Vanessa Gennarelli (@mozzadrella) is the Director of GitHub Education, helping the next generation of developers make their best work. GitHub Education has helped 1.7 million developers learn to code, and supports more than 19,000 schools worldwide. She holds a Master’s in Technology, Innovation and Education from Harvard University and is a former Research Intern at the MIT Media Lab.
Vanessa has worked with littleBits (snap-together circuitry), Mozilla (web literacy training) and Scratch (playful programming for kids). As the Learning Lead for edtech nonprofit Peer 2 Peer University, she launched an alternative assessment platform (“badges”) which was used by Creative Commons, Wikimedia, NYU, and Hunter College.
Her projects have appeared in Lifehacker, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She has presented at the White House, Confab: the Content Strategy Conference, Echoing Green, and NYU’s ITP Program.
Hi @mozzadrella, what’s the most rewarding part of your day to day work?
Working with the Education team. They are deeply creative and talented individuals; the most rewarding part of my daytoday involves collaborating with my team members, inspiring them to craft ideas, and coaching them to create solutions.
For example, recently I’ve challenged @ericdrosado to come up with an idea to celebrate the 7th anniversary of GitHub Education. He came back with an amazing idea: we all start our developer journey on GitHub with our first repository. And the My First Repo Campaign was born – students and faculty members (and GitHubbers!) shared the story of their first GitHub repository.
I enjoy being a part of this process and leading my team to produce content monthly for teachers and students, including newsletters and blog posts that will not only reduce any pain points but also inspire our users.
What was the path that brought you to your current work?
Fifteen years ago, I was working as a textbook Editor, and I had a realization: this stuff didn’t help anyone learn anything.
I wanted to know how people conceptualize new topics, how they learn new things, and how to share that information widely. To do this, I started running and producing my own online courses as part of an open online collective on “Peer to Peer University”.
Building online communities around learning allowed me to understand how people engage with information, but I wanted more, I wanted to help people master the information they were receiving. So, I’ve attended graduate school at Harvard and worked as a research intern at MIT working on Scratch. I always take playful approach to learning and technical topics.
GitHub is a very unique place to work. What surprised you the most as a new Hubber?
How resourceful my team was! When I came on board it was a very small team yet it was reaching and providing services for hundreds of thousands of students and teachers. Also, how much we use emoji to communicate internally, I’ve had to up my emoji game
Undoubtedly using GitHub as an educational tool enhances student engagement, what would you say to educators who might be on the fence about adopting GitHub as a teaching technology?
Let’s start by saying that being a teacher, especially in a public school, is really, really hard. You’re doing a lot more than delivering content: you might have students who come to school hungry, you might have metal detectors, you might have huge class sizes. Teachers already have too much on their plate, and we should recognize that.
I think every teacher wants their students to be successful, and we have some early evidence that using GitHub and a CI client helps more students pass CS1. If teachers want to try GitHub, we reduce the barrier to entry by making all of our tools and training free.
For more information about our programs and outcomes you can check out the 2019 GitHub Education Classroom Report.
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
Worst Advice: Drop out of school and take a tech job. Yes, college is expensive, so it’s coming from a place of privilege to express that. But as someone from an under-represented group, the fact that I have my degree gives me legitimacy in any meeting room. And how much better would the tech industry be if we had all wrestled with concepts like hubris from the Odyssey, or transparency from Frankenstein?
Best Advice: optimize for long-term relationships in terms of a long view, it encourages you to understand who people are, where they are coming from and what’s important to them.
What’s the last thing you learned?
I’m experimenting with art deco geometric patterns and slowly learning printmaking. Is nice to just draw at the end of the day.