Problem Solving My Way Through the Summer: A somewhat satirical but completely genuine reflection
As a high school student, the majority of “data analysis” and “problem solving” I’ve experienced has been generated from biology class and calculating my grades. In my sheltered student bubble, I had convinced myself that I was a connoisseur in all-things Microsoft Excel and Google Office; I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As soon as I began working at Bikes Not Bombs, I was thrust into the deep end of data sheets and algorithms. I began to consider the idea that maybe there is more to data organization than knowing how to change the color of a cell. Despite feeling like a newborn giraffe, I decided that my only choice was to push onward.
Google was my best friend in the beginning. When I was faced with adversity, hurdles, or uncharted “delimiters,” I would simply strap on my problem solving hat and make Chrome my best friend. While many of my more obvious questions were easily answered by a search engine, for more profound inquiries, I was forced to bring in the “big guns.” My thumbs were constantly at the ready to shoot a vague and somewhat confused text to my mom, uncle, or really anyone who would commiserate with me over my invalid Excel equations. My supervisor would often praise me for my “expert Excel navigation skills.” I would give her a nonchalant, “Oh that? It was nothing” or maybe even an, “I could do it again in my sleep.” While she didn’t grasp the full extent of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into each column and row, I felt proud that the work was done.
By my third week I felt quasi-confident in my abilities and decided I was ready to tackle a much larger fish: Bloomerang. Bloomerang is Bikes Not Bombs’ database. Equipped with over 80,000 constituents and more data points than my poor computer could process, I was faced with the challenge of a lifetime. While much of my work was completed through gritted teeth and back sweat, I began to become more comfortable with Bloomerang. Luckily, Bloomerng has an excellent customer service line, to which I made quite a few calls. We quickly graduated from strangers to acquaintances to—dare I say—friends. No, I would not say friends. I’m confident that most interns can attest that monotonous data input is one of the less exhilarating aspects of the job. It was important to remind myself that each piece of the puzzle is pivotal to a non-profit’s success; after all, a bike won’t be functional if it’s missing its front wheel … see what I did there?
My final—and perhaps the most triumphant—contribution I’ve made to Bikes Not Bombs was discovering Chrome extensions. When I was presented with my first major project, to send out 750 personalized emails, I giggled externally … and reassessed my life choices internally. I knew there had to be an easier and more efficient way to complete my tasks. I threw open my computer and quickly searched Google in attempts to discover “how to send out mass emails.” It was as simple as that. I was introduced to GMass, an extension that converts Google Sheets into individualized emails. I was off to the races. I completed my project in under 5 minutes and taught my co-workers how to install and navigate the extension as well! Side note: GMass and I are most certainly friends.
In all seriousness, I have learned more about problem solving in these past six weeks than I had in my entire high school career thus far. I’m incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to make mistakes and experience moments of growth in such a warm and understanding community. I’m sure it can be worrisome to place the lifeblood of an entire organization in the hands of a 17-year old, but I’m beyond grateful for the trust and respect I was shown by my supervisor and coworkers. I hope to continue to grow and excel (get it?) with these new skills in my toolbox as I round out the rest of my high school experience.