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Aspiring software engineers in a Texas afterschool program win trip to Facebook HQ

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Aspiring software engineers in a Texas afterschool program win trip to Facebook HQ

By Afterschool Ambassador Johanna L. Friedel, director, Afterschool Center of Education at Greenville ISD in Texas.

Real world, career experiences are a daily part of 21st Century Community Learning Center programs thanks to Facebook’s Engineer For The Week project (EFTW). Recently, Greenville ISD (GISD) high school students Jade Henry and Kai Austin – two aspiring software engineers – participated in a program created to train and inspire young people to tackle careers in computer engineering. EFTW works beautifully for afterschool program. The challenge it poses is to create a scenario that mirrors the daily routine of a software engineer in order to give students a real-world look into a potential career.

The weeklong program involves three phases that replicate Facebook’s engineering process. The first is the Prep Phase where students learn about Agile, a work style that engineers use to design and create products. The Agile style uses a framework called Scrum, which breaks the work into sprints. Another part of the Prep Phase involves researching their product, which in this case was a Chatbot, an artificial intelligence created to improve a social issue. They researched Chatbots and Chatboxes to learn more about the benefits of using these techniques with online users. The users in this case were high school students who completed surveys used to identify which social issues were of most interest to them. Options ranged from anti-bullying, friendship, and skills on how to navigate the social world. The surveys were conducted in school during lunch and passing periods.

During the Sprint Phase, Kai and Jade used the Agile style and Scrum framework with other GISD high school students to develop a backlog, or prioritized list. This enabled them to keep on task as they developed their product and built their project within Chatfuel. Using Chatfuel would allow users to access the program via our GISD ACE (Afterschool Center for Education) Facebook page. Students assumed roles such as engineer, scrum master, tester, and scripter in developing their Chatbot. They were even able to meet a Facebook engineer virtually. By testing and carefully logging progress on the backlog, they determined which aspects of the project were working and which needed fine-tuning. They created several iterations or improvements before they were ready to submit the product for final review via their sprint retrospective.

The Finish Phase was the last phase of Facebook’s Engineer For the Week project. During this phase, students engaged in a final sprint review and retrospective. Once completed, Kai and Jade, along with other team members, submitted their project to Facebook to be considered for a trip to Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park. The students eagerly waited to find out who was chosen to attend the Engineering Summit. If chosen for the summit, the students would be able to meet more engineers in person, ask questions, tour the Facebook Headquarters, and compete against other teams from across the United States in a two-day Hackathon. It was not long before Jade and Kai found out that the trip was a go.

The trip to San Francisco was especially exciting for Jade, who had never flown on a plane before. Once landing in California, the group rode a shuttle to the hotel and had a fabulous meal provided by Facebook. The next morning started early with a shuttle to Facebook headquarters, breakfast, and some team-building activities that included engineering a tall tower consisting of only paper. Kai and Jade met other students and shared experiences and stories about their EFTW experience thus far. They received information regarding expectations surrounding the Hackathon. Each group of students had a Facebook mentor who supported them over the next two days. The students toured the Facebook campus, gamed at the arcade, indulged at the sweet shop, and modeled some swag at the company store.

The final day ended with a competition for the Hackathon. Although Jade and Kai did not win overall, Facebook acknowledged and appreciated the work they did through pictures, certificates, medals, and a fantastic buffet dinner. Their experiences at an authentic corporation augmented the time they worked on the project in the classroom. They took away the ins and outs of computer engineering, teamwork, and the day-to-day operations of business. This was an amazing opportunity for these students and one they are sure to remember for quite some time.

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