Mrs. Pooja Sankar is the founder and CEO of Piazza Technologies Inc., a Palo Alto, California based social learning and recruiting platform for students. The company was borne out of the necessity to encourage peer learning in the education system. It is an online question-and-answer platform that connects students, TAs and professors thus providing intellectual space, freedom, or support to students to reach their maximum potential. Founded in 2009 and launched officially in January 2011 in the Stanford University campus, the platform is used today by approximately 30,000 educators and 1 million computer science, engineer, and math students across 1500 universities in 90 countries.
"It warms me to think I started something that is impacting the way students
learn and the way instructors teach."
Mrs. Pooja Sankar received her B.Tech. in Computer Science from IIT Kanpur in 2002. She later went to the USA for higher studies and obtained her master's degree in the same subject from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2004. Following it, she began working at Oracle as a software developer. In October 2006, she joined Kosmix and served there till January 2008. For the next seven months, she worked with the news feed team of Facebook. She gained extensive knowledge and expertise while working as a developer and eventually caught up to where her male classmates were in their careers. "I wish I could do this while I had the opportunity in school," says she.
Throughout her college days, she felt a sense of loneliness. Being one of only three girl students in her engineering class, she felt extremely shy to discuss computer problems with her male classmates. "I would sit in a corner of the computer lab and work on the problems all alone. They would all talk to one another, ask each other questions, and learn a lot by working together. I missed out on this learning. What was worse was I wouldn't even get to the core of the learning that the professors intended for us since I was stuck on a nuance and couldn't complete the assignment." It was while pursuing her MBA at Stanford University, she decided to create a solution to encourage peer learning in the collegiate system. As she started talking to her classmates, she gathered confidence that perhaps there are many such students who would be needing some help. In 2009, she created the first prototype of the Piazza platform.
Piazza is an online learning tool that connects students, TAs and professors thus enabling students to maximize their learning potential. It can be effectively used with existing learning management systems. By February 2010, Piazza was accessible to only Standford students and was used by approximately 600 of them. In January 2011, she opened it publically for all institutions following which Piazza reached over 330 schools and tens of thousands of students by the summer of the same year. Currently, Piazza is used by over 75% of Stanford, MIT, Cornell, Princeton, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Harvard undergrads for their classes online for over two hours a night.
Pooja Sankar didn't stop there with Piazza's success as a learning platform. She started thinking of ways of using this platform as an effective employment portal as well which would benefit both the employer and the employee. To transform her dream into a reality, the company began targeting company recruiters in February 2014 enabling them to run targeted searches and send highly personalized messages to students based on their choice. The platform was upgraded and customized to act as an attractive tool for recruiters who are in search of competent and skillful candidates for their company. It also provides an add-on feature to recruiters to search specifically for female students, if they wish to. Additionally, Piazza conducts surveys among student users about where they would want to work. Nearly 250 companies, ranging from startups to established names, have already signed up for the service.
The platform is already linked to 100 sought-after employers like Airbnb, Yahoo!, VMware, Google, Cisco, Morgan Stanley, GoDaddy, Intuit, Juniper, Capital One, Pinterest, and Microsoft. In future, Piazza endeavors to bring more women into STEM fields while also tackling diversity issues in companies.
Achievements and Honors
Technology Entrepreneurship ABIE Award at the Women of Vision Awards Banquet, 2016.