Lessons learned from our New York City internship

We have long aspired to write a blogpost about our recent internship experience, but how casually can you narrate such a story when all of a sudden you find yourself from your student apartment in Thessaloniki to the hustle and bustle of the world’s metropolis, New York City?

To get this story started right, no trip to NYC is complete without a stroll along the 5th Avenue and especially a visit to the New York Public Library’s main branch. “Patience” and “Fortitude”, the library lion statues, decorate the entrance of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, one of the most emblematic New York landmarks. Apart from the architectural importance of the building, which has been featured multiple times in popular culture, the New York Public Library serves the city as a major educational institution, offering classes and lectures on a wide variety of scientific fields for free. The NYPL manages to harmoniously combine the two traditional rivals, the print and the digital world, by hosting an entire department dedicated to technology classes, TechConnect. TechConnect helps people of different ages and backgrounds get familiar with technology and acquire in-demand digital skills. Its classes have sparked the public interest to an impressive extent, with thousands of people signing up in many NYPL branches.

Last year TechConnect launched a game development class for teens called Coder Games. The goal of Coder Games is to expose game development and coding to the diverse teen population of the NYPL. Learning game development can offer a lot of potential benefits to teens, it teaches them problem­-solving skills, logical thinking, abstract and creative thinking, as well as giving them an opportunity to develop a passion into a future career.

The department’s Associate Director, Brandy McNeil, noticed that although females lead the numbers in the rest of TechConnect’s classes, female teens are less likely to sign up for this specific program. And this is where we become part of the story! Since we had adequate experience and knowledge in the field of women in technology, the Embassy of the United States in Athens considered us a great match for this need and awarded us with a grant that allowed us to join the TechConnect team in NYC for an externship. During the last month, we have been working on the Coder Games class creating a strategy that will attract more female participants and help them feel included in the classroom. Although it is yet too soon to share our results, our experience while living and doing our internship in New York is definitely life-changing.

Below you can find some of the takeaways we have gained so far from this intense experience.

  1. Starting from our work environment we are really amazed by the diversity of the staff. We have the chance to collaborate on a daily basis with a heterogeneous group of people and get the most out of these cultural exchanges. This can prove beneficial not only for our cultural sensitivity and adaptability but also for better understanding the city’s ethnic mosaic, which also gave NYC the nickname “melting pot”. Each one of the TechConnect team members had an inspiring and interesting personal story to share with us and it has been enlightening working next to them.
  2.  In NYC people are busy thinking about their dreams, goals and concerns. At first it might seem negative that everyone marches to the beat of their own drum but it surely offers plenty of space to be yourself and focus on your own path without anyone intervening. In addition, it is easy to notice that everyone here works hard and accomplishes a lot, which motivates you to do your best, so that you deservedly earn your spot among the “best of the best”. The work hours might sometimes be long but no excuses are tolerated in the Big Apple!
  3. You have to toughen up. NYC is known for its hectic pace ( a.k.a.“the New York minute”) and there is no time to sugarcoat the pill. While in a working environment, you are often assigned a task, but the way you are going to complete it is totally up to you. This situation carries a lot of responsibility but also enables you to feel creative and explore what works best for you and your working style. People here are always ready to give and receive feedback in a very straightforward and sincere way, accelerating in this way your personal and professional development. The same applies to other social circumstances, whenever something or someone annoys them e.g. in the street, in a line. We personally find that this upfront way of communication saved us from the passive-aggressive attitude and the drama found in similar cases elsewhere.
  4. Ask and you shall receive. One of our tasks was to reach out to New York organizations working with women in tech and since we didn’t personally know someone in this field, there was only one option left: cold e-mailing! Of course it feels uncomfortable addressing requests to someone you’ve never met before and who is certainly very busy, but much to our surprise, large organizations answered back and showed interest in our e-mails. New York City provides a fertile environment for both online and offline networking, so, don’t be afraid to ask what you need even from strangers, be direct and, if you have persistence, the odds are in your favor!
  5. Anything can happen in NYC. One day we are writing letters to the future President of the United States in Bryant Park, next day there is a filming taking place outside the office and many more stories that indicate how unpredictable this city can be. The vibe, the energy and the variety of NYC make it the most inspiring place we have ever been to. A significant contribution to this is made by the wonderful scenery and views that instantly change your mood.It is difficult to stay grumpy when walking around iconic skyscrapers and historical buildings, spacious parks and art installations, right? Even though it might feel overwhelming sometimes, the energy of this city is the best drive and fully compensates for the unavoidable tiredness. For all the challenges and the difficulties included, New York City makes you feel confident, proud of yourself and once you’ve lived here, there’s no turning back!

There are more to come concerning our adventures in New York City, but until then we want to thank the people who made this dream possible:

First of all, the US Embassy in Athens for their generous support throughout the process and their belief not only in us but in the greek youth in general. Dear Evgenia Diatsigkou, there are no words  to express our gratitude for all the work and time you put into this externship!
Brandy McNeil, for her acceptance, her valuable feedback and for being an inspiring role model and leader for us!
Iris Holt and Janelle Bristol for making us feel like home from day 1 and sharing with us their New York tips.
Alexis, Georgia and Jason Ballas for making room for us in their colorful house!

See you soon,
Maria and Anastasia

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