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Yale Computer Society Playbook

How we run a tech & entrepreneurship club at school

Welcome to our playbook.

This document is a compilation of the knowledge acquired over generations of our leadership teams on how to lead an effective computer society at Yale. This is our attempt to cement what works and investigate what doesn't.

Happy exploring!

Who we are

1.1 Intro to YCS

We exist to serve the community of Yale students interested in tech and entrepreneurship. We work hard to help expand this community and the opportunities available to it. As a society, we seek to be a medium of personal and professional growth for our members.

1.2 Our Values

Make it happen

We are here because we care about our community and we want to see it prosper. The opportunity to serve inspires us to work hard and to be creative. We always seek to make decisions that maximize the social value that we deliver to the world.

Always be learning

We see each new day as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. We analyze, we question, we listen and we weigh in. We welcome feedback from our peers, just as we offer them our own in goodwill.

Leadership is ownership

Ownership is taking responsibility. As leaders, we own the outcome of our projects, the successes as well as the failures. We voice our concerns whenever we see problems and we step up to fix things. We know to ask others for help when we need it and we know to offer help when others need it.

1.3 Tracks And Teams

We organize the work we do in three categories, which we call “tracks”. Work related to logistics of organizing events (eg. finding a space, providing food) belongs to the events track. Work related to talking to students, teachers and staff (eg. publicizing an event, writing our newsletter, making suggestions to the department) belongs to the community track. Work related to reaching out and working with third-parties (eg. inviting speakers, bringing recruiters to campus) belongs to the partnerships track. Each of our members specializes in a track, according to their skills and aspirations. Tracks determines people’s main responsibilities in the teams they work with.

Our teams are groups of members working on a certain project. Each team may have members from multiple tracks, depending on their needs. A team that organizes recruiting events, for example, probably needs partnerships people more than anything else. The team for the newsletter, however, doesn’t need any members in events or partnerships.

We can visualize the allocation of members in a matrix of tracks and teams, like so.

Teams \ Tracks Events Community Partnerships
Study sessions 4 2 0
Recruiting 2 1 2
Newsletters 0 2 0

Our actual matrix of tracks and teams is constantly evolving, as our goals and resources change. At the end of each semester, teams are dissolved and the members come together for a postmortem. After the break, the board can decide to continue the team, usually with some different members or goals.

Team leads

Each team is assigned one or two team leads: members responsible for coordinating the work and pushing the team to make progress towards their goal. Every week, leads attend the board meeting to report to their directors the updates on tasks and metrics.

Team leads are usually determined by the predominant track of their project. In the matrix of tracks and teams above, for instance, the team lead of study sessions would probably be someone in the events tracks, while the recruiting sessions could also use a team lead in in the partnerships track.

1.4 Membership

Newcomers in our society are rookies. Their first semester with us is marked by constant learning and overcoming of challenges. Before joining a team, rookies have to choose a track to specialize in. This choice will determine the work they do in their teams, as well as the directors that mentor them. By the end of the semester, rookies are vetted and become official members. By the end in their second semester, members they can be tapped to become directors and join our board. After one semester in the board, directors can petition to become chairs.

Mentorship

Our board of directors plays an important role of support to our teams. Each director takes a few members as mentees and follow the work they do, helping them with problems as they come along. The mentees are usually the members of a couple of teams that share the same track as the director. Directors must be in constant touch with their mentees, and may also sit in on their meetings every other week. Directors should advise but can never make decisions for their mentees. Just like teams, mentorships are dissolved at the end of each semester and may be renewed afterwards.

Chairs

Chairs are a handful of executive positions dedicated to advancing our society and shaping its culture. Chairs usually work as mentors to other directors, those with less experience.

Chairs usually rely on the help of others to run events.

Perks of membership

We look for members who truly believe in the importance of our mission and in working under our values. That said, there are several perks available to our rookies and official members, some of which are quite exclusive to our society.

1.5 Elections

Three important transitions happen at the end of each semester, no later than the weekend before finals.

