Sprouts: Growing Together at CZI

Elizabeth Ji
CZI Technology
Published in
5 min readFeb 4, 2019


What is Sprouts?

Sprouts is CZI’s Employee Resource Group for team members who identify as being in their early career. Most of us have less than three years of work experience. As a group, our intentions are best summarized by our mission.

Connect early career team members across CZI to:

  • Create a community that can be used both socially and as a means of support.
  • Collaborate with university recruiting to strengthen our candidate pipeline.
  • Accelerate professional development through deliberate practice.

Some of what we do throughout the year includes helping our University Recruiting team with events, meeting regularly to discuss professional development and career tips, and hanging out together for things like tea tastings, pumpkin painting, and white elephant gift exchanges.

Some of our adorable decorated pumpkins!

Fall Retreat Review

Our largest activity last year was an overnight retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains for some bonding, professional development, and beautiful scenery. We thought this would be a great way to kick off a new half and welcome several new members who had joined in the spring and summer.

After lunch with our carpool groups, we started with a hike at Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz. As a fun pre-hike activity, we also each made a custom bag of trail mix with things like pretzels, dried fruit, and brownie brittle (one of the most popular options). Holding the retreat outside of the office and immediate surrounding neighborhood allowed people to get into a different headspace and take a step back from their day-to-day work.

Vivian makes a great trail mix! She’s not just a trailblazer, she’s a trail-mixer!

Since our members span different roles and initiatives, many of us don’t interact in our day to day work. We took advantage of the hike to chat and get to know each other better. We learned more about what everyone worked on, from engineering to grantmaking, and talked about our hobbies like knitting, watching anime, and yoga. It was a beautiful day with gorgeous views, so we also took plenty of pictures!

Taking advantage of the great scenery (and Alex’s photography skills)

After our hike, we headed to Shark Fin Cove, where we spent a chilly afternoon hanging out on the beach. A big goal of our retreat was to focus on building community. We believe that a stronger community and sense of group identity will allow us to have more honest conversations in the coming year about our goals as well as areas of strengths and weaknesses.

A few of us decided to try and warm up by exploring the rest of the cove, including a natural sea cave off to the side. Turns out when the air is cold, the water is freezing, but some people decided to dip their toes in, and the rest of us were viciously attacked by the waves breaking on the shore. There was also a large rock to the side separating the sea cave from the rest of the beach which had a huge dramatic spray when the waves crashed against it… so we decided to take some photos of course! Laura climbed up and braved the wind to get an awesome shot.

Getting the shot in the face of wind, water, and cold!

Since Laura’s picture came out so good and she came out completely dry, Tim also decided to #doitforthegram. Except his wave was a little larger than Laura’s, which meant he ended up a little more splashed than she did.


After that, we decided that we could all warm up a bit, so we headed into downtown Santa Cruz for a pit stop of coffee and hot chocolate.

The warm drinks really improved (almost) everyone’s mood.

Now that everyone had a few hours to meet other members, we broke into our evening activity, reflecting about our experiences at CZI so far and how they related to our career as a whole. We lined up based on how long we had been at CZI, and paired off from the ends, so the most senior members would be paired with our newest team members. It’s pretty crazy to imagine, but of the 16 people who attended our retreat, only 4 of us had been at CZI for more than a year! Then, we spent 30 minutes in 1:1 conversations reflecting on these prompts:

  • Why did you decide to join CZI?
  • What did you hope to learn at CZI?
  • What have you learned at CZI?
  • What has been a favorite and least favorite moment at CZI?
  • What do you hope to learn in the next 12 months?
  • How do you view your time at CZI playing into your larger career?

After the 1:1s, we came together as a group and each shared something about our partner. We talked about everything from insecurities to goals and dreams, and everyone was very supportive and attentive to other people’s stories. Both our 1:1s and our group share out were filled with candor, honesty, and empathy. It was important for us to build trust and be comfortable being vulnerable with each other, because we believe we are uniquely positioned to have CZI-wide impact as some of the youngest members of our organization.

After our 1:1s we got together for our share out in downtown Santa Cruz.

Once we wrapped up our reflection, we headed to our shared yurt in the Santa Cruz mountains, where we settled in and played charades to end the night! Overall, there was great feedback about the event and it’s injected a lot of energy into our ERG. We’re really excited to succeed, fail, and most importantly, grow together this year!

Group photo at Shark Fin Cove!