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Proud to be Prodigy: Meet Steve!
Our Proud to be Prodigy series spotlights some of the talented individuals on our amazing team. Interested in joining us? Check out our open positions!
Meet Steve Bergen, AKA Prodigy's first-ever employee (!!) who recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at Prodigy. Currently, as Director of Product Management, Steve's focus is on ensuring the success of our Prodigy English game at launch and beyond. To accomplish this, his role considers all aspects of the product, including the game, parent, teacher, and educational experiences, as well as our marketing approach. This means he works with many teams and individuals, coordinating communication and ensuring that we're all working towards the same common goal.
When did you first start at Prodigy and what made you want to work here?
I started at Prodigy - then called SMARTeacher - in January of 2012, back when we were still working out of the CEO’s basement. I had just finished my MSc with a thesis focused on artificial intelligence, so when I heard that there was a small company looking for someone to work on their adaptive education algorithm it seemed like a perfect fit! I had always wanted to experience the start-up environment, and the chance to work in my field locally was one I couldn’t pass up. Also, I’m a huge gamer, and the fact that we were working on an MMORPG only sweetened the deal.
What has been your journey here at Prodigy?
Complicated but enriching! I started as an engineer working on our education algorithm, then moved over to build up the game team in parallel as its popularity grew. Since we were a small team, everyone had to do a little bit of everything, so I developed, designed, created art (poorly), and tested. As the game team grew, I moved away from development work and took on a product leadership role there. Once the team was around 70+ individuals, I moved into a Product Manager role to get closer to our product, and more recently have been focused on our new Prodigy English game, building it from the ground up (thus returning to an experience similar to the one I started in almost 10 years ago).
What has been your most memorable moment at Prodigy in the past 10 years?
One of the first times I visited a classroom of Prodigy players in-person. I was told that they would see us as a sort of celebrity, and this is exactly what happened. I’ve never seen such excitement around a game before, and before the end of the visit I was signing autographs. As a developer at the time, this was just surreal!
What's your favorite part about working at Prodigy?
It really is all about our customers for me. Knowing that we’re building something that our customers (both adults and kids) love, as well as the fact that we’ve helped kids around the world improve their math abilities and overcome their anxiety with the subject is something that surfaces and inspires me each day. Customer reviews, interviews and testing sessions, product brainstorming, testimonials. Everything is about our users to me.
10 years is a long time! What keeps you motivated in your role?
In the early days, I couldn’t fathom the idea that kids would be this excited for an educational game. Our common visits to the classrooms of our users quickly pushed that idea aside. Getting to see firsthand the joy that these kids experience fills me with pride and happiness that I find difficult to describe. Ultimately, the perfect validation for our hard work is knowing that we have users that really love our product. What better motivation could there be?
Which cultural value of ours speaks to you the most and why?
Growth Mindset. Employees at Prodigy are encouraged and supported to grow within their roles but to also consider their careers in the short and long term (at and outside Prodigy). There are opportunities at a company like this to accelerate your career quickly, where the only limiter is an employee’s desire to grow and try new things.
Last question! What's one thing about you that most people don’t know?
As a child, I was absolutely terrified by the Yip Yips on Sesame Street. My daughter, however, loves them (and they’ve certainly grown on me too)!