In the vetting of the noobs, the current board comes together to vet rookies to become official members of our society. The decision is determined by the majority of present directors. Memberships can be denied or deferred, for instance, for rookies who didn’t yet demonstrate commitment or ability to work effectively with others.

In the tapping of the board, the current board chooses members from outside of the board to become directors. During deliberation, directors who have worked with each of these members make the case for their experience. The result is determined by the majority of present directors. Members tapped may deny the offer to become directors.

During the petition of the chairs, members of the newly elected board get together to choose the new chairs. Directors who are petitioning for a chair should make the case for their relevant skills and experience, and show a vision and commitment to the society. Deliberations end only when an absolute majority of the members present support each association in a bijective mapping of chairs to directors. This may take several hours.

Directors can be reelected for the same chair once. Indeed, good chairs should stay for a year. Seniors and rising seniors can’t run nor vote.

How we work

2.1 Tools

We rely on a handful of tools in order to work effectively.

Trello

Our board on Trello is our single source of truth. We use it to plan, delegate and follow up on all of our tasks. Each team owns a column in our board where they keep their own cards. Team leads must make sure that their columns reflect the current state of the team and that the members are updating them on a daily basis.

See more about how Trello works here and here.

Here are some best practices that we follow:

Slack

We use Slack to communicate online. Quick, efficient communication is vital for our success, so all of our members are expected to be responsive on it. We usually keep at least one channel per team.

About Facebook Messenger
Using Messenger for quick contact with a group of members is OK. It’s best however that group chats there don’t last over a couple of days. When that happens, consider transferring it to Slack, so they become available to everyone.

File Sharing

We use Google Drive to keep all of our documents. We prefer adding documents to our shared folder than sharing it with individual members using their emails, for the sake of convenience and transparency. Teams usually maintain their own folders, which are archived at the end of each semester (but not deleted!).

Metrics Sheet

One of the most important documents in our Google Drive folder is our spreadsheet of metrics, which we use to keep track of success across our teams. More on this ahead.

Mailing list

We use the ycs-in mailing list, hosted by the Yale ITS, for important communications and reminders.

Calendar

We use an internal Google calendar to keep track of important events. All new members should be given access to it and import into to their calendar apps, such as iCal. Members must use this calendar to register all of our meetings and events, as well as external events that we should be aware of.

These external events include:

2.2 Meetings

If you were part of an extracurricular organization before, chances are that you have mixed feelings about meetings. Often times, meetings can be ineffective time sink that busy college students just can’t afford. In our club, however, we find that they are the main reason why we are able to get work done, despite our busy schedules. That is because we use meetings to enforce accountability, drive teams to confront their issues and to make progress.

Addendum

For college students with busy schedules, face-to-face gatherings with fixed times are the best way to get everyone on the same page and communicate critical things.
Read the appendix that we wrote to illustrate this argument.

Our Meetings

Our typical member will attend two one-hour meetings per week.

Sunday Night Live

Every Sunday at 8pm, during the course of the academic year, we all get together to share updates, discuss problems and socialize. The meetings last no longer than one hour, though members often stick around after that to talk in smaller groups. Our chairs take turns in hosting each week.

Here is how the SNL usually goes:

  1. Around 15 minutes before, people start to come in, take a seat and chat.
  2. The host starts the meeting on time with a summary of the events from the past week.
  3. The host invites directors to make important announcements.
  4. After that, the team leads take turns announcing their teams’ latest updates.
  5. The meeting ends and people disperse into groups to chat about work in the upcoming week.

Engaging the room

A big challenge for hosts is keeping the mood up in the room. That’s why we encourage everyone to interrupt the speakers with observations, ask questions, make jokes etc. It is also important that people making announcements stand up in the front and engage the room. The host, however, must also keep in mind the clock, making the speakers hurry when necessary.

Here are some good practices:

Board meetings

Board meetings happen every Wednesday night, from 8pm to 10pm. That is when all team leads and directors come together to discuss progress and issues. Before the board meeting, team leads must update their metrics on the spreadsheet.

