Since launching barely one year ago, Audible Women in Engineering has already taken on initiatives such as providing input to the recruiting process, ensuring equal representation at Take Your Kids to Work Day, and organizing streaming and attendance of both internal and external women-centric conferences. Most recently, we hosted a field trip for a Newark chapter of Girls Who Code as part of their summer immersion program for eighteen high school girls. It was encouraging to see how many colleagues willingly invested time over the course of several months to make this happen.
By the end of the assembling session, we desperately wished there were a QA engineer among us.
Ideas involving hackathon-style API work and Arduino projects were floated around, but we eventually settled on a Raspberry Pi activity that encapsulates audio—the bread and butter of Audible—and the engineer’s spirit of tinkering with something that’s not quite right. In preparation for the activity, we set up SD cards with the Raspbian operating system and Python and C libraries and stuffed eighteen tote bags with Raspberry Pi 3’s, breadboards, resistors, analog-to-digital converters, microphones, buttons, potentiometers, wires, cables, and a smattering of Audible swag. By the end of the assembling session, we desperately wished there were a QA engineer among us.
The day kicked off with a panel featuring Barbara Ward Thall, SVP of Global Brand Marketing, Kalpana Banerjee, Senior Director of Product, Urvashi Tyagi, Director of Software Development, and Tanya Kravtsov, Director of QA. Each female leader shared anecdotes of the winding roads that led her to a role in technology at Audible. They fielded questions from the girls on topics from work-life balance to combining other interests with technology. Even the Audible employees and panelists themselves had much to take away; the conversations compelled us to see each other not just as coworkers but as people with lives before Audible filled with aspirations and conquered hurdles. We concluded the hour with a lightning round of frivolous but relevant questions such as “Snapchat Stories or Instagram Stories?” and “What did you want to be when you grew up?”
The girls worked off our written guide and skeleton code in teams of three to build an audio playback/recording system. Audible volunteers and Girls Who Code instructors made rounds to offer technical support and clarify concepts. As I watched the girls wire up the breadboards and talk through bugs with us, I had to constantly remind myself that five weeks ago most of them had no exposure to computer science. They were fast learners. I walked over to a team huddled around an iPad and smiled upon discovering that they were already well-acquainted with every developer’s best friend: Stack Overflow. I glanced over at the unoccupied volunteers in the room and quickly dispelled thoughts of singularity.
I absolutely loved hearing about the wide array of interests the girls had and being able to tell them that, yes, there is a way to combine that with technology.
My favorite part of the day was lunchtime and not just because my cheesy self enjoyed watching people sink their teeth into the raspberry pies and the slow realization that they are the subjects of a tasteful pun. During this time, we got to talk to the girls offline and hear about their interests and aspirations. Many of them, without prompt, came up to me and said, “I want to major in computer science in college. What’s it like?” I absolutely loved hearing about the wide array of interests the girls had and being able to tell them that, yes, there is a way to combine that with technology.
Hear from some of the girls and volunteers in this video highlight reel!
We split the technical activity into manageable results-driven sections, demonstrating the software engineering concepts of modularity and extensibility. The latter portion of the guide contained add-on features like volume and speed control. Our goal was to provide enough direction and resources throughout the day to inspire the girls to build on their own time.
This left time enough for a tour of the office, including our newly renovated Audible Studios. The girls had fun testing the soundproofing qualities of the narrating booths and getting a glimpse of our celebrity treatment in the hair and make-up room.
As the girls packed up their goody bags (Raspberry Pis included) before heading out, my colleagues and I remarked on how much the girls seemed to enjoy themselves. I recall looking around the room during the working session and reminding myself that all of the Audible attendees were happily there by will, actively investing their time in supporting a wonderful mission under the name of Audible.