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Making Inclusion Happen Through Mentoring

Students in the inclusion initiative getting their hosting setup on Pantheon

It’s no secret that diversity in the overall tech world is dismal, with it being overwhelmingly white and male. While we still have room for improvement, Palantir.net is proud to have a diverse staff that is more than 50% women (with gender balance at all levels of the company), and we are also diverse along other dimensions, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity. One of Palantir’s core principles is that we believe that the best outcomes are realized when people are able to create and collaborate in an open and inclusive environment. While we are only a small company, we believe everyone has a role in helping to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity within the technology industry.

One of the places where we can make a difference is in the Drupal open source community. Palantir team members have been involved for years in efforts to help to make Drupal more welcoming and inclusive for contributors already in the community, but most people outside of Drupal have never heard of Drupal! So we decided to be a bit more proactive in exposing the possibilities of Drupal to a more diverse crowd by reaching out and pulling some talent into our community.

The Idea

At MidCamp 2017, Chris Rooney of DigitalBridge gave a talk that asked the question about how can we as a community bring more diversity in? I approached Chris after his talk and had a simple solution (in theory): DrupalCon Baltimore was just three weeks later . . . why don’t we find an organization with which we can partner and invite some students to attend DrupalCon for the day?

Due to some serendipity on our end with her being between projects, my colleague Michelle Jackson — a Strategist with a background in youth education who also happens to live in Baltimore — was able to help me find 5 students from the Baltimore chapter of NPower to join us at DrupalCon. With three weeks and much help from within the Drupal community with providing extra tickets, a room at the conference, and their time in speaking with our group, our five students had a quick introduction to Drupal class in the morning led by Ryan Price and Digital Bridge, followed by lunch with various members of the community, and lastly time in the afternoon to attend sessions and walk the exhibit hall.

After DrupalCon Baltimore was over, we asked ourselves how we could expand on this initiative, and what that would look like. Do we keep just offering one day of exposure? Do we try more formal Drupal training? What are the logistics involved? What are the obstacles?

There were limitations to doing just one day of exposure at DrupalCon: with only a few hours, we couldn’t give more than a basic intro to Drupal, so we focused more on an overview of open source and career paths into Drupal and the web. It was enough to get the students interested, but felt too abrupt: after all, the students went from having never heard about Drupal, to being thrown into a DrupalCon conference with all of its jargon and high-level sessions. We decided to expand the program into a longer-term one that began with basic training, building a project slowly over a few months, thus allowing them to attend DrupalCon with more context and to possibly find an internship at its conclusion.

Other logistics we had to consider: we couldn’t assume that all students had laptops or access to internet, the amount of time Palantir staff had to devote to training each week (let alone planning), scheduling times to meet, and costs involved with getting students to conferences.

Our Inclusion Initiative

Now one year later, we have our first pilot class of students who just this past weekend joined us at MidCamp in Chicago, and will be joining us at DrupalCon in Nashville! Our program looks something like this:

  • We expanded from five students in 2017 to eleven for 2018. Two students dropped out of the program due to interfering outside forces, so by MidCamp we had nine students heading into DrupalCon.
  • We partnered with NPower in Baltimore again, since three of the original students were still interested in learning about Drupal. We also brought in Genesys Works from Chicago for the other students. As Palantir is a Chicago-based firm, it made sense to have some of the talent be local to us.
  • We partnered with FigLeaf in Baltimore to provide weekly training. Dave Gallerizzo met with students remotely via Adobe Connect to teach an hour-long class to our students.
  • Each student picked a personal project to build. These included an NBA fan site, a mariachi site, one for a church, one for music, and one for an upcoming video game release.
  • Starting with a kickoff on January 6th, 2018, we began the weekly classes. Palantir gave a refurbished laptop to each student, we set everyone up on a Slack channel, and started our first Drupal class.
  • We also found mentors within the Drupal community to donate an hour of their time every week to work with our students during, “lab hours,” and invited them to the Slack channel. Students now had one hour/week of class, plus one hour/week of lab hours with a mentor.
  • The students met in-person at MidCamp in Chicago so they could review their work, attend sessions, and meet others in the community.
  • Looking forward, the students will continue working on their projects until we all meet again at DrupalCon Nashville to review their projects.
  • After DrupalCon, Palantir will assist with resume creation and helping students get internships within Drupal.

