After 4 years, 7 waves, 9 notes, 25 backers, 78 sessions, 90 Learners, and an uncountable number of community supporters, this marks the end of a wonderful era for ProjectFunction. This bitter-sweet post will be the last from PF as you know it
Throughout this time, we feel we have enriched the local tech community to an extent, bringing opportunities and reach to those who would normally be excluded, all by providing guilt-free and commitment-free access to tech workshops and courses. Best of all, the hard work paid off, some students ended up pivoting into tech, while others gained clarity on how tech can improve their field of work and future career choices.
This bitter-sweet post will be the last from ProjectFunction as you know it. It outlines how we got here, why the temporary preservation is necessary, and most importantly what it means for the community going forward.
From the start, we never intended for ProjectFunction to be a conveyor into tech - this already existed in many forms; all we hoped was to widen the gap and provide a transitionary step between self-learning and committing to bootcamps. We have achieved this goal.
Back in 2018, when we co-founded ProjectFunction, we had one thing in mind; make the tech industry more accessible and welcoming to newcomers, and provide support for them to get into tech. We hyper-focused on changing the landscape at a grassroots level. Back then we were still at university and the workload was bearable. Before too long we started to burn out; our constant drive and devotion to the vision made focusing on our wellbeing, tricky.
From the start, the community have been absolutely amazing, backing our work and offering their support - this was great to see. We even had a strong backing from a local agency in Nottingham called JH, who saw the value of ProjectFunction. But 3 years later, after juggling university, avoiding COVID, and eventually getting a job, the pressure had become apparent. The motivation and momentum we once had was fading - not because we no longer cared, but because we had put our all in it non-stop, for so long, without any breaks or renumeration. We ended up learning something valuable: free labour, no matter how much you love the work, is still free labour. And ultimately, we were working a full time job while working on ProjectFunction; leaving very little in terms of self care and compensation.
By focusing so much on the growth of ProjectFunction, we ultimately ended up spending a lot less on our own individual growth 😔
Covid-19 Contingency plan
During COVID, we were unable to run in-person courses. This became an issue as it meant potential learners were not getting the benefits that come with ProjectFunction courses. We looked at alternative ways to provide these, but ultimately decided that we wouldn’t run full courses remotely for 3 reasons:
- Not everyone has access to computers, stable internet, etc. Especially when we looked at the stats from previous in-person courses (many were borrowing laptops from university or us), and so these people would be at a disadvantage.
- Our courses typically ran for 9 weeks, at 2hours per week. When in person, it is easier to stimulate and engage with learners, but remotely, we would be fighting zoom fatigue and potential discontent due to lag.
- Our instructors would not be able to efficiently provide 1-2-1 help the way we can when going from table to table in person. This would make our courses no different to online learning platforms or YouTube videos. This would also make it harder for us to measure the successes of every session.
Once these were identified, we started trialing workshops and nano-courses. These were somewhat useful to learners, but ultimately meant instructors (who already weren’t getting paid), were now spending a lot of time planning and preparing for workshops and then running very short-lived sessions. Even though the feedback was as good as can be expected from zoom workshops, it was burning our instructors out. So we ended up cancelling future workshops and went into hibernation mode. During this time, some of the instructors started providing free 1-2-1 mentoring instead as a way to still provide a service where we could.
As the situation with the handling of COVID changed, we decided to revisit in-person courses, and successfully ran what would be our final wave. This was a huge undertaking, but thanks to everyone involved, it paid off. But off the back of this success, it also became clear that it was time to retire ProjectFunction in its current form. Continuing to push against this and the upcoming change in logistics would put the effectiveness of our goals at risk.
What this doesn’t mean
No doubt, all of this, is a significant change in our lives and, more widely, in the Nottingham Tech Community. While we won’t be counting down days to our next course or finding learners to join us, we want to be extra clear about what remains unaffected.
- This situation does not mean we’ll stop caring for the reasons we originally started PF. Tech has a long way to go until those under-represented and marginalized are not sidelined. We’ll keep working to move the needle forward through every part of our lives that extends beyond PF; supporting, knowledge-sharing, and echoing opportunities wherever we can.
- We’re not putting an end to brainstorming ideas and endeavours to bring more inclusivity and talent to the tech industry. Who knows, down the line PF may make a comeback like your favourite, long-lost boyband. 😉
What it does mean going forward
We’re believers in the fact that even a small, seemingly insignificant encounter has capacity to completely change someone’s life for the better. The impact that PF has had on the local tech community will continue to live on through the people we’ve met, inspired, supported, and mentored along the way (this is not unalike the influence the tech community has had on us in return!).
By this principle, downscaling PF still means that we’re succeeding in ways we didn’t expect. Readjusting our focus to take into consideration our own career goals and aspirations contributes towards the PF mission of helping those under-represented and marginalised in tech. After all, we too, fit the target audience that PF had been created for from the start. We’re still so early in our growth as technologists that we’ve merely just scratched the surface! “You can’t pour from an empty up” reinforces why it is important we give time to plotting our individual journeys, ahead.
We are aware that the downscaling of ProjectFunction will have an impact on the community; before us, there was already a shortage in projects that provide guided, zero-commitment access to tech - this has not changed too much due to the landscape and Covid; and our departure will leave a gap in this market. Over the years, we’ve created a number of beginner-friendly resources that covered basic programming concepts and web development in particular. These lesson plans and worksheets have been used by ourselves and other PF instructors to deliver sessions that were interactive, fun, and factored in the rapidly changing tech landscape. Without future sessions planned, it would be remiss for this content to stay locked away. This is why we’re looking to open-source some of these resources, making them accessible for anyone from anywhere.
The Impact, and Our hopes for the future
It is worth iterating that the end of this chapter is proof that ProjectFunction has succeeded - in ways which we never could have expected; we were able to provide opportunities to many eager learners, giving them an insight into the community, guiding as they made a career change to tech, and supporting those who needed it most. We were opportunity providers: An entry into the industry for minorities, by minorities. Throughout the course of running the project, we:
- Learned what its like to fundraise
- Developed our marketing skills
- Upped our design game
- Introduced over 90 Learners to web engineering
- Launched a successful access program to provide devices and paid learning tools to learners, for free
- Partnered up with University to provide on-campus education to first-year students
- Helped students realise they could have a future career in tech
- Helped some learners make the career-move to tech
- Reached beyond Nottingham; impacting learners in Singapore, Iran, Amsterdam, London, Birmingham, and even the US.
- Have grown from a team of 2, to a team of 4
These wins may be small; but considering these all took place while we were juggling full-time work, managing resources, and preparing and planning future courses, it shows the true strength of not only ProjectFunction, but it’s instructors, and the Nottingham Tech Community.
We are hopeful that the tech landscape will continue to change for the better, and with that hope that the access to the industry becomes easier - especially for those who are typically sidelined.
We hope that more conveyer projects pop-up, improving the access to opportunities for younger generations. We hope to see a boost in engagement with social enterprises like Collaborative Future, who are reshaping recruitment for the better - helping teams, networks and organisations to learn from and recruit individuals outside of their usual bubbles.
Finally, we hope that the community will continue to change, grow, and expand; destroying gates and borders along the way, so anyone can explore tech as an interest and/or potential career - without having to worry about being able to afford it.
Thank you once again to our instructors, our backers, our sponsors, and our community ❤️