It’s a wonderful time here at Phone2Action. And a sad one, too.
Phone2Action’s 2019 Civic Tech Fellowship Program, a STEM-based apprenticeship, graduated another class after a summer spent working at the intersection of technology and civic engagement.
The program—30 strong this year—draws participants from all over the country who travel to Washington to gain real-world skills and experience. Working in departments from engineering to customer success, fellows created advocacy campaigns, developed artificial intelligence and data science tools and even worked in sales.
Civic Tech Fellows are a vital force at Phone2Action, working on substantive projects and energizing our organization with drive and enthusiasm. They are treated like staff, earn a paycheck, interact regularly with clients and work directly on our products and services. Some even return to work at Phone2Action full-time after the program.
Advancing the Mission
Started in 2015, the Civic Tech Fellowship Program began after the White House called upon technology companies to help create pipelines for STEM workers. Fellows are recruited from a large pool of applicants, with an emphasis on minority, disabled, low-income, and special needs applicants who are passionate about working at the intersection of advocacy and technology.
Now in its fourth year, the program has graduated dozens of fellows and we have continued to develop the fellowship experience in new and exciting ways. Every Friday, fellows are called upon to present their work before the entire company in a brown-bag series that has become a tradition in our organization. Many fellows also write blog posts about their work and their experience, which are published on Phone2Action blogs.
At the end of the program, fellows are asked to give a summary of their work at a graduation that took place Friday. It was a night of smiles, applause and photos as fellows described how they created customer dashboards, designed front-end messaging, tested for quality assurance, created video tutorials and many other projects. Pride in this summer’s work was everywhere.
At Phone2Action, we were no less proud. The Civic Tech Fellowship program has been a huge success for our organization, yielding 10 full-time employees and four part-timers who work with us remotely and during holidays. In addition, we launched an apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor this year. Three fellows have been accepted and, at the end of the apprenticeship, will be certified to work in quality assurance and software development.
The program has helped our staff, but it has also contributed more broadly by training—and in some cases, retraining—people to work in technology. For example, one of this year’s fellows came from a physical therapy background and learned that some of the skills required in physical therapy are also helpful in quality assurance. The goal of the Civic Tech Fellowship Program goes beyond Phone2Action, providing people who want to join the industry with hands-on experience they may not get elsewhere.
In Their Own Words
While the fellows are a driving force at Phone2Action, we hope to drive their careers as well. Curious if we succeeded, we asked the 2019 fellows to describe their experience in the summer of 2019. Here’s what they had to say:
Amy Ru, Product Fellow
As a Management Information Systems major at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, I really wanted to explore product management as a potential career in the tech space. There was just a little problem: I had no idea what product managers even did. I was recruited into the fellows program through a hackathon at Stanford University, and I’ve worked on multiple projects throughout my time at Phone2Action, including working with data analysis software, learning UX techniques and familiarizing myself with the agile development process. My colleagues are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, my managers trust me to work on real projects that will impact the company, and this experience has inspired me to pursue an Associate Product Manager (APM) program when I graduate from my university. I’m thrilled to have discovered a calling where I don’t have to choose between job stability and job satisfaction.
Patrick Haines, Customer Success Fellow
Nina Hamidli, Engineering Fellow
Throughout my first year of college, I attended several hackathons and at one of them my team won the Phone2Action challenge, which led to the Civic Tech Fellowship. Although in college I took computer science classes, I was still unsure if I would like to work as an engineer. During the summer I worked on engineering team both on front-end and back-end development, fixing bugs and adding new features. With the help of a very supportive team, I learned how actual software production cycle works in an agile environment and gained valuable technical skills for product development. Because of the practical application at this fellowship, now I am sure that I want to focus on becoming a software engineer.
Emily Cassell, Engineering Fellow
Before I found Phone2Action, I thought I would have to choose between utilizing my undergraduate government degree or my data science master’s degree. Phone2Action appreciates my background in government while allowing me to gain new a data-science and engineering skill set. On the Data Warehouse Team, I worked to provide data-driven insights for other teams across the company. I worked on analytical questions such, what keywords are the most popular, which campaigns are the most active, and how valuable is Phone2action to our customers? My insights have helped the sales team improve and helped the Customer Success team better target customers that may need an extra hand.
Zac Zajdel, Engineering Fellow
I am currently a senior at IUP studying software engineering with a minor in cyber security. I was thrilled to have the opportunity throughout the summer to obtain real-world experience within the software industry. Throughout my fellowship, I created a delivery dashboard making it one of the biggest software projects I’ve worked on to date. The knowledge I’ve gained throughout my fellowship is priceless and I will always be able to thank Phone2Action for giving me the stepping stones toward a long and successful career. I plan to finish my undergraduate this December and am looking forward to all my future endeavors and opportunities.
Shadawn Hammons, Sales Fellow
I studied political science and international studies and minored in French as an undergrad at IUP, and I was interested in the digital advocacy field and exercising my knowledge at Phone2Action. Fortunately, I practiced what I already knew and I learned so much more! All summer I worked as a research fellow who occasionally helped out the operations and marketing teams. My favorite exercise was the sales team morning stand-ups where we practiced transparency and did sales activities to keep the team on our feet. My experience here inspired me to pursue a career in advocacy and policy.
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