As a student of the inaugural Waterloo management engineering class, Kynan Gallagher credits the program’s curriculum, his co-op work experience and classroom connections for landing the customer success lead position at a Kitchener educational platform company in 2014.
Two years after graduating with his BASc degree, Gallagher was recruited by his management engineering classmate Suraj Srinivas to work at Chalk, known at the time as Planboard, one of the company’s flagship products.
Gallagher was just the fifth employee of Chalk, cofounded by Srinivas along with William Zhou and Ryan McKay-Fleming, who at the time were both Waterloo computer science students. The company now numbers approximately 40 employees, including a couple of Waterloo co-op students.
Second to no other
The University’s renowned co-op program was one of the biggest reasons Gallagher declined offers of admission and scholarships from other schools and came to Waterloo in 2007.
“It’s second to no other. Not only did I know I was going to learn all sorts of cool things, but I was going to be able to put them into practice. And a big part of coming to Waterloo was financially driven knowing I would be paid every other four months to help support me,” says the North Bay native.
Gallagher credits Waterloo’s management engineering program that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary for learning about the optimization and operational sides of business.
“I really wanted to get a better understanding of how different industries work and how they’re able to improve their operations as we continue to move out of the industrial age and into the technological age,” he says. “I really liked the way those two things were blended together in the program.”
After he graduated in 2012, Gallagher was hired by a manufacturing company to lead a production line. His responsibilities included ensuring employee work routines were optimized and new products were implemented.
It was during a regular performance review with his manager a year and a half into the job that Gallagher realized the role wasn’t a good fit for him.
“I was struggling to come up with answers when he got to the question of where do you see yourself in five years and 10 years within the context of the company. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want to be there anymore,” Gallagher recalls. ”I basically gave my two weeks’ notice after that conversation.”
Champions doing the right thing
After leaving his first full-time job, Gallagher reached out to his network of contacts, which included former classmates. It was at that time Srinivas offered him a position at his company.
Srinivas says over the past four years Gallagher has been instrumental in shaping the culture of Chalk as a customer-centric organization.
“Time and again Kynan has championed doing the right thing that is now baked into our company culture,” says Srinivas.
Chalk’s free apps, including Planboard and Markboard that help teachers plan lessons and assess students, are used by about 250,000 teachers around the world. Approximately 200 schools, mainly based in the United States, are paying clients that have purchased enhancements such as a curriculum management tool that supports school-wide initiatives.
“We’re building tools to help support and drive more informed decision making at both the school level and at level of the individual teachers to provide them with a lot more tools in their tool belt so they don’t need to comb over their own data and figure out things on their own,” says Gallagher. “At the end of the day, teachers don’t have time for that. They have more than enough things to do.”
Capstone project inspired by program
While a management engineering student, Gallagher also found himself with more than enough things to do and wanted to become more organized. It turned out his fourth-year Capstone Design teammates felt the same way.
Inspired by what they learned throughout their program, particularly in a computer interaction course taught by management engineering professor Mark Hancock, they designed an app for the BlackBerry PlayBook to help postsecondary students become and stay organized.
“It kind of came out of thinking that it would be really great to have something that would make our lives and the lives of other students a bit easier,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I think a big driver for it is that we understood the target market quite well because we were the target market.”
Gallagher says that while still in school he would not have predicted that he’d end up working for a company that focuses on education. But with the knowledge he gained in the classroom and from co-op positions at companies ranging from North Bay Hydro to a small consulting firm, he was able to make an informed decision when it came to choosing his current career path.
“Chalk had a need and I was looking for something,” Gallagher explains. “I was in a position where I thought I can try out this job and see where I am in six months. And here I am four years later.”