Winning: Instructure

In 2011, I left Mozy to be a Sales Engineer at Instructure, an awesome company founded by Brian Whitmer and Devlin Dailey. In my time there, I had a hand in landing more than half of Instructure's accounts- Win!

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Instant Demos - Instant, personalized Canvas for all

My First Instructure Job

When I came to Instructure, Josh asked me to get some content together in an example course so that our customers could get an idea of how Canvas works. There was more to it than just this, though: we needed an environment in which customers could do this, a registration page to capture contact information, and so on.

I spent the first 6 weeks digging into Canvas - both as a consumer, creating course material and as an engineer, finding the right ways to build a customer-facing demo system. The result is here for you to see.

Your Own Canvas

Canvas demos allow anyone with a browser to try Canvas instantly, giving them access to a completely personalized Canvas environment pre-populated with courses, course content, students and even student interactions.

These trials are designed to give a person the feel of using Canvas mid-way through a course, regardless of their current role. The course material, student submissions, and other content is designed to aid this impression: to show off what Canvas can do and demonstrate just how easy it is to teach and learn with.

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Each instant demo has its own, dedicated database. Anything a customer does in that environment happens only there and has no impact on other customers, including changes they make in their administrative settings. This was critical to giving customers a full experience, including a teacher, student, and administrative perspective.

Rapid Role Switching

In an instant trial, a customer can switch between three users with a single click: an example teacher, example student, and example admin. Each of these users demonstrates a different perspective of Canvas.


Every demo created is copied from a master (template) database, making it easy to manage instant demo content. Snapshots of the master template can be created at any time, ensuring that all new demos receive the latest content.

Snapshots are also available to individual demos, allowing customers to make changes to their environment without fear of losing data. At any point, they can save their demo state or roll back to the template. All at the click of a button.

Leads and More Leads

A significant majority of the inbound leads generated by Instructure are instant demo-driven. Every week, we see hundreds of people sign up to kick Canvas' tires. Our sales team will then try to follow-up with those individuals to check on their experience and see if they would like to learn more.

Presentations - Key work of a Sales Engineeer

Rough Start

I had a rough start presenting at Instructure. My first presentation probably cost Instructure the business of the school to which I presented. It was one of the lowest times in my living memory. I have struggled to rise from the ashes of that first presentation.

Today, I'm satisfied with my presentation skills. This is certainly not saying I do not see or seek opportunity to improve; I am simply confident that my presentations are at least as good as most.

By the Numbers

I've had a chance to present to nearly 20% of our paying client base. Considering I've been around for just over a year, that's pretty impressive. Of course, what matters most is the hit rate. I don't know exactly what that is but, as soon as i figure it out, i'll post it!

An Education

If you weren't aware, I've not yet finished my undergraduate degree. It is something I actively think about, if not actively pursue. This was painfully obvious to me just after leaving Mozy to join Instructure: it was very difficult for me to understand and relate to academics.

Instructure's market is this class of individuals: administrators and academics. Obviously, I've had to learn an extraordinary amount to speak effectively to people in our market. I'm proud of the progress I've made.

There is still much more for me to learn. Still, I am confident when standing in front of an academic audience. In large part, I am familiar with their needs and what the want of Canvas. I can anticipate questions and lead the group to the areas where Canvas shines the most.

In short, I have gone from an uneducated lout to an effective Sales Engineer.

The Schools

These are a few of Instructure's paying customers to whom I've presented in some way, shape or form. Keep in mind that I wasn't the only one presenting in nearly every case!

Accounts Landed - Validating the paycheck

By the Numbers

In some way, small or large, I've helped in the sales process for more than a third of Instructure's paying customer base while I was at the company. My help ranged from writing or assisting with proposals, supporting prospects as they evaluate Canvas, presenting Canvas to prospects, and aiding with the integration process as the come on board.

There really isn't a limit to the scope of responsibility when facing our customers and prospects: what needs to be done must be done.

One Among Many

My job at Instructure was to remove technical obstacles in the sales process. I was the guy that stepped in when people want to know why they should move to the cloud or how backups in Canvas work - you know, the techy stuff.

One example of this was one of Instructure's largest accounts: Auburn University. This is an amazing school with equally amazing people. I had a very brief opportunity to help in UT Austin's Canvas evaluation; others ran point for everything, juggling more than I can imagine all at once to help them see how Canvas could work for them.

While my contribution was small, it was at least visible (and continues to be today): I put together UT Austin's branding of Canvas. You can see an example of this to the right.


Canvas-Contrib - Code for every occasion

An Engineer at Heart

Despite my current title, I do have an engineer's heart. I even have engineering skills to boot. My role at Instructure frequently took advantage of this. In many instances, clients required just a little bit more of Canvas than is available today. This generally happened in regard to integrations or custom reporting. When these needs arose and I had an opportunity to address them, I made sure the end result was pushed to the "canvas-contrib" repository on Github.

Canvas-contrib is a library of example code and simple solutions in several languages that Canvas clients (and nerds in general) can appreciate. When you need to do more than simple branding, canvas-contrib has an example for you. If you need to figure out the date of last activity for a student, again, canvas-contrib is your friend.

Library Contents

There's quite a bit in the canvas-contrib repo you might find handy. Things like:

  • Changing the top menu in Canvas
  • Hiding the navigation sidebar
  • Finding a student's date of last activity (attendance)
  • Easy automation for SIS integrations
  • Exporting grades via the API