Summer is coming to an end in D.C., and so is our time with our Summer Tech Fellows at TechChange. We kicked off our first TechChange Summer Fellowship this year and had three amazing fellows join us at our headquarters. Before You Jin wraps up her fellowship, we asked her about her time at TechChange!

How did you hear about TechChange?
I first heard about TechChange when the Founder, Nick Martin spoke at a panel about social change at my university. It was equally mind-boggling and motivating to hear that it was actually possible to pursue a career that aligns my passions in design, education technology, and social work!

Fast forward four years later, I’m still a huge fan of TechChange and an alumni of two courses: Mobiles in International Development & Technology for Data Visualization, and now also a TechChange Fellow!

Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m a User Experience (UX) designer who studied Sociology and International Development & Conflict Management at the University of Maryland College Park. I’ve always been interested in finding ways that design can improve lives. After joining my high school’s IT program, I pursued web design because, at the time, I was convinced that tech and social good meant designing websites for charitable organizations.

However, I was happy to realize that my perspective was quite limited. From education technology, mHealth, ICT4D to human-centered design, the role of tech in social good means so much more today.

Outside of work, I love to take pictures, play board games with family and jam with friends. If I could, I would go on a food tour in Asia and a photo expedition to all of the National Parks. I also spend my free time serving as a teacher for my church’s youth group and as a designer for Girls in Tech DC.

Where were you when you found out you were accepted into the fellowship?
I remember sitting on my couch, casually checking my email before heading to bed. When I saw the acceptance email – I couldn’t believe it! Of course, after reading it over and over again, I immediately shared the news with my family and close friends because they knew how much the fellowship meant to me.

Why did you choose TechChange to spend your summer?
TechChange is a place for “geeks for social good” and to me, becoming a fellow “geek” had never sounded so appealing. I love how TechChange connects a diverse range of development partners and professionals around the world through education, whether it’s through their diploma program in Monitoring and Evaluation or animation about USAID’s Mobile Solutions. After following TechChange’s work closely for several years, the thought of finally being able to work behind the scenes for TechChange was really exciting for me!

This opportunity was also a great way to dedicate my summer to diving into front-end development. Before the fellowship, I had been working with different startups and developed the desire to better communicate with other engineers and to contribute in fixing bugs.

You Jin at Escape Room

You Jin with her team during a summer surprise activity at Escape Room

What did you do at TechChange this summer? What was your role at TechChange?
The main project I worked on was building a living style guide web application to assist in rapid page development and brand consistency.

While I had created a style guide before, I was challenged to reevaluate my understanding of style guide driven development and maintainability. I paired a style guide generator (Fabricator) with a CSS documentation parser (DSS) to auto-generate pages from the outputted JSON data which lists each component’s attributes and markup. This way, whenever a developer makes changes to the codebase, the style guide would reflect those changes automatically upon compilation.

Another key part of the project was also spent auditing all of the existing CSS markup and reorganizing the user interface patterns to create a standardized taxonomy and customized theme repository. Eventually, this repository will unify and standardize styling across the main website, course platform, and admin platform which is truly exciting! The next project I’m excited to work on is redesigning the syllabus page to centralize the course platform.

What did you learn during your time at TechChange?
From breakout lunches about pedagogy and the Sustainable Development Goals, to listening in on live events with guest experts, you’re bound to learn a lot by just being inside the office.

Here are a few things I will take away from the fellowship:

  • Experiencing how writing clean and reusable code greatly contributes to its maintainability in a team environment. Implementing best practices in CSS Semantics, Javascript syntax and setting up a modular design system.
  • Overcoming my fear of the terminal! Over time, I preferred using command line tools like vim, tmux and bash scripts.
  • The value of automation and using Node.js tools such as npm and gulp to run tasks
  • Configuring Nginx to serve static files and set up an authentication scheme
  • WordPress templating (PHP) and migrating the database using Sequel Pro
  • Following Gitflow best practices including managing subtrees

What has been your favorite moment at TechChange this summer?
It’s hard to pinpoint one favorite moment! I can, however, recall the most regretful moment: running out of time at Escape Room Live when my team was solving the very last puzzle.

On a more serious note, I am truly thankful for the wonderful people I met along the way. Inside the office, I was constantly inspired by the humility, talent, and bright attitudes of each team member, not to mention that Will Chester is the most humble CTO I will ever meet! At gatherings like the Show & Tell and platform strategy session, it was evident that each team member’s progress and input was valued. I will also miss the sillier memories like bonding over our shared love for Trader Joe’s snacks. Mochi and chocolate covered pretzels to the team are what lush plants are to locusts.

Outside of the office, I felt fortunate to personally hear stories during site visits from Craig Zelizer of PDCN, Carolyn Moore from mPowering Frontline Health Workers, and Daniel Sheerin of State Department’s eDiplomacy department. I also had a blast meeting and sharing my experiences with the talented girls of Girls Who Code DC and TechGirls.

