Originally published June 9, 2016.
Technology is an ever growing platform which people can utilize to help solve global social issues. N3XTCODER aims to harness this use of technology and develop meaningful digital products in different, new ways that can solve these fast-growing challenges.
N3XTCODER helps those working in technology or those who want to start using it to create something meaningful. They work with some of the most skilled people in the tech and social industry to ensure their products actually have an impact. The organization offers a variety of workshops, training and educational projects that focus on tech development and tech design.
We had the opportunity to sit down with founder Simon Stegemann to talk about everything from N3XTCODER's conception to why technology isn't being fully utilized in solving global problems as it should be.
What was your motivation for starting N3XTCODER?
After studying Business and Art at Alanus University, I received the great opportunity to work closely with Professor Muhammad Yunus at The Grameen Creative Lab. I am very grateful for this experience and always remember his words: “Don’t become a job seeker, become a job giver! “His spirit became part of my DNA. After spending half of my “work life” in the social sector and the other half in the technology sector, N3XTCODER is the trail to make the most of this connection and feels like a great opportunity to scale my passion for social business.
Education is core to your mission - how do you help teach people to use technology to have a social impact?
Our educational programs are built around disruptive cases of social entrepreneurs, developing successful new solutions for social innovation. We connect them with tech experts and digital talents. Together we develop meaningful digital products and aim to scale their impact. This encounter creates a new level of experience, which serves as the foundation for our educational programs.
In your educational projects, students work on a concrete social business. What businesses have you worked with and what products/services came out of those projects?
Since fall 2015 we have worked with different social entrepreneurs in varying stages during our workshops. The range goes from projects in the ideation stage such as “WeConnect” — an organization that aims to connect refugees with local initiatives — to several projects who already have a great number of users. As part of our learning curve, we aim to work with social organizations that already have “traction“ and real users. Projects that rework their current products are ideal for the learning experience of our students. At the same time, the knowledge of our tech experts is very useful to shape great products.
We currently focus on “iterating“ existing products, rather than inventing something from scratch without proof of whether the product actually creates social impact. During our programs we work on specific challenges of the product such as video features or a registration process. The outcome is therefore always different depending on topics, challenges and circumstances. Arya, for example, is a social healthcare start-up that developed an app to help people who suffer from depression. They needed technical support in order to develop a new app. Throughout the workshop preparation “react native” was spotlighted as the new programming language developed by Facebook and Instagram. It was the best programming language for their current needs. Therefore, we organized a “react native” workshop to work on a new feature of the app. This is a great win-win for everyone involved - web developers get to learn and practice using a new programming language and the social entrepreneurs get cutting-edge tech support for free. We see these workshops as the start of a longer and deeper relationship. Our goal is a longer education project to implement the outcomes of a workshop. We are planning to start a first education project in summer 2016.
"A great win-win. Web developers get to learn and practice and social entrepreneurs get cutting-edge tech support."
You also support people in developing their product or service - how does this work?
N3XTCODER has different products and services. As an example, let’s take one of our clients who we are helping to further develop their healthcare platform to show how it works. They want to scale their current platform to new territories. First, we help with tech consulting. How did they build the first version? Is it scalable? What happens with lots of traffic? How is the user journey for the patient? How can doctors connect easily? What happens when the internet connection is bad?
With all this information we can then create the workshop content. One day workshops can so far only focus on smaller features, while two or three month long education projects allow real projects to ensue. By the end of the project the client should have a working platform. And instead of being dependent on our expertise, we help them build their own tech team. We want our customers to become independent, and at the same time we want our students to become the best developers solving society's most pressing needs.
You note that up until now, the tech industry has mostly failed to use technology to solve society’s most pressing problems. Why do you think this is and what needs to happen so this is no longer the case?
There are really smart programs on my smartphone, but unfortunately not that many have the vision to create social impact. I see venture funds investing millions into shopping apps, funny games, the war industry or to do list apps! What we should be doing is designing products that tackle poverty, hunger, quality education and many more social problems we are facing today.
The UN offers great guidelines with their Sustainable Development Goals. But the tech industry is still dominated by big funds that are looking for the next Facebook. They look for very attractive financial models, and this is not always the case with social start-ups — even though they create enormous benefit for the society. What needs to happen? It’s already happening. We need more people with a different mindset who have money — people like Sean Parker who are investing a lot into social startups.
Here in Berlin we have participants from The Entrepreneur‘s Pledge — entrepreneurs committed to dedicate their entrepreneurial gift to create at least one business that will have a positive impact on environmental and social challenges, and re-invest 50% of the profits to further its cause. Crowdfunding, you name it… However, everybody in the tech industry is looking for the right talents to grow as quickly as possible.
With N3XTCODER, we want to educate the next generation of software developers and connect them with the most innovative social entrepreneurs. We have to “boost“ those projects. Our climate is changing rapidly. We need the best people in the world to work on these problems. We need the world to work together to overcome these challenges. We have the technology to make it happen and now more and more people have the mindset too. Join us. Become a N3XTCODER!
Who’s behind N3XTCODER? Tell us about your team?
We created a strong and diverse team with lots of expertise in different fields. Leonhard Nima is responsible for our education programs by making sure we create social impact at scale. His expertise builds on social business projects in more than 15 countries. He worked as the Head of Academia at The Grameen Creative Lab, and was an Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School in San Francisco, teaching for their Master of Social Entrepreneurship program. We met in 2010 during our time at the GCL.
N3XTCODER CTO and technical expert Jonathan Moore has been developing web applications for almost 2 decades. His expertise as a full stack software engineer builds on experiences from smaller, open source projects to large high traffic apps, including 2 successful exits. In his latest roles as a CTO and Director of IT he worked on different highly scalable projects for Berlin based startup incubator Team Europe and Vertical Media (Gründerszene.de).
We are very lucky to have two super women working very closely with us. Nadine Tischler helped us with creating our brand and logo from day one. As soon as her baby boys are a bit older, we hope she will spend more time with us. Danielle Reid is our design expert and develops products throughout the entire process, from concept to design to code. As Co-Founder of the social enterprise Sterio.me, she partnered with Vodacom Foundation to bring developing countries homework via basic mobile phone. Sterio.me received global recognition from UN and UNESCO and is part of WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education). Danielle is also a Co-Founder of Capsule.fm and UX Mentor at CareerFoundry and Startupbootcamp.
As mentioned before, I studied business and arts. I was very fortunate to work at great companies like Weleda AG and to work with serial entrepreneur Hans Reitz and Professor Yunus at The Grameen Creative Lab spreading the word about social business. My tech career started at a digital consulting agency. The past three years I was working for a mobile payment startup. All these experiences are the foundation of N3XTCODER.
What three pieces of advice would you give someone who is currently in the process of building a tech solution for a social problem?
It is always easy to give advice… however speaking from experience:
- Know the problem you are trying to solve
- Build the right team
- Start small
- Fail quickly
- Get up quickly
- Don’t be afraid
- Have fun
What makes you a changer?
Thanks to my education and my childhood, I was always encouraged to think differently. Now we live in a time where everything is changing, whether it be climate to communication to transportation. With N3XTCODER we want to shape these changes in a positive way. I hope that I can be a changer by connecting the best ideas with the best people to create a positive vision and make it easy for people to act differently.
Are you a web developer and want to find out more about how you can get involved. Do it! Visit N3XTCODER for more information.