To define their community strategy, Audible leaders in Cambridge turned to our Activate Caring People Principle.
“We’ve always been really excited about Activate Caring as a mission; we embraced it quickly,” says Jenn Lee, Director of Software Development. “So the first thing we did was say, ‘What does it mean for us?’” They decided to focus on how the 100-plus Cambridge employees’ technical skills could make the greatest impact. As an office of mostly engineers, “We decided to give back leveraging our technical strengths.”
Making the greatest impact through tech, though, required research and building relationships with the community. The Kendall Square area where Audible’s Cambridge office is located is well known for its burgeoning tech scene. Often overlooked is the history and culture of the broader neighborhood, known as the Port. Once home to a number of candy factories, it’s no longer a manufacturing hub, and many of the 7,000 or so residents of this culturally diverse, low-income neighborhood feel cut off from the business and tech community.
Matt Quinn, former Cambridge site leader, recalls asking a former high school intern his favorite thing about his Audible experience. “He told me, ‘I’ve lived in Cambridge my whole life and I’ve seen these big buildings in Kendall Square and it’s been this mythical place,” Quinn remembers him saying. “‘Just to walk in the building and go through the door, and meet everyone who helped me - that was the best thing.’”
This disconnect is all too familiar for Robin Harris, principal of Fletcher Maynard Academy, an elementary school just down the street from Audible. “We’re in a community that’s constantly changing,” says Harris, whose school has been working with Audible on STEM education programming. “We don’t know newer folks in the community, and we would love to interface with the business community. It’s important for us to know who our neighbors are, so our kids can ultimately be change-makers.”
Harris has been impressed that not only is Audible out in the community getting to know its neighbors and to serve them, but also that leaders asked what she and her students needed, rather than dropping off a donation or coming in with a volunteer plan. Matt Malikowski, program manager of The Loop Lab, a group that trains underrepresented minorities in Boston for creative and audiovisual careers, agrees. “Audible is having a conversation about the problems instead of parachuting in with solutions.”
This approach is vital, says Michael Steinkrauss, Director of Quality Assurance. A lifelong Cambridge resident whose family has lived in the city for more than 100 years, Steinkrauss was in the mayor’s office every couple of months last year “trying to find our niche with city leaders, find where we can really impact” the Port and Cambridge at-large. “I think Audible has a responsibility to be a voice. We have the ability to educate, the ability to give to the community and tell them that this world of tech is here, that we want them as a part of our world and want to be part of their world.”
Audible’s resulting programs and initiatives in Cambridge are focused on STEM education for children and young adults and providing economic opportunity and connection for parents and families, from Harris’s elementary schoolers to the Loop Lab’s 18-to-25-year-old creatives to adults in the Resilient Coders program, which trains underrepresented minorities in Boston for jobs in tech through an intensive paid bootcamp. Jenny Wang, a Quality Assurance Engineer, organized Audible’s twice weekly mentoring sessions with the Resilient Coders, which have been continuing virtually. She says she’s grateful Audible has given her the chance to invest her time in these students so often, and on a long-term basis. “It’s been really rewarding to help these students,” Wang says, “I see them struggling, but they persevere no matter what. It’s really inspiring.”
Even for employees worried about their qualifications to lead others, once they go to the ‘community hours’ sessions set up for the budding coders to seek counsel on their work, “they’re really into it, too.” In Wang’s case, spearheading this program means coming full circle—she herself was hired after participating in a hackathon with local nonprofit Girl Develop It! at the Audible Cambridge office only a year prior.
Audible Cambridge also hosts high school students each summer for a tech workshop, including connecting with them virtually this year. This diversity of ways to get involved isn’t accidental. Whether an employee wants to work directly with people or prefers to give back in the background, Audible leaders are working to provide a range of community opportunities for different personalities, areas of interest and comfort levels, says Lee. “We have a lot of options, so it’s easy to find something that fits everyone’s interest, from building out curriculum, which you can do at your desk, or going onsite or being here when we bring groups here.”
For Mark Gatesman, Senior Software Development Engineer, that means a focus on the Activate Caring People Principle internally, too. Gatesman, who’s on the Cambridge Activate Caring Advisory Board, an internal group that evaluates potential community activities and initiatives, is focused on gathering metrics to see how the office can push for creating camaraderie and belonging and preserving our startup culture.
On his own team, he puts precedence on helping people achieve their personal goals. “We’re a better place to work if everyone’s growing and feels appreciated,” he says. This culture, and our work in the community, is something Gatesman mentions to interested job-seekers at recruiting events, like this past year at the Grace Hopper Convention, where he spoke to hundreds of talented women in tech.
And in response to Covid-19, the team also supported the Y2Y Network Shelter, which houses homeless youth ages 18-24, by redistributing more than $3,000 worth of food and snacks from the office to help feed the residents there. They also contributed to Cambridge’s Shelter Meals Program which helps feed people experiencing homelessness through food distributed from local restaurants, including many restaurants that the Cambridge office would normally patronize for daily lunches and catering.
When it comes to the future of Audible’s community initiatives in Cambridge, leaders are confident the Cambridge team will continue to embrace this localized vision. Whether it’s responding to Covid-19, an internship program for high schoolers or continuing to build relationships with Resilient Coders, Loop Lab or educators, Lee says working towards leveling the playing field and making opportunities is, for employees in Cambridge, “how you change the world.”