Bit by Bit: An Impactful Coding Organization That Offers Community, Knowledge, and Skills

The Bit by Bit mascot, Bit by Bot, created by Olivia Wadley, their graphic design artist.

courtesy of Bit by Bit founders, Zhang & Von Arx

The Bit by Bit mascot, Bit by Bot, created by Olivia Wadley, their graphic design artist.

Bit by Bit is a non-profit organization started in 2018 by then high school students Selena Zhang and Sydney Von Arx. Their mission is to “diversify the community of ponderers and creators by equipping the next generation with the tools of technology, thinking, and leadership to improve the world, bit by bit.”

They strive for low-cost programs to teach and encourage students, especially girls and other underrepresented youths in the STEM community, to code, to examine the world, and to lead.

Zhang is currently a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying computer science and business analytics. Von Arx is a current sophomore at Stanford University, studying Biomedical Computation.

We set up a Zoom interview with the two founders. Listen to the audio to hear everything they have to say about Bit by Bit.

Audio Interview with Founders

To introduce Bit by Bit, Von Arx described what made her want to create this organization. She has always loved coding, yet found it difficult to learn when she was younger due to the overly vague setup of coding classes. On top of this, classes were overwhelmingly male-dominated, making it difficult to feel included as a woman. She recounts this when she took an engineering class, there was only one other girl besides herself. She wishes it was taught in more of an inclusive environment. “I’m glad I ended up sticking with it because it ended up really rewarding,” Von Arx recounted.

Zhang compares coding to the exhilarating feeling of showing your parents your art projects as a young kid and being so proud of what you’ve accomplished. It’s a source of joy and expression for her. “The mission is always evolving,” she says of the team’s philosophy. Zhang began coding in high school, while Von Arx started in 5th grade. Von Arx was “one of the major turning points” that cemented Zhang’s enthusiasm for the skill—the two are close to this day.

Von Arx states that her initial expectations for Bit by Bit have not only been met but have been exceeded, due to the team’s ever-expanding popularity. “It’s gone way better than I ever would have thought,” she said. Zhang agrees to say she is thrilled with the leadership skills students have learned within the team. When asked about what philosophy she wants for the members of the team to take away from their experience, Zhang said “Never settling for what’s enough, but going above and beyond”.

Some of the highlights of Bit by Bit for Von Arx were “seeing some of the people who showed up the first year come back as volunteers, and seeing how much they have grown”. Zhang agrees, adding that she enjoys seeing students become volunteers and ultimately leaders. “If we go for a general highlight, I think it’s been really cool to see what this organization can do, and the different perspectives people bring to do the table.”

The program has had no choice but to adapt their meeting structures to the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. “At first it was really hard because they wanted to do an in-person program,” Von Arx said. She went on to talk about how advertising was difficult, as well as the uncertainty of having to schedule meetings, and not knowing if people would show up. “It was harder to create community,” Zhang said about the less personal atmosphere. Transitioning to an online environment also meant the ability to bring in volunteers and participants from other countries, regions, and timezones. Though new, they weren’t as affected by the shift from in-person to virtual meetings.

When asked if they plan on continuing to lead Bit by Bit after college, Von Arx noted that “passing down the role is really important to us.” And Zhang explained further that “[their] mission is to teach students to lead, and [they] are no longer students so passing it down really fulfills that mission.”

A typical in-person meeting was “super interactive”, according to Von Arx. “We were cramming tons of computers into one little space. There were lots of games, fun, and lots of talking. A volunteer would be assigned to every 3 or 4 students,” she went on to say. She would throw candy at people as a reward. “I miss being able to throw candy at people; it was very motivating,” Von Arx said humorously.

They started off doing free dinner, but then “learned their lesson” due to the cost of it all. From now on, they’ll do snacks only. I would always bring in Oreos for the kids,” Zhang shared, also mentioning that she misses that memory. Hoping to bring back the in-person programs, they plan on doing the games and snacks again. Though they will likely continue with the virtual programs as well which contain lots of fun activities as well.

When the pandemic hit last March, they were unable to host their summer program in person and transitioned to meeting virtually instead via Zoom. Adapting their curriculum from the summer, Bit by Bit now offers more programs year-round. They always had a goal of making in-person meetings as interactive as possible–providing snacks, games, and team-bonding activities. It’s been a bit of a challenge for Von Arx and Zhang to do mostly online meetings (since the goal was to create a fun, inclusive learning atmosphere) but they are still trying to keep the culture they had previously built in person.

You can find more information about this organization at Both future students and volunteers are encouraged to explore their opportunities.