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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 22, 2024

Coding for change: Tufts JumboCode develops web solutions for Boston nonprofits

JumboCode provides a collaborative environment where students engage in web development for the greater good.

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CSS code is diplayed on a monitor.

At 7 p.m. on Sunday nights, Room 170 of the Joyce Cummings Center will be packed with students. Some huddle in circles, writing and dissecting lines of code, while others mingle throughout the room. The atmosphere is alive with diverse conversations, but a common thread unites them all: A shared commitment to empower communities through software development.

This scene is a familiar one for members of JumboCode, a student-run organization dedicated to developing software solutions for nonprofits throughout the greater Boston area. The mission of the club is twofold, as they seek to simultaneously empower students and make a difference.

Project manager Rebecca Dinsmore elaborated on the organization of the club.

“It’s a completely student-run organization. … We develop web apps and websites for nonprofits in the local Boston area free of charge. It’s completely volunteer work,” she said. 

The club is composed of 12 teams, each consisting of a group of developers, designers, a tech lead and a project manager. Each team partners with a nonprofit organization chosen by the executive board of the club.

One of the club's 12 teams, headed by project manager Ella Lesperance, is developing a website for Sibling Connections, a nonprofit dedicated to providing connection opportunities for siblings separated by foster care. 

“They have a huge volunteer pool and no fluid way of scheduling people for events,” Lesperance said. 

Currently, JumboCode is developing a web platform for the organization to enhance communication and enable volunteers to sign up for events. 

Another project manager, Austen Money, described their team’s efforts in designing a submission portal for Bi Women Quarterly, a grassroots publication based in Boston that aims to amplify and uplift the work of bisexual women. 

“Right now all of their submissions are through email. Everybody who wants to submit has to directly email the main editor. … That’s a lot of back and forth and it takes up a whole lot of the editor's time,” Money said. “What we’re doing is building a submission portal for all the applicants which means that they can just create an account one time and then submit as often as they need to.” 

As project managers, Dinsmore, Lesperance and Money facilitate communication between the club's members and their partner nonprofit organizations.

“The project manager is kind of the voice of the team. I not only have to communicate with all the developers and the tech lead as well as our designer, but I also bridge the collaboration between the client themselves,” Dinsmore said. 

Forging connections between technological innovation and public service is part of what makes JumboCode unique.

“My favorite part is being able to bridge the gap between working with a client and the technical side, … I really like working with a client and taking a vision that we have together and building it into something real,” Dinsmore said.

Notably, the club is open to students with all varieties of coding backgrounds, and it’s never too late to join. Dinsmore, a junior, applied to be a project manager in spring 2023 and officially took the role with the JumboCode the following fall semester. 

Lesperance described a similar path. Her role as project manager also represents her first year working with the club. 

Lack of experience is not a barrier to participation in the club. In fact, the club includes many students who possess no coding experience at all. 

“I have a couple of graduate students on my team and I also have freshmen and people who have intermediate experience with coding. … Most of them, even if they have coding experience, haven’t done web development before,” Money said. 

To ensure a balance among club members with varying levels of experience, several project managers described their team-oriented approaches to software development. Such an approach involves pairing less-experienced students with more experienced members.

“The first thing I did as project manager is I thought of the range of my team and what their abilities were. … I ended up making pairs to do partner programming with that in mind.” Dinsmore said. 

Partner pairs are often assigned a “ticket,” or a smaller component of a larger task. Club members are then tasked with completing the ticket within a 1–2 week period known as a “sprint.” While these tasks may seem daunting, especially to the club’s less-experienced members, JumboCode aims to ensure that they are fostering a safe and comfortable learning environment for all members.

“We don’t want to overwhelm people and we want people to be genuinely excited about the project,” Lesperance said.

This mentorship format fosters a more inclusive workspace and enables greater teamwork, club member Walid Nejmi explained.

“I think it’s a really great way to learn more. ... We usually get a ticket per week,” Nejmi said. ”We even have office hours … so we have ample resources to finish our tickets.” 

Outside of partner work, JumboCode also hosts hack nights, where all 12 teams within the club come together to work on their projects and connect with members from different teams. In addition to hack nights and partner work, the club’s projects often involve personal commitment as well.

“Most of the work is done during our team meetings and then additionally on the student’s own time,” Money said. 

While JumboCode embraces members with varying levels of coding experience, admission into the club is notably difficult due to the overwhelming number of applications that the club receives. Prospective members apply through a form that is sent following the club’s general interest meeting at the start of the academic year. The form consists of questions surrounding students’ grade level, classes taken, experience level with programming and short answer questions on particular projects of interest.

“You apply into certain projects as opposed to the club as a whole, because we want to see your interest in a specific project itself,” Dinsmore said.  

The club’s low acceptance rate should not deter students from applying.

“I did not have that much coding experience. I was taking CS 11: Intro to Computer Science the same semester I got accepted to JumboCode,” Nejmi said. “They really value personality and commitment. … I was committed to learning more and I was curious even though I didn’t have as much experience.” 

To the outside eye, the technicality of software development seems incompatible with the field of public service. JumboCode’s mission lies at the intersection of these seemingly disparate fields, enabling students to bridge the gap between web development and social change.

At the heart of the club is a commitment to empowering students, regardless of their background or experience level.

“We don’t require any experience. … On my team, we have people who have never coded before … and then we [also] have people who have three plus years of experience,” Dinsmore said. “Despite everyone’s experience level and coding, I believe that everyone has skills that they can bring to the table regardless of their programming knowledge.”