Ben Borgers

JumboCode plans for Head of Engineering

March 23, 2023

JumboCode is a club at Tufts that I’ve written about before. They form about a dozen teams of 10ish developers, and spend the year building an app for a non-profit.

Most of the developers don’t have a lot of experience building apps (mostly for the web, but some mobile), but people learn fast.

A few days ago, I was accepted to be JumboCode’s Head of Engineering for next year!

I have some ideas right now of things I want to do next year. I know it’s a bit silly, because everyone always has big ideas until they realize the constraints, but I also want to preserve where my mind is at.


  • In my mind, one of JumboCode’s weak points is that there are roughly 2x more people who apply than are able to be accepted.
    • The number of teams, and therefore number of developers that can be accepted, is bottlenecked by how many teams the club’s executive board can manage and check in with.
    • But this means that there are many people who’d like to do JumboCode but are denied.


  • I’ve been thinking about the idea of holding workshops a few times a month on the technologies that are often used in JumboCode teams: JavaScript, TypeScript, React, CSS, Tailwind CSS (?), Node.js.
    • These workshops would be available for JumboCode developers, but also to the wider Tufts audience.
      • This way, JumboCode could reach more people and give them a taste of app development, without putting a strain on the existing system.
      • These people might not have been accepted, or want to commit to the club for a year, but maybe they’ve heard that React is a good thing to know and want to spend an evening doing a workshop on it.
  • I’m thinking that these workshops should involve a lot of coding along, and trying to keep the “lecturing” to a minimum.
    • People seem to learn quite well by seeing an example and then back-applying it to what they’re trying to do.
      • This is faster and more interesting than learning the fundamentals, in the beginning.
        • In the beginning, the goal is to get people to an “ah-ha! this is fun!” moment, not to teach them “the right way”.
    • I think it would make sense to use something like Replit, so that we don’t have to spend 20 minutes getting everyone to download VS Code and getting their environment set up.

Extended Workshops

  • I’d love to hold workshops on how to build apps, in addition to the ones on basic technologies.
  • These would have to maintain a fairly low barrier to entry; I don’t think you can assume that everyone coming to these has a “prerequisite” of attending the above workshops.
  • The thing is that the “thing” that you build should be inherently interesting by itself.
    • The goal is to show people that programming is a fun and creative form of self-expression, not just something you do for classes or for corporations.
    • The canonical idea I keep coming back to is to do a workshop building an AI-powered chatbot that connects to your Google Calendar and you can talk to it about your calendar.
      • I like this idea, because I think that it’s a compelling thing to build — if you built it, you’d find it cool to walk out of the workshop with that.
        • This doesn’t happen when you build a tic-tac-toe game (sorry).
  • I used to do these events at Home Depot in elementary school on the weekend where they’d provide a little kit of wood and nails and screws, and they’d teach you how to build a little thing.
    • The “thing” was like a birdhouse, a piggy bank, etc.
    • The things you built were compelling by themselves, and you’d walk out with this little cool thing.
    • (By the way, this was definitely a ploy to get parents to come to Home Depot on the weekends. Lure them in with the free entertainment, buy some stuff while you’re at it.)
  • You could bring down the level required to build a lot of this stuff by pre-building simpler APIs on top of existing ones.
    • For the example above, I think I would abstract the Google Calendar API (and provide the code to those who are interested) and give it a nicer API layer.
    • But I wouldn’t abstract away the OpenAI API I think, because it’s cool to see how simple that one is inherently.
      • And that’s the “cool thing” for this project; you don’t want to abstract away people’s sense that they did something cool by themselves.


  • In my interview, I was asked whether I had any other ideas for events other than these workshops.
  • I told them maybe we could invite speakers on Zoom?
  • The example I mentioned was Fred K. Schott, co-creator of the Astro framework. I’ve chatted with him a tiny bit over Twitter messages, and he studied CS at Tufts, so maybe he’d be down to talk to us on Zoom for a bit?
  • The question is how many people would be interested in something like this. Personally, I would love it and be very interested in going, but I don’t know how many people at Tufts think something like this is cool.


JumboCode needs some more budget. This year, they started giving teams $100/year stipend to go have fun. That’s <$10/person, for the whole year. I feel like it should be slightly higher, if possible.

(I don’t know much about the Tufts club funding process, but I feel like it’s a big enough club that it should be able to command some funding clout.)

It would also be nice to have enough money to get some pizzas for the aforementioned events ($10 per pizza at Costco! And their pizzas are big!).

Show & Tell?

  • It would be cool to have some sort of “platform” for people to share what sorts of projects they’re working on.
  • There’s a Tufts Side Projects Collective, which is hosted on Piazza, but not a lot of people post there.
    • I think it’s scary to put yourself out there like that.
  • I think a better way would be to make this ”platform” a newsletter (of sorts? it doesn’t have to be a classic email newsletter) that I “curate”.
    • That way, I “interview” people about their projects, and it’s me putting them out there, not them putting themselves out there.
      • There’s also hopefully a bit less fear when someone else picks you and qualifies your work as “good enough” to be shared.
        • You don’t have to fear looking stupid.


I think the board this year was also looking for things to do in the first 10-15 minutes of the all-club meetings on Sunday nights.

This could be something for that! Have someone come up and talk about their side-project for a bit, or if they don’t want to, someone from the Board talk about it for them.