January 26, 2023
Linewize EVP Ross Young recently spoke with Gabriel Carrillo of EdTech Bites to discuss how Linewize technology prioritizes student safety. Titled Keeping Our Students Safe With Linewize, the podcast was recorded from FETC in New Orleans on January 23rd.
Check out the podcast or transcript below.
Gabriel Carrillo: Welcome to another episode of the EdTech Bites podcast, ladies and gentlemen. And my name is Gabriel Carrillo. If you are a frequent flier, thank you for making the EdTech Bites podcast a part of your PLN.
First timers. This is your first time pressing play, subscribing, watching a video clip or what-have-you. Welcome.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a great topic, especially one for FETC. We're talking about Linewize, and I am joined by Ross Young. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, here is my conversation with Ross Young about line wise.
Ross Young: Nice Gabriel, really great to be here. Obviously have a great following with your podcast and it’s an honor that we can do this live. But yeah, I'm Ross Young, executive VP of North America for Linewize.
Gabriel Carrillo: Quite a flex, sir. You're not like, over a city or a region. You're talking about North America; an entire continent.
Ross Young: You're making me blush a little bit today, but thank you.
Gabriel Carrillo: Absolutely. So the big question for anyone listening or watching a video clip is what is Linewize? Give us the elevator speech, man.
Ross Young: Yeah, high level. We protect every child's digital journey from school and home and everywhere in between. We have a couple of products that we offer to school districts and partner with them from a student safety perspective. So preventing them from getting to around the filter, helping teachers effectively teach in the classroom, and then also monitoring for early indicators of school violence, depression, suicide, [and more].
Gabriel Carrillo: Okay. So would I be safe in saying that you guys are primarily in content filtering?
Ross Young: Well, really, we're in student safety. It's more from pure content filtering into the overall digital journey of a child, even to the parent side. So partnering with the parents who are saying, hey, you know, maybe my child has been watching too much YouTube compared to their peers or things of that nature. So all the way across the board, the content filtering is a critical part. Absolutely.
Gabriel Carrillo: Okay. So you guys work with school districts and parents and communities, right?
Ross Young: Correct.
Gabriel Carrillo: Okay. So you're not just tied down to the EDU. I mean, if I have an organization at my HOA and TikTok use is at an all time high from the hours of 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. amongst teenagers. We as an organization can give you guys a call and say, hey, what do you guys got for us? What products do you guys have to not only block stuff but also give us kind of like a third eye into what's going on over there, right. So talk to us about those solutions that you guys offer.
Ross Young: Yeah, absolutely. So only 5% of parents today are managing their child's Internet access. So we're looking to educate parents through school districts so that they can have a say there, so they can have conversations about the different applications that they're using. They can become aware of it and partner with the school on how to be a better digital parent to ultimately create better outcomes for children.
Gabriel Carrillo: Okay. So what does that look like as far as the end user?
Ross Young: So we can start from a district perspective, and then just get right into the parents. So by law, every school district's required to block pornography, for example, if they want to maintain federal funding. Well, part of that is CIPA compliance, or the Children's Internet Protection Act. Right? So with that, there's a lot of logging that happens.
So every website that they go to, every Google search that they make, needs to be filtered. So school districts actually have demand from the parent community where parents are saying, “I want to see what my child's doing on the device.”
If a school district is issuing a Chromebook, for example, to every single child, they want to have the parent have some say about how that's used in their household. So there's an incentive from a school district perspective to provide that visibility to the parent community. And then ultimately, once the parent kind of sees, hey, my child's using a lot of YouTube or a lot of TikTok or these games I'm unfamiliar with, there's demand to have some control over that. So the districts enable parents to do that.
Gabriel Carrillo: Yeah. And that's something that any parent can request of a school district. I mean, that's not hidden information. That's free information that's out there per FERPA. You know, I can go in and say, I want a log of my child's last 30 days of Internet usage.
