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Coding our way to a better tomorrow

Kelly Salance

Over the years, technology has revolutionized our world becoming prevalent in all aspects of our lives. Today, we constantly interact with technology —from the digital alarm clock wake-up, to using our smartphones, from online shopping to your car GPS system. What’s more, technology is constantly evolving, with new innovations that further integrate it into all aspects of our lives. We need more people who understand coding languages and the different technologies that will power our tomorrow. This is where CoderDojo comes in.

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The CoderDojo movement believes that an understanding of programming languages is increasingly important in the modern world, that it’s both better and easier to learn these skills early, and that nobody should be denied the opportunity to do so. To that end, they’ve built a global network of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs for young people. Anyone aged seven to seventeen can visit a Dojo where they can learn to code, build a website, create an app or a game, and explore technology in an informal, creative, and social environment.

Here at Zendesk, we partner with CoderDojo in our Dublin office every two weeks with 15 students aged seven to seventeen coming to our office to work with our engineering staff. Typically the students start with Scratch, a visual coding language and a platform for building games, stories and visual characters. Often a student won’t know where to start, so we guide them through CoderDojo's resources page, encouraging them to start with anything that interests them. As one engineer mentioned, ‘to start, my primary objective is to create a fun environment and stimulate than to learn basic concepts in computer programming.”

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As students familiarize themselves with Zendesk, computers and technology, they natural grow and become more comfortable. It becomes an opportunity for students to learn a different subject, learn the basics of computer programming and put themselves as the creator of technology rather than the consumer. One engineer noted, “Computers are ubiquitous in our lives and learning what it can do transforms how the kids observe the world and find solutions for problems they face. Algorithmic thinking gives the students the ability to break down problems into small parts and create abstractions important enough to manage complexity. It is a basic problem-solving skill that could be applied on any career to help them to build a better world.”

Our world in increasingly dependent on technology making imperative that we help young people shape a positive future through coding and community. By what is exciting is their is such an opportunity in teaching youth. Kids don’t see the limitations of the tools they have on their hands. They ask questions you never thought before, they create interesting programs out of simple concepts and they expand your narrow view of the world. If the future is full of CoderDojo students, it looks to be pretty bright.

If you are interesting in getting involved with CoderDojo in your own workplace, visit their site here.

Community Building in Manila

Kelly Salance

Bayanihan. It is a term that is not easily used in a conversation. It implies a sense of selflessness and coming together as a community to achieve a common good. Derived from the word, bayan, meaning community or town, bayanihan means “being a community.” It can trace its roots in the old days when neighbors would come together to literally move a house, to carry a neighbor’s house upon one’s shoulders and relocate it to a new location along with their possessions. A festive occasion, the family prepares a small fiesta to culminate the day’s hard work and give thanks to everyone who helped.

Today, bayanihan means having a sense of community, camaraderie, and resiliency. While Filipinos no longer move houses upon their shoulders, everyday burdens are shared and halved by coming together.

Earlier this month, we saw this exceptional sense of bayanihan when 52 members of our Advocacy team came together to help build houses with our community partner Habitat for Humanity Philippines to culminate their completion of the large project of becoming ‘unified support’.

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Very early on in the project, the whole team knew that coming together under one roof as unified support was going to be a daunting task. As teams had to learn new skills, undergo training, and look forward to merging multiple teams into one, there was no doubt that this whole experience was going to be a unique one for our advocates. What better way to underscore this process than by coming together and helping with a Habitat build.

Building a house is hard. It is labor intensive and requires many hands and hearts to make it happen. It requires that everyone work together, coordinate to make the work faster, and move with patience and empathy alongside the future homeowners who were there working with our advocates.

“It was very tiring! But it was also a lot of fun because you got to work with other people you don’t see in your shift. Some work live channels and that day was the only day we were in one place and do something worthwhile,” says Candie Baring, a customer advocate. Working with your teammates can be a lot like building a house. It’s impossible to do all that work individually. “You can’t do it by yourself. You need everyone to help. That’s the whole concept of unified support. When problems are too complex, it’s easier for us to escalate them and not worry that our co-workers will think less of us if we’re unable to resolve them.”

