How Workademy Was Born

One of the questions we asked ourselves while using open-source e-learning platforms was "What if we need to scale it?"

How Workademy Was Born

Back in 2014, a company called EdEra was created. A project that started aiming at helping students with their final exams to make their way into the university is today the de-facto online educational studio in Ukraine. Some of us at Workademy are co-founders and Santa's Little Helpers of EdEra which today is also a natural partner of Workademy.

At the time it was obvious we needed an LMS to host the content created by EdEra. We started small and installed Moodle. It was serving its purpose in the beginning, but we needed more and we needed it beautiful. The natural choice fell under Open edX. It had everything we needed, it was beautiful and powerful. We were extremely happy with it, even though during the installation something seemed off. The installation was not smooth, but we could make it work after some tweaks.

One of the questions we were always asking at the time was "What if we need to scale it?". Open edX is a nightmare to manage. The Tech Stack is so complex and full of third-party software such as message queues, document search engines, RDBMs, NoSQL databases, you name it. How can one without any prior knowledge scale this monster? At the time the documentation was also not that great. In any case, we decided not to worry too much about it and keep going thinking that at some point we will solve it. We did, but at what cost?

The final trigger was pulled when we tried to update it. It was one of the most painful things we had to do. Everything was failing. The migration scripts were just not working so we ended up deciding we would install it from scratch and just hope the data could still be used. What if we tell you that the official installation, with the exact same setup that was advised by edX was not working? That was exactly what happened, the official installation on a fresh and clean machine was failing. In the end, we managed to do and that bought us some time.

The biggest challenge for EdEra came. The Ministry of Education was introducing a primary school reform. All primary school teachers of Ukraine had to complete a course about the new teaching methodology. It was a disaster. The single server we had could no longer cope with the demand and we had a considerable amount of downtime. We tried to scale it vertically, so we increased the computational power of the EC2 machine we had at the time, but it didn't work. With that scenario in place, we had to scale it horizontally by splitting the databases and the edX workers, and then we finally managed to scale the workers horizontally. It was the possible approach at the time, which is still up and running up to this day but we lost the possibility to update it without putting a lot of effort into it - it was already difficult before with a single machine, now it was even worse. That's when we realized: that's it - We are building our platform.

We wanted to record the experience, so we pitched the idea of writing a book about the journey of building an MVP for our platform to some publishers. Apress answered our call and we wrote Software Development From A to Z - A Deep Dive into all the Roles Involved in the Creation of Software. It is a book about understanding the big picture of the software development process where the reader will have to be in the shoes of every role that can be found in a typical startup and you kind find it in several book stores including Amazon.

With the MVP ready, we realized that to take it to the next level we needed investment. EdEra is a non-profit organization and it couldn't really invest so we just decided to create a business around it. Olga, the CEO of Workademy, enrolled in the Founder Institute program for founders and that was how Workademy was born in 2019.

Taking into account the past experience, we tried to build our own platform under these three pillars: simplicity, scalability, and flexibility.