Ross Young: Correct. And that can be a significant demand on IT, right? If you think about how many hats that IT actually wears in the school district, right? That can be a lot of demand. So they can provide the parent that level of visibility if they choose to opt into it.
Not every content filter offers this level of visibility to the parent community. So what we did was we partnered with an organization. We did some M&A merger acquisition activity for one of the top parental apps in the world. It's called Qustodio. So we acquired them, partnered with them, and we leveraged that technology. It's already in the consumer market to feed that school district data through so the parent can get a nice experience from a visibility perspective.
Gabriel Carrillo: Got it. And when I was looking at your website, it looks like you guys have four acquisitions, right?
Ross Young: Yeah, well, we've done five in the last year and a half. Yeah, it's been quite a ride, I know. And I wouldn't necessarily wish upon anybody in that time frame [laughs], but we learned a lot as an organization and we're bringing those technologies together and ultimately providing a better experience for our school districts and for students from those technologies that we acquired.
Gabriel Carrillo: Okay. Are we talking hardware? Are we talking software? Are we talking like cloud computing? What is your product? Do I have to have a physical appliance?
Ross Young: You don't have to, but it's an option, right? There’s different levels of visibility. Each of the different acquisitions had a little bit of a different purpose around it. Some was for customer acquisition, some was for technology, some was for revenue architecture from a business perspective. So ultimately there's been multiple different reasons for some of these acquisitions.
Each one brought a different level of value to our organization. Now we're the largest geographically and globally, with 160 different countries with our technology. And we're providing a very broad spectrum across this particular student safety space. So it's been great.
Gabriel Carrillo: Interesting. How long have you been in this particular position?
Ross Young: So I came over in July of 2018.
Gabriel Carrillo: Oh, okay.
Ross Young: Yeah. So I've been here about four and a half years and yeah, it's been quite a journey. It's great.
Gabriel Carrillo: Wow. Wow. I'm assuming you guys are going to have a booth here. All right, So anyone who might be watching or listening, if you're still here at FETC, when you're listening to this and you're not listening to it in 2083 or what have you. Can you give us a little bit of information as to what booth you're going to be at?
Ross Young: Yeah, we're at the Linewize booth and it's dead center. Right in the main walkway, if you will.
Gabriel Carrillo: So you guys literally are in the market of safety, of guidelines, of making sure that districts are compliant and parents are aware of what's going on have a say.
Okay. So if I'm a director of technology at a school district and I'm remotely interested in your product because maybe we've had, you know, something pop up on a computer that shouldn't have popped up on a computer. Right. What are the different solutions? What are the different tiers of support that I can purchase from you.
Ross Young: Yeah, absolutely. So we work indirectly. So we partner with resellers; Howard Technologies and Traferra, for example. We also work with multiple national resellers and small mom and pop shops that really work closely with school districts. But ultimately, reach out to us directly and whoever you prefer to work with from a purchasing perspective would be happy to work with you on that. We're on pretty much every national and local contract across the country so procurement can be quite straightforward.
Here's the thing; the only thing that's consistent with the Internet is change, right? And content filtering is a tough business in the sense that…
Gabriel Carrillo: You're always behind the curve.
Ross Young: Yeah, and you're trying to break the Internet and still make it work, right? You know, you're breaking SSL, you're peering into specific things. So we have a really unique approach to that that we want to discuss with technology directors.
Even though we make a content filter and it’s one of our main products, we want to help keep the admin out of the content filter as much as possible. If you're in it all the time, it's not working the way that it was really designed to. You're having to tinker with it, find things and unblock them. That can be frustrating. So we really focus on the IT director and their admins.
Gabriel Carrillo: Okay, so you’re streamlining the UI, the user interface.
Ross Young: Correct.
Gabriel Carrillo: I mean, there's a saying for anybody who's in development, app development when it comes to UI, is that you want the product to work for you; you shouldn't have to work for the product.