It’s a big, loud mess. Good luck. (Srsly, though, we’re gonna figure it out, John.)

Team meetings

Team meetings vary a lot in format and duration and content, which are all up to the team to collectively decide. They must, however, have fixed meeting times and occur weekly. All meetings should be on the calendar.

Tips for hosts

Every meeting has exactly one host, which is rotated when there are multiple team leads.

  1. Do your homework.
    This is rule zero of hosting. Make sure you thought about what will be discussed/accomplish, keeping in mind the time available.

  2. Ask for attention.
    It’s OK to ask people to lower their laptop lids, or get off their cellphones.

  3. Start on time, end on time.
    Meeting times are fixed, so everyone should be expected to arrive on time. You, however, have to make sure to end on time too.

Tips for everyone

  1. Be lazy, don’t work
    This can vary from team to team, but it’s usually a good idea to use the meeting slot strictly to discuss and plan, not to do work. We often realize during meetings that we forgot to do something important and we rush to do it immediately. But by completing tasks during meetings – however relevant – we usually throw ourselves off the important discussion going on, or, even worse, sometimes bring the discussion to a halt, as others are waiting for us to finish. Instead, write down what you have to do later – better, make a Trello card!

  2. Lean in
    Share your views and don’t hesitate to raise issues when you see them. Leadership is ownership! You have a responsibility to speak up when you disagree.

  3. 5 minutes early is on time, on time is late
    You don’t want to be the one walking into a meeting after it’s started. Plan to arrive at least five minutes early, so you have a couple of minutes to prepare.

On absences

Absences in meetings come back to bite us in ways we can never foresee. That’s why presence in meetings is so important. Being on time is also very important. Once a couple of people start coming in late, it takes effort and awkwardness to get everybody to show up in time.

In a nutshell, it is only OK to miss meetings for reasons that you can’t plan around. That includes being sick, or being out of New Haven for a competition. That does not include, however, doing school work, attending office hours, etc. As soon as you know you will miss a meeting, let the chairman know.

Absences in team meetings are taken case-by-case depending on the team lead.

2.3 Metrics

How many people came to the last event?
How many likes did our Facebook post get?
What is the average number of visualizations of the newsletter?

These are some of the questions that we ask ourselves every week, as we try to understand how our teams are doing and how they can improve. We call the answers to these questions our “metrics”, numbers that help us assess the performance and impact of the work we do.

More examples

Let’s look at the usage of metrics in some of our teams. Feel free to skip this part if you are already used to the concept.

Metrics measure an underlying goal

Our newsletter team is responsible for sending out weekly emails that inform and excite students about upcoming events and opportunities. Here are some questions they ask themselves ever so often:

“In what day of the week should we send the newsletter?”
“Do we need to improve the current design of emails?”
“Should we change the email subject lines to make them clearer?”

In making decisions like these, we must try to frame what we hope to accomplish in terms of quantifiable measures. In the case of the newsletter, we want to increase the number of subscribers, the rate of visualizations per email, the average clicks that a certain link gets etc. That is because we believe that these indicators are correlated with our underlying goal – which, again, is to inform and excite students about upcoming events and opportunities. It is impossible to measure directly how much we inform and excite students, so we use visualizations and rates of clicks instead. If a new format of subject lines increases the number of visualizations, it tells us that engagement has probably gone up, so the newsletter team should probably use it. If a new design does the opposite, engagement has probably decreased; the team might want to roll it back.

The email tool used by the newsletter team should take care of providing the most important statistics for them. But tracking success is not always easy. Most teams need to sweat a bit to collect their data.

