I wrote in April about joining the Mozilla Foundation to work on educationally-oriented projects, including the amazing, citywide badge-based project Chicago Summer of Learning. Nearly four months into my work, I'm seeing true results – thousands of Chicago youth earning badges that mean something and can be shown on their future job applications and social profiles and pushed to their backpacks to show what they know.
Today I had the opportunity to make that connection even more concrete. I spoke at Smart Chicago's #CivicSummer event (along with two dear friends who also are fellow Obama for American alumni, Jason Kunesh and Rayid Ghani) to an auditorium packed with teens about what it meant to work in technology without a CS degree, what I do, and why I love it.
They had questions! Lots of questions. One asked about my job's sustainability and profitability. Three asked for resources online to start to learn how to code. (During an answer to a young woman seated toward the front, the fire alarm started going off, and I apologized for breaking 1871 – which made them all laugh and cheer and clap.) And one asked if there were moments when I was frustrated and didn't want to keep going.
"Of COURSE!" I said, rocking back and forth on my heels and smiling. "Of COURSE there are moments when I want to stop doing what I'm doing. Anything worth doing is going to have moments like that. But you move through them and past them if it's the right thing for you to be doing, and you keep going."
The young man who asked me that question gave me a big, broad smile as I answered. And I felt that rare, undefinable link built when two people are earnest with one another. I feel you. I get you. I understand.
I closed my talk and walked off-center to watch my colleagues describe their own roles, their work. As I watched, I felt the energy of the conversation I'd had ripple through my body and mind. I felt charged; electric. Working on the Obama campaign has afforded me some amazing opportunities, but talking to a room full of young, bright minds who are eager to build the future is among the most notable. I'm excited for them, I'm primed to help support them in whatever way possible, and I can't WAIT to see what they do next.
* Since a number of the audience asked about educational resources, I pulled a Google doc listing sources where a person can learn to code, as well as find like-minded community. If you know of something that should be on this list, give me a shout on Twitter.
* Some Chicago residents don't have easy access to the Internet, but there is help available. I pulled together a separate Google doc with free and low-cost resources for web access, although these also are included at the bottom of the first doc.
* With grateful thanks to Jacqui Cheng and Dan X O'Neil for the opportunity to speak today. First photo by Dan X O'Neil, second photo by Lorie Fernandez.