Randy Schuessler is Chief Technology Officer at New Meridian, responsible for the company’s technology strategy, customer and enterprise systems, data analytics, and security. He has 30 years of technology development experience with 20 years in educational assessment. We caught up with Randy to talk about everything from his unique background to his approach to technology. The interview has been edited for length and style.

Tell us about yourself and how you came to work in technology.

I started my career as an aerospace engineer, specializing in aerodynamics and flight control systems on the F-16 Falcon fighter. I spent a lot of time out at Edwards Air Force Base in California working with flight test aircraft and pilots … even the famed Chuck Yeager once. We performed extreme maneuvers on modified aircraft to find the envelope for controlled flight as well as out-of-control recovery.

Minicomputers were becoming prevalent as they were more effective than a mainframe and more powerful than PCs. I quickly found a niche creating software to fundamentally change the way we analyzed engineering data with new capabilities and efficiencies. I eventually dedicated myself to “engineering modernization” and invented a patented technology for seamless interchange of complex engineering models between disparate technologies.

Before most people had even heard of the Internet, I was working on an independent research project for my MBA. I concluded that the “world wide web” – still in its infancy – would transform life as we knew it. Embracing this disruptive technology, I soon joined American Airlines’ Sabre Division when they launched Travelocity.com. I led development of early multi-tier web architectures for airline and travel agencies back when you had to build your own app server and screen scrape mainframe terminal emulators. We envisioned the new technologies that ultimately disintermediat­ed travel agencies, eliminated paper tickets, and enabled self-service check-ins. One of my most memorable projects was creating the innovative booking system that launched CheapTickets.com.

You have worked in diverse industries, from internet startups to railroads, before settling into education for almost 20 years. What drew you to education?

After aerospace and defense, I moved into different technology leadership roles and industries every few years, enticed by digital transformation opportunities presented to me by former colleagues. My initial draw into education was no different. I was recruited by a former boss to join him at Harcourt Assessment to drive their clinical and educational businesses from paper to online testing.

In all industries, technology can deliver products and services faster, better, cheaper, and easier. Certainly, education technology promises the same for assessments results to educators, students, and parents. The difference, though—and my real attraction to education—is the true mission. The real opportunity is transformational impact on our kids’ lives and well-being, from their present learning experiences to their future careers and livelihood.

You have worked on assessment for many years. What has kept you in the field?

Back in 2004, I expected digital transformation in education and assessment to happen much more quickly based on my experiences in other industries. Change here has been more evolutionary than revolutionary, slowed by complex factors such as government regulation, school infrastructure, and technology equity and accessibility. I found career satisfaction leading turnarounds and driving performance improvements through people, process, and technology initiatives. That said, with industry consolidation and shrinking budgets, I became increasingly disillusioned that the remaining giants could successfully pivot to lead change away from summative, end-of-course assessments that return results far too late to provide instructional value.

As I explored new opportunities outside of educational assessment, I was unexpectedly introduced to New Meridian’s CEO and executive team. I was excited by their passion and vision to transform educational assessment through a new system of innovative, through-year assessments. Though they were already established as a leader in developing high-quality assessment content, New Meridian was acting like an entrepreneurial and nimble startup. Their new through-year offerings to states and districts is the right assessment solution at the right time for change. What they needed was new technology leadership to continue development of the partnerships, team, processes, and systems to deliver at scale. It rekindled my original calling. As a nonprofit, New Meridian is unshackled from the large corporate bureaucracy and push for increasing profits. I am finally part of a cohesive executive team at a company on a focused mission to advance the quality of education for all students.

Tell us about your approach to technology.

My approach is based on five pillars. First is the business landscape. You need to understand the market, your customers, and your company’s business strategy. Second is technology landscape. You must explore what technology is out there from a competitive, partnering, and licensing perspective as well as trends and possible disruptors. Third is strategic vision. You must create a compelling multi-year vision and strategy for aligning people, processes, and technology. Fourth, is adaptive planning. You must have challenging but realistic goals and adaptable plans looking forward at least 12 months. Fifth—and my favorite—is team building. You must build a team based on trust and empowerment. You need to provide them what they need, sometimes help them remove roadblocks, but otherwise champion them and get out of their way.

What significant changes do you anticipate seeing in education technology and assessment in the next 5 to 10 years?

Artificial intelligence will be as transformative to the industry as the Internet has been. Machine learning is already well established for computer adaptive testing and automated scoring of performance tasks. AI is also being used to detect cheating, such as plagiarism or suspicious behavior while proctoring. In New Meridian’s sweet spot, AI can improve content development in many ways such as reducing bias, improving accessibility, aligning to standards, and even generating items. In reporting student results, AI can provide more qualitive feedback, predictions of mastery and needed intervention, and personalized learning plans. In our daily operations, AI can analyze and summarize large volumes of data, such as computer logs, surveys and feedback, and even psychometric data. AI is truly thought-provoking—while being both exhilarating and intimidating.