So here we are, just after MidCamp, and so far so good. The students were able to meet each other, show progress on their work, see a number of sessions, meet the community, get hosted on Pantheon sandboxes, and are ready to keep going towards Nashville!

While we did a lot of things right, our program isn’t yet perfect. While the students enjoy the flexibility of the recordings and being able to check in with mentors as needed, they’ve also let us know that they’d prefer more overall structure to the expectations for each week. They also said they would have appreciated more of a breakdown of the types of work on which they could focus (security, front-end development, design, strategy, etc.) so they could anticipate which sessions fit their interests. Great feedback for us as we move this forward.

“I’ve learned a lot to help me on what I’m working on with my project. By DrupalCon, I should have extensive information on all the ways to use Drupal.” - Blake James, NPower student

What did it cost?

This wasn’t free, of course. Here’s an outline of the general costs.

The Hard Costs

Palantir spent about $8,000 in travel costs between flights, hotels, and meals.

The Larger In-kind Donations

  • FigLeaf training classes and materials, totaling about $11,000
  • Palantir provided a refurbished laptop to each student, valued at about $3,200 total
  • Mentors and Palantiri donated time in mentoring students weekly (about 1 hour/week)
  • Palantiri donated time in organizing the program
  • Free subscriptions from Drupalize.me and Jetbrains (PHP Storm)
  • Ticket donations for MidCamp and DrupalCon from organizers and community members

It Takes a Village

This didn’t happen in a vacuum, and took the help of many people to make it happen. A HUGE thanks to the following, who contributed in ways both large and small. 

Mentors

  • Damien McKenna: Mediacurrent
  • Dave Terry: Mediacurrent
  • Melissa Bent: Mediacurrent
  • Chris Zeitlow: MindGrub
  • Michelle Jackson: Palantir.net
  • Ryan Price: Palantir.net
  • Jes Constantine: Palantir.net
  • Hannah Rosenburg: Digital Bridge
  • Ryan Peters: Digital Bridge
  • Tara King
  • Sherry Sonnier-Johnson: Sealed Air
  • Rob Powell: Mass.gov

Organizers

  • Allison Manley: Palantir.net
  • Michelle Jackson: Palantir.net
  • Ryan Price: Palantir.net
  • Megh Plunkett: Palantir.net
  • Lauren Burroughs: Palantir.net
  • Michael Dickey: Palantir.net
  • April Peck: Palantir.net
  • Colleen Carroll: Palantir.net
  • George DeMet: Palantir.net
  • Annie Schow: Palantir.net
  • Chris Rooney: Digital Bridge
  • Dave Gallerizzo: FigLeaf
  • Julia Logan: Genesys Works
  • Cathy Morgan: NPower

Additional Support

  • Drupalize.me
  • MidCamp volunteers
  • Drupal Association
  • Steve Persch
  • Dwayne McDaniel
  • Pantheon
  • Acquia
  • PHP Storm
  • Digital Bridge Solutions
  • Amanda Gonser
  • Tim Plunkett
  • David Hwang
  • Jason Yee
  • Andrea Soper
  • Ashleigh Thevenet/Bluespark

What Can You Do?

This is only one idea to address the diversity problem. We certainly encourage you to find other ways that work better for you. But we also encourage other digital agencies to follow our playbook and proactively look for talent to develop and bring into Drupal and other open source projects. The talent is out there, but we can’t sit back waiting and hoping they will find us. We have to invite them in to the opportunities. Both NPower and Genesys Works have several local chapters nation-wide, and our contacts at both organizations would be happy to work with you to find the right talent.

I also hope that the students themselves decide that Drupal is appealing to them, and that they can get some internships within the community. Get ready . . . they are polishing their resumes to hand out at DrupalCon! If you’re attending, please consider meeting with them in Nashville to talk about hiring opportunities. If you’re not attending and are interested in hiring one of these students, please contact me (manley@palantir.net) so I can connect you with a motivated intern who is ready to learn more about Drupal.

Students at the NPower office in Baltimore
Students meeting up in Chicago.
Students eating at Portillo's
The group having dinner at Portillo's during MidCamp.

 

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