Giving Back on a Dime: A 2014 Retrospective

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I come from humble beginnings. The Internet saved my life. It lead me to a better, happier place. It let me connect to people outside my rural, poor community, and helped me join the human race.

My journey to this better place started because of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation sent computers and Internet access to my local libraries. I remember spending an hour or so at the library, learning how to use a search engine or write HTML while my mother bought groceries. Remembering this, I always keep an eye out for ways to lift other people up as we climb toward common goals.

But I am no Bill or Melinda Gates. This year has been up and down in terms of business plans and cash flow, and I spend so much time working and traveling that there’s none left to volunteer. Even so, I still enjoy a lot of privilege. Being able to do what I want at all is a form of privilege. Turning that intangible bounty into something that can help others without sacrificing working hours requires creative thinking.

My initial attempt, the Infinite Canvas Screencast, required too much production time for too small an audience. But it got me thinking of ways to share and give back that cost me virtually nothing in terms of time or money.

  • Plus ones help “plus” a conference Some conferences encourage you to bring a plus one along to attend the conference. Although my husband is a frontend developer, he rarely travels with me. However, I know people everywhere. Some people I know would help bring diversity, both in perspective and in demographics, to a conference if only they could justify/afford a ticket. In some cases I’ve asked to bring a friend like this as my plus one, and it’s worked out splendidly. It is a small thing. It may not be appropriate in all cases, and I make sure never to pressure organizers. Rather, I offer them a list of benefits that come from letting me bring that specific friend.
  • Need-based scholarships I put together my first online group workshop, Practical Cartooning for Technical Folk, this year. (There’s a February session! You can still get in!) While I kept class size small, an extra student per session would be no trouble. So I offered a “no contest,” need-based scholarship. This allowed me to keep my student body from getting too homogenous while also providing the sort of scholarship I so desperately needed in my harder times.
  • Donating books Back when I was first learning HTML, I had to save money to order all of my books from Amazon because my library had a such a small and outdated web development section. Libraries have trouble keeping their technical books up to date, which puts those resources even further out of reach for people who can’t afford them. Now I get a lot of review copies from publishers and seconds at conferences. I give the ones I’m finished with to my local library to help keep their coding books fresh and ready for eager learners.
  • Web Animation Weekly newsletter I’m a big fan of CSS Weekly and other web development newsletters. These quiet publications are a curated what’s-what that help readers stay on top of a rapidly shifting environment. In an effort to help the web animation community move forward together, I’ve started the Web Animation Weekly newsletter. We also accept news, links, tools, etc. submissions, ensuring everyone in the community has a voice.

If you think you don’t have the time or resources to give back, I hope these have helped stir your imagination in 2015. Or perhaps you already have your own special way of giving back you’d like to share?


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