Jon is a web developer and heads up developer evangelism efforts at Stack Exchange.
When I think about the impact that Stack Overflow has had on the world, it’s tempting for me to think about numbers: how many active users we have, how many questions are answered in a day, how many jobs get posted on our Careers platform. These are things that I, as a developer, think about on a daily basis to measure how we’re helping programmers around the world grow. But I find that these numbers are hard to wrap my head around: it doesn’t quite give me a feel for what our work is doing. What is the quality of our impact? What does it feel like at an individual level?
In just a week into our new partnership with Andela, that impact is becoming clearer than it ever has before. Over the course of eight weeks, six of Stack Overflow’s developers based around the world are providing one-on-one mentorship to six new Andela developers in Lagos, Nigeria. Twice a week, the developers “meet” over video chat and cover everything from pair programming to preparing for technical interviews and sharing career advice. We chose Andela as a partner because of the amazing work they are doing training world-class developers in Africa. We have a shared commitment to remote work and providing access to tech education in underserved communities, and we are so excited to advance these goals together.
Our initial sessions with the Andela developers have been incredible, and we’ve all been very impressed by how bright and energetic the fellows are. Marco, one of our developers has said of his mentee Bosun: “[He] is very enthusiastic and smart, and constantly reminds me of a kid in a candy store. I am very impressed by him.” It’s a testament to how thorough Andela is at finding and growing top technical talent. As we were talking about our first few sessions, Nick, another one of our developers, recalled a conversation he had with his mentee Abimbola: “the Andela program itself is pretty crazy…if you haven’t talked to your mentee about it yet, I highly recommend it and prepare to be amazed at what they go through just getting into the program.” The level of training the Andela developers gets prepares them to hit the ground running and it allows each mentee to get personalized training from their mentor. Max and Fiyin covered how we do automated testing and builds at Stack Exchange. Oded and Adeleke are going over MVPs and user-centric design. Pairs are covering everything from data structures and algorithms, solving coding challenges like N-Puzzle, to building apps targeted at the African market.
Another thing we’re picking up on is how everyone’s cultures intersect and what challenges we face working across so many boundaries. In just our group of twelve developers (both mentors and mentees), there are four different countries represented across different ages, genders, and races. Given our own focus on remote work, some of this comes pretty naturally to us. For example, coordinating meetings across time zones is something we’re used to, but there are some challenges unique to our partnership with Andela. For example, some of us had connectivity issues with Google Hangouts, and many of us have switched over to Skype for its reliability on Andela’s end. We quickly realized some of the things many of us as developers take for granted are larger factors in our partnership. But even with these challenges, we’re finding that individuals across the world are thinking about the same issues in the technology industry. Roberta, one of our developers based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil brought up the following about her first few sessions with Mirabel in Lagos, Nigeria: “She also had questions and concerns regarding diversity and I think I convinced her that things are getting better and that being a programmer is super awesome. <3” We’re learning that many of the questions we think about at Stack are the same questions individuals in vastly different parts of the world are thinking about.
We’re just getting into our first few sessions with the developers at Andela, and we couldn’t be more excited to be working with such bright individuals in a truly transformative organization. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to continue to see how we can help the Andela developers grow and discover what we learn working across boundaries we’re not used to crossing. As the program reaches its end, we’ll give another update here. My sessions with my own mentee, Babajide, are something I look forward to every week, and they give me perspective on how the work Stack Exchange and Andela is doing to educate developers around the world really impacts people at the individual level. It gives richness to the numbers that I think about every day.