Are you a techie looking to make a difference in the world?

We’re excited to announce that applications for TechChange Summer Fellowship 2016 are now open! This summer, we hosted our first class of tech fellows at the TechChange headquarters and are looking forward to our next class.

The fellowship is open to recent graduates and rising college juniors and seniors. The fellowship provides practical training in web development as well as a unique exposure to a range of applications and organizations using technology to tackle a variety of global challenges — from creating prosthetic limbs with a 3D printer to combating malaria with mobile devices.

As a fellow, you will spend three months designing and implementing a web development project related to education, technology, and social good. TechChange staff will provide training, mentorship, and a series of events to support you in this process.

Read our summer 2015 fellows, Nithya and You Jin’s experiences on our blog. Visit our fellowship page to learn more and apply to be a 2016 Fellow!

Applications are now open and due February 15, 2016. Email any questions to fellowship [at] techchange [dot] org. Please note that we are only able to consider applicants with American citizenship or a valid work visa in the United States.

Do you want to apply your programming skills to make a difference in the world?

We’re excited to announce a summer fellowship program for recent graduates and rising college seniors and juniors. The fellowship will provide practical training in web development as well as a unique exposure to a range of applications and organizations using technology to tackle a variety of global challenges — from creating prosthetic limbs with a 3D printer to combating malaria with mobile devices.

As a fellow, you will spend three months designing and implementing a web development project related to education, technology, and social good. TechChange staff will provide training, mentorship, and a series of events to support you in your process.

Learn more and apply here before the deadline on February 15, 2015:

Email any questions to info [at] techchange [dot] org.

Rising Swarthmore College junior, Oscar Chen, just spent his summer and part of his last winter intersession break with the TechChange team in Washington, DC to get professional software programming experience. Complementing his Computer Science major, he worked as a Junior Programmer Intern. Read on to learn about his full-stack developer experience in learning to code in PHP, Python, Django, and more.

1. How did you hear about TechChange?
A combination of luck and choice of school brought me to TechChange. My first stint at TechChange (a one-week “externship” in mid-January of this year) came through a program at Swarthmore that connects students with working alumni, and I was fortunate enough to land at TechChange, where two alums currently work.

2. Why did you choose TechChange to spend your summer?
Put simply: to come back! My time at TechChange in the winter, however short, exposed me to a great deal of what makes TechChange so special as both a company and a place to work. In just one week, I had the opportunity to work closely with both the development and e-learning team to design a course gamification system, and picked up enough of PHP and the WordPress web platform to begin implementing it in the course platform. Along the way, I’d gotten little glimpses of how the teams worked together in the old office, and how nearly everyone seemed genuinely interested in the work their co-workers were doing just five feet away.

After a software engineering course in my spring semester, I became interested in the software development process, and how teams use version control and process models. My short stint in the winter wasn’t quite long enough to really delve into TechChange’s processes, and so I wanted first-hand experience working as a full member of the team. In addition, after doing mostly Android app development in the spring, I was eager to try my hand at some full-stack web development, applying both my Python and newfound PHP skills in the live web applications developed by TechChange.

3. What are your interests?
Academically, I’m a computer science major interested in software development and process models. Outside of work, I’m a soccer-loving geek with a passion for food! I also enjoy biking and reading good science fiction novels.

4. How did you use your TechChange internship to explore your interests?
My time at TechChange gave me the chance to dive into web development and learn about the multiple different frameworks the TechChange developers use. Working through TechChange’s version control and software development processes (weekly priorities meetings, gitflow, etc.) allowed me to see first-hand the benefits and pitfalls of working as a team.

DC is a very bike-able city, and so I found myself biking both to work and around the city to pick-up soccer games, intern events, and even food truck festivals! TechChange’s flexible hours definitely gave me freedom to explore, and I wouldn’t have found that at another firm.

