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Teachers Pay Teachers Calls Upon Catchpoint to Continue Delivering an Outstanding User Experience as It Expands its Offerings

“Catchpoint gives us insight into how our site is performing for various users and locations. In turn, it helps us debug issues and deliver the best experience to teachers in the moment while prioritizing changes to make over time.”

- Sharell Bryant, Tech Lead Manager of Web Platform for Teachers Pay Teachers 

Founded by teachers, for teachers, Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) provides a marketplace for educators to exchange instructional materials and over 5 million pieces of teacher-created content. There has been a record demand from educators needing support, and TpT has expanded its offerings. TpT had to rethink performance to ensure service availability and reliability. As part of its initiative to drive a performance culture, TpT expanded its use of Catchpoint synthetic monitoring to:

    • Scale business with confidence.
    • Improve incident management.
    • Continuous and proactive health checks.
    • Streamlining the on-call experience.
    • Integration with key tools for better observability.

Objective

Enable End-to-End Product Lifecycle Performance

One of TpT’s guiding tenets is to upend the typical education technology scenario by delivering an outstanding user experience. To that end, it has evolved the way it thinks about performance. In addition to ensuring educators can access resources quickly, TpT wants to appear high in the search rankings.

“Performance has always been important for us. But as we introduce newer products, we need to think holistically about performance,” explains Sharell Bryant, Tech Lead Manager of Web Platform for TpT.

In the past, the company had invested in server and back-end performance monitoring, and sometimes front-end performance issues only became apparent once products and features were released and the web platform team identified performance changes.

“We lacked some data, like geography information, making it more difficult at times to debug issues or relate the user experience to what we were seeing,” says Jillian Silver, Tech Lead for TpT.

Because different TpT product teams own different sections of code, time-consuming cross-team communication was necessary for reviewing data and identifying root causes.

As part of its continual evolution, the web platform team made it a goal in 2020 to drive a performance culture by shifting thoughts around what it means for a product feature to be complete. “Now instead of the code being in place and tested, we also take performance into consideration. That means we need to equip our product engineers with the right tools and monitoring,” continues Bryant.

Solution

Synthetic Monitoring from Catchpoint

Having used Catchpoint at another company, TpT’s CTO recommended Catchpoint synthetic monitoring to replace the lightweight solution the company had used for periodic uptime checks. Upon seeing the full range of features and ability to gain insight into the user perspective, the company was sold.

Quickly Identifying Issues

With Catchpoint, the web platform team is creating tests and monitoring site health over time, including web page response time, JavaScript loads, and speed indexing. If an incident occurs, Catchpoint alerts the team so it can quickly identify and resolve the issue. Instead of talking to different team members to try to piece together what happened, the web platform team can see precisely what was impacted and why.

“We can see whether performance was impacted on multiple pages, in a specific location, and even for certain types of users. And if we can’t reproduce an issue in our environment, we can run an instant test in Catchpoint and then review and share the waterfall view,” says Bryant.

Running Health Checks

TpT uses Catchpoint at its API gateway to run health checks. Since the gateway is the first point of entry to understand any health-related issues, Catchpoint monitoring makes it easier to understand the source of problems. The company monitors health over time and can use Catchpoint to track to a baseline and even back to a code change. “Catchpoint is highly valuable for helping us keep our systems healthy and up to date,” says Silver.

Streamlining the On-Call Experience

Each TpT product team is part of the on-call rotation and uses Catchpoint to understand the user experience. Rather than being alerted to back-end errors that are lower priority, they are alerted when an incident might be impacting the user experience. Through the data Catchpoint provides, the on-call team can more quickly debug these issues.

Guiding on Best Practices

The web platform team takes advantage of Catchpoint to more easily share best practices when it comes to tests. In Catchpoint, the team can deliver tests with recommended settings, test cadences and more. According to Bryant, “It’s incredibly helpful to be able to organize everything in Catchpoint.”

Catchpoint also delivers reporting for both mobile and desktop, allowing the company to report performance changes over time. “We are moving to responsive design but will still maintain different code bases, so tracking over time is helpful. Plus, the reporting and insights empower us to determine how we should respond strategically to performance changes,” continues Bryant.

Scaling with Confidence

When the company’s leadership team decided to offer its subscription for schools for free to support schools in the wake of widespread school closures in spring 2020, its teams adjusted to figure out how to continue empowering educators. As Silver – who was leading the project – explains, “We always want our users to have a good experience, and this was particularly true as many teachers grappled with remote learning for the first time.”

When TpT set out with this initiative, it hoped to support thousands of teachers but saw unprecedented demand from administrators and schools across the country. Ultimately, it had to quickly scale to help more than 300,000 teachers nationwide. Catchpoint allowed it to aggregate many pages and understand their response times, enabling the organization to scale with the demand. “As we improved our platform, Catchpoint enabled us to make informed decisions about when to scale. We continue using Catchpoint to ensure we don’t exceed our performance threshold,” Silver says.

Integration with Key Tools

By integrating Catchpoint with PagerDuty and Slack, TpT greatly improves monitoring for its teams.

With Catchpoint data fed into PagerDuty, all product teams access alerts in one location. This ensures teams are not overwhelmed with data while also making it easy for them to drill down to debug an issue.

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The product teams use Slack daily to communicate and to receive all alerts, even those they don’t need to act upon right away. Catchpoint integration ensures they are aware of any issues they need to address immediately.

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Results

While TpT uses Catchpoint to ensure basics like site availability, its product teams find it valuable to access all relevant performance information in a single tool. Moreover, the company enjoys the fact that Catchpoint is a scalable, flexible tool that has grown along with its needs.

As it has expanded its use of Catchpoint, TpT appreciates learning best practices from Catchpoint. “It’s valuable to understand considerations such as how to scale to enable a logged-in experience. This empowers our teams with the control they need to do their jobs optimally. And as we move to a more service-oriented architecture, Catchpoint provides the data and insights we need to move ahead with confidence,” concludes Bryant.

Explore Synthetic Monitoring

With more than 7 million users, Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) is the go-to platform for teachers to get the community, content, and tools they need to teach at their best. Founded by teachers, for teachers, TpT provides a marketplace for educators to exchange instructional materials and offers the world’s largest catalog of over 5 million pieces of teacher-created content. Today, more than 85% of PreK-12 U.S. teachers use TpT to save time and support student learning.

The company is continually expanding its offerings to meet the evolving needs of the PreK-12 classroom. Particularly with the rise of hybrid and distance learning, TpT has experienced record demand from educators needing support. In response, TpT made its subscription service for schools, TpT School Access, free for U.S. schools through the end of the 2020 school year to equip teachers with the instructional resources they need without paying out of pocket.

To support its evolving needs, the company has expanded its use of Catchpoint synthetic monitoring over time.

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