The dilemma of scaling a social organisation, with commercial bits…

(13/09/12 I have updated this post, see the final paragraph)

… and not becoming a complete dick

This post is a stake in the sand for Rewired State and Young Rewired State.

The problem (ish)

Rewired State and Young Rewired State are now entering their 4th year as a community and their second as a limited company (secured by guarantee). It has grown enough that we need now to scale, to get proper funding and separate the two organisations. Scary stuff.

But it is essential to retain the binding oaths that sit at the core of both organisations:

  • To keep the developer at the heart of everything we do
  • To be open

To this end I am having to begin conversations and apply for funding with people beyond the community. These conversations are necessary for us to secure the financial and business support required to grow, and make it something that is here to stay and not something that falters.

These external people and organisations are chosen for their fit and beliefs; but whenever money is concerned – especially *proper* money – there will always be expectations from the organisation or person and we will need to adjust how we do things to meet these needs.

The solution

We need to be careful. Having spent six months talking to a variety of people about potential ways of scaling and growing the organisations it’s obvious that we come to a point where it is necessary to get a back-up team, primarily to keep me on point (as Got To Dance judges would say).

After many sleepless nights and much ferocious cooking (it orders my mind and pleases my family) I decided that these decisions are not something I could do alone, and it would be totally impossible to get a group decision, seeing as Rewired State now counts over 600 developers in its hug.

To that end, I spent some time thinking about those closest to me and who I would happily trust, without question, with the future of both organisations.

Those people were the following (in no order):

Ben Hammersley

Sym Roe

Thayer Prime

Ben Nunney

Jemima Kiss

{the links in each name were chosen by me, feel free to Google them}

And so I proposed to them, in a their own personal capacity, on virtual bended knee that they act as a developer steering group for the organisations. Every single one has agreed and for that I am humbled and hugely grateful. The role of this group has not been formally designed, but the starter for ten is that they will:

  • approve all hack days in the pipeline
  • be a part of all major business decisions
  • be a point of escalation for RS/YRS developer concerns
  • approve appointments

In the coming weeks I will publish the agreed role of this group.

But I am writing this post really because I do believe in open organisations and I believe that by writing this, so I might help others who are suffering with sleepless nights over how they can scale their business and retain the thing that sits at the heart of what they are doing and why.

For Rewired State and Young Rewired State this means developers, for other organisations it will obviously be different. But I chose this steering group because I know that, come what may, they would stand firm by what we believe in but understand that we need to scale in order to support our commitment and the ambition of the community we have fought for, brought together and support.

I hope that this post helps anyone who is in the same situation as me, and I would like to use this post to publicly thank the YRS/RS developer steering group for agreeing so readily to keep us on track.

Update 13/09/12 unfortunately this Board has not worked, I have been rubbish at keeping my side of the deal and having it as a remote reporting board as opposed to a really engaged thing – which I had dreamed of – was just not working, for anyone. I am in the process of completing some strategy work with two advisers and as a result of that we will move forward with a plan and structure that will be different to the above but will reflect the needs of the organisation and community. I do not yet know what this is. In the mean time I would like to thank the people on the board who gave up their time and attention to help guide us through this year.

Teach our kids to code e-petition

So after declaring that this would not become a personal mission for me in my post: year 8 is too late it has become a personal mission.

The petition is appallingly written. In my defence it was a brutal, and random, word count; I had to keep removing chunks of copy and keep trying to submit it, until suddenly it worked (no the word count that it eventually allowed through bore no relation to the word count originally stated… bug?). Anyhow, this terrible prose means that many have tried to explain it through writing their own explanatory blog posts and I thought I had better have a bash at explaining the background better myself.

What do I mean by code?

The word coding is a slang term for computer programming, used because programming basically means writing source code. Source code can be written in any number of languages (such as Ruby, Python and a gazillion others) and is the method used to instruct a computer to execute a series of actions. These actions are understood by the computer in what is known as binary code, that lovely series of ones and zeros loved by Hollywood futuristic films


When I wrote the post about teaching kids to code in Year 5, that this would address the nerdy image and encourage more female coders, I was focusing more on the immediate and tertiary “brand” issue that geekery has in this country. It is not yet awesomely cool to be able to build digital tools that shape the way the rest of us operate in our worlds, both social and work-based. Not in the UK anyway. And I could see this having a profound effect on our worldwide digital economy and reputation in the very near future – this drives me insane and I just could not understand why people were not a bit miffed by this.

Then I read a book called Program or be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff please buy it and read it, even if you just read the Preface and Introduction, it is one of the most important books of our age. Here is a bit:

The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”

When I read this book – my slight irritation at the fact that programming was not taught as a part of the curriculum, nor indeed seen as important by parents – it became a far greater philosophical concern, and one that I thought I had to really throw myself into doing something about.

I want my children to have choice, to be able to operate the world they grow up into, not just be driven by it. It’s not just being able to code, in any case, it is understanding computational thinking, really being aware of the value of the frontal lobe over the relative intelligence of the computer programme – are we really going to allow our kids to blindly stumble into a future so utterly dependent on digital tools and products, without giving them the chance to be the demi-Gods who sit behind these things, telling them what to to, and thereby us what to think?

Ben Hammersley used to say to me, the Foreign Policy of this country is not what the Foreign Secretary says it is, it’s what Google says it is. You could argue this fact, but it is broadly true, and now you could perhaps replace ‘google’ with ‘twitter’. Ben has transcribed a speech he gave to the IAAC – please go and read it, it is similarly essential reading.

Rushkoff says in his book that the difference between being able to code and not being able to code, is like being the driver or the passenger (not, as some people think, the difference between the driver and the mechanic). Think about that for a minute, and take a look about you, it’s true.

Now I am very definitely not alone here. Many people are making lots of noise about this: writing stuff, lobbying Ministers, pestering the Department of Education, meeting, planning, tweeting – you name it, it’s done. The movement is definitely gathering energy and people are beginning to come together around this topic. All I have done, apart from Young Rewired State of course, is start the e-petition bit of this process; as it is the only way we have a real hope of this being debated in Parliament, even if it is in a year’s time and even if it is not guaranteed to be debated, even with 100,000 signatures.

But what it *does* do, is give everyone who is out there a public place to point, with a decent number of signatories: 1,180 it its first 7 days and growing. (We do need to up its rate of growth if we are to reach 100,000 in a year, but this is why understanding the need for it is so important.)

Please note:

I am NOT saying that teaching programming in schools should replace ICT. ICT teaches you how to operate the digital tools now so paramount to our lives, of course we still need what we can fondly now refer to as traditional ICT. However, it is only half the story – we need to start teaching the other half, and fast.

Please sign the e-petition, and share it, tweet it, blog it, send it to your mate who is in the media and get them to talk about it.

Tim Rogers, a Young Rewired Stater and one of the founders of the fabulous Silicon Britain blog, has written his own piece on this, and it is worth hearing the voice of a young digital star