When managing a large team, finding time to bond and hang out can be complicated. There’s no typical day when you’re working in advocacy. There are days when you’re starting with a live channel and you have to be on time. There are times when you’re handling phones and you get caught up in solving tickets and finding solutions for your customers. Chris Beattie, Director for Customer Advocacy, says that “we have to ensure that we are collaborating because all of this reflects on our customers. Building a house or doing a volunteering activity allows them to come together in a different way and build relationships with each other.”

 
 

Recognizing that the blueprint for the best customer experience requires foundational changes that can go to a much personal level, Chris imparts that there will be challenges as they grow. “We know that teams in Manila are like a family environment. We don’t want to lose the closeness that we have, but we want everyone to challenge themselves to think beyond themselves.”

The Habitat build also underscored quite a number of personal realizations for some of our advocates. Candie was quick to mention how volunteering made her appreciate her life and family. “Your personal life becomes more precious when you understand that other people don’t have what you have. There’s a sense of contentment. They say you shouldn’t bring your personal life at work but you can’t really separate yourself. When you’re happy or content, or you’re angry and irritated, you bring that to your interactions with your customers.”

Chris adds, “It was such a surprise seeing people’s resilience and hidden talents. When you change the way people work, you see so much, especially in extreme challenges. You get to see the best in people in those short hours. As customers get more and more demanding, then we start recognizing that resilience is another muscle we need to work on.”

As our advocates return to their day-to-day, we see this feeling of community and resiliency shine through. No only did our team help to build a home for a family, they all gained a sense of bayanihan that they bring back to their jobs and personal lives.

Want to know more about working with Habitat for Humanity? Get involved with them today.




A Path to Inclusion through the Arts

Kelly Salance

Foodie haven, top college town, music lover’s paradise, livable city are just a few of the ways people describe the charming city that is Madison, Wisconsin. It’s no wonder it’s often found at the top of ‘Best Places to Live’ lists. Despite these accolades, a report released by Race to Equity, revealed that this ‘Best Place to Live’ was not necessarily true for all of Madison’s population.

According to the report, Dane County, where Madison is the county seat and is Wisconsin’s state capitol, has some of the widest disparities between African Americans and Whites of any place in America. Moreover, African Americans in Dane County not only lag far behind Whites, but also generally fare less well and endure more negative life outcomes than African Americans elsewhere in the nation. With data that drastic, many Madisonians began to question the norm and wonder how much more they should be doing to make their city truly livable for all.

Since then, diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives from all sectors have emerged with the goal to achieve greater racial justice for all. One such organization inspired by the report is the Overture Center For the Arts. Overture Center is a state-of-the-art performance center in downtown Madison with a mission to support and elevate their community’s creative culture, economy, and quality of life through the arts. Citing the Race to Equity Report as its catalyst, Overture realized they should be doing more because arts is an essential component to the health and wellbeing of a community. As a result they created a comprehensive plan of action committing to diversity and inclusion in their programming and workplace, beginning with hiring Ed Holmes as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Overture.

Over the last two years, Holmes and team have been creating opportunities to increase access to the arts for all. They offer subsidized tickets to the low-income individuals and families, and last year issued more than 3,000 community tickets to increase the expanse of audience experiencing their shows. Additionally, Overture offers a program called Disney Musicals in Schools, where youth to take the stage for the first time performing Disney songs and plays to transform the landscape of young performers to reflect Madison’s diverse community.  

 Zendesk’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Khalida Ali, on Paths to Inclusion at the Diversity and Inclusion Symposium at Overture Center.

Zendesk’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Khalida Ali, on Paths to Inclusion at the Diversity and Inclusion Symposium at Overture Center.

Moreover, Overture partnered with Zendesk to host a Diversity and Inclusion Symposium in October 2018. This half-day event gathers leaders across industries dedicated to listening, learning, and collaborating on ideas for what a diverse and inclusive workplace looks like in Dane County.

Addressing deep racial inequality is not going to be solved overnight, and it will take people coming together from all parts of our society. The important work of Overture Center highlights that both simple and innovative solutions are imperative to building more inclusive community that is better for all its residents.

