Giving back to the community is an important part of VMware’s culture. Through the VMware Foundation, employees have an opportunity to contribute their time, talent and skills to make a difference in their community. We sought to learn more about the Foundation’s #ContributingCode initiative, so we connected with Nicola Acutt, Director of the VMware Foundation, to get her take on this project and Service Learning at VMware.
Tell us a little bit about #ContributingCode?
At VMware, we believe that our people can positively impact their communities by contributing their time and talents. Each employee receives 40 paid “Service Learning” hours a year to volunteer in their community and learn through the experience of giving back.
#ContributingCode is an initiative of the VMware Foundation to connect our talented technologists with skill-based Service Learning opportunities. To do so, we partnered with the SocialCoding4Good network and hosted events such as Tech Talks and Coding Sprints for our employees. Our motivation is to use technology and our collective talents to serve humanity and make a positive contribution to the world around us.
What was this Service Learning project about?
Check out this video below to see how this project took shape.
The project was about tackling a problem by bringing together a bunch of smart VMware engineers and applying the best thinking in human-centered design, rapid innovation, and IT skills. We partnered with SocialCoding4Good and IDEO.org to help an international NGO called Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) to come up with a creative way to address the pervasive problem of sanitation.
In my mind, this project was a great example of collaboration: WSUP has a gnarly problem; IDEO.org has a human-centered approach to solving problems; VMware has smart people who love to tackle big problems; and, SocialCoding4Good brought us all together.
How did VMware people contribute back?
Our people contributed in several ways. First, to kick off the project, we hosted a Tech Talk with R&D so that people could learn from subject matter experts and gain a deeper understanding of the problem and context. Following the talk, a group of engineers volunteered for a “Design Sprint” with IDEO.org to brainstorm new ways to approach a problem – i.e. connecting humans and technology to map the gnarly issue of open defecation. Using the IDEO method, the volunteers came up with several concepts and a week later, a group of VMware people traveled to IDEO.org’s offices in San Francisco for a “Develop Sprint” to actually build out a functional prototype.
A team from IDEO.org is on its way now to test out the prototype in the field in Kumasi, Ghana. You can track the progress of the project here.
What were the lessons or takeaways?
Beyond the possibility of applying technology and our talents for social good, I think that there were many lessons or takeaways from this Service Learning project. For some people, it was about understanding the realities of a very serious issue facing 2.3 billion people. I am astounded that there are more people in the world who have access to data on their cell phones than have access to running water and sanitation in their homes. For other people it was about innovation and how the principles of human-centered design can be applied to solving real business problems. As Mike Stunes, a member of VMware’s performance engineering team said: “One interesting takeaway was the continuing refinement of ideas, to better focus on the actual problems they are trying to solve, and the people who are going to benefit from them. Take their cook stove as an example: it’s not about designing a nifty stove, it’s about designing something useful and practical for the people who are ultimately going to benefit from it, and taking their actual needs into account. I think those of us in R&D could apply that to our work at VMware: we need to make sure to keep our focus on knowing our customers and their needs, and building products that are ultimately going to address those needs”.
What makes our #ContributingCode initiative different?
We partnered with SocialCoding4Good to help connect our talented corporate volunteers with organizations using Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS). We wanted to both inspire this HFOSS movement and provide practical opportunities for our people to use their skills, such as Linux, Java, Python, PHP and various frameworks and APIs on “doable” projects.
While several tech companies host “hackathons”, the thing that makes our #ContributingCode initiative different is our commitment to Service Learning as a corporate value. We found that often an unintended consequence of corporate “hackathons” is that products are “developed and dumped”. Because of our commitment to Service Learning, we are helping our partners go beyond these one-off “hackathon events” to more sustainable outcomes by supporting these projects from “development to deployment” because VMware gives our people paid time to contribute.
The project with IDEO.org is a good example of “development to deployment” because, after the IDEO.org team returns from the field, VMware people have the opportunity to continue to help refine the platform using their Service Learning hours.
What can people do if they’re interested in #ContributingCode or using their tech skills to give back?
If you’re inspired to give back, find a technical volunteer project on SocialCoding4Good’s website – it’s a great way to share your talents with the broader community.
You can also follow this particular project here!
-The VMware Careers Team
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