Metrics can be tricky

Measuring is not always straightforward. It sometimes requires special effort of teams to track attendance, survey students, write down page stats from Facebook etc. Take, for example, the team responsible for hosting our study sessions. What metrics can they use to measure the success of their events? An obvious place to start would be to count the number of attendees — say, by having a volunteer count the number of students who walk into the room. This metric should certainly correlate with the success of our event, right? Yes, but not always! What happens, for instance, when during a particularly underfunded season our study session team is not able to provide food for the participants? We might find that a lot of the people show up to find no cookies and… tip-toe out of the room less than five minutes later. In this case, the number of attendees in itself no longer paints an accurate picture of how the event went, does it?

Here you might be thinking that what we actually want to measure is the total student-hours spent inside that room. But who’s going to volunteer to measure that?! What seems, in theory, like a better metric might be impractical to measure. If something is too hard to measure, it’s of no use to us.

There is no silver lining here: measuring is very tricky sometimes. It is up to the individual teams to define what metrics they will use to define success and, if necessary, change to better suit the situations.

Every now and then, the newsletter team will meet to reevaluate the metrics they use and, in terms those metrics, determine what they want to achieve in what period of time. Let’s see how this process works.

Our Metrics

The spreadsheet containing all of our metrics lives in our shared folder and is available to all of our members. Each team has its own tab where they fill in, week after week, their metrics.

Our template tab looks like this:

Picking the right metrics won’t matter unless we commit to following up on them. That is why we look at them every week during meetings. During board meetings, team leads will bring the latest numbers and discuss them with the rest of the board.

Health, Execution and Impact

We like to differentiate between three categories of metrics, according to the purpose they serve.

Health metrics

“What is the average rate of absence in our meetings?”
“What rate of our members marked themselves ‘dissatisfied’ with the work we do?”
“How many people attended our retreat?”

Mens sana in corpore sano. Only a healthy team can keep doing amazing work in the long run. That’s why we have metrics to try to measure how well we are working together over time. Team health is the most important goal for our club and yet the trickiest to measure.

Execution metrics

“How many speakers did we reach out to?”
“How many events did we organize this semester?”

These questions help us track the work we accomplish to do in objective ways. Execution tasks act as follow up to delegated work.

Impact metrics

“How many responded to our Facebook event?”
“What is the view rate of our last newsletter?”
“How many students said ‘very important’ when surveyed about YCS’s importance?”

Impact metrics help us assess the impact of our projects. Some projects, especially events, can only measure their impact after they finish.

2.4 Interviewing

We open the application form a couple of weeks before the semester starts and closing it a couple of weeks later.

After that date the board should sit together to review and discuss the applicants’ responses. They should begin by selecting the students who seem aligned with YCS’ values and its current composition, and then proceed to distribute adequate applicants into each of our teams. The distribution should be based on the students’ demonstrated interests, skills and commitment, and how those are likely to fit into each team. After this triage, each director will be responsible for interviewing in person their respective applicants. The rest of the board should be let known, probably via a spreadsheet, of when each of the interviews will be happening, so they can sit in and help.

In the special case that the board fails to distribute a qualified person into a specific team, it is up for the p/vp to interview them.

If, in conducting an interview, a director thinks the student they’re interviewing would rather fit in another group, they should finish the interview by trying to assess fit to this other team.

Scheduling interviews

We use an online service like doodle.com to schedule interviews. Conflicts happen often, so interviewing usually takes a little longer than planned. After the interviews, we use Facebook or email to reach out to candidates to thank them for applying and make ourselves available to answer questions.

After creating the signup form for interviews, you should email them. It is a good idea to send personalized emails where you greet them by their first names (NOTE: You can use a mail merge system to accomplish that. Nylas has that built in.) and thank them for applying. We really want new members to know that we care. Make sure you also introduce yourself and let them know that you personally selected them as a good candidate for whatever team you’re on.

Conducting interviews

Our interviews should be conducted at the discretion of the directors interviewing, but here is some good advice.

First, interviewing is an acquired skills. Make up for inexperience by reading up on how to interview online. Make sure you have the candidate’s application fresh in your mind before you start the interview. Interview questions should be tailored to asking follow-ups to their written application and understanding more about their fit to the club, considering fit/ambition, commitment and skills (NOTE: Probably in that order.).