5. What did you do at TechChange this summer? What was your role at TechChange?
I was involved in numerous technical projects that the TechChange tech team had in their plans for the summer. The first few weeks of my time at TechChange were spent familiarizing myself with the different apps and architectures that have been developed with Django, and embarking on small bug-fixing projects to get my hands dirty with them. I also aided in testing and updating to new versions of software in use.

Oscar at work

Oscar works on an event tracking system for WordPress using TinCan API at his station at TechChange

Later on, as a re-design of the gamification system I implemented in winter, I began work on an event-tracking system for WordPress using the Tin Can API. This became my largest project in the latter half of my internship, and with the creative license to design it however I wanted, I took to it immediately.

6. What did you learn during your time at TechChange?
Many things! I learned that big screen TVs in the office are invaluable during the World Cup. I learned that “Beauty School Valedictorian” is a great band name. I learned that my feet are not built for the wear and tear of working at a standing desk.

On a more serious note, the experience I’ve had in full-stack webapp development and WordPress plugin development has really challenged me. In my projects, I’ve had to go from essentially zero knowledge to implementing new code in numerous languages and frameworks on both front-end and back-end areas. As an example, my last project involved using third-party Javascript libraries, jQuery, and Ajax to develop a new event-tracking system within the WordPress course platform by writing a plugin in PHP. Just a semester ago, my knowledge of these were cursory at best, but now I’ve gained enough proficiency with them to develop on my own. I’ve learned tons about the details of full-stack web development, especially about back-end database querying, API calls, and how servers communicate with each other using HTTP requests. I’ve also learned the merits and details of using practical UNIX tools such as vagrant virtual servers, bash scripting, nginx, gulp… the list goes on.

Throughout the summer, it was evident how much focus was placed on being not just a technical enterprise, but one for social change. Guest experts would cycle through every week, and each project I learned about from talking with people around the office was a part of a larger societal mission – whether it be developing malaria diagnosis training modules for USAID or providing peacebuilding training to international development professionals. It was very exciting to see that our work was ultimately not just profit-driven, but also mission-driven.

7. Did your TechChange experience end up going as you expected?
In one way, yes! I’ve gained a plethora of new skills, and leave with a much-expanded practical knowledge of full-stack web development. But I was also pleasantly surprised by how much larger it seemed – in between my two stints, the company moved its offices to a larger, more central location. There were many new faces I met, but everyone welcomed me back as part of the team. Learning more about everyone’s role on the team through weekly show-and-tells was great, as were the occasional office fun days (full of World Cup viewing, cupcakes, and board games).

World Cup games and cupcakes at TechChange

The TechChange team takes a break to watch a World Cup game and enjoy some cupcakes

8. Would you come back to work at TechChange one day? Why?
Of course! There are so many exciting projects that TechChange tackles each week, and the people in the office are an intelligent, diverse bunch who are as committed as they are fun to be around. The work TechChange does leaves a real societal impact on both their students and what students do with their knowledge – something very important to me.

9. What advice would you give to future TechChange interns?
Find ways to engage with the people around you in the office: They are all sharp, interesting folks and the office banter is always lively. The projects that everyone works on are all so different, but the way they come together in our weekly show-and-tells is pretty cool to see.

Explore the city around you: Washington DC just topped Forbes’ list of “America’s Coolest Cities” – from my experience here, that has definitely rang true! There are many hidden gems in the area to be discovered; Will recommending me a secret taco joint in the neighborhood comes to mind. Being here during World Cup season has definitely helped – DC is also ranked as the best place in America to watch soccer!

Interested in applying your coding and programming skills for social good? Apply to be a Junior Programmer at TechChange here.

Last Thursday, TechChange was proud to participate in the TechGirls program by inviting two young women from the Middle East to shadow our team during a work day. While we’ve always been committed to tech capacity building in the Middle East, it had been almost two years since we conducted a series of trainings in the West Bank, and we couldn’t pass up a chance to invite future colleagues into our home and share our enthusiasm. According to the State Department, the TechGirls program:

“[P]rovides girls from the Middle East and North Africa with the knowledge and resources to pursue higher education and careers in technology. This program builds on the U.S. global commitment to advance the rights of women and girls around the world.”

