For most people, January represents that time of the year where resolutions are made, objectives are written down, dreams are crafted and ready to be implemented. For us it represents a time to take a step back and acknowledge our 1 year’s work at JSLeague.
This review is a chance to tell the community our story from the human point of view and not merely numbers on a scale, focusing on both the struggles and wins we experienced as a team, starting with the inception of JSLeague and through our journey to creating a (somewhat) sustainable business.
So buckle in for a really in depth retrospective of JSLeague.
Team and Core Values
Our team formed organically out of the BucharestJS community (big cheerios to its founder Ciprian Borodescu for bringing us all together) with the mission to further help the community in their path of learning and mastering front-end technologies.
We wanted to take developers from good to great.
Our first workshop was a 2 days Intro to Angular in November 2018. It was a success, with more than 80 people signing up for it. We then focused on delivering intro workshops to both React and Vue.js and some complementary edgy technologies such as Solidity and GraphQL.
We had lots of whiteboards filled up with workshop ideas, articles to write, events to organise and so little time. It was a beautiful chaos. At that point we were so excited by our ideas and passion for the front-end that we forgot to focus on the big picture.
Who were we, what were we trying to achieve, what was our mission, direction, core values and more importantly, how can we turn our efforts into a sustainable business? Quoting one famous song:
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
Our friends from DOvelopers helped us with that. This was the actual first step in defining JSLeague, our values and beliefs, a step that is often forgotten or overlooked in teams and yet such an important one. Moreover, expressing each one of us’ values defined our core team. What we come up with are:
- passion for web technologies
- continuous learning and education
- giving back to the community
We were faced with the fact that some members of the original gang have left but although we were fewer in numbers we have become stronger as we believed (and still do) in that same core values.
Our 2019 Activity
With a new perspective and a clearer path we managed to become in our first year, the JS community with the highest number of events, counting 13 community workshops in 3 different cities, 1 hackathon (JSHacks) and the first JSQuiz in Romania (You Don’t Know JS).
Iterating fast and experimenting further helped us in our efforts to deliver enterprise trainings, to better understand devs needs and to have a more meaningful relationship with our clients. The art of sustaining a training is not only about delivering a piece of documentation but also developing and providing the right set of tools and exercises to help programmers learn better and inspiring a developer mindset.
We also had our share of wins as we were invited to present the JSLeague stand at StartupOle conference in Salamanca, Spain. Last year I (as the CEO) was named Forbes 30 Under 30 for Technology in both Europe and Romania and we entered the Guerrilla Camp business accelerator (and made ourselves some really nice t-shirts).
Our work as a team went beyond workshops as we had the opportunity to discuss with great entrepreneurs and developers throughout the 14 episodes of the JSLeague Show, our monthly podcast. We had a great year filled with topics such as building businesses, mental health and pressure as developers, gender equality in the tech world, framework rants and edgy technologies.
We also realised that our activity can be replicated on a deeper level and we could have a bigger impact on the community. It was clear to us that we needed to further put our efforts into developing educational programs on all levels: starting with children in schools, in high schools and ending up with students in Universities. We want to help both the community and the companies and shaping the programmers of tomorrow.
A lot of lessons learned usually come from struggles and we had our share in the process. Having a lot of awesome ideas and being all over the place was the first thing we had to resolve in order to make sense of our team and services. It forced us to go through and trust the process of redefining a lot of the work we were doing.
Often the human-related struggles are the ones that prove most challenging for a business. For us it they came both at a personal level and as a team. For me being the CEO, managing a team of 8 was another first challenge in leadership as I struggled to do right by them while always balancing the business vs. the team.
Sometimes I’ve found myself making choices that were not in the best interest of the trainers, putting the business first. This train of thought made me realise that for us, TEAM will ALWAYS come first. In those moments all that remained as an anchor was one of our values: trust.