To learn more about their work visit their website.

Hope Shines at The Beacon

Kelly Salance

In Dane County, Wisconsin there are over 2,400 people currently experiencing homelessness and an estimated 33% of those are families. While there are many overnight shelters, other supportive resources are often lacking making it nearly impossible to transition out of homelessness. This is until The Beacon opened its doors to the community.

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Celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, The Beacon is a daytime resource center, open 365 days of the year from 8am to 5pm located just blocks from the Capitol Square in downtown Madison. The center operates around the idea of ‘many needs met under one roof’ and offers a variety of services to the over 235 men, women, and children who come their doors every day. Along with basic needs services, The Beacon offers showers, laundry, restrooms, a kitchen, a P.O.Box where people can get mail delivered to, lockers, a computer lab, mental health clinic, and a family space. “An essential part of our model is the fact that our guests don’t have to find transportation and visit several locations to get the critical help they need,” said Tami Fleming, The Beacon’s Volunteer Coordinator.

In the year since The Beacon opened, over 7,000 people have visited the day center to access its resources. With a lean staff of seven people, Fleming stresses the importance of volunteers in running their day to day operations.  She adds, “You don’t have to be a social worker to make a difference.” You just have to join her 90 min volunteer orientation where Fleming trains volunteers to treat people in a very practical and empathetic way. Volunteers discuss different situations Fleming has encountered over the last 8 years working in homeless outreach. She encourages volunteers to empathize the with stress, trauma and exhaustion that people are experiencing and bring that understand to their volunteering.

As homelessness continues to rise in Madison, innovative and inclusive resources like The Beacon are essential to addressing the problem. We must all come together, treating each other with empathy and dignity to make Madison a place where all people have a place to call home. To volunteer at The Beacon, join their drop-in volunteer orientation or reach out to Tami Fleming (tfleming@ccmadison.org).

Why Do We Need an Empathy Movement?

Kelly Salance

Technology underpins nearly every single thing we do. So much so, technology has been termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s no wonder given experts predict that by the year 2030, between 20 and 25% of all jobs that humans hold today will be replaced by technology and control more and more of your daily interactions.  

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Tech may soon be filing your taxes for you, driving your car, teaching you how to play piano, and it may respond to you automatically when you have a customer service issue with a product you just purchased. (We should know...we're working on it!)

While all of this will be done in the name of becoming more efficient and eliminating redundancies, it will do so at a cost: less human-to-human interactions. And yes, we know the cynics out there are shooting off confetti cannons of joy, the truth is human interactions are key to living a healthy life!

According to a fascinating TED talk by Susan Pinker, the Italian island of Sardinia has more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America. Why? Because it's not a sunny disposition or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders healthy -- it's their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions.

Yet as more efficient algorithms and technology reduce the amount of real, human interactions we have in a given day, week, and month, how can we make sure we don’t lose touch with the stuff that differentiates us from the machines?

Welp, this is might sound crazy, but customer service may just be the answer. (Ok, ok… at the very least one of the answers.) Think about it. It’s a good bet that you might have more customer interactions on a given day than any other. Imagine what it would be like if the vast majority of those support interactions are high-touch, high-empathy and from real people who can detect emotion, relate to our human needs, and even make us laugh occasionally. We might all need to rethink our current retirement strategies. But might actually be happy to do it.

We promise we really aren’t trying to break the world record for eye rolls, so imagine your first Uber ride in a driverless car. (It's already in trials in two American cities, so if we all plan on being like Sardinia, this is in our future.). What would it take for you personally to get in the car?  Would a screen offering a live video chat with a helpful, knowledgeable, and kind customer service representative do the trick? Someone in real-time who can answer any concerns you have with the car, or how the process works, or what happens if it gets stuck. Or would you rather a live customer support person from Uber on video for the entire first ride, so you can feel more safe, more protected, and more trusting of this new technology.