Don’t schedule interviews slots one right after the other. It takes time Make sure you schedule consecutive slots of at least 40 minutes, so you can interview for 30 to 35 minutes and then breathe and prepare for at least five. Do make sure you have time to pee and drink water in between candidates. Take as many notes as you can. After the interview process is over, you will likely have to come back and compare candidates and that won’t be an easy task. You will be glad you have notes to read. Taking notes on candidates’ responses will help you remember who is who, and even ask someone who didn’t sit on the interviews for help evaluating a candidate. Keep in mind that note taking is a skill that takes practice. Here are a few resources on this.

Finally, make sure candidates can commit. If they are taking hard classes that semester and very involved in other extracurricular commitments, maybe you should suggest that they defer their application by a semester. Many of us can go through an entire application process before actually considering whether we will have the time to put into that activity. It is your responsibility to convey to them the expectation that are implied in the positions they are about to sign up for. This, of course, will depend on the team they are interviewing for. Candidates should also be available to attend our general meetings every week (now at 8pm on Sundays) – very few exceptions should be made for this.

Some questions

While interviewing someone, we try to assess three traits. Fit is how much they identify with our mission, of working on . Commitment means how much the. and skill.

Fit/ambition

The purpose of these is to gauge if the applicant is aligned with YCS’ mission of working hard to improve the tech community at Yale.

Why do you want to be part of our team?
One of our biggest challenges is to
What is one thing you wish existed at Yale to?
What are some things you think are lacking with computer science at Yale?
What are some ideas you have for improving CS at Yale?
Could you describe briefly what steps you would take to execute one of those ideas?
What got you interested in CS/technology?

Commitment

You want to make sure that the student can commit.

What are your other extracurricular commitments this semester?
Are you free to attend our general meetings?

Skill

The skills you want to check for vary from team to team.

Tell me more about your experience doing X in high school.

2.5 Onboarding

Onboard is the process of giving rookies access to the tools as well as information that they need in order to begin working. Onboarding is usually done by a Director who did the interview or by the Membership Chair. While there is usually little challenge in executing the tasks outlined here, the cost of not doing them can be high. Members may skip important meetings when they aren’t added the internal calendar, they can miss out on important discussions when they can’t check Slack. These situations can be very frustrating to the people involved.

2.6 Distributing work

At the beginning of each semester, we must distribute work.

  1. Two weeks before the beginning of the semester, the board convenes virtually to pick the projects we can work on each semester and rank them in importance. Directors are then distributed by project.

  2. After that meeting, directors start interviewing team leads for their teams.

  3. In the first week of school, the board convenes to share notes on interviews and to finalize the project lead distribution.

  4. In first general meeting, members vote on the couple of projects they would like to work on.

2.7 Code of Conduct

We don’t tolerate any form of harassment between our members and partners.

How to kick ass

3.1 Tips for Managers

Expectations

Manage the chaos.

Plan and follow up.

We are always working on a multitude of initiatives to help the community we serve, some of which can be quite risky. They might be ventures never successfully accomplished before or projects that require a lot of preliminary investment but which can flop at anytime. Some initiatives might even expose our reputation, making it harder to maintain members and partners. In order to continue thriving despite these odds, we focus on making the best decisions we can – as quickly as we can – even in face of uncertainty.

Guidelines

How to Contribute

Like most encyclopedias, this playbook will never be finished – it is a living document. Instead, we strive to keep it in sync with our latest ways of thinking and working.

Question everything you read here.

Giving feedback

There are a couple of ways to give us feedback or ask us questions about this playbook. If you have a Github account, you can use the issues page of our repo to send us a public message. Otherwise, you can message one of our members.

Editing

This playbook is hosted as a wiki in the yalecs/playbook repo. In order to edit it, you need to belong to the Yale Computer Society team on Github. Once a member, you should be able to see “Edit” and “New Page” buttons next on the home page of this wiki.

Keep in mind

Here are some tips you can benefit from while making your contribution to this playbook.