Q: What is the unmet need that you seek to address through new mentoring efforts and how is this related to larger goals and ambitions for advancing your regional innovation ecosystem?
A: Western Massachusetts faces a unique problem: while home to a host of high-end technology innovators, the economy is small enough that the relative dearth of new talent is creating a vacuum in the local tech industry.
While the Pioneer Valley in particular is home to a variety of educational institutions, including the Five College Consortium, a flagship research university, two Seven Sisters women’s colleges, and a host of community colleges, the lack of practical development experience that undergraduates entering the workforce presents a problem that New England Regional Developers, Inc, believes can be solved with the mentoring program outlined here.
The mentoring efforts work to provide additional training for web development on both a practical and business level, both by providing a network of training and events in the form of camps and summits, specific classes, and boundless opportunities for networking and establishing professional relationships. In addition to filling an existing need for mid-level professional development opportunities, the NERD Community of Western Massachusetts brings in further opportunities to grow the economy of Western Mass—and thus attract more of the talent needed to sustain the mentoring network. Our network helps participants create successful sole proprietorships or join existing firms. A community which is healthy and active in these ways effectively trains, supports and advances itself.
Q: Please name and describe the new mentoring-related efforts. How do they focus on a particular underserved geography, industry, or population of participants?
A: NERDs, Inc develops small teams of junior web professionals, trained with the cooperation and guidance from partnering digital agencies, development shops, design studios and media outlets.
Q: What impact(s) are achieved and what services or activities does that entail?
A: First and foremost, we organize, educate and advance the skills of web designers and developers in the New England region. This involves leasing training/meeting space, organizing recurring training activities and events, along with some administrative costs.
In addition, we broaden the appeal of the existing local groups, camps and summits to include digital work of all types. Currently, for example, our vision for NERD Summit includes engaging attendees in a multitude of new ways outside of typical programming camp content: business strategy seminars, workflow process trainings, social media and content strategy sessions, graphic design panels, Q & A panels with a range of professionals working in digital creative, and catered networking events.
Q: How do these new efforts and your approach to mentoring differ from and/or complement any other resources or activities currently taking place or planned within your organization or the broader region?
A: There currently is not another organized initiative for mentoring the web development profession in this area. Our efforts and approach complement and advance existing meetups and summits to better them as learning events. The New England region hosts several programming-centric camps and meetups every year, but none cover the breadth of topics that the NERD Summit plans.
Q: How do you evaluate the success of these efforts? What metrics do you track to assess outcomes?
A: We track how members of the mentor program either become successful sole proprietors in their profession or join existing firms in need of local talent. We also track how these members also become members of the community at large, providing the type of training at meetups, camps, and summits that they received as they were starting out.
For our events, we track the number of presentations given, event sponsorships and attendees as well make available surveys in two forms: paper/pencil, and interactive surveys, accessible via a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
Additionally, we have in place a set of social media taggables, which are measured precisely with tools such as HootSuite and Google Analytics. Website traffic, social analytics, and attendee engagement are all measurable, tangible methods of determining success.