Girls Who Code

You Jin and Ellie, another TechChange fellow, with Girls Who Code

Would you come back to work at TechChange one day? Why?
Yes, I would love to! There are many exciting projects that are always brewing and I’m excited about the direction TechChange is taking. I know that I will definitely continue taking more TechChange courses.

What advice would you give to future TechChange Fellows?
I would encourage future fellows to explore. You have the opportunity to develop your
interests and strengths or go outside of your expertise by taking on different projects and participating in different conversations going on in the office. You should also take the time to get to know the people you’re sitting next to in the office because they will truly be some of the most dedicated and interesting folks you will meet.

It was a pleasure having You Jin join us as a fellow this summer, and we are excited to announce that she will continue with TechChange, part-time! We are glad we don’t have to say bye to You Jin!

Read another Tech Fellow’s experience at TechChange here! Interested in applying for the next summer fellowship? Apply here!

This year, we kicked off our first TechChange summer fellowship. We had three fellows join us in our TechChange office in Washington D.C. We sat down to chat with one of our Tech Fellows, Nithya Menon, a rising senior at Harvey Mudd College.

How did you hear about TechChange?

My interests in technology and education could take me in a lot of different directions, but I craved a global and social impact element, so I was thrilled when TechChange appeared in my Google search results. I kept up to date with their work, and was really excited when I saw the fellowship announcement. I stopped everything and began applying. Usually writing job applications is a drag, but not this time. My fantasies about working at TechChange were getting closer to reality. And don’t worry, even though I stopped studying for finals to apply, I still passed all my classes.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I am a rising senior engineer at Harvey Mudd College. I grew up in Seattle, WA and frequently travel to India to spend time with my family. I’m an avid tennis player, but in general, I love being active and going on adventures. Music has always been an important part of my life and I love getting to experience it with others. I’ve recently discovered my love for hiking and camping, and some of my favorite stories are about surviving ridiculous trips into the wilderness with friends.

I have always felt incredibly blessed to have the resources and opportunities that I do, and I would love to use my knowledge and passions to boost people’s potential for sustainable growth. I believe in the power of education to tackle problems from the ground up and encourage people to learn from each other. Working at TechChange this summer gave me the chance to see how my love for education and interest in technology could combine to tackle some of the world’s greatest problems.

Where were you when you found out you were accepted into the fellowship?

I was sitting in class on the Wednesday before spring break when my phone rang. My heart raced. I was expecting the big news today. But we were reviewing for an exam and I couldn’t answer. Would they call to reject me? Might it be good news? After stressing myself out for the rest of class, I called Will Chester, TechChange Chief Technology Officer. He began asking me how I was doing, how my day had been going. The anticipation was killing me. Finally he said the words I had been dreaming of for months. I had been offered a position! I immediately sent some texts written in all caps to my best friend and parents, and ran to my next class. I can still vividly remember my sheer elation.

Nithya working
Nithya at her standing desk, where she works with dozens of code windows open on this monitor and equal numbers of Chrome tabs open on her laptop

Why did you choose TechChange to spend your summer?

TechChange’s mission combines my three biggest passions- education, social impact, and technology and the small company culture suites my learning and working styles. I knew that the people I would meet through being at TechChange, both employees and other connections, would be invaluable. I came out to DC to experience a different world and create a new network, and TechChange would help me accomplish that. A summer at TechChange would give me so much more than just greater technical skills.

What did you do at TechChange this summer? What was your role at TechChange?

I came on as a Tech Fellow, but the beauty of a small company is the number of roles or experiences you can collect. I worked with the sales team to automate significant parts of the payment process. I worked closely with marketing to integrate our methods of data collection to maintain better, more usable data on our users. Also on the marketing side, I created more visual features and flexibility for our main site. Notably, I worked with marketing and our creative team to build a dynamic grid that can be used to compare features of different products. This feature is currently being used to market our new Diploma Track program! I worked hard to make sure our site and systems were ready for the launch, and it’s exciting that everything’s live!

What did you learn during your time at TechChange?

This list could get very long very fast, but here are a few things:

  • It is possible for a small company to create a global impact by working closely with large, important partners, while still maintaining the flexibility, creativity, and collaboration of a small team.
  • Even in a company of under 20 people, different people and teams have varying perspectives, motivations, and goals, and working through these conversations is a difficult, but important step when considering the overall growth of the company.
  • There are many large, daunting problems in the world. But seeing how effectively our approach to education can tackle these problems from many angles simultaneously has made me even more inspired to go after big dreams.
  • I am still figuring out how to tie my interests and skills together cohesively, but TechChange gave me amazing opportunities to see how diverse skills can compliment each other and result in a more powerful effort.

