This summer, Wayfair hosted its first ever Community Coding Day. Through a partnership with three summer camp programs serving communities in the Greater Boston area, we welcomed 120 middle school students into our offices and led them through a day of engaging computer science activities. Our goal for the day was to inspire students from underrepresented groups to get involved in STEM, software engineering in particular, as well as provide a direct experience of being welcomed in our field. It also gave our participating employees and interns an opportunity to give back to the larger Boston community in a meaningful way, addressing the discrepancies that we see in the tech industry.
As a rising senior at Wellesley College, double majoring in Computer Science and Sociology, I’ve spent this summer as a Software Engineer Intern at Wayfair. Here, I was given the opportunity to bring my vision of Community Coding Day to life.
Background and Motivation
By the time I arrived at Wellesley College, I was under the impression that I was not cut out for STEM. Once at Wellesley, I took my first computer science course the second semester of my first year because of strong suggestions (or the best type of peer pressure) from my Ultimate Frisbee team. However, the reassurance of belonging I found at Wellesley College was not explicit in the real world. At one internship, I was one 19-year-old Asian American woman among eight white senior males. It takes a lot to intimidate me, but I was intimidated that summer.
At each company, in addition to doing a full workload as a Software Engineer intern, I spent time leaning into each company’s culture and learning as much as I could. I would ask about Diversity and Inclusion, then made efforts to start conversations and getting those around me interested in enacting change.
Community Coding Day was an opportunity for us at Wayfair to directly challenge the narrative that only certain types of people are cut out for Computer Science, welcome students into our field, and support them through their potentially first experience in tech.
Karina Lin speaking to students at the beginning of a session.
From Idea to Reality
Community Coding Day was largely shaped by challenges I had faced in Diversity and Inclusion work I’ve initiated at past companies. First, as an intern, I was not able to be a constant in what one would expect to be a nuanced and multi-year initiative, which limited my ability to have impact. Second, my previous companies still needed convincing that Diversity and Inclusion were important – education, understandably, takes time. Third, even if I did convince key people, it appeared to me as though the necessary infrastructure didn’t exist to make this cultural change a reality.
Learning from the first challenge, as an intern, it was important for me to create an event where anyone could be fully immersed in the experience. Community Coding Day was a one-day event, so we could accommodate interns and those who might otherwise be hesitant to make a more significant commitment. By partnering with summer camps, we were leveraging the relationships they had built with students – aiming to further their missions instead of trying to save the world in one day.
I joined Wayfair because I knew the latter two challenges wouldn’t be an issue. I knew of existing initiatives for Diversity and Inclusion through Wayfair connections, and I was excited to learn as much as I could from people who have gone before me. After Rosa Carson, Head of Tech Talent Development, secured buy-in from the CTO John Mulliken, we had support all the way from our C-level executives, to Campus Recruiting, to Engineering managers. It was refreshing to have such enthusiastic support from people across the organization.
Community Coding Day engaged 120 middle school students and 100 Wayfair employees. The day was split into a series of three 50-minute workshops, with an hour for lunch. The first workshop focused on Scratch, the second was a hands-on activity, and the third utilized Hour of Code activities. The camps we partnered with were Crossroads’ C5 Leaders Program, The Steppingstone Foundation’s Steppingstone Academy, and Roxbury Community College’s Kids to College Program.
We focused on creating an enjoyable and personable experience for each student. We had two students assigned to each Wayfair engineering volunteer to make sure each student was getting the attention they deserved. To keep students comfortable and engaged, mentors were given a loose roadmap for each workshop, but ultimately had the agency to tailor each workshop towards the comfort level and interests of their students. We wanted each student to be proud of what they had accomplished throughout the day, so we also emphasized to mentors the importance of an enjoyable experience over any specific project deliverable.
Students and their mentor having fun with a hands-on activity.
After collecting and assessing feedback, we are able to report that Community Coding Day was a success and well received by students, camp staffers, and Wayfair engineers alike!
A student from Crossroads told their counselor, “I didn’t think I was smart enough to code or do Computer Science but I made my own game in an hour. It’s not hard at all! Maybe I can work at Wayfair one day.”
Lise-Marie Hagen from Roxbury Community College emailed us afterwards saying, “[Community Coding Day] really empowers [students] to think about different career opportunities and paths.”
Ian Bernstein, a Wayfair engineer remarked, “I loved that Wayfair took time and resources to expose students in these college prep camps to a professional environment and extremely important subject… the ability to engage so many young girls with Computer Science is a really important initiative.”
Suzi Curran, another Wayfair engineer said, “I liked that I got to model some of the behaviors I think are important in Engineering culture, [such as] owning mistakes, asking for feedback, appreciating the strengths of others, and prioritizing helping someone else learn.”
All in all, we were thrilled with how positively Community Coding Day was received by both the students and our employees.
Some students and mentors in their Wayfair swag.
When I reflect back on the past three years — from choosing courses at random in hopes that I would find something I liked, to being empowered at Wayfair to plan 250-person events — my reflections continue to return to a theme of gratitude. Other than an initial mental barrier, I am privileged to have not faced other barriers in my pursuit of a Computer Science education. I am privileged to attend Wellesley College and thankful to be working and learning this summer at a place like Wayfair. That being said, my personal experience serves as a small glimpse into others’ experience with systematic barriers into the tech industry.
Community Coding Day truly took a village of Wayfair volunteers.
This summer has been marked with a tremendous amount of gratitude for Rosa Carson, Jill Tonelli (the Project Coordinator of Wayfair Labs), and the Wayfairians that made this day possible. Jill took care of a lot of logistics so I could focus on my engineering work. Rosa offered her wisdom at every turn, helping me hone my vision while still making sure that I felt heard and affirmed. Our planning committee worked with me to build the content for the day. Each mentor was given so much responsibility and each carried that responsibility with a positive attitude that transcended the inevitable stress that comes with organizing 120 middle schoolers in an office building. So many people at Wayfair were eager to bring an intern’s vision to life; I am humbled, surprised (because I’m an intern), yet unsurprised (because it’s Wayfair) that I was given the autonomy to run with my vision.
Our next steps are to see how we can make Community Coding Day more impactful. As Wayfair joins companies from around the world that are already engaging with their communities in meaningful ways, my hope is that Community Coding Day sets a precedent both at Wayfair and in our Boston tech community to do the same.
Photo Credits: Sherry Gao
Photo Editing Credits: Janessa Lin Photography