Today the Mozilla Portland Space hosted a drop-in Open House so most of the 20 participants of the first pilot could come see the space and meet each other.
Along with a couple of local Mozillians, Dino, and Kronda; they sat around in the space we’ll be working out of from September 8 - October 17, 2014 and played “Two truths and a lie” which ended up being quite funny and a great way to get a taste for the various personalities (as well as uncovering some people’s dark humour tendencies).

In order to wind up with these 20 finalists there was a 2-step process beyond the application that collected interest.

Application Timeline:

  • June 1st: Applications open
  • June 30th: Applications closed
  • July 1st: Email to applicants (44) regarding step 2*
  • July 20th: Close of step 2 time window
  • July 22-25th: Interviews with applicants who completed step 2 (24)
  • July 25th: Notification of selection decision
  • July 29th: Open House @ Mozilla with selected participants

For me, these two months went by quickly. On June 1st when applications opened, there was very minimal publicity (mostly Tweeting) because of being busy with regular work.
During the time between applications opening and Open Source Bridge (which kicked off on June 24th) there was one push for awareness of the program thanks to Dino sending out 12-15 emails local organizations letting them know about the project, the application, and the deadline.

During the week of Open Source Bridge, after I did the June 25th keynote, and after Ascend was announced at the after-party on June 25th, we went from 3 applications to 44 total by the closing date. The applications came in from several sources:

  • Outside/In where I had gone and spoken to 7 youth during the week of OSB
  • NAFY/PEAR - local youth services for employment
  • KBOO radio’s mailing list for volunteers (thanks to Open Source Bridge connection)
  • Open Source Bridge party/keynote/website
  • Twitter/Facebook share
  • Finding a post about ascend from searching Mozilla’s web properties for JavaScript

Of those submitted one was from someone out of town who was not actually able to participate but wanted to be kept in the loop about future instances. That left 43 who were sent requests for the JavaScript task, to be completed in just over 2 weeks.

During the time of the JavaScript assignment, a few people were proactive about getting in touch if they were stuck, or having trouble getting access to a computer. In the applications, all had stated they had computer/internet access so my plan to set up ‘office hours’ at the Portland Space ended up not being needed. There was one applicant who later got in touch because he was having trouble finding time to do the work on borrowed computers so we tried to arrange time with a laptop at the office but our communication lapsed and he didn’t get back to me before the deadline passed.

While some folks felt comfortable getting in touch via email if they were stuck, and I was more than happy to troubleshoot either over phone or email, some stayed quiet. About 5 days before the July 20th deadline, I sent out an email to anyone who hadn’t submitted their link to a completed CodeAcademy course. I wanted to check in and see if anyone was struggling but not asking for help. This turned out to be the case for at least 3 people, who I tried to help get unstuck.

By July 20th, only 18 people had submitted completed JavaScript coursework. Since there were 20 spots to be filled this led me to encourage communication with a few others who had expressed frustration, lack of access, and other barriers so that I had more people to consider for the final group. Six other applicants ended up being contacted for and interview.

Interview Questions:

  • background with technology, what worked/was successful and what was challenging
  • what they saw as barriers to connecting with technology & open source community
  • what sort of problems they were interested in
  • example of a problem they had solved, how they had done it, what they were proud of (intentionally not tech-specific)
  • what a successful program would look like for them
  • if they had any questions about Ascend or for me

In one week, I held 10 interviews back to back on Tuesday afternoon, then another 7 each on Thursday & Friday.
The stories people told were powerful and there was also such obvious enthusiasm in each applicant for the course and the potential it held beyond the 6 week intensive.

At the end of the day on Friday, hard decisions were made and I sorted 20 people into the ‘accepted’ group, putting the remaining 3 onto the waitlist. One of the interviewees didn’t live in town and wouldn’t have been able to make it to Portland in time so they were taken out of consideration.

At today’s meetup we held space for questions and also for any requests of things that hadn’t been considered yet. We went over what was provided and then also brainstormed on other support:

  • peripherals available for those who need them
  • tallying & getting awareness around food restrictions/needs
  • carpooling/parking options
  • sharing information on childcare options
  • mentors - looking at setting people up with one or more mentors who also intersect with some of the underrepresented aspects of this group

Takeaways from doing this process include:

  • Application follow-up was only 1/2 of the total applicants - we should look for a higher application ratio next round
  • Outreach did not get as wide as I intended, with such a short turnaround time the posters & postcards didn’t get distributed to local churches, libraries, community centers
  • Many of those who did not make it through round 2 came to the application via OutsideIn/NAFY/Pear (all three youth services) – we need to look into this more but I have another post to make about my ideas here for what we could do differently