Hello there, and welcome to Silicon Ally! This handbook aims to orient you as you get up to speed with working here. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a new employee, so welcome! If you have any questions, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com at any time.
This document is mostly an overview of all the organizational policies we’ve created, which are available publicly at https://siliconally.org/docs/policies/
Our mission is to help nonprofits use technology to operate more effectively.
That’s the short, pithy version. If you want to read our full mission as filed with the IRS, have a look at Article IV (pages 4-5). Within our goal of ‘helping nonprofits’, our focus is on nonprofits working on global inequality and climate change, as we believe those to be the two most pressing problems of our time.
What does success look like for us? If we’ve accomplished what we set out to do, what do we expect the world to look like? These grand-sounding questions have fairly uncomplicated answers.
We want nonprofits and other civic-minded organizations to have the same access to technology as their for-profit counterparts, to free them from toil and allow them to scale where possible. If we’re successful, technology won’t be the limiting factor stopping a nonprofit from achieving its mission. We want Silicon Ally to be the place nonprofits go when they’re ready to take better advantage of technology, either in a supporting role or as a core part of their mission.
We plan on doing this through a mix of general-purpose tools (both via open-source software and Silicon Ally-hosted solutions) and purpose-built systems (e.g. a platform to connect adventurers and scientists). The general-purpose tools give us a broad base to work with, we build them once and then share them as many times as is useful. The purpose-built systems give us a way to target already very effective organizations and push them further, removing bottlenecks from their pipelines and workflows.
(Extremely Brief) History
Silicon Ally was founded in 2021 by Brandon Sprague and Grady Ward, friends and former co-workers who wanted to use their software skills to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems (which didn’t include baby diaper sensors or Google Drive spam). We took on our first client, an environmental nonprofit, shortly after getting started. We look forward to writing our next chapter with you.
Culture/Code of Conduct
Employees are a vital part of any organization, and that’s especially true at Silicon Ally. We have few physical assets to speak of, and the vast majority of our costs are in paying employee salaries. As such, making sure our employees are happy, healthy, and productive isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the surest way to keep the organization alive and thriving. To that end, we’ve picked a few traits that we hope exemplify the culture of our organization, and how those traits are felt in the day-to-day.
We don’t want these things to be empty words, we try to explicitly back every policy and ideological platitude with concrete actions and examples, so that we can be held to the ideals we set for the organization. If we’re not living up to our ideals, let’s talk about what we can do to fix it.
We Trust Each Other
This sounds pretty basic, but many of the problems that can plague an organization boil down to issues of trust. Things like micromanaging and bureaucratic red tape (meetings, procedures, etc) are frequently manifestations of individuals not being trusted to get their work done on their own.
There’s lots of implications of truly trusting your co-workers. The main one is our ‘flat’ organizational structure. This is usually a buzzword thrown around by Silicon Valley start-ups to note a short ‘depth’ between entry-level employees and the CEO, which is conveniently true in any small organization. That’s not what we mean. When we say ‘flat’ organization, we mean that everyone is truly self-managed, there’s no reporting chain to speak of. Rather than imposing a hierarchy, we operate more as a guild or a group of collaborative-but-autonomous units. We collectively decide on priorities and use super-majority voting mechanisms to make major organizational decisions, like hiring, firing, and taking on new clients. Any individual task has a single owner who is responsible for its completion.
We Default to Openness
We believe that openness has its own merits. To us, openness means sharing the majority of what we do publicly, whether it’s the code that we write, the internal policies we adopt, or our financial outlook. This helps prospective clients and donors decide if we’re a good match for them, and we see lots of benefits to open-sourcing our code.
Openness also applies to our internal communications. We should all feel empowered to be honest and frank when talking to coworkers. This goes hand-in-hand with trust, we’re trusting our coworkers to give feedback freely and respectfully, and to receive feedback graciously and thoughtfully. We believe this kind of open exchange is essential for building robust products and relationships.
We Make Pragmatic Decisions
At the end of the day, we’re all here for the same reason: to help nonprofits better achieve their goals. To do that to the best of our abilities, it’s important to keep in mind the realities of our situation, like the resources available to us and our limited time. From that lens, we’re always striving to build the right things at the right time, and to strike the right balance between building perfect systems, and delivering projects on time.