It’s scenarios like these that Zendesk believes is the future of customer experience. It's not only improving technology to automate and make customer service interactions more efficient. But also investing in the creation of more human interactions so we don’t lose sight of the importance of these interactions as we all more and more of our lives to be automated

We call this the Empathy Movement. As tech becomes the tool to define some of our most vulnerable interactions, it’s critical that we all learn how to layer and integrate empathy into our interactions much more deliberately. At Zendesk, we’ve done this by launching the #6hours campaign, which asks every single one of Zendesk’s 2,000+ workforce to invest 6 hours of their time into community service. The idea being that volunteering is a vehicle for building up one’s empathy muscle.

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Join us in the #6hours campaign by simply tweeting at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a photo of you volunteering with #6hours.

You can also catch Tiffany Apczynski, Zendesk’s Vice President of Public Policy and Social Impact take a deeper dive into the Empathy Movement at Relate 2018 this November.

Cloud-Based CSR: How do you show you are down to earth when your service is in the clouds?

Kelly Salance

According to a 2017 Cone Communications study, 87% of Millennials will buy a product based on values, and 7 in 10 Americans believe companies must take actions on issues that might not be relevant to their work. To survive in the 21st century market, companies are nearly required to implement social impact programs that resonate with this new and powerful wave of conscious consumers. But that can be a difficult hurdle to clear if your product or service doesn’t to have a natural connection to a socially-minded initiative. It can feel like a disconnect if what you sell is collaboration software, yet your CEO’s passion is about universal healthcare. How do you make a strong case for getting involved in education if the service you provide isn’t remotely associated with it. When you are a blockchain company, how on earth do you begin to map out what your social impact initiatives should look like.

Some companies have it much easier.

Patagonia for example, when you think about their brand, you think of crystal clear waters, untouched forests, and fresh air. Their product, outdoor gear, is exactly in line with their social impact plan. This deep connection between brand offering and social cause is a logical match and in some ways, allows for the consumer to easily remember both the product and the cause. It is easy to make the connection that Patagonia is the brand you use when camping in nature and the company that is working to preserve nature. Although, often, the connection is not as clear due to the either the product not being direct to consumer or the company taking a completely different brand strategy.

Nike, known for their shoes and athletic wear, does have a global social impact program which is focused on youth sports, yet, if you were to ask anyone in the past month about Nike’s causes most likely you would hear about their Colin Kaepernick ad. This controversial ad campaign which features Colin Kaepernick, former SF 49er, who kneeled during the national anthem at NFL games to protest racial injustice, has dominated many conversations. This willingness of Nike to take a stand and truly commit to a cause that resonates for them has had important economic returns. Nike’s market value has risen by $6 million since launching the ad campaign and just 2 weeks after the ad launched, their stock hit a record high, demonstrating that if a company stands for something meaningful, consumers will respond.

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Here at Zendesk, our customers are other companies. And like most companies in the world of B2B, the connection between product offering and the corporate identity we want to showcase feels more challenging, less connected, less personal.

How we’ve managed to solve for this complex problem is boil down our service offering to what its meant to do rather than what it actually is. Zendesk software, at its core, is about fostering great relationships with customers. Boiled down even further, it’s about relationships. This led us to seeing our social impact programs as a means to promoting what we see to be an empathy movement. Sharing this narrative with our employees has been extremely successful. By volunteering and caring about marginalized populations, our employees have been challenged to understand empathy as it relates to building perspective, mutual understanding, and a long list of other soft skills that are the major philosophical components underscoring the purpose of our software: scaling empathy, even when tech is your only tool.

We would love to know how other software companies have forged a connection between what their product and/or service offering and their identity as a company. Hit us up with your stories at csr-hq@zendesk.com or tweet at us @ZDNeighborFDN.

Empowering the next generation of STEM Leaders

Kelly Salance

 
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Diverse and inclusive companies are more successful and more profitable than those companies that are not. The most simple search on the correlations between a diversity and profitability immediately return numerous, well-researched and substantiated reports correlating these two goals positively.

For instance: “Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to McKinsey’s report, “Delivering through Diversity. And the list of other think tanks citing these same benefits goes on and on.

Yet, the reality is the vast majority of the tech industry struggles with representation of minority groups, including women, which is why at the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation one of our core values is creating equity within our workplace, our communities, and society. One organization we partner with to help achieve this is Teen-Turn in our Dublin office.

