Judy Warner: Jon, please share briefly about your background and what inspired you to co-found Major League Hacking.
Jonathan Gottfried: I grew up tinkering with technology, but when I went to college to study Computer Science it was so much more academic than the creative building that I loved to do. I switched majors to history, started doing programming work as a consultant on the side, and ended up graduating and becoming a Developer Evangelist at Twilio. It was the perfect combination of technology and community work.
Through my work at Twilio, I got involved with student developer communities first as a sponsor and then as a mentor to many organizers and community members. When my co-founder Swift approached me about working on Major League Hacking full-time, it was a no brainer to do what I loved most — helping people learn tech skills and build community!
Jonathan Gottfried addresses students at a hackathon
Warner: Please tell us how many hackathons you currently run, the number of students you reach, as well as your aspirations for the next 5-10 years.
Gottfried: Major League Hacking supports many hundreds of technical workshops, hackathons, and short-form tech events on university and high school campuses around the world. More than 125,000 developers, designers, and engineers attend our events each year to learn new technical skills, build amazing projects, and share their passion with the wider tech community. We're working towards a world where any student, regardless of where they are in the world, can learn to build technology as part of the MLH community.
The MLH team
Warner: What positive direct-impact are you seeing for the students you reach?
Gottfried: Going to Major League Hacking events is a transformative experience for our students. It is often the first place they find "their people" — the other young women and men who are just as passionate as they are about building technology. Not only that, but it provides a risk-free environment for them to experiment and stretch their skills. This is an important part of any up-and-coming developer's journey and helps build confidence and practical skills beyond a typical classroom environment. More than 80% of our students say they learn skills at MLH events that they don't get in the classroom.
Student-hacker builds a robotic arm
Warner: What is the financial model you've created to fund the hackathons and continue expanding your reach?
Gottfried: Major League Hacking is a Public Benefit Corporation, a new form of mission-driven company. We are able to provide services to our amazing community of students through funding provided by corporate partners looking to recruit up-and-coming technologists or teach them about their developer platforms.
Student giving the student-build VR device a test run
Warner: Where are you based and how many people work for MLH currently?
Gottfried: Major League Hacking is headquartered in NYC. We have an amazing community of thousands of volunteer local organizers, nearly 50 MLH coaches (our local super-leaders), and around 20 full time team members.
Warner: Besides the hackathons, you also host technical workshops, please tell us about those and the value proposition of these events for your sponsors and participants.
Busy scene from a MLH hackathon workspace
Gottfried: MLH Localhost is our technical workshop program. We partner with leading tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Slack, Twilio, and many more to develop curriculum modules that teach participants how to use technology platforms in a fun, peer-led environment outside of their normal day-to-day. It's a very accessible format for participants to learn new technical skills at their own pace and it provides sponsors with an easy way to develop high quality curriculum and scale their developer education efforts to a global audience.
MLH students show off their team badges
Warner: As you grow your company and expand your vision, what obstacles or concerns keep you up at night?
Gottfried: We constantly think about how to continue meeting our community's needs at a global scale. We are believers in the ability of technology to do good in the world, and that demand for developers will continue to grow. This is not a certainty, and so we are frequently thinking about ways to make the tech industry more accessible and demonstrate the value of encouraging early-stage developers.
Students working on a device they created at MLH event
Warner: Is there any way our readers can help or get involved in MLH?
Gottfried: If you're a student, check out our upcoming calendar of hackathons! If you work for a company that is hiring developers or has a developer platform, learn more about working with MLH or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Girls team at Hack Holyoke
Warner: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Jon and best wishes for continued success!
Gottfried: Thank you for giving us the opportunity.
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