Specifically, it’s really easy for us to get nerd-sniped in the course of building interesting things, and to want to travel further down that particular rabbit hole. To counter such tendencies, we should always be asking ourselves, “is this the most important thing that I could be doing right now?” and generally weighing out the pros and cons of any given course of action. We believe that everything we do is a means to an end, and that includes things like meetings we schedule and attend, tests we write, tooling we build, etc.
We Disagree Respectfully
We are a collection of learners. We have the acumen to disagree respectfully, the will to change our minds, and the humility to admit our mistakes. If you believe a decision is the wrong one, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak your mind and state your case. Healthy disagreement and enthusiastic debate are hallmarks of a functioning workplace.
We Communicate Effectively
When communicating, be as concise as is still precise and clear.
Always consider which medium is best suited for communication. Generally prefer media that are:
- Written (Email > Meeting)
- Persistent + Searchable (Outline > Chat > Video Call)
- Collaborative (Documents > Email > Chat)
- Asynchronous (Documents > Email > Chat > Recorded Meeting > Unrecorded Meeting)
- Transparent (Public > Internally Public > Group Shared > Shared to individuals)
When a quick response is desired, make sure to express the reason and the expected time frame for response alongside the communication; no expectations for timely response apply unless explicitly stated. Try to avoid situations where you place responsiveness expectations on coworkers.
Fend-off regularly scheduled meetings. All scheduled meetings should have an editable agenda, and should start and end on time. Employees are encouraged to skip meetings they don’t think are necessary, so long as they communicate that intent.
We default to the English language, the Arial typeface, and the Oxford comma. Jokes, memes, and personal camaraderie are explicitly encouraged as part of a healthy communication strategy.
We Grow Together
Accompanying the decentralized management of the organization is a commensurate individual responsibility to perform and grow. All employees are expected to consistently and demonstrably further the mission and efforts of the organization. All employees are expected to continually improve their skill set and become more proficient in their service of the organization.
Accountability & Corrections
If you notice one of your coworkers violating these norms or principles, talk to them about it, and work with them to try to find a path forward. If things don’t improve, talk to other employees about it, and try to find a mutually acceptable path forward. If that too does not work, you can initiate an anonymous poll to fire the employee, which will be binding if affirmed by ⅔ of all employees.
If you think something is missing from this handbook, propose it to the board and they will consider it.
Employee Classification + Working Hours
Being a full-time Silicon Ally employee comes with five weeks paid vacation per year, and health, dental and vision insurance. All employees make the same amount of money, published publicly. We currently contract out any areas where we need additional expertise (legal, UX etc).
Generally, if you don’t have any client meetings or other obligations, you’re free to work when you want and how you want. The general expectation is that, over the course of a given year, you should average ~4.926 hours/day of work. Our official time policy has the full details.
Terms of Employment
Employment at Silicon Ally comes with no IP assignment clauses or other provisions that would limit your ability to do whatever you want when you aren’t working. You can take other jobs (don’t burn yourself out though), contribute to any open-source (or otherwise) projects, or even start your own side businesses. The founding members of Silicon Ally have used this freedom to consult at start-ups, work on personal ventures, and pursue passion projects.
Since we don’t have managers, we don’t have any performance reviews or employee levels. Accordingly, there isn’t any process for promotion. This removes a lot of overhead and general anxiety from the workplace, at the cost of removing an avenue for advancement.
Instead of climbing a generic corporate ladder, we expect employees to actively figure out what their personal and professional growth goals are, and to actualize them through the flexibility they have working here.
For example, do you want to improve your frontend skills? Or your backend skills? Or project management skills? Or get better at working with clients? Whatever your goals are, talk with the team and together we’ll figure out how to divide up work to make sure you’re growing and being challenged in line with your vision for growth.
Our general philosophy is not to offer additional perks, like free meals and gym stipends. Instead of spending time and money to maintain those programs, we prefer to put that money into salaries when possible, which would reflect as increasing our multiplier relative to the benchmark compensation rate. The main exceptions are areas where we benefit from scale (which we don’t really have yet) or where there are tax implications (health benefits, a future 401k program, etc).
Speaking of which, we don’t currently offer a 401k, but we hope to have one set up before anyone reads this document.
If you incur expenses in the course of doing work for Silicon Ally, that expense can and should be reimbursed. We use Gusto, our payroll system, to manage reimbursements, follow their instructions to record expenses.