The path of becoming a manager from a front-end developer required a lot of effort invested on the business side and less on writing code and learning new technologies. This proved to be both mentally and emotionally exhausting as I have been neglecting my passion for programming and web technologies.
This struggle reminded me about what Michael Loop was saying in his Managing Humans book about technical leads that gave up programming in order to focus on management roles and leadership. He pointed out that a good manager should not stop coding and for me this was one of the best advice read in a management book as I could really relate to my experience.
For us as a team, the end of the year was a rollercoaster. By the time we agreed that the JSLeague team was to organise the fourth edition of JSHacks with Education as its theme, we were left with only one month to find sponsors, get all things in place and promote it at the last moment.
Honestly, we were not sure that we could pull this off, as some of us also had to prepare both community workshops and enterprise trainings at the same time. It was an immense pressure for all of us but we managed to pull it off. We did a great job with great effort, but at a cost of burning us out.
As for any other business, there are external struggles such as the market, the customers, the trends and so on. For us, the education and training market is one weak point. This 2017 Eurostat study shows that in 2017, Romania had the smallest rate (4%) of companies investing in personnel training of all sorts. We are in need of more and more entities that invest in both public and private education at any level.
It became more clear to us that we are a team focused company and our mission is to further develop technical educational programmes for all levels.
We are constantly juggling between our community work and the business side, where we provide enterprise trainings for companies and their developer teams. This puts a lot of pressure on our small team and as a CEO I need to have a good understanding of how to best distribute team resources. This means knowing in and out every member of the team and his/her quirks.
We needed to pause for a moment to reduce the noise and to accept that we are not hustlers in this business environment and we have to grow at our own pace in order to establish meaningful relationships with our enterprise clients, partners and with community members. We put a lot of effort in being up to date with all web technologies and as our colleague Andrei puts it, our curricula is a living organism, evolving and transforming in regards to the tech stack.
The excitement in making things happen can sometimes shadow the importance of getting to know your team both as humans and as professionals. Our challenge is the continuous effort that we have to put into keeping our culture and mission.
The question I find asking myself often is how can you preserve the culture and stay true to a company’s values as you grow as a business?
As many entrepreneurs know, growing a product or a services business is indeed a rollercoaster. Our main challenge here is scaling a services business, and by doing so to grow with one trainer at a time. Of course, more trainers means more trainings.
Through serious iteration we have found that we should think more like a product company in order to make it easier to scale our business. This means packaging and defining both our community workshops and enterprise trainings as products. We know that we still have a lot of work and experimentation to do, but we’re set on our path to develop and improve educational programmes, one line of code at a time.
To 2020 and Beyond
Looking back it’s rewarding to see that what we have written down on a whiteboard or discussed at a beer get together turned out to have such an impact on the community. After 1 year we are the same team with the same values and beliefs and with the energy to further invest in education.
We have already decided on our first workshop, Intro to Docker. So if you are a fan of Containers and Images, be sure to save your place on the 1st of February.
Investing in today’s education requires having an impact on all levels, so we have decided to focus not only on young professionals and established developers but also on children and Universities.
Our first plan is to organise a pilot Intro to Web Workshop for kids and several summer workshops for students enrolled at The Bucharest University and the Polytechnic University of Bucharest. By providing a complementary curriculum on front-end technologies we think that we can be of value to the educational system in its whole.
In order to grow and further sustain our educational and community efforts, we have decided to establish an NGO, to help us establish long-lasting relationships with entities, companies and other organisations that invest in education and share the same beliefs.
We figured out that in order to better help companies we should also focus on delivering an Internship Bootcamp. We have the ability to teach developers not only the basics of one framework but also complementary knowledge such as building and deployment, performance and agile techniques and methods to better cultivate team-work.
We hope that we have the ability to inspire as many people as we can to take action and be involved in the future of education, by combining our resources, power, and knowledge.
This pretty much sums it up, the past, present and future of JSLeague. Cheers to an extraordinary year and team! 🎉