We made a website, and you should too. CSed organization’s need to practice what they preach and use coding themselves. Our website doesn’t look like other organization’s sites. I’ll admit, it can look a bit unpolished compared to others. Definitely different and unexpected, hopefully in a good way. We’re not using one of the top 10 WordPress Themes for not-for-profits. We didn’t hire a firm to make it for us either. It’s not even a WordPress site. There are a few reasons for that, and I’m writing here to preach about one today.

Sunset Spark’s website reflects our values. Not just the words and images we use, but also the way the site was made. I made Sunset Spark’s website. Browse through 8 years (!!!) of commits to our codebase on GitHub. As an organization that professes to teach kids about coding (among many other things), it’s important that we actually do and share our own coding. Coding isn’t just skill that our students should do, we should all do it, and our website is a perfect place make that statement.

Many computer science education not-for-profits focus on web development (a digression for another day), and when I browse their sites, often I’ll see “Built by [Hard Working Consulting Firm]”. A polished uniformity overflows from many organization’s sites that rely of minimally recolored WordPress Themes.

There’s nothing wrong with using WordPress. It’s probably one of the most important user-facing software projects in the world. Their mission to “democrotize publishing” is more important now than ever. On top of all that, they’re open source and do a lot for the tech community.

Our current site is just a static site with plain html, markdown, and css generated by Jekyll. We use Airtable for the contact page and lazy load DonorBox to accept donations.

There are a lot of benefits to educators making their own sites. Undoubtedly if they make a site, they can explain to kids how they made it, and the kids can learn from them and make their own. That’s (part of) the point of what we are doing. It’s unfortunate that many organization’s don’t put this into practice.

I see teachers make sites with Google Sites, Wix, Weebly—they’re are all great tools to make websites too. Even better, they’re all free with WYSIWYG interfaces that make them accessible to beginners. My first site was on Tripod back in the 90s. I think it was about X-Men or maybe X-Files.

The first version of sunsetspark.org, rediscovered in old commits in the git repo.
The first version of sunsetspark.org, rediscovered in old commits in the git repo.

Sunset Spark doesn’t typically teach kids web development, but we do teach them the importance and value of being able to code. What would it say about us as an organization if we had someone else make our website? We want kids to make things with technology, so we make our own things with technology too. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Many founders and leaders might respond “but I’m too busy to make websites.” I sympathize with this. I am part of a two-person org. I don’t just update this website (which, lets be honest, sometimes has gone years without being updated), I teach classes, make partnerships, fill out work orders (not a lot of those lately, please donate), fix families’ iPads, design robots, livestream—this list could go on for a while. Part of my job is to be connected to my work, the community and specialties we teach, and I don’t think I could honestly do that if I had someone else doing most of what I do.

As an example of this, we see many CSed organization advocate for privacy. Do they consider Google Analytics invasive? What about Segment? Do they even know what their site uses, and what they use the data for? If you make your own site, you will know exactly what potentially invasive third party tools your organization uses and you can make decisions on whether you want to keep using them or not.

Still, even if they’re too busy, they should still be able to do it, no? If an org teaches teenagers to do it, the leadership should be able to do it too.

I get it. No one should be doing it all. There are things I try not to do anymore. For a while I spent an inordinate amount of time organizing Lego parts. Now a high school student organizes for us. I outsourced something that wasn’t critical to our mission. We don’t teach kids to organize Lego parts (technically not true I did train this student on how to organize).

I would say that coding is critical to most CSed organizations, and those organizations should “eat their own dog food” so to speak. If they are going to outsource, outsource it their students. Any high school student that’s taken a couple classes of web development would be able to modify sunsetspark.org. We don’t use any complicated frameworks and build tools are straight forward. They would find themselves at home and making updates very quickly.

Every once in a while a student asks me how to make a website. Sunset Spark is here to empower kids, and in that moment a kid wants to know about websites. I’m the founder, what do I do? I open up my laptop and show them the code to sunsetspark.org. Here is the css, here is the markup, here is the javascript, here are the build script. Have at it.