A trip to San Francisco is incomplete without a visit to see a startup company in action. In a world hungry for innovation, you picture brilliant minds working together with the goal to “make the world a better place.” While the reality we face is seeing the majority of services still catered towards convenience for entertainment and lifestyle (transportation or social media), those that are impact-driven or social-centric remain few and far between
So when I discovered DIY Co., the inner child within me squealed. Here is a company that ties in the perfect trifecta of community, gamification, and education catered towards today’s youth. The following is a Q&A discussion with me and Becky Margraf, the Community Manager at DIY (Online Community for Kids) and JAM (Online Courses for Kids).
JULY 7, 2016 @ DIY HQ
Before we even start, Becky hands me a post-it with DIY Community Core Values.
Talk about being prepared!
DIY COMMUNITY CORE VALUES:
- Share what you know
- Try New things
- Embrace Your Fails
- Encourage Your Peers
- Don’t be a Jerk
T: Hi Becky! I see that you have these same Community Core Values on the DIY website as well. Can you also please list 5 Values for the company mission of DIY Co.?
T: What is DIY’s mission?
B: DIY is making education engaging by building communities and providing a space where kids feel inspired to learn, find their passions, and grow their existing skills. We provide and create instructional resources and a safe environment for open dialogue to kids discover how broad the world really is.
Pretty much the gist is: Get Skills. Be Awesome. Explore the world and be kind to each other.
T: What are your kids like?
B: We have an amazing community of around 350,000 kids, aged 6-16. Much of our community is based in the United States, but we have a really broad international representation too—lots of families in Europe, schools and clubs in Japan, China, and Indonesia, tons of kids in Australia and New Zealand. Our community guidelines are designed to encourage positive growth and communication, and our kids take those rules pretty seriously, especially regarding encouraging one another and preventing bullying. Kids who are particularly active on the platform—especially those who have already found their passions—build an audience really quickly, and they inspire and motivate their peers to experiment with new things all the time.
T: What’s the ratio for those who explore new passions and those who are building their skill set?
B: I think that people are always in a constant state of discovery. We’ve built DIY’s curriculum in a way that keeps the barrier to entry low to encourage kids to explore anything and everything that piques their interest. We have lots of kids who don’t know what they’re into, so they try a bit of everything, and that’s awesome! We have kids who know exactly what their passions are—like art, writing, acting—and they go all out. For example, one DIYer had always dreamed of completing and publishing a novel, so she just went for it! She wrote chapters one by one, posted them on her profile, and she gained a tremendous following. By the time she finished her novel, she had a huge fan base of support from kids all around the world! She’s working on the second one new.
T: What sort of skills are offered?
B: We currently have 125 skills, which you can see on diy.org/skills. Skills run the gamut in terms of content—we have practical skills relating to exploring, programming, building, innovation and some sillier skills like Meme Hacker, Surrealist, and Yeti. We loosely sort skills in categories like art, citizenship, athletics, science, philosophy, or exploring. Kids can explore those categories, deep dive into a skill, and sort through a list of 10–20 challenges related to that skill to find something to do. Some skills are definitely harder and/or more technical than others, but we aim to provide a solid progression of expertise through the skill with our challenges (from “Newb” to “Pro”) so any kid can try learning anything.
T: Can you give me an example of what you mean?
B: I got to work with an aerospace engineer from NASA to build our Astronaut skill. He helped us determine the expertise and abilities beneficial for kids interested in following that skill path, and we converted those to project-based challenges that the kids could complete. Challenges range from easy—“Design a Spacesuit”, “Learn 3 Russian Phrases”, “Swim Laps”—to Pro—“Program a Microcontroller”, “Build an RC Vehicle.” We aim to work with experts as much as possible to make our skills authentic and valuable to those who want to complete them.
T: How do you keep the community safe and free from bullying?
B: It was important to DIY’s co-founders that they created a safe environment for kids that only belonged to kids, so we do not let adults join our platform. This is great because our kids feel more free to be themselves and share their failures. We’re fortunate to have a very self-policing community—misbehavior is pretty rare, and when it does happen, it’s often reported by multiple members instantly. Everyone is pretty respectful and supportive, which we love and are grateful for.
We do have some issues with bullying, but a lot of what I see isn’t mean-spirited as much as it is inexperience with being part of a internet community. Many of our members are very young, and DIY is their first time interacting with others online—things that seem okay to say out loud (“I don’t like that”) come off very differently when they’re typed and read without tone or context. Fortunately, issues like that usually end up being great learning experiences, and those kids often end up being active and wonderful members of our community.
T: What is your favorite part about your job?
B: I’m personally passionate about building educational tools and toys for kids, so it’s amazing to be in a position where I can talk to kids from all around the world about the way they feel about everything—their lives, the world, politics, pop culture. It’s incredible watching them try new things, get frustrated, overcome that frustration, then find that one thing that they really connect with. Seeing kids be compassionate and supportive to their peers, especially in response to their personal struggles or their failures in trying new projects, brings me a lot of joy too, especially when compared to the nastiness I see online otherwise.
It’s also crazy to imagine all of these kids I’ve known will eventually become future politicians or famous YouTube artists. 20 years from now, I’ll totally be thinking, “Wow, I remember when you were 7 and you made that really terrible birdhouse."
Thank you Becky for your time and your amazing mission to encourage kids everywhere to grow and share their skills with the world! Looks like those values are definitely being put into place for the community that exists within the platform and at the office.
DIY Co. recently launched its new platform, JAM.com—online video courses for kids. DIY is the free open ended platform that encourages kids to explore in their own way. JAM is the open ended platform which provides courses taught by experts for kids to live, flourish, and thrive.
We are fortunate to have platforms like DIY exist to create new innovative ways to broaden the learning horizon and educate the youth on skills and values beyond traditional schooling. These kids are the future leaders of the world we share after all!
If you love what DIY Co. is doing, consider coming up with your own 5 Values system! Check our store for inspiration!
Show Off Your Organization’s Values
I regularly conduct Q&A sessions with organizations that are committed to mindful values. You can be a brand, a company, a non profit, or even an individual doing cool things. The most important thing is that you’re committed to your values. If you’d like to be featured on the blog, please get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
The mission is to inspire and help individuals come up with their own Core 5 Values. If an organization that is fueled by their value system can easily align with their mission, what is to stop an individual from not doing the same and being the change they want to see in the world?