In the first part of my reflection on my first semester in Sandbox, I discussed the technical project development aspect of my experience, but Sandbox is much more than just a software consultancy. While every student in the organization cares about learning together to making an impact through software development, each member also contributes to the kind, diverse, and welcoming community.
Even in just the few months that I have been part of the organization, the level of support, both technical and personal, has made my time as a developer so much more impactful. From the energetic “Welcome to Sandbox!!” messages decorated with colorful custom emojis on the day I joined the team Slack to shoutouts at the last time we met this semester in West Village H, everyone in Sandbox has fostered a community culture that extends far beyond working on a project together.
🎉 Semester Kickoff 🌟
When the semester began, the first time Sandbox met was a full-day event to discuss semester goals, decide project teams, and get to know each other through icebreakers, games, and friendly competitions. As someone who did not know anyone in Sandbox as Kickoff Day came, it was intimidating to walk into a room of veteran members excitedly socializing and singing along to the music, leading me to question whether I would be able to join a community that seemed so tightly knit.
Yet when the time came to pair up and introduce our partners to the rest of Sandbox, the veteran members instantly took on the responsibility of making new members feel welcome to the community by going out of their way to partner with them rather than leaving them to pair up with each other. I was fortunate enough to partner with Mitch who introduced himself as someone allergic to mango peels but not mangoes themselves and now we study together on weekends in empty classrooms.
As a software consultancy, excellence in engineering is a top priority for us so we can deliver quality to our clients. Simultaneously, it is of utmost importance that our drive to make impactful software does not tread on our kind and supportive community. We ensure this does not happen by having each member sign a project contract as well as a social contract. The first contract is an outline of project requirements and what the organization has agreed to deliver to the client which Sandbox members on that project sign. The second contract is internal to Sandbox and it is a commitment to your project team and the organization to make a good faith effort to invest ten hours towards your project, communicate progress and roadblocks with teammates, and act according to Sandbox’s values: Make an Impact, Learn Together, and Be Kind.
🍩 Donut Pals 👬
This semester, Sandbox introduced Donut Pals to our Slack workspace. The idea is that every two weeks members are randomly paired up and aim to get coffee, lunch, or a donut together at some point during their paired window.
Through Donut Pals, I was paired up with Arun, an E-Board member, and Mitch, the team lead of a different project from the one I worked on this semester. While we are a community of about 40 developers, it’s difficult to get to know people personally, especially with those on different projects. These meetups were to get to know each other better, to discover common and unique interests, and bridge people from different teams. While Donut Pals was how I got introduced to Arun and Mitch, our conversations continued far beyond that meetup and ended up growing into two of my closest friendships at Northeastern.
Even beyond the two members I met through Donut Pals, the friendly nature of everyone in Sandbox enables a community that can collaborate to build impactful software but also create friendships that make that experience so much more than just engineering. The same people you ask about the technicalities of states in Node, are people you discuss the most recent NBA trade rumors with and the same people that you pair program with are ones that you can go to for co-op advice. Through small personal outreach, people in Sandbox have gone from acquaintances in the same student group to people that I can always look to for support and friendship.
📔 Sandbox Open Forums 💭
Although Sandbox has a mix of roles from E-Board, Project Leads, Designers, and Developers, we all play a part in determining the future of the organization. This year, we centralized these discussions to focus on Sandbox’s next steps to ensure everyone gets a chance to contribute their ideas through Open Forums.
To guide our meetings to be as focused and productive as possible, before each Open Forum we would vote on the topic of discussion. At the Forums, E-Board members would take a step back from the conversation to let non-executive members share their thoughts and converse about the topics that the E-Board would formalize into final decisions and actions. Facilitating such discussion in a transparent way across the entire organization has played a critical role in developing a high level of trust and clarity in a young, student-led organization. While this year we were only able to convene a few times, these discussions laid out the scale of our recruiting process and the expansion of Sandbox — we’ll be announcing our plans for this endeavor soon!
🎲 Community Events 🎥
During the semester we often come together to take a break from the constant hustle of college. Whether it be playing board games, guac night, or building away at our team Minecraft server, the events are open to everyone within the organization and are filled with lighthearted conversation and fun. In retrospect, Sandbox’s values shine even at these events where I’ve learned about the various types of instruments involved in a musical ensemble, new card games, and the history of Northeastern’s CS curriculum.
While we have organized community events, it’s equally as common for us to impromptu gather in West Village H and do homework together, chat about the week or make runs to Dunkin Donuts. Now that we’re online, we still did our best to stay connected via virtual Sunday Meetings for team updates and continue to share Google Meeting links in the Slack to chat and work together. Whether it’s the calls that go until 2 AM about the future of education and inverted classrooms or playing games online, the Sandbox community is one you can always go to for technical help, advice, or just to talk.
📆 Wrapping Up The Semester 💻
The ending of this semester has certainly been a unique one and so last week was not only the culmination of technical skill development, the growth of the Sandbox family, and countless hours of coding but also our perseverance as an organization through the most unexpected of circumstances.
We began the meeting with Project Demos and were all able to show what each of us worked on all semester long, share our personal and technical takeaways, and admire the impact we were able to make individually and as an organization. Each of us also answered the questions: “What was your favorite part about Sandbox?” and “What could we have done differently?” More than half of the responses about our favorite part about Sandbox were regarding the community and the energy each member brings to every meeting, event, and project. Simultaneously, we also took a look at the future for how we can continue to improve Sandbox as developers — many of us responded that we want to develop an understanding of our codebases and necessary technologies prior to the start of the semester so we can maximize our time on our projects. This feedback has already transformed into an Onboarding Guide that current members are building to help new members become acclimated with the technologies we use the most at Sandbox.
Finally and most importantly was the Compliment Jar slideshow. Prior to the meeting, we were sent out a link to a voluntary anonymous form that we could fill out as many times as we wanted with compliments for people in Sandbox. With members graduating this year, leaving for co-op in the fall, or even just wrapping up projects with their current team, it was genuinely heartwarming to see the incredible number of compliments filled out and even more so, watching faces light up and smile as members read their compliments that appeared on the screen.
I applied to Sandbox on a whim — I came across the application in my Fundies I Piazza Forum that was posted by one of the course’s Teaching Assistants. A semester later, I can confidently say that filling out that application was the best decision I made during my freshman year at Northeastern. Sandbox has allowed me to learn technologies, frameworks, and skills that I would otherwise not have had much exposure to until my first co-op two years from now. Most importantly, Sandbox has provided me with a community I can go to for anything imaginable. 😄