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Why New Relic

Enables application and platform optimization to support tens of millions of users

Highlights
  • Enabled engineering team to rapidly optimize website and platform to support intensive usage during Hour of Code event
  • Optimized site supported 500,000 users per hour and 15 million users in one week
  • Frees up engineering resources on an ongoing basis for product development
 

Code.org Aims to Bring Computer Science Instruction to Every Student

Launched in 2013, Code.org® is a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. Code.org’s vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science because it drives innovation in the U.S. economy and society. The organization’s introductory course is currently taught in 90,000 classrooms, reaching 4.2 million students, while 93 million students have tried the Hour of Code.

Environment

The Code.org website was built using Ruby and Sinatra. The interactive tutorials and platform for teachers and students were created using JavaScript and Node.js and delivered on the Ruby on Rails stack. Code.org also runs several instances of Varnish as a front-end caching application. The website and tutorial platform run in the Amazon Web Services cloud, using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud instances.

Rapidly scaling to tens of millions of users

Code.org was founded on the premise that every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science in the K-12 education system. “We’ve reached more than 40 million kids in nine months and that’s unprecedented in the education space,” says Hadi Partovi, co-founder and chief executive officer at Code.org. At every hour of the day, around the world, there are students learning about computer science using Code.org’s tutorial platform.

Supporting this incredible volume and growth falls to Code.org’s small, but growing, engineering team of 10 people. Will Jordan, software engineer at Code.org, explains: “One of the amazing things about Code.org is the scale at which students and teachers have been using our system.” Jordan and his fellow engineers are tasked with ensuring that students and teachers from more than 180 countries can use the website and the tutorial platform it supports at any time of day, from home or at school.

When Code.org announced a new learning event called the Hour of Code in 2013, it set the bar even higher for its engineering team. The idea was to reach tens of millions of students during a one-week period with videos and tutorials designed to get them interested in learning more about computer science. “I told my engineers, ‘During the Hour of Code event, we need to be able to handle 10 million kids without a single thing going wrong,’” says Partovi. That’s when the engineering team decided it needed a robust application performance monitoring tool.

“I can’t count all the problems we solved thanks to New Relic. But I do know that if we didn’t have New Relic, we could not have topped 40 million students already.”

Hadi Partovi Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Code.org

Using New Relic for reactive and proactive performance improvement

When one of Code.org’s top engineers recommended New Relic based on previous experience, the engineering team made a rapid decision. “We wanted to be very, very sure that nothing would go wrong during the Hour of Code and that’s why we chose New Relic,” says Partovi. “We decided at 4:00 that we wanted to use it and by 4:15, we were using it. The ease of deployment and use was a major factor in the decision.”

With New Relic installed, the Code.org engineering team began tuning database queries and optimizing the website to handle the expected spike in traffic to the site. By the time the event kicked off, the team felt ready. “During the Hour of Code, we had as many as 500,000 students every hour coming to our website to learn how to code,” says Partovi. “New Relic helped us handle that load without a single hitch.”

Today Code.org uses New Relic® Browser™, New Relic APM™, New Relic Server™, and New Relic Platform™ plug-ins to monitor its website, the web-based tutorials on the site, and backend processes related to the website architecture. According to Jordan, the engineering team uses New Relic in several ways: “We rely pretty heavily on New Relic server monitoring and alerts, as well as browser monitoring for tracking JavaScript errors. We also use New Relic Platform plug-ins to track all of the various components in our application stack.”

Post mortems for server outages are another way that Code.org takes advantage of the insight that New Relic provides. “If we have an issue that causes downtime on our site, New Relic lets us go back and piece together what happened and when,” says Jordan. “Using New Relic, we can actually measure the impact of our downtime in terms of the number of requests per minute that were lost.”

“It’s really great to know that the work we do has such a tremendous impact. With New Relic, we can make that process even more efficient and enjoyable.”

Will Jordan Software Engineer, Code.org

Maximizing Code.org’s impact on students

Partovi credits New Relic with enabling Code.org’s engineers to scale the platform to support the enormous growth in usage that the non-profit experienced. “I can’t count all the problems we solved thanks to New Relic,” says Partovi. “But I do know that if we didn’t have New Relic, we could not have topped 40 million students already.” Now Partovi has set the goal even higher: he wants Code.org to soon reach 100 million students and train 10,000 teachers worldwide.

Jordan recognizes the impact that New Relic has on the team’s ability to support Code.org’s mission of reaching every student. “New Relic helps our engineering team be flexible in terms of the amount of people that are needed to monitor our servers and handle performance optimizations,” says Jordan. “We’re able to rotate easily between backend and frontend; between product work and server work, making our engineering resources more available for product development.”

New Relic also helps the engineering staff feel good about what they are creating. “Our computer science tutorials are being delivered to millions of children across the country and around the world,” says Jordan. “It’s really great to know that the work we do has such a tremendous impact. With New Relic, we can make that process even more efficient and enjoyable.”

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