Sange Lee, Executive Vice President at EF

EF is on a mission to open the world through education, bringing people together, and creating peace. Here is a look at how they, in collaboration with Proxify developers, are using technology to build digital classrooms that make education more accessible to students globally.

About EF Education First

EF Education First was founded by a Swedish entrepreneur named Bertil Hult in 1965. Since the 60s, the company has understood and invested in the potential of learning by bridging cultures and adding entertainment and cultural exchange in learning a language. What started as a way to help young Swedish students learn English by traveling during summer to the UK and the US evolved into a much bigger idea – the EF of today.

With more than 50.000 employees, and students from more than 100 countries in universities, language and business schools, boarding schools, and in more recent history – online schools, EF Education First has revolutionized learning and teaching while constantly harnessing the possibilities of technology in enabling them to reach more students and make their learning process easier.

They live and breathe their dream of bridging people and cultures, even in the fabric of their own company, by hiring people from many different cultures who believe in the strength their educational model has in changing the future for so many people worldwide.

The challenge

EF's academic affairs and product development division is set in Zurich, Switzerland, one of the most expensive countries in Europe, where developers are among the highest paid in the world.

Not only is it hard to afford a tech team, even for a giant like EF, but it’s also hard to compete against the many tech companies and banks in Zurich. It is a small talent pool, and plenty of big fish swim in it.

Sange Lee, Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs and Product Development at EF Education First, illustrates the challenges of finding a suitable tech team:

“One of the neighboring companies to our office is Google. You can just imagine, if you are an engineer, do you want to work for an education company or Google?”

Mr. Lee adds that he could be more knowledgeable in the technical aspects of vetting developers, so he needed to fill that gap in hiring and find help from someone that understands different stacks and skill sets.

The solution

The EF development team consisted of full-time developers, but they always have new projects, needs, and different stakeholders requiring quicker development.

In a rather unconventional way, he found Proxify’s services by referring to an employee who joined Proxify’s sales team. He remembered what the company was all about. Since he nurtured a good relationship with his previous colleague, he decided to reach out and check if they had a solution for EF’s hiring challenges.

What initially started as an attempt to fill the gap and cut costs temporarily turned into a long-term collaboration with a skilled developer. He says the process went very fast after meeting a Proxify representative and being presented with several candidates in no time.

Their contact from Proxify knew the skills required. It took the time to look for developers that would not only fit the technical requirements of the Digital Classroom development but also the culture and values that EF prides itself on.

“It took maybe a week or two. And then we had a perfect candidate we hired for the long term".

The candidate they gained through Proxify impressed them so much that they gave up on the idea of looking for someone to hire in-house.

They realized that even if they hire someone to work in their office, they want to keep their Proxify developer, as she impressed them and fit in their team like a glove. So they decided to keep her for at least a year.

“Even if she's not permanently on our payroll, so to say directly, she's part of the team. The IT manager has a follow-up meeting with her every single morning at 09:00. Even though she's in a different time zone; she adapts her work hours to ours. And we have come quite close to her. And it feels more like a real team member than a freelancer or a consultant."

The results

EF Results

Trying to augment their team with Proxify led EF Education First to change their outlook on adapting to a hybrid or online working environment and consider other, less traditional hiring options.

“Switzerland is a very high-cost country. I would say this is probably one of the countries where the salaries are the highest in the world. But having the habit of working with someone online is helping. This probably would not happen three or four years ago that we would want to work with someone just online that we don't know or haven't met personally.”, Mr. Lee says.

He adds that that is one of the essential ways collaboration with Proxify changed how they work today.

He also mentions the drastic difference in the hourly rates Proxify provides – despite the high quality and skills of the developer they hired.

“She's not less good than anyone we have as a permanent staff here. She's as good or maybe even better than some. So you get the quality, for a very good price. It's a no-brainer, it's a great deal."

Even though their developer works remotely, they try to bring the team together as much as possible and collaborate and brainstorm as a team.

“We are now looking into changing the video platform in the digital classroom, as we call it, to simplify things. She is not just developing what we tell her, but she's also good at advising us.”

“She came up with her idea. So she is not, so to say, just a person who does what we tell her to do. She is quite creative on her own.”

As for the collaboration with Proxify, here is what he has to say:

“They are trustworthy, they have really good candidates, and what I think is good with Proxify is that they follow up with both us as a customer or client and with the developers to make sure that everyone is happy.”

He sees Proxify as an external HR department as well.

“Proxify care for the retention of both their clients and the developers, and that brings trust to us. There are a lot of freelancers, and there are a lot of companies offering similar services. But in the end, I think this trust has important value."

The way forward

It is a very exciting time for EF Education First, as AI platforms offer changes in how they learn and teach. They are planning on evolving the Digital Classroom and adapting to the changes in the industry while still bringing people together, bridging cultures, and investing in innovation in education.

Mr. Lee says they plan on continuing their collaboration with Proxify, which they see as a very successful experiment”

"With Proxify, EF Education First has been able to grow, to work in a much more flexible way, and to be more creative as well."

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