Companies lacking the skills or manpower to complete coding projects usually onboard a new employee or contract a freelancer. However, there’s a third, more cost-effective option for one-off projects: crowdsourcing. The strategy seems risky, because it relies on complete strangers, but it works well for nonprofits and enterprises alike.
In the context of coding work, crowdsourcing involves collaboration between a coding community and a company. When nonprofit Kopernik needed code written quickly and cost-effectively, it worked with Free Code Camp, an online community of aspiring developers willing to do projects for free as a way to hone their skills and building their portfolios. This helped the company move quickly and find quality programming at no cost for Wonder Woman Indonesia, a program that provides clean energy technology to women in remote Indonesian villages.
“I didn’t feel like we’d be taking advantage,” says Amber Gregory, a website developer for Kopernik who worked with Free Code Camp members. “These were enthusiastic volunteers who benefitted from the experience while they helped us.”
Crowdsourcing draws people in, as opposed to outsourcing, which requires active recruiting. Kopernik started by posting its project details on a virtual bulletin board on Free Code Camp. Community members who were interested in coding for humanitarian nonprofits then found this post and signed up.
Employers learn from the experience of crowdsourcing as well. This was the case for Shier Ziser, who works with nonprofit Save a Child’s Heart. Ziser praised Free Code Camp for giving him access to students who were willing to teach him basic programming skills and concepts while they coded Web pages.
Free Code Camp also provides a place to find coders who are passionate about their industry or the cause their work is supporting. According to Walter Guillioli, People Saving Animals’ director, you can judge a student’s passion for a project if they’re excited to work on it for free. Guillioli, like many employers who have worked with Free Code Camp, said he’d consider hiring one of their coders if his organization decides to employ a coder full-time.
Free Code Camp isn’t designed to be a career accelerator; rather, it’s a place for coders to hone their skills and build out their portfolios. Most participating students are over 25 and work full time, according to Free Code Camp Software Engineer Quincy Larson. Though Free Code Camp is not touted as a job placement venue, dozens of students have landed programming jobs through the platform. Employers — ones with the budgets to hire programmers — are even starting to perceive Free Code Camp as a place to look for talent.
Branden Byers found a job as an associate software engineer at cloud services company Interactive Intelligence shortly after working on a project at Free Code Camp. The community gave him the confidence to pursue his ambitions.
“Realizing there were so many other people struggling and I wasn’t alone was really helpful,” Beyers says.
The pipeline between crowdsourcing communities and employers is streamlined when students are willing to invest. CodeCloud.me offers an online coding bootcamp experience for students willing to buy the premium option. Like Free Code Camp, it gives employers the opportunity to crowdsource projects, skill up their employees via collaboration, save money, and test the water with potential hires.
CodeCloud.me primarily works on bitcoin-related projects with nonprofits, governments, and private companies — mostly based in South Korea and Singapore — with varying motivations. The Infocomm Development Authority in Singapore worked with CodeCloud.me to teach its employees to code, while nonprofit The Fabric Social turned to CodeCloud.me when it needed cost-effective coding work.
With CodeCloud.me, it is more common for employers to hire the students they collaborate with. CodeCloud.me students have gone on to work at American companies such as Tumblr and Forbes, according to CodeCloud.me founder Mike De’Shazer.
“If you hire an entry-level developer, you never know if they’re the right person,” De’Shazer says, expounding on the benefits of collaborating with a coder before you hire them.
Platforms like Free Code Camp and CodeCloud.me allow employers to work with coders, save money, and train their employees. There are only a few of these platforms at the moment, but their numbers are growing as crowdsourcing gains more and more popularity.