Whether you’re figuring out your schedule, calculating your GPA, or looking up your lab partner on Cygnet, Swarthmore College Computer Society (SCCS) has tools to help. While the college itself provides many useful online services, along with the WiFi needed to access them, SCCS works to create technology that directly serves the needs of college students. But what goes on behind the SCCS services we know and use?
The answer is a great deal of work. SCCS President Christian Galo ’22 explained in an interview with The Phoenix that SCCS is constantly busy developing and reworking services, which entails lots of hands-on labor.
“People generally have some experience with independent projects and really getting their hands dirty in that regard. The practical skills that are really necessary to make our infrastructure work are often things that you come to learn independently,” he said.
In particular, existing tools take significant effort to maintain. Cygnet, a listing of Swarthmore students’ class years and housing assignments, and Reserved Students Digest (RSD), a daily listing of events and news, both require regular updates to stay viable.
“A lot of work goes into the smaller features of Cygnet, the development of the RSD back-end, the maintenance of mailing lists, etc,” Galo mentioned.
This contributes to an environment strongly centered around projects.
SCCS member Ere Oh ’24 noted in an interview with The Phoenix, “A lot of students in [SCCS] aren’t in it for profit really [SCCS members do not get paid]; it’s a lot of passion projects for the community. None of it’s really for personal gain, other than experience, a lot of it’s for the students and for the joy of creating a project.”
In practice, this means that SCCS is centered on the work itself.
“SCCS is a club to join if you’re interested in doing projects, it’s very much a project based club,” said Oh.
This project focus is central to students’ interest in working with SCCS. For Galo, the experience of working on a project with others was fun enough to keep him involved enough to become president. As president, Galo described some of the upcoming projects that SCCS has in the works.
“We are currently focused on setting up a Minecraft Server, giving a refresh to the SCCS spaces, developing internal document and project management tools, doing infrastructure maintenance, and making our visual identity consistent throughout our services and spaces,” he said.
But SCCS has added more than new projects, as the organization has seen an increase in membership. Galo attributes this to the widening of roles within the organization but notes that it was actually an unintentional increase.
“The growth in membership was not intentional. During the pre-recruitment meetings of the semester we discussed the need for a wider variety of roles within SCCS. Usually, we bring on mostly system administrators. This year we welcomed more prospective members who demonstrated exceptional skills in areas outside of system administration,” Galo mentioned.
Oh, who helps operate the SCCS Instagram account (@swatsccs) believes that improved marketing also played a role, mentioning that SCCS hadn’t marketed itself as much in previous years.
“We’d just relied on word of mouth at this kind of small school,” said Oh.
These changes have had a marked impact on gender representation within SCCS, particularly because the wider variety of roles attracted more diverse candidates.
“The field of system administration is even more disproportionately male than other fields in tech,” Galo said. But in shifting away from system administration, SCCS has shifted towards greater diversity.
“The pool of people who demonstrated interest in becoming part of SCCS this year was remarkably diverse and the new staff members are broadly representative of that pool,” Galo remarked.
Galo notes that these changes have provoked serious consideration surrounding SCCS’s inclusion goals.
“While the recruitment and onboarding process wasn’t as smooth and as systematized as we would have liked, it has started ongoing conversations about how to recruit students from underrepresented groups, providing proper support for new members, and making the group more welcoming and inclusive,” said Galo.
Oh agreed, noting several factors at play.
“The leadership board this past year did a much better job of looking for diversity and the increasing number of CS majors [at Swarthmore in general] has been a big trend,” he said.
That process is one driven by a strong sense of the importance of institutional memory. As an organization founded in 1992, SCCS is one of the oldest student organizations on campus, lending it a long history to learn from. SCCS is interested in doing exactly that.
“Part of the project of preserving institutional memory is that of making sure that these conversations don’t just die off and start again from scratch from year to year. We want to make sure our documented knowledge accumulates from year to year so that our processes can get better as we learn new lessons and gather best practices,” said Galo.
This emphasis was partially prompted by the circumstances of the pandemic.
“The pandemic created somewhat of an awkward break in institutional memory. A lot of things are not well documented and sometimes if they are, they are outdated. While this situation made us create some processes from scratch, it also gave us an incentive to be much more deliberate about approach to community building, documentation and project management systematically,” noted Galo.
That deliberate effort required significant time spent improving documentation.
“We are currently building systems to better manage our institutional memory, projects and documentation. As we process decades of notes and organize both our digital and physical spaces, we hope we can produce better answers to questions about ourselves, such as this one,” said Galo.
As SCCS understands well, information is only as valuable as the tools that connect it to us 一 tools which SCCS has been working to develop with increasing diversity in membership, a persistent commitment to their projects, and a targeted marketing campaign to reach disconnected members of the Swarthmore community.