Tech Fellows visit State Department
Nithya, You Jin, and Nick meet with Daniel Sheerin, Chief of ediplomacy at the State Department during one of their field trips this summer

What have you gotten to explore in DC?

Beyond the typical stuff, I’ve seen the monuments in the moonlight. I’ve gone to a French speaking happy hour to brush up on the language and meet new people. I went to the DC National Maker Faire. I saw an off-beat Shakespearian play. I went white-water innertubing with my housemates. I befriended a baker at a farmers market and helped her bake and sell gluten free baked goods. I saw a Syrian refugee violinist perform at the Millennium Stage in the Kennedy Performing Arts Center. I walked everywhere, for miles on end. I got rained on a lot, and refused to buy an umbrella. I spent time in second hand bookstores and worked on expanding my cooking repertoire. I played lots of tennis and made some new friends. I barely scratched the surface of what DC has to offer, but I tried my best to explore!

Did your TechChange experience end up going as you expected?

I expected it would be amazing, and it surpassed amazing weeks ago. As far as my day-to-day work, I don’t think I had a clear idea about what my work would entail, so every project I’ve worked on has been an adventure. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was to fall in love with the company and the people here. I have some tough goodbyes ahead of me.

Would you come back to work at TechChange one day? Why?

I believe in TechChange’s mission completely. I feel like a part of the TechChange family, and being at work everyday is such a positive experience. I have fantastical visions for how TechChange can develop, and would love to be involved in making them a reality. Coming from the West Coast, however, it’s still hard to imagine moving so far away from home. Even though Nick says he would paint the Golden Gate Bridge on our windows to make the transition easier, I’ve still got a lot to think about. These kinds of decisions aren’t easy!

Nithya Escape Room
Nithya with her team at Escape Room Live, one of many TechChange surprises this summer

What advice would you give to future TechChange Fellows?

I think the best skill to have is the guts to jump into things, even when you think it’s outside the realm of your expertise. Figuring things out as you go is how the world works. TechChange is a small company and people play many roles, so if there is something that intrigues you, don’t hesitate to ask about how you could get involved. Be open about your passions. Everyone at TechChange has an amazing background, and I’ve loved hearing their stories and connecting over culture, food, and hobbies. My goals and dreams have been opened to new possibilities through learning from everyone here. Keep an open mind, ask lots of questions, and let this Fellowship help you grow in ways you never anticipated.

What has been your favorite moment at TechChange this summer?

It’s hard to pick just one! I think my favorite moments come from the everyday ridiculous banter and genuine camaraderie between us in the office. From discovering a free dining table and chairs on the street and carrying them back to the office as a team on my first day, to the constant debates over the merits of standing desks and the desirable office temperature, everyday is entertaining. I love that 15 of us (and one guitar) crammed into our tiny recording studio to “harmoniously” sing happy birthday to one of our facilitators over skype. We have jokes about band names, TechChange spin-offs, soylent, and more. There are many silly moments in the office that keep me dying of laughter, but every moment of silliness is equally matched with moments of dedication and support from every person on the team. Being a part of such a playfully hard-working team made every day a wonderful moment.

It has been incredibly fun to have Nithya join our team this summer. She goes back to complete her final year at Harvey Mudd and our team wishes her all the best and hopes to see her again in the future!

Interested in applying for the TechChange summer fellowship? Apply here!

Liang Cai recently joined TechChange as the Creative Director. Liang is a Motion Designer, Animator and VFX compositor. He specializes in 2D/3D motion graphics design as well as combining animation and live action video into visual storytelling.

Liang has worked both in Washington, DC and New York on various feature films, TV shows and commercials. His past experience includes works for 2011 Sundance-winning Film Another Earth, Fox Searchlight feature film i Origins, MTV show True Life: I’m Polyamorous and 2014 Democratic National Campaign commercials. Liang graduated from Peking University, China with a BA in Film & TV Production and holds a Master Degree in Film & Media from American University, Washington DC.

Welcome to the TechChange team, Liang!

Samita joined TechChange last summer and has returned this year as an EGLI – Atlas Corps Fellow. As a Communications Associate, she assists in the daily communications with TechChange’s domestic and international clients and marketing of TechChange courses, as well as maintaining the TechChange blog. During her trip to Nepal over the holidays, she visited some of TechChange’s participants at the GIZ office to learn about Nepal’s mHealth pilot and their experience with TechChange’s courses.

Before TechChange, Samita was assisting the refugee resettlement department at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. She holds a B.A. in History with minors in Social Policy and Global Economics from Goshen College. Samita is from Nepal and considers India her second home after spending seven years in boarding school there. In her free time, Samita enjoys finding the best local eateries in town and attending music events.

Welcome back Samita!