionally, efficacy and evidence are more important than ever in edtech. School and district buyers are demanding it more than ever, so edtech companies need to fill those needs as well.
The good news is that there’s a lot of capital coming into edtech from investors who want to make a difference and are usually in the investment for a longer term (as opposed to a more traditional company where it may be a faster get-in-get-out situation). Edtech investors usually know the idiosyncrasies of the education market and are willing to work within them.
And arguably, there are a lot of mission-driven people working in edtech that have backgrounds as educators who want to improve teaching and learning in addition to building sustainable businesses. This is part of why we love edtech.
What else makes working in edtech different?
It’s not just about how companies are funded – several other things make working in edtech a bit different.
- Edtech organizations tend to be pretty flat and lean. People coming from Corporate America with a VP title who now work in a smaller edtech company may find themselves way more involved in the day-to-day workings of the company than they were in their previous position.
- Governmental policies matter. Policy informs purchasing decisions, regardless of which party is in power. While this is true in a number of industries, there are larger political forces at play in education than there might be in other markets.
- At the moment, edtech isn’t a super-diverse industry but it’s getting better. DEI seems to be a top priority for both entrepreneurs and investors, which is fantastic. In terms of gender, it’s actually more diverse than most other industries. Regarding race/ethnicity, LGBTQIA+, and other DEI areas it’s not as diverse as it needs to be, but it’s as good if not better than other tech sectors. See our previous writings on DEI.
- Edtech is not a homogenous industry, even internally – there are a number of divisions, including:
- Pre-K, K-12, Higher Education, Workforce Development
- Administrative vs Academic
- Hardware vs Software
- B2B (business-to-business) vs B2C (business-to-consumer) [Note here: B2C has slowed considerably but B2B is still going strong.]
It’s not just a big edtech monolith; it’s more segmented than people might think looking at the industry from the outside. Where’s your niche?
- Products are often highly regulated and the purchasing process is slow, ponderous, and challenging (and also regulated!). Working with universities, districts, schools, and administrators is not speedy. There are multiple levels of approval, so you need to be okay with that.
- Finally, as an edtech employee, particularly at a startup, be aware that the company you work for is likely on a path to sell and could very well be sold. Almost no edtech companies IPO, which is normal (although that also shifted during the pandemic).
How can I break into the edtech industry?
If this sounds like a good fit for you, how can you get started? Well, a lot of people want to work in edtech – what value do you bring to the table? Be sure to start with a clear vision of that.
As with a lot of industries, sometimes it doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if you don’t have previous experience working in the edtech industry, it can be hard to get a foot in the door. It’s a pretty insular community that is usually slow to bring in people from the outside.
We’ve written on this topic previously, but to expand on it a bit (particularly #2), people in edtech are incredibly generous from a networking perspective. If there’s an edtech leader you’re interested in talking to, you can most likely have a conversation with them simply by asking nicely!
“Hey, I’m looking at getting into the edtech industry – do you mind if I pick your brain?”
If you want to pivot into edtech and think you can make an impact in the industry, look for edtech meetups in your area. Attend some of the big industry conferences. For example, one of the largest edtech conferences is happening this month – the ASU+GSV Summit April 17-19 in San Diego. While this year’s conference is currently sold out, they have a waitlist or you can register to attend virtually. Email everyone on the conference list and see if you can set up 10+ 15-minute meetings.
Do the same at other edtech conferences. Network with people on LinkedIn. The more you talk to people in the network, the more likely you are to find a fit and be able to make the transition.
One caveat about wanting to shift to edtech – there aren’t a lot of strategy jobs. There just aren’t. We recommend getting very specific about your career path…sales, marketing, and product jobs are the likeliest options for career changers. Ask yourself how your experience aligns with the requirements of those kinds of jobs.
If you’re just getting started in your career or are still in school, look for edtech internships, where companies mostly look for the right fit in terms of personality and skill set rather than previous experience.
Check out this cool EdSurge infographic about breaking into edtech.
It can be done!