iSTEP – A Great Learning Experience

“I was looking for an opportunity to develop real-world technology while doing research in order to find a way to impact people’s lives. With my experience in technology, iSTEP was the perfect match for my hopes and ambitions.” (Hanae, February 20th, 2011)  That was part of my response about my expectations from the summer iSTEP internship. When presented with the opportunity to take part of the iSTEP program, I immediately knew that it was going to be a great learning experience. However, I also expected it to be challenging given the short time and the distribution of the team members. Looking back at the past nine weeks, I believe that the challenges that I was expecting were real and that I learned a lot about ICT4D projects.  During the first half of the summer, while the interns in Montevideo were conducting needs assessments, I spent hours searching for relevant projects and adapting to the few role changes that our team had gotten through. It was during that time that I understood the value of our mini preparation course even more mostly when it was time to shuffle team roles and use a contingency plan. I found out that flexibility is an important factor when working on field based projects. Every team member had to be flexible in his or her own way: adapt to new environment, lack of internet connection, new role, communication delays…

Before coming to CMU, I had worked for a company based in San Diego while I was in Morocco. That experience helped me picture how geographically distributed teams work and appreciate the importance of keeping communication lines open despite connectivity problems. Being considerate of other people’s time and willingly adjust to their work schedule also proved to be very crucial while dealing with iSTEP interns in Uruguay and Doha. Having worked with each other since January, I got used to receiving emails at 5am Pittsburgh time from Asma or sending her an email at night and having to wait till the next day to get an answer. It’s all about adjusting and I think that everyone did a terrific job at that.

One of the things I am most proud of is the relationship I developed with my team members. Skype conversations were a great way to stay in touch and learn more about everyone’s routine. Also, reading everyone’s blog and seeing the iSTEP experience through their eyes was something I enjoyed doing and always looked forward to. Everyone had to be informed about what was happening in the three locations and our weekly meetings often had a fun component at the end like learning about how some team members went salsa dancing or how others enjoyed their time at home or in CMU campuses. We all had to be attentive, responsive and sometimes willing to compromise on meeting times or submission dates to accommodate our fellow teammates.

After seeing the great overlap between the iSTEP 2011 CAT and the iSTEP 2010 English Literacy Tool, I had decided after consulting with the team to develop the current tool based on the old one. It made a lot of sense not to reinvent the wheel especially that the tool in hand was developed with great care and attention by last year’s interns. In was all great until somehow I lost sight of the big picture as it seemed that I was not developing anything from scratch. Being an information systems student, we are taught to reuse existing tools but to also take pride in developing our own. Those moments of doubts did not last long. While developing from point zero would have been great, time and resources available were not enough. The choice of utilizing something that is functional was actually a good one and will hopefully help us reach our goals of providing the community with reliable tools in the timeframe and within the resources we were given.  Seeing the bigger picture and how the projects can contribute to improving the community is a life lesson that I will always cherish and that I got to experience firsthand thanks to the iSTEP internship.

– Hanae


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