Facebook’s Engineer for the Week (EFTW) program was implemented over three “sprints” from summer 2018 to spring 2019, with a goal of engaging youth in the technology field by:
• Demystifying the world of technology
• Using the Agile methodology of software development
• Addressing a social issue
Facebook allowed numerous teams of four youth and two facilitators from all over the United States to participate in the program. Teams chose between building a Chatbot for Facebook messenger or building a “Play for Impact” game. Each team had to choose which social issue they wanted to address in their technology. Teams had approximately six weeks to complete their project.
Facebook’s incentive for contestants: Inviting the top 20 participating teams to attend an “Achievement Summit” at Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park, California, from May 1 to May 4, 2019.
Although Island Walk does not have a technology club established, four teens quickly stepped up to the challenge. Ahmed (17, 11th grade), Zubaida (16, 10th grade), Joshua (15, 9th grade), and Ali (14, 8th grade) had previously expressed interests in working with technology as a career. They began immediately meeting with their Community Impact Strategies manager, who was the team’s facilitator, to discuss the project, decide on a social issue and choose whether to build a chatbot or a game.
Because three of the team members are Muslim, they decided to build a chatbot and focus on addressing Islamophobia. Their sprint began during February 2019 and their deadline was March 22, 2019, to submit the technology to the Facebook EFTW team.
Limited resources made completing the project very difficult for the team. The team did not have access to any technology experts. The time they had to work together was also limited, as some team members had to watch younger siblings or had to work. The team did not always have access to the computers in the community center and some did not have access to computers or high-speed internet at home.
To work around these issues, they met in hallways or borrowed an office from property management staff. They held meetings via WhatsApp instead of meeting in person, and even held a mini-hackathon on a Saturday in the community center space.
The team spent many hours not only teaching themselves the technology and building the product over the course of six weeks, but also teaching one of the team members and the facilitator about the Islam faith. The entire team, as well as some peers who tested the technology, felt proud of their final product. The chatbot addressed multiple aspects of Islam including religious beliefs, culture, and extremism using facts, images, and hyperlinks to sites that would provide additional data.
Once the team submitted the project, there was some time to reflect on the work completed and discussion on participating in the future. The final discussion led to a resounding yes and many other Island Walk youth were already volunteering to be on future teams.
Thinking this experience was completely over, the entire team was quite surprised and delighted when they discovered they were one of the top 20 teams and received the formal invitation from Facebook to attend the Achievement Summit!
Facebook paid for airfare, ground transportation, lodging, and meals. Three team members were able to attend (Ahmed could not come because he had to take the SAT). “EFTW was a welcoming place with bright and spirited people,” said Joshua.
The Achievement Summit consisted of:
• Welcome dinner the first night with ice breakers for teams to get to know each other
• Team building activities
• Facebook HQ tour
• Facilitator workshops
• Oculus demonstration
• Two-day hackathon for the kids
Over the course of two days, each team built a game addressing a social issue and presented their game and ideas to the other teams and the Facebook judges in a science-fair format. Eight teams were finalists (our team did not place), and the winning team received a cash donation to the charity or non-profit of their choice.
The other teams who participated were part of technology clubs that were led by adults with technology experience and had dedicated time, space, and technology resources. Realizing this was eye-opening and made it even more impressive that the Island Walk team made it to the Achievement Summit.
The entire EFTW process was educational and inspiring. From this experience, Island Walk is now exploring options to start a “Girls Who Code” club that Zubaida would lead. “EFTW was an amazing experience. It gave me an opportunity to come out of my shell and experience a field I want to go in to,” said Zubaida.
The other team members will be starting technology clubs for middle and high school students who are interested. “This experience really showed me that being an engineer isn’t that far out of my grasp and fueled me to pursue more,” said Ahmed.