Ross Young: Correct. And the deployment and support. When you need help as an IT director, you need it now because you need to move on to the other things that you're doing.
Gabriel Carrillo: And you got to answer to those stakeholders.
Ross Young: Exactly. That's your reputation. So our average response time from a support perspective is 44 seconds from the time they reach out.
Gabriel Carrillo: Whoa, whoa, whoa. When you started with “four,” I thought you were going to say “forty-eight” hours.
Ross Young: Yeah. 44 seconds. A live human-being. No bots involved. We put a phenomenal chat interface right into our UI. And our support engineers are former technology directors, former network administrators. That was really built for us by us, for lack of a better term. And we know when you need help, you need it now. So you'll get somebody live immediately. And they're not just some college intern that can answer a chat. They’re people that were in your role before, have a lot of experience, and know our product intimately.
Gabriel Carrillo: You're not going to see the word “bruh” come up in a chat [laughs].
Gabriel Carrillo: I'm very blown away. 44 seconds. Yeah. What are some of the school districts that you guys have worked with or that you currently work with?
Ross Young: Yeah. Well, from a security perspective, I need approval to share what districts are using for their security products. But we partner with multiple different regions in Texas; well over 100 districts there. We're about 15% of the total market. So roughly 2,500 districts across the entire U.S. We’ve had a lot of rapid growth over four years, the demand is incredibly high, and we're getting into busy season. So we're really gearing up.
Gabriel Carrillo: Wow. It's interesting. You said a little earlier about “breaking the Internet.” Previously, when I worked in a very small district in Arizona, we were a very intimate group. There were about eight or nine of us. There was a director of technology, IT specialist, two edtech trainer specialists, system admin, and network admin.
And there’s an ugly word called “deployment” in IT. It’s hair pulling [if you have it].
Gabriel Carrillo: So it's an ugly word and there's a lot of intentional breaking that happens, right? You have to break the system, right? And you have to make sure that you get those protocols and those firewalls in, you know, ports and all that, all the backyard jargon that goes on. There has to be a lot that happens in real time. How intense is that at a place like Linewize?
Ross Young: I mean, it's critical to our success. Absolutely. Right. When we say “breaking the Internet,” making it work, the Internet, the reason people can perform commerce on it is because of encryption. Now, so much data is encrypted. If you want to see what somebody searched for to figure out if children are at risk or go beyond and block YouTube, but still allow specific videos, you have to break SSL — which ultimately is a difficult thing to do. It's not meant to really be broken.
Ross Young: So breaking SSL at line speed, if you will, multi-gigabit networks, thousands of thousands of devices, and for the user not to notice that, that's incredibly difficult. But we have a lot of combined experience that have been in the industry, you know, 20 plus years, a lot of the people and engineers that we work with.
So we've been able to ride a product that, for lack of a better term, just works. You to play it. It's quite simple. It's 3 hours of total deployment for the whole deployment and we work with every operating system. It's difficult to maintain. We have a very large engineering staff, well over 100. We'll follow the Sun model. So we're writing code 24 hours a day, six days a week.
So what's nice about the global aspect is you can have a problem or a bug. You know, when you go to bed, you wake up and it might be fixed. And that's something that we really pride ourselves on is speed to market. And if there's a problem with enterprise software, it's when and how do they respond. It's really important that we keep that in perspective.
Gabriel Carrillo: Yeah, it's interesting you said that, you know, because data breaches don't ever take a vacation. They don't have off days. Yeah, hackers don't have off days, you know, online things that shouldn't be seen by the eyes of our students, our children. That never goes away. So the back-end work really never stops.
If I'm a district employee or director, let’s say I reach out to you guys and I'm interested. And let's say I'm a district of about 10,000 students. Maybe I've got seven or eight physical brick and mortar buildings and a couple of thousand devices. How quickly can we get something like Linewize up and running for our students?
