Tyler Menezes

Finding and Empowering Organizers

Published January 11, 2023.

For the first 10 years of CodeDay, we had no repeatable processes around volunteers. Thanks to Charlie's work last year we've designed and operationalized a system for taking volunteer interest and matching them to well-defined roles. This works well for day-of volunteers, but I think we should rethink how we treat organizers.

Specifically, as CodeDay expanded in 2013-2015:

  1. Organizers lost most of their power in the global organization.
  2. And, partially as a result, attendees stopped aspiring to be organizers.

CodeDay is falling into the innovator's dilemma.

Organizers helped us develop a program which truly served the needs of students; as we've grown, organizers have spoken up less and less, and we've said "no" to more and more ideas. We're now falling into the innovator's dilemma: to preserve our resources (money, brand-recognition), we've prioritized reliable and repeatable over evolution.

This is most obvious with the diminished perception of CodeDay domestically: it's been a long time since we've had a 400 person event, companies are less excited to sponsor, and it's becoming harder to find people who want to host. (Some of this is macroeconomic, but contrast it with participation in international events, where this is still a new and novel idea.)

For the students, this means the events are no longer meeting their needs. CodeDay projects are over-optimizing for what they think judges want, or becoming college app fodder. We need to innovate on the event format to bring back CodeDay's creativity.

Alum organizers and CodeDay could have a mutually beneficial relationship.

Former organizers have fresh and new ideas for how to serve their communities, and they're already making them happen in their communities (e.g. Sam Poder with Hack Club's Zephyr or Mingjie with ExecuteBig).

CodeDay could be a platform for these ideas, and we have many resources to offer:

  • global distribution: if you have a good idea, it can be scaled to dozens of cities in months.
  • operational resources: we know how to scale marketing, logistics, finance, etc.
  • mentorship: we've been doing this for a decade and can help people be more effective with education, leadership, etc.
  • brand recognition: CodeDay is already a well-known brand.
  • economies of scale: together we can reach out to more schools, students, parents, sponsors, mentors.

(We don't currently have a ton to offer in financial support, but in the future that might be a resource too.)

Hierarchy and brand ownership are barriers for organizers.

In the early days of CodeDay, we had a sign posted at the entrance of our office:


  1. Volunteers can do anything.
  2. Everyone is a volunteer.
  3. All volunteers are janitors.

Similarly, another non-profit I'm on the board of has only one rule:

The people doing the work get to make the decisions.

By contrast, Lola and Tyler are now the approvers for everything at CodeDay. That leaves a perception (somewhat rightly and somewhat wrongly), that it's easier to launch something independently than launch it with CodeDay.

By returning equal power to organizers, they become "owners" of CodeDay (as much as any of us are owners of a nonprofit), and get excited about helping the brand grow.

What problems need to be solved to empower organizers?

  • Organizers can't be immediately trusted as equals in the decision-making process. How do we identify when someone becomes an equal partner in decision-making?
  • Not all ideas organizers have will be mission-aligned. How do we communicate our mission, and how do we verify that we're all working toward that mission?
  • What's the approval process, if any, to go forward with an idea? What about financial approvals?
  • Organizers need recognition for their work, it can't be attributed nebulously to "CodeDay" or to Tyler/Lola. How can we spotlight the work that organizers do on the Discord and in-person?
  • If we succeed in empowering organizers, it would once again be a powerful method for recruiting new organizers. How do we showcase this culture to prospective volunteers, both on the Discord and in-person?
© 2006—2024 Tyler Menezes.