What an Adventure It's Been
When I started 5 years ago, Mehackit had just partnered up with the corporate social responsibility team at Samsung Electronics Nordics. I immediately knew it would be an adventure!
Our multi-year partnership enabled our team to innovate and focus on the quality of creative technology education and training and make an impact internationally - and even summarising it on an academic publication. For a small impact-driven social enterprise a partner who really shares your values and promotes your vision is worth its weight in gold!
Now that our work together is done, we are proud to publish the results: the Mehackit creative coding learning materials, freely available for students and teachers worldwide!
Leading Mehackit has been meaningful and taught me a lot. If I should pick one thing it would be the importance of having a clear vision. Our vision has been to make tech skills more equal and all decisions have supported that. Working for a small company has many benefits.
1. Learning many aspects of the business
I recall my first task at the office was to go out and buy a new curtain rod for pink chiffon-curtains and installing them. Next, I continued with getting to know the operations of the company and streamline them, and later designing new digital learning services, supporting the production team and strengthening the EdTech industry together with other leaders and founders.
When working in a small company you learn to understand the value and role of every part of the business, to really feel how the pieces are all connected and how they are there for a reason, like parts of a living organism. At some point when we didn’t have anyone responsible for comms and marketing, we really noticed what we were missing! In a small company there is no “someone” out there in another department who will do it for you, and this makes a big difference. Same applies to ideas - having lots of great ideas, theoretic charts and research papers is a start but they are worth nothing if not prioritised and put into action. It is often cheaper and quicker to just go and try what works best.
Running a company is exciting, continuous learning and juggling, which for me has also been very motivating. Being able to use all the skills and experiences that I have, or what the team members have, and then silently agreeing that when we all do our best, it is enough. Having a supportive team around you is a secret source of superpowers.
2. Opportunities to advance
The Education industry is all about advancement, both on a personal level and on a wider societal scale - which makes it so very meaningful. Seeing and experiencing the learners’ reactions has probably been the biggest reward, and has propelled the service design process forward faster than anything and to the only correct direction!
Mehackit is about making technology skills more equal, focusing on the K12 sector. We always think of how we could make our learning service better, how to engage and impact the users, how to make teachers and students enthusiastic and happy with what they have achieved and made. One of our guidelines has been: The first experience in learning or teaching creative coding should be achieved fast and with minimal effort! Once this is done the next rule can be applied: Learning new skills should not just be easy but meaningful!
Our company hierarchy has been flat which has given room for, in my perspective, a motivation and skills-based organisation. With a team of technology education professionals, fuelled by the chance to learn new skills themselves, it has been exciting to experiment with different EdTech opportunities in product development, learning paths and user experience. It is hard not to advance when you can dive into what really interests you with skilled people around.
In a small company there is no distant board of directors or IT department where you need to ask for permissions. New tools or software can be bought in a matter of seconds when there is a need for it. When we understood that tutorial videos would take our service to the next level, we simply asked for advice from an expert we knew, built a studio and started experimenting. Every tool or structure should be useful and if it is not, it can easily be changed or removed. We have received a lot of positive feedback for our videos!
Flexibility and trust go hand in hand. Trusting the team and offering opportunities to say what interests each one and what doesn’t makes it possible to quickly change and continuously develop roles accordingly. A psychologically safe workplace builds trust and helps team members make each other stars. After all, for creative professionals, motivation is key in producing great learning services! Motivation brings responsibility and ownership, like authors have for their books or musicians for their songs. Without it it is hard to innovate. We have always had a low employee turnover which is something I am proud of.
What comes to the flexibility of the company, Mehackit was originally founded after organising a couple of maker workshops for kids. During the next couple of school years, we reached out to 100 secondary schools in Finland and grew our instructor network up to 70 people. We continued to test our pedagogy and develop our content during live professional development teacher training workshops in Finland and internationally and during our national online training programs, reaching 2000 educators. We also offered courses, events and pilots for schools in 22 countries. While doing this, we were designing and producing our digital and tutorial video -based learning materials, already partly used by 50 000 learners, now free and open for anyone.
4. Workplace culture
Creating a culture is a long-term process which you work on every day. When having a round of “How was your weekend?” we expect team members to really share what’s going on, share their adventures in the wilderness, bicycling with their family, trying out a new recipe or being a little tired after a long night out.
When small acts of kindness come from the heart of the company and the values and behaviour of individuals, and not because it is trendy, it becomes the brand of the company that is hard to copy. Anyone can have a basket of woollen socks in the lobby but in how many companies customers would look forward to wearing them with a smile, or some customers even starting to bring their own when visiting us!
Our legendary annual “Summer day”, a team get-together, is a cornerstone of our company culture: a much-anticipated fun surprise planned by the lovely superstar founders Henrietta and Otso, usually including a new, wild learning experience, such as horseback riding class or sailing. The team would be sent a list of what to pack and where to be at a given time. One year we had a pre-Christmas trip at a cabin without electricity, making dinner together and chopping wood for the sauna. When there is something that clearly connects the whole team, such as learning and creativity is for us, it is easy to plan a team day with elements that everyone can enjoy.
5. Creative bonuses
A financial bonus for a job well done is nice to get. Still, making some unforgettable memories together have a much longer and stronger impact on the team culture and overall productivity. I will never forget any of the business trips we have done together.
Samsung invited our whole team to give a music programming workshop at their Developer Conference in San Francisco in 2016, and so we went and reserved our Airbnb’s. Having an important role at the Innovator area of the conference was great: teaching professional programmers and business people to code songs! I will also never forget our road trip on our day-off when we drove in a rental van over the Golden Gate Bridge to the California vineyards and countryside.
Our training in Bogota in 2018 was equally unforgettable! Our partners Juan and Martha made us feel very welcome. They had prepared the 20-person instructor training at the National University followed by workshops in 6 local schools. In every classroom 50 students were learning the basics of coding led by our new local instructors, supported with our learning materials. Of course we were also introduced to a local fiesta where the dinner discussion was about “How do you know when it’s rumba?” “Oh, you will know, you will know!!!” (You should check this crazy place, Andrés Carne de Res!) And we knew, no question about it!
We are proud to share The Mehackit digital learning resources in the name of open source, the spirit of maker culture and UN SDG #4 Quality Education!
Whether it is coding music, visual art, programmable electronics and robotics that interests the learners, we’ve got you covered! Mehackit will continue to offer maker and creative coding professional development training for teachers and workshops, live or online. Our materials can be found at mehackit.org. We’re also on joint platforms offering high quality and free learning resources during the covid-19 crisis koulu.me (solutions from Finland) and teachmillons.org (solutions from 8 Nordic countries).
In addition to providing learning resources and training, Mehackit will focus on art and new media projects, creative technology workshops and community arts projects for museums and other institutions - both online and off-line. Our co-founder Otso will take the lead in the following leg of the Mehackit journey. The next Mehackit New Media Art Collective project by Otso will be part of The Untitled Online Festival starting 11th of June.
On behalf of the whole Team-Hackit, I am very thankful for co-creating and innovating world- class technology education pedagogics and resources together with all the learners, teachers, customers and partners!
Picture is from our workshop booth at Samsung Developer Conference 2016. From left: Reetta, Tommi, Mikko, Hilla, Otso, Heini and Henrietta. Not in the core team at that time but Antti, Miska and Tiago must be mentioned. There are also many others who have contributed, you’re all on my mind.