James Wang's Journey to Growing Bits of Good
The organization has grown significantly since its inception, thanks in part to the contributions of James Wang, a former executive director of BoG and the current national director of Hack4Impact.
The early days
James joined Bits of Good in 2017; at the time, he worked on bringing in new nonprofit projects and meeting with potential new nonprofits to discuss their product needs. In 2018, he became the Director of Engineering and managed teams of developers. In 2019, he became the Director of Product; at the time, he realized the need for designers and product managers on his team.
"When I was the Director of Product, I wanted a designer on my team,” James said. “I got a master’s student to become my designer. She later became the Director of Design."
In the fall of 2019, James became the Executive Director of Bits of Good. At the time, the organization didn’t have product managers or designers, and there were only 30 people on the team.
"When I was the Director of Product, I wanted a designer on my team,” James said. “I got a master’s student to become my designer. She later became the Director of Design. We focused primarily on web development so almost every project required a designer. I can’t even imagine the nightmare before we made it a requirement to have a designer on every team because having no designers on a team to build web applications is stupid."
Scaling the organization
Under James’ leadership, design critiques and PRDs were introduced, Notion replaced Google Docs, and Bits of Good experienced significant growth.
“As for product philosophy, PRDs were very new at the time,” James said. “We weren’t road mapping, there weren’t any templates. We hadn’t started using Notion yet.”
While there already existed a dev bootcamp, James decided to introduce a dedicated role so that the Director of Engineering wouldn’t have to manage both the bootcamp and the developers. With the introduction of Notion, the organization implemented documentation requirements as well as engineering, design, and product standards for every project.
James also worked with other members of the exec team to rebuild the website and rebrand the newest CoC club devoted to Atlanta nonprofits.
“I was at Microsoft, and after a workday, I would hop on these calls with all of the directors. We would have meetings every week to discuss what we needed to do and how we were going to do it. We would then [execute] during the week and meet again. And that’s how we rebranded.”
While most students were volunteering their time solely to do good, James knew that he needed to provide another incentive for students when he noticed students were dropping like flies every semester. He found that the easiest way (besides money!) was to award school credit. A professor at Georgia Tech had tried establishing a VIP team to build software for nonprofits; however, students ended up dropping projects after fulfilling their junior design requirements because of the lack of continuity. That said, Bits of Good provided that continuity. Soon after, students at Tech were able to receive junior design credit for helping build custom software for nonprofit organizations.
"The exec board didn’t sleep much,” James said. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep when I served as executive director. I pulled maybe 20 all-nighters. Just scheduling and conducting interviews during recruitment season took me hours and days."
Bits of Good became a Hack4Impact chapter in 2017. That same year, James noticed that many of the directors were graduating from UPenn. It only made sense for him to take over.
“Most importantly, I didn’t want to puppet master any successor,” James said. “The sustainable action was to make sure that my successors can run the chapter [on their own].” James allocated time in the semester specifically for product handoff, making sure next semester’s exec team had instructions on how to use the application and access to the PRDs, roadmaps, wireframes, journey maps, and anything else the team had worked on.
During his time as executive director, James also made sure to showcase the team’s great work on the Bits of Good website.
“A lot of social good organizations say they do great work,” James said. “And a lot of them do, but there are exceptions. And the easiest way to prove that you do great work is to show the work that you do.”
James required all of the teams to create a walkthrough video and collect all of the necessary information for the website, including the mock-ups, code repo, and live site.
“It was sick as hell to build, but very, very stressful,” James said. “We had two weeks to do it, and on the last day, I pulled an all-nighter to input everything.”
From introducing product managers and design teams to scaling the organization, James played a significant role in shaping the organization. James noticed “a great potential organization to do good” as well as “the gaps in the organization to lead it." And he did exactly that.