Ross Young: Yeah, great question. So ultimately as quick as the district wants to move, we can move. We have districts and say, “Hey, I want to take my time, roll this out over summer and spread it out.” We had districts during COVID that said, “I am not filtering these devices that I sent home. How quick can you deploy me?”
Same day, totally deployed across 30,000 devices at one particular district. So from that perspective, it can be very rapid. What we like to do is get a network architect to look at the way your network is sketched — which is usually pretty straightforward, and then design a deployment plan, which is quite quick and then as quick as we can, you know, spin up the cloud and you can push a client out. We're ready to go.
Gabriel Carrillo: Wow. Ok, COVID.
Ross Young: Okay.
Gabriel Carrillo: That's a whole hour conversation on its own. Tell us a little about a little bit about Linewize during COVID.
Ross Young: We exploded. It was some of the highest demand we've ever seen in this industry. Right. It was really a catalyst for 1:1, as you probably know. There was a worldwide device shortage. There was a lot of back calling data and a lot of IT stress. Now the IT department is probably the most important department in the entire district in terms of making schools happen.
And there was demand for this category of product. As horrible as the pandemic was, it was a perfect storm for our space and also, unfortunately, it was a terrible storm for the mental health of youth and parents. You look at parents having to be teachers and being supported that way and trying to keep their jobs and pay their mortgage and all those different types of things.
And now their kids have screen time of 12, 15, 18 hours a day, and they're exposed to things that parents didn't understand. I mean, the rates of suicides exploded during that time for kids. And ultimately we were able to partner with districts to help find some of those types of things. So it was great from a business perspective, but sad for what we saw with kids being online as much.
And, you know, with suicide being the number two cause of death of people under 24 years old, if we can make a difference there, we should go after that as a bull's eye. And that really changed our focus a little bit.
Yes, we’re protecting children online. But when we saw that level of demand and the sad stories that we were reading, we started partnering and really pushing with districts to protect children in [the mental health] regard. So that really shifted a lot of the focus of what we were doing. And it's been very fruitful and we're intervening in quite a few incidents a week as far as that's concerned.
Gabriel Carrillo: What our district noticed when we came back from the pandemic at a school district level and employee level was that upon returning to brick and mortar buildings, there were a lot of fights at the secondary level. There was a lot. And we pinpointed it down. And I could be completely wrong, but I usually never am [laughs]. But we saw a lot of social media tension. Yeah. And these kids hadn't seen each other in quite some time.
Ross Young: Right.
Gabriel Carrillo: And then they were finally at a campus all together. And that aggression came out right. There were probably a lot of exchanges on network devices and maybe even on the network. There were some hot terms that probably could have, you know, triggered a couple of those fights in that. What does Linewize do to protect that, to make sure that administration and school districts can monitor what's going on the network as far as terms, as far as phrases to look for and things like that?
Ross Young: Yeah, it's so important. You know, kids and even adults are operating a lot of our lives online. And that includes confrontation, that includes gossip, that includes those types of things. And, you know, there's a fine line there, right? There's a fine line between student safety and student privacy.
Ross Young: And that ultimately can be covered in the AUP, but also the education of the children of what they're doing and being monitored online. So we've partnered with districts on that. The second thing is being really clear about the types of terms you monitor and the categories that they live in, and that they’re respecting those particular boundaries.
We provide a product called Linewize Monitor that literally every input into the devices owned by the district is monitored, whether they're on Instagram chat, Discord, or they're doing a Google search; wherever they're at online. That data is human moderated against very specific categories with an ethics document behind it that provides information to the people that are responsible for student well-being. So when, for example, a child types in, “I want to bring a weapon to school tomorrow” — that input is picked up and brought to the right people.
The other thing is that districts are often unprepared on how to handle these solutions.
Gabriel Carrillo: No, they’re not.
Ross Young: The Internet and social media can go viral before a district can make the right type of decision. You know, we'll take a situation where this is a true story. We'll leave the district, anonymous.
