There are a lot of fish in the website development sea, but Oakland-based MIGHTYminnow offers something a little different.
The opening of the web studio in April has been a long-time dream of founder Kirstin Long. Not only will MIGHTYminnow offer website development for its clients — the majority of which are nonprofits and small business owners— the office, located at 1440 Broadway, will also function as a classroom. Ultimately, MIGHTYminnow's mission is to "empower clients to maintain their own web presence," as Long explained Friday afternoon at the new office.
A graduate of Evergreen State College and a freelance website developer since 2003, Long was never keen on the corporate model of many web development firms.
"What we see a lot of is people wanting to put their clients on retainer and set up this great revenue stream with very little work over time," she said. "With my clients being nonprofits, they just don't have a big budget to go out and spend hundreds of dollars every month to have someone else make text edits on their website."
According to Long, classroom spaces for learning web development are becoming increasingly rare. Most technology training now happens with online classes.
"Online training does not work for everyone," Long said. "A lot of times having a live person who really knows what they're talking about is the best way to learn."
If you take a class at MIGHTYminnow, you will also meet Haley Kotnik, the company's project coordinator and only other official employee (although the organization employs a variety of people on a project-based basis). Kotnik met Long while walking home one night.
"Long's partner tripped on the cement. They were coming back from a launch event from the Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds for MIGHTYminnow. She said something to the effect of, 'Oh that cement gets me every time!'" recalled Kotnik. "Then she and I started talking and she introduced me to the rest of the group." Kotnik was a recent graduate, working for a start-up company that didn't pay. Long assessed her skills, decided she was a good fit for MIGHTYminnow and hired her soon after.
Long said she didn't always know she wanted to go into website development.
"When I went to college, email just started," she said. "In college, I built a desk, I welded, I made a documentary. I got a short film into the Olympia Gay and Lesbian film festival. I definitely did not study computer science."
After graduating, Long moved to San Francisco to work an office job. After the first dot-com boom began to happen, she transferred to a web design company and began taking classes like the ones MIGHTYminnow will offer. Long, like many others employed as a result of the boom, lost her job a few years later when the dot-com bubble burst. Eventually she went to work for PG&E in a web developer capacity for about a year and a half — that was about as long as she could take.
"That experience soured me on the corporate world," she said. "That was my last ... J-O-B I ever had."
Long's freelance career didn't just include creating websites — it included years of work as an instructor. She said teaching kept her sane, as programming and designing work can sometimes get lonely. For several years, Long has worked teaching technology classes at Compass Point, a nonprofit focused on supporting other nonprofits. A few months ago, she approached her employer there about her idea to open a new training lab — which is now the spacious, cool blue-painted MIGHTYminnow studio.
"I went in and said, 'I'm thinking about doing this, I want to do it in a way where I'm not competing with you but I'm supporting what you guys are doing,'" she said. Compass Point staff told Long they planned to close their training lab in six months.
"That solidified it for me," she said. "I thought, 'It's my dream, I should just do it.'"
The first class offered at MIGHTYminnow will be an introduction to open-source content management software Drupal. The Drupal software is completely free and in fact, for at least the first six weeks of classes, MIGHTYminnow will be training students to use open-source and free software. Although Long does eventually plan to teach Adobe products in her new classroom, she noted that "there's a lot you can do without having ties to any specific software."
Until the new computers arrive for the lab, MIGHTYminnow will be operating in a BYOL, or Bring Your Own Laptop, capacity. Long said she is opting to "pay the Mac tax" by purchasing the newest, most top-of-the line machines. Although she is furnishing the lab completely with Macs, they will feature the ability to dual boot in Windows for the die-hard PC user.
A few blocks away, Anca Mosoiu — founder of co-working space and technology resource center Tech Liminal — is excited about MIGHTYminnow's move-in.
"You could see us as competitors, but the fact that there isn't really anywhere else in Oakland to go [for tech-oriented co-working spaces] besides Tech Liminal or MIGHTYminnow means that there's plenty of room for us to work together," Mosoiu said. Because MIGHTYminnow has a larger classroom space, Mosoiu might utilize it for future workshops — and eventually the two companies might host workshops together. Mosoiu said she definitely plans to enroll in MIGHTYminnow classes.
"I think the amount of need for this is really great," Mosoiu said.
Tech Liminal also is the home base for Oakland Local.