Nagham joined us from Nablus, Palestine. She is 16 and started using the computer at the age of 5; and she would like to study IT or Science. Nagham expects to improve her programming and game design skills. Sondos is from Zarqa, Jordan. She is 16 years old and has taken classes in robotics, Visual Basic, Oracle, Invention, Photoshop and HTML and SQL programming. Sondos is especially interested in pursuing technological interests that will aid the field of medicine.

With that in mind, we set up a variety of hands-on workstations that included:

Hands-On Coding and Electronics: Combining Art, Problem-solving, and Circuitry

Screenshot of our office temperature as measured by Arduino sensor.

Python-powered office temperature website

Since both TechGirls were interested in both programming and hardware, we started off with our in-house code ninja, Michael Holachek. Michael is 18, an avid robotics enthusiast, and will be attending MIT in the Fall to study Electrical Engineering. Michael started off with a short discussion about the connection between art and electronics (including a TED talk on painting circuits), introduced some basic programming in C and Python, and then demoed a few cool circuits on the Arduino and Raspberry Pi. They then worked together to make a TechChange mood lamp that played the TechChange theme song and display the office temperature on a website. At the end of the session, Sondos and Nagham came up with several ideas for applying these new skills to new problems, including attaching a room thermometer to an Arduino board to trigger an alert if the room became too hot for a baby.

Making Graphic Elements: Generating and Animating TechGirls Avatars

With their new Arduino boards built, both Nagham and Sondos sat down with Pablo Leon and Rachel Roth to try illustrating themselves and then animating their avatars in After Effects. Rachel provided a sketch of our guests and then we loaded them on our custom tablets for illustration. Trying their hands with our stylus, they learned about creating layers, sorting into folders, using filters, etc.

Illustrated avatars of TechGirls

New avatars illustrated by TechGirls!

After they finished creating avatars, Alon Askarov demonstrated how to use the Puppet tool to teach them how create short animations. Given that we were limited by time and that TechChange animations take time (see our blog post on this), these were kept to minimal facial expressions, but we still had fun doing it!

A brief animated loop of Sondos

Animated Sondos

Designing a Four-Week Course: A Tour of mHealth

Since Sondos was interested in public health projects, we tried to show off what we’d been working on for our mHealth and maternal health initiatives. We opened up the most recent course that we had built with the UN Foundation on Mobile Phones for Public Health,but rather than the speakers or content, what seemed to be the most interesting was the 161 participants in the course from all around the world. We agree: It is pretty cool.

Student map from our mHealth class

Student map from our mHealth class

But on top of the novelty, we also chatted about how we believed connecting these students was a core part of online learning — not just transferring knowledge on technology, but building a community of practice. After all, technology is the easy part when it comes to mHealth.

Building Interactive Learning Experiences in Articulate

TechGirls Articulate screenshot

But a platform isn’t enough for online learning. Catherine Shen discussed how to structure content for educational purposes. This meant walking through the current courses being designed for State Department, USAID, and the World Bank. Catherine used a current course from OTI Lebanon on advocacy for the TechGirls to see the mechanics of course design at work.

The TechGirls then created a short interactive presentation on their TechChange day, integrating their animated avatar with a survey that the girls used to tell us about their experience. Using a Likert scale, the girls gave their impressions of their shadow day.

The results were clear: Both of our participants strongly agreed that the job shadow day was fun and inspiring, in addition to being informative and interactive.

It was for us as well. Thanks to the TechGirls team for joining us!

Funny group picture of TechChange and TechGirls

Thanks TechGirls!

This post was written with contributions from the entire TechChange team. Thanks specifically to Catherine Shen and Michael Holachek for contributions in the sections above.