In this situation, a 14-year old boy was very interested in a 14 year-old girl and was talking to her online on a school-issued device and she was rejecting him. He felt so rejected that he went to a pornography site and pasted her face on a video. And posted it on social media. And they made an Instagram account about her that started to go viral. And the authorities got involved. The parents got involved. The girl had mental health problems from that perspective. And then other students were sharing that back and forth.
How can a district deal with that? How can we help prepare them for that? We have, for example, professional development to help districts deal with those types of situations. And a lot of that has to do with the peer side of the house. How are bystanders responding to this type of information? How are they sharing it and educating that student body, educating staff members on how to handle these specific things?
Monitoring is just one particular piece. It's also about the peripheral things you're doing from a PD perspective in order to enable the districts to have a modern student safety program that protects children and educates them on how to be better digital citizens.
Gabriel Carrillo: Digital citizenship, digital literacy, all that stuff comes into play when it comes to this stuff. And I do agree with you in the sense that, you know, a lot of the responsibility is put on the district leaders, the campus administration. But at the same time, what types of training are they getting? What types of training, what type of professional learning and professional development are teachers receiving that has real data behind it?
There's not a whole lot of that going on. Professional development behind that for administration, parents, and students, and staff. So you guys also provide professional development on that stuff?
Ross Young: Correct.
Gabriel Carrillo: Wow. Wow. Is that included like let's say back to my previous scenario, I'm a district of 9 to 10 more brick and mortar buildings, I purchase [a product], whether it be an appliance or some sort of a cloud deployment, I get professional development?
Ross Young: Correct. So we have a product. It's no cost for us. For every one of our districts. It’s called Community and it comes with parental webinars, it comes with staff webinars, it comes with training. They can purchase additional sessions, but there are quite a few sessions provided at no additional cost. And even educating, you know, the children from that perspective. It's actually, you know, supported from a funding source of the Safer Communities Act that came out.
There's some components of funding the districts can access. And when we have discussions with districts like you mentioned, you know, anywhere from 800 students to 150,000 students, we can work with them and the procurement departments to source some of those things. There's some state programs on it, right? There's some federal programs on it.
Gabriel Carrillo: Wow. I keep going back to COVID. Yeah, keep coming back to COVID because it really shined the light on what is happening, what is not happening, and what needs to be happening. And you're right, when you know, we called it remote learning, we called it virtual learning, we called it whatever — fill in the blank learning.
Ross Young: Right?
Gabriel Carrillo: It was emergency learning.
Ross Young: It was.
Gabriel Carrillo: It really was. I don't care what you thought it was. What warm and fuzzy you gave it. It was emergency learning. We had no idea what the heck we were doing. Some of us had never deployed a Google Classroom. How are we going to make this work? So we went into that. We went into the mindset of we need to get these devices out of lockers, carts and we need to get them into the hands of students. What about filtering? Screw it, forget it. Let's just get these out. Let's just get these out.
What did you guys learn during COVID that literally shifted? It was like a paradigm shift for Linewize into how you now do things on the back end.
Ross Young: Yeah, well, really the streamlining the deployment, kind of like we talked about earlier. How quickly can we help deploy to particular districts and enable them to be successful so they can focus on the things that they need to focus on? The second aspect we briefly touched on was the mental health of students, and that has shifted the way that we operated. And then third, it was really being as efficient as possible with us as an organization.
Gabriel Carrillo: 44 seconds.
Ross Young: Exactly — to streamline our processes to help them get what they needed. So it was really about customer-led growth. Customers, what do you need? What does your operation look like? And then how can we deliver a service that meets that particular need operationally?
Gabriel Carrillo: Okay. All right. We hit a lot. How can people connect and get more information on Linewize?
Ross Young: Yeah, well, Linewize.com, they can reach out to our channel partners, and find us on social media. We're designed for you to be able to get in touch with us.
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