Ask an Engineer: Leslie Chang’s Engineering Journey
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) leverages technology, community-driven solutions and collaboration to help solve some of today’s toughest issues — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our local communities. Our mission is to build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone, and we decided to get an inside look into what products CZI’s employees are building to help achieve this goal.
Leslie Chang is an Engineering Lead at CZI working on the Frontend Infrastructure of products our Education Initiative is building in partnership with educators and researchers. We sat down (virtually!) with her to get a closer look at the work her and her team are doing, as well as learn about her personal highlights while being at CZI .
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at CZI?
I originally joined the Science Initiative, working on Meta.org as a full stack engineer. I switched over to the Education Initiative last year and now, I manage the frontend infrastructure team in Education, which supports both the Summit Learning platform and Along. I’ve had supportive managers who provided both technical and management growth opportunities for me at CZI.
What drove you to come work at CZI? What drives you to continue the work you are doing at CZI?
I started my career working at a large tech company and gradually found myself joining smaller and smaller places as the years went on. No matter the size of the company, I found myself dissatisfied with the scope of problems they were tackling. CZI was one of the few organizations that I felt worked on meaningful problems. I’m grateful for the opportunity to use my tech background in the philanthropy space. I love that we are centered around developing tools that leverage the power of technology to help teachers create strong relationships with students and enable them to equitably provide differentiated learning experiences. In collaboration with a wide range of partners, we work to dismantle systemic racism in education and build support for policies and practices grounded in racial equity.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on roadmapping for the frontend infrastructure team. Every six months, we get together and plan out the next half year of work. There is always so much to do, so most of our conversations are around our vision for the state of frontend development and what’s the largest impact we can make. Every engineer on our team has the opportunity to push for projects they believe should be prioritized. These are some cool projects our team works on: design system, accessibility, testing, developer tools, and analytics.
What’s the project you’ve worked on at CZI that you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of the time I spent working on Along.org this past year. Along is a digital reflection tool that is designed to make it easier for teachers to help make students feel seen and heard. It lets students send quick video, text or audio directly to their teacher so they can open up about who they are and what’s really on their mind, away from the pressures of the classroom or their peers. Hundreds of teachers and students across the country have been using Along as part of a pilot that began in October 2020, and just this week Along officially launched and is now available to any teacher in the United States for free. From a technical perspective, getting to work on a brand new project is exciting. It feels rewarding to work on a product that makes a difference in teachers and students’ lives as they try to navigate the effects of the pandemic and beyond. I’m proud of our small scrappy team that pushed hard to have a new working product in just a few months.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite things you’ve been a part of at CZI?
We recently had a community auction where employees donated anything they wanted to benefit a nonprofit that helps students from under-resourced communities build their writing skills. Some items were: a magical work ball hand crafted by a team mate’s 4-year-old, personalized crossword puzzle, pastries, and a handmade teacup. It was exciting watching bidding wars on unique items that showcased so many hidden talents of our employees or family members that got looped in.
How about outside of work? What is something people wouldn’t know about you?
I’m not sure if people don’t know this because I talk about surfing way too much, but I am obsessed with surfing. I started about four years ago on a trip to Dominican Republic where I intended to get into kitesurfing, but I got hooked on surfing instead. My favorite memories are surfing in an uncrowded spot with friends and cheering for each other on the waves. Through surfing, I’ve made new friends that I still keep in touch with years later.
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