In the past, writing iPhone apps were a stretch for me, and now I was creating one. Code Camp removed my fear and surrounded me with encouragement. By Monica Starr Feldman (Junior, Wellesley College)
This past week, 16 talented women engineering students and myself attended Square’s inaugural Code Camp in San Francisco. Square is a cutting edge company that is simplifying commerce for buyers and sellers. During our time at Square, we learned programming techniques, discovered more about Square, and met people who are passionate about what they do – all in four days.
When I first arrived in San Francisco, I met the other students at San Franpsycho, a hip screen-printing shop. Here we created our own screen-printed Code Camp T-shirts and participated in a StrengthsFinder exercise. We formed teams and discussed how to collectively tackle problems, utilizing each of our specific strengths. We were then given a bag of miscellaneous supplies and asked to build a tower. Although my team finished in last place, I learned a lot about the importance of communication – create a plan before delving into a solution and play off of other’s strengths.
The second day of Code Camp was invaluable. Square’s co-founder Jack Dorsey spoke about Square’s four corners, (Square’s guiding principles). I later enjoyed a one-on-one conversation with Jack and was inspired by his life story.
Back at Square’s headquarters, we broke off into Tech Trek, 2.5 hour intensives exploring different areas of engineering. By the end of these sessions, I was a stronger developer. In the past, writing iPhone apps were a stretch for me, and now I was creating one. Code Camp removed my fear and surrounded me with encouragement.
At the end of the day, we were told about an opportunity to solve a real problem using the skills learned throughout the day – Square needed a better way to communicate with employees regarding upcoming events. We broke up into small teams to map out our plan of attack and were then introduced to our Code Camp mentors.
My mentor took me out for a delicious dinner, where we spoke about his experience at Square, in the technology industry, and in life. My mentor was intelligent, accomplished, friendly, and humble. These are characteristics that I found true of all Square employees I met.
We hit the ground running on day three, literally. Square’s running club invited us for an early morning jaunt along the bay and through the streets of San Francisco. This enabled us to meet their employees in a social context and learn about them as people before meeting them as professionals later in the day. After the run, Code Camp met with Square’s women leadership over breakfast. I found them to be such an inspiration.
After breakfast, we began to build the employee events application using Ruby on Rails. Not one member on my team had ever been exposed to Ruby on Rails, but through focus and motivation we successfully built the application. We then attended Town Square, a weekly meeting for all Square employees. I had the opportunity to speak at Town Square and talk about my Code Camp experience.
On last day of Code Camp, we used Square’s consumer app, Square Wallet, at a local farmer’s market and paid with our phones. The transactions were seamless. But as enjoyable as our field trip was, time came when we needed to return to the office and present our projects. All of our internal improvements were well received.
Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of Square, offered us a final and inspirational farewell speech. His words touched on a common theme I noticed while at Square – eliminating fear and taking risks leads to innovation and success. Code Camp at Square was an incredible experience and guided us in methods useful for discovering and achieving our dream careers.
I came out of Code Camp inspired, and learned three (three!) new languages, many more programming techniques, and a lot about myself. Along the way, I made many friends and professional contacts that I know I will keep.
My engineering mentor at Square, Shuvo Chatterjee, said "I was thrilled to be Monica's mentor, and enjoyed hearing about her experiences studying computer science at Wellesley, coaching her through Code Camp, and (hopefully) offering her guidance to make sure she stays on the technology career path. I was fortunate to go to MIT, but even then a large number of my engineering peers went on to careers that hardly, if at all, used their engineering background."
"At a time when this country needs engineers more than ever, it's in our national interest that we pursue our brightest engineering stars while they're still in college and give them the opportunities to experience what entrepreneurship and careers in technology are really like. Code Camp attracted some of our brightest women computer science students, and I'm really glad I got to be a part of it," said Chatterjee.
How do you give back to the next generation of women engineers?
About the guest blogger: Monica Starr Feldman is a junior at Wellesley College studying Computer Science and Economics. She is excited to pursue a career that combines her passion for people and code. Follow her on Twitter at @msf195.