Blueprint at UA’s Culture Code

5 min read

This was originally written for internal use at my student organization, Blueprint at UA. I've released the first version of it so that other student organizations that are looking for a culture code have a starting point.

TL;DR

Culture is important. Culture not only draws people into our organization, but it amplifies their abilities. We want to ensure that our culture is the best it can be so that the people in our organization are the best they can be.

Our Culture Code

  1. We obsessively commit to our mission and the positive impact principle.
  2. We think like owners and build with purpose.
  3. We are radically open and transparent with no bullshit.
  4. We encourage each other to be our whole selves.
  5. We strive to be courageous, inclusive, and honest.
  6. We have fun.

Our Mission

  1. We build software and solutions for organizations that do good. We build software for nonprofits that makes their lives easier. We understand that technology can have an incredible impact on organizations, so we strive to make those tools accessible to people who cannot afford them.
  2. We grow and enrich the tech community at The University of Alabama. We want to create a big, beautiful, and diverse tech community here. The University of Alabama has historically had a tech community that left much to be desired, and we aim to change that. We understand that that's a large commitment, but we're laser-focused on making it a reality.
  3. We invest in our members. Whatever you want to do, we'll try to make it happen. We want to make sure we're all getting positive things out of the organization. In the same way we help our nonprofit partners in any way possible, we help our members in any way possible.

The Positive Impact Principle

"Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best."
- Robert Baden-Powell
  1. Everything and everyone we interact with should be left better than we found it; we strive to have a net-positive impact on our surroundings. Every nonprofit we work with should be able to do their work a little bit easier. Every student that attends one of our events should grow a little bit more.
  2. 'Everyone' includes each other. We commit to making sure that everyone in our organization gets what they want out of the experience. We're committed to helping each other grow, learn, and become better people in whatever ways we can. We don't just build software: we build up each other.
  3. We optimize for the highest positive impact by thinking big and smart. We have limited resources; we can only do so much. We want to get creative with how we use those resources and maximize the positive impact we can do with them. This often means thinking bigger, but it also means staying grounded in what we can do.

Thinking Like Owners

  1. We work like we all own an equal share of this organization, because that is the case. Every decision we make, every thing we build, every message we send, we do it with the idea that we each own an equal share of our organization. Each of us has an equal impact on the direction and potential of our organization. We make decisions acknowledging this weight, knowing that we’re not a single cog in a machine. We’re each equally committed to every outcome in our organization: we understand that nothing gets done unless everyone is on board.
  2. We have very few rules and very little hierarchy. We don’t like bureaucracy. We don’t like hand-waving and arbitrary ways to do things. We have different areas for people to work in so that work is focused, but nobody is limited to working in one particular area. Lines are blurred here. You have the power to do whatever you want, within reason. Use good judgement.
  3. We act like leaders, not followers. We don’t baby each other. We don’t assign tickets or work out like a company. Because we don’t have much of a hierarchy, everyone has an equal say in what we do. We don’t follow what someone else says, we strive to be the person telling each other where we should go.

Building with Purpose

  1. Everything aligns with the mission. Every piece of software we build, every event we throw, every meeting we have, everything we do, aligns with the mission. We’re respectful of the scope of our organization: we know our bounds. Building with purpose requires focus, and our focus is on achieving our mission.
  2. We build with purposeful bounds to inspire creative solutions. We avoid thinking too big, but that doesn’t mean that all creativity is forbidden. Boundaries and limitations force creative solutions, so we are purposeful on where we set them and what they are.

Radically Open and Transparent

  1. We share (almost) everything. We don't keep secrets. All of our decision making happens in full view of everyone. The only times we keep things secret are if its legally required, if that content is sensitive (eg. contact information or bank account numbers), or if it's not ours to share.
  2. 'Everything' includes opinions. If we have an opinion about something, we share it. Building on each other's opinions is the main way we build better software, but we can only do it if we're
  3. 'Everything' includes criticism. Constructive criticism is the main way we help each other grow. We don't take criticism personally here, and we don't give it personally either. We strive to be honest without being a dick.
  4. 'Everything' does not include things that other members asked us to keep secret. Being radically open does not include things like complains about harassment or negative experiences with another Blueprint member. It does not include things that were said in strict confidence to another member. Individual complaints are kept under wraps by default. We want you to feel safe coming forward with information that the rest of the organization doesn't need to know.

Being Your Whole Self

We want to inspire each other to bring all of ourselves to our organization. Sectioning off who you are at Blueprint and who you are in the rest of your life is exhausting. We don’t value being ‘professional’ with each other, we value being authentic. Whoever is authentically you, we want you to be that person. We don’t strive to be people that we are not.

Courageous, Inclusive, Honest

We push each other to be:

  1. Courageous: We're not afraid to take risks. We're not afraid to think big. We’re not afraid to try new things. We’re not afraid to speak what’s on our mind or tell each other the hard truth. Courage gets you far here.
  2. Inclusive: We foster an environment where everyone feels safe, welcome, and included. We value diversity. We have zero tolerance for bigotry, hate, harassment, or intimidation.
  3. Honest: We know that the only way to improve ourselves and our organization is if we’re incredibly honest with each other, who we work with, and with ourselves.

Have Fun

We’re not uptight. If we have to work anyway, why not have fun while doing it?