Teen-Turn provides teen girls aged 15 to 16 years old the opportunity to gain hands-on technology experience through after-school workshops and two-week summer work placement in technology companies. Teen-Turn’s philosophy is rooted in the idea that when girls are users of technology, but are not involved in building that technology, their perspectives are not incorporated into the design. The end result is a myopic product that doesn’t reflect their needs. Given tech’s ubiquity throughout nearly everything we do, and increasing estimates that thousands of unfilled software engineering jobs will continue to go unfilled, balanced representation is not only necessary from a customer experience perspective, without it, economies risk becoming increasingly vulnerable.

So at Teen-Turn, young women are encouraged to experience, what it is to contribute to the very technology they use. In doing so, girls can better understand the importance of having a say in how a product that they use is developed, and why they might want to have a career in technology.

 Nikita and Greta with Zendesk staff at our Dublin Office opening.

Nikita and Greta with Zendesk staff at our Dublin Office opening.

Zendesk recently hosted two Teen-Turn interns, Nikita and Greta, to join us for a two-week ‘Teen-Turnship’ working with our software engineering team in Dublin. While at Zendesk, they met with each department to better understand the business and then focused the majority of their time on learning how to code using Ruby on Rails. Throughout the two weeks, they spent time learning the basics of the language eventually starting to build websites of their own.

The result: “It’s not boring at all!” according to Nikita. Both were surprised with how fun coding was and said they would love to take more computer science courses after they finish their certs this year. Greta said she found that learning about localization in engineering was really interesting and wants to explore that in her future classes. Meanwhile, Nikita’s biggest takeaway was that there are so many different roles in a technology company that it was the first time she considered that there is a place for her in the tech industry.

While we know there isn’t one simple solution to increasing representation in our industry, for many Teen-Turn girls, this internship is first time they can see themselves working in technology. It is one small piece that adds up to building a more diverse workforce. If you are interested in working with Teen-Turn reach out to them here.

Transformation of the Dublin Docklands

Kelly Salance

 
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Over the last decade, Dublin has emerged into a prosperous technology hub with companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter (and even Zendesk) setting up their EMEA headquarters in the city. It has marked a new era for the city and perhaps no area represents this resurgence as much as the Dublin Docklands.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Dublin Docklands were synonymous with success in the city, with endless ships sailing coming and going out of Dublin Port — one of the largest ports in the world at its peak. Unfortunately, with the arrival of containerization in the mid-20th century (and the resulting mass loss of jobs for dockworkers), the docklands went into a decline. For the subsequent decades, the docklands became a desolate, post-industrial area without any real purpose. That is until the Dublin Docklands Authority initiated a massive regeneration program in the late 1990’s. Fast-forward ten years, the Docklands are hardly recognizable from the once run-down, vast ghost town of the decade prior.

Today, when you walk around the docks, there is a vibrancy breathing through it — cutting edge restaurants, cafes, offices and apartments makeup this trendy new neighborhood. One such building along the Docklands is Zendesk’s new EMEA headquarters. While this revitalization to the Docklands -- now nicknamed the Silicon Docks-- has been a breath of fresh air for Dublin’s economy, we recognize that when we move into a space we are helping to reshape it and we must respect the history and past to be a contributing part of our community.

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With that in mind, our new office reflects our commitment to promoting community involvement and employee well-being inside and out of our workplace. We focus our community work on workforce development and technical literacy as well as diversity and inclusion - partnering with organizations including Dublin Gay Men’s Chorus, Teen-Turn and Dublin Simon Community.

In our physical office space, there are a number of unique features including a ‘mother’s room’ where Zendesk moms returning to work can breastfeed in a sleek yet cozy space (with artwork by Zendesk’s own, Chelsea Larrson), a wellness zone with a yoga studio and ample green outdoor spaces. Additionally, the office is equipped with a full event space available to host many future events with our local community partners in Dublin.

As we settle into our new home, we look forward to the future as we grow our relationships in the community. Yet, we understand that we are a part of a long history in the Docklands.