This blog is from our latest Code for a Cause project manager. Code for a Cause, or CFAC pairs small expert teams of Next Jump engineers with non-profits to help scale and build charitable products over two week periods, free of charge.
You know how people put their “Objective” statements at the top of their résumé? Sometimes they say “Obtain a position at XYZ Company to improve my management skills” or “Obtain a position that will enable me to develop in ABC field”. Stuff like that. When I was in high school, looking for a summer job, I put one up that said “To make a difference in the world”. It was fluffy. It was ambiguous. And, it didn’t have anything to do with the job I applied for. However, it was something that I believed to my bones that I wanted to do. I wanted to make a difference. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know what. In my naiveté, I took it to my first interview and was immediately scoffed at.
I quickly learned that not all companies share a culture of wanting to “make a difference”. How does your company run? Does it exist solely to improve its bottom line? Or does it seek opportunities to change the world? At Next Jump, we have a bottom line to improve, of course. Every company does. At the same time, we have a mantra. It’s our mission to “do the little things that allow others to do the great things they are meant to do”. We treat our revenue as fuel for our culture, a culture dedicated to changing the world, one small act at a time. We’re building a sustainable business model for giving back.
At Next Jump, we dedicate teams of highly skilled engineers to help a non-profit for two weeks. Ultimately, it’s people that make the difference, not money, and we send in our most highly valued assets – the people that eat, breathe, and live out our Next Jump culture.
We call this program Code for a Cause (CFAC), and I was chosen as project manager for the second round in 2013. I picked an organization called Incentive Mentoring Program (IMP) to work with. They connect struggling high school students with mentors and help build leaders in the Baltimore area. IMP has helped hundreds of kids graduate from high school and go on to attend college. Deep relationships develop between students and their mentors. Not only do students get a family of mentors to help them get through school and act as positive role models, but the mentors also learn more about themselves and their growth as leaders.
IMP runs an 8-year program with their students. The kids come into the program from the bottom of their 9th grade class and are mentored all the way through their senior year in college. It’s not just about tutoring and grabbing a bite to eat every once in a while. It’s about daily car rides to school so the kids don’t end up skipping school to join gangs. It’s about spending hours in a library hashing out a college essay so that the kid is the first in her family to attend college. It’s about volunteering with your kid to build houses because it teaches him to think beyond himself and the struggles he deals with. It’s about being there for your kid when his family is evicted and he’s suddenly homeless. It’s about so much more.
Our team, which also included Akshit and Awais, jumped in for 2 straight weeks to build out a mobile product for IMP that enables their mentors to log and record all the awesome work that they do with their students.
IMP does amazing work with students, but unfortunately most of it gets lost to time. 90% of the 40,000 hours that mentors put in last year were undocumented. That’s 36,000 hours spent with kids that were not recorded. This is painful for several reasons. One, there are undocumented histories that would be valuable to new mentors starting to work with a kid for the first time. Two, there’s no way to give feedback to mentors. You can’t applaud peers for a job well done, and you can’t provide suggestions if they’re having trouble with kids. Three, it’s a logistical nightmare trying to get all mentors to log their hours and manage all of it in pages and pages of spreadsheets. Our team swooped in for two weeks and pumped out a product that solved these three pain points. The product allows mentors to log their activities, even from the convenience of a mobile device. It makes it a bit more fun to log because you can like and comment on posts. Lastly, mentor hours are recorded down to the very last minute, which makes it much easier to analyze all the hours invested at the end of the year. Our contact, the COO of IMP, described the product as a “game changer” and something that would “help us get to the next level”. It was just an amazing feeling to hear that.
Where some companies would view this program as a huge cost, we treat it like an investment. Next Jump’s Code for a Cause is an investment on three fronts.
First, there’s an investment in the team. Each member of the team is given the opportunity to grow professionally. This means learning new technologies (mobile frameworks and libraries in our case), practicing project management, and engaging with external clients. Code for a Cause gives employees the opportunity they need to practice a new skill, whether it’s technical or not. I’m a technical person, so I was able to use this opportunity to grow my non-technical skill set, including presentation skills, project management and communicating with clients.
Secondly, there’s an investment in the company as a “teaching organization”. We’re out to prove a point – that it’s possible to create a sustainable business model fuelled by a culture of highly-motivated, selfless individuals, who in turn drive revenue to continually feed and grow the company. We invest in this model because we believe in it. We’re willing to invest time and resources to build this model so that we can teach other companies how to do the same. We’re going to make mistakes along the way. That’s not only inevitable, but also part of the learning process. As we run initiatives like Code for a Cause, we’re constantly exploring what works and what doesn’t. For example, we brought in IMP’s COO to talk to our company about her work, and we learned that it left employees feeling both inspired and motivated. Through our learnings, we can help other organizations improve the way they run similar programs as well.
Thirdly, there’s an investment in the non-profits we help. I chose IMP because their mission resonated with me. Growing up, I had done a fair share of volunteer work, and my most meaningful experiences had been working with younger students. I worked with summer school kids once, and there’s a joy you feel when a student you’re working with has a newfound confidence just because you were there to encourage them. It’s a long-lasting feeling that has helped me recognize the impact that non-profits everywhere are working toward. I want IMP to succeed just as much as it wants its students to succeed, and I’m hoping that the two weeks we dedicate as a company helps IMP grow. For us, dedicating two weeks is a worthwhile investment if it means helping a non-profit organization grow to the next level.
So then the question is, what does your company do to make a difference? Are you working to improve your bottom line? Or are you striving for something beyond it? Next Jump is revolutionizing the way companies are run. I’m just glad it’s here to help me “make a difference”. You can also read a blog about a previous Code for a Cause project here.