Doodling Nicolas Cage: How we keep work fun

If you’ve ever found yourself Googling “Nicolas Cage Disney Princesses,” you have something in common with at least 90% of Idealist employees.

We’re not quite sure how it’s gotten to this point, but in the past year or so our obsession with the man has snowballed from quiet Internet searches to actually working the Cage motif into our office decor: there’s a Wonder Woman with the actor’s face on the women’s restroom door, for instance. And when we found out that a dry-erase board that allows you to “Design a new hairstyle for Nicolas Cage!” existed, we just had to have it.

Sometimes someone scribbles something sloppy and conceptual on Nic’s head while passing by; sometimes it’s a thoughtful work of art.

But it always makes people laugh. Or at least stop and stare. Which helps make the whole ‘working’ part of work a lot more fun. Especially because the ever-changing Cagescape is right next to the candy jar, so people keep coming back.

Here are a few of our favorites so far (though the hits keep coming):

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Does your office have its own Nicolas Cage to lighten the mood? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

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Staff Spotlight: Meet Derek the Dev

Did you know Idealist builds and maintains our own website, and has since 1995? We asked Derek Hurley—a software engineer known for his calm demeanor, red headphones, highly-developed cupcake-eating technique, and masterful martial arts skills—to tell us about life as a “dev” in Idealist’s Portland, Oregon office.

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Q: So… We’re coworkers, but I’m not very techie. What would you say you do here?

A: I’m a software developer. Basically, I write code that goes very close to the browser—I work with the things you interact with on the website, like buttons and menus. I also work with our designers on layout and color decisions, and sometimes with data… But really all of it comes down to aspects of presentation and interactivity.

Q: Okay, I think I get that. How did you find your job at Idealist and what attracted you to us?

A: I had a classmate my senior year of college who worked at Idealist; he said it was great and suggested I come by the office one day to introduce myself. There was no job posting or anything, but I stopped by and the management team was interested in meeting me. The more staff members I met, the more it seemed like incredible people worked here. Often in this field you find smart people, but people who are funny and friendly and humble, too? And when I learned more about what Idealist is trying to accomplish, I became even more interested. I was hired to work part-time for the last three months I was in college, then started full-time right after.

Q: What does the word “idealist” mean to you?

A: To me, an idealist is someone who always looks on the bright side of life, forgive the Monty Python reference. Someone who thinks people are generally good or want to do good, but that things arise that keep them from doing so. An idealist thinks, ‘Of course everyone wants to live in a better world,’ but they also understand that there are a million different facets to that agenda.

Q: Idealist is all about turning good intentions into action. Can you tell us about a good intention you’ve acted on in your life outside of work?

A: A personal interest of mine is helping homeless youth connect with resources that can help them. I was a resident assistant in college and more than once had to deal with transients in our dorms and hallways. I learned that there’s a whole social class out there—especially in Portland—that I think represents a lot of wasted potential. But between places like Outside In, Sisters of the Road, Virginia Woof... there’s a lot of help out there if people know where to look.

For me, coming up with the right approach has been one stumbling block. I don’t want to come across as intrusive, or like I’m telling them to do something or advertising for a particular place. I just want to start a conversation and then give them something to take away, like a note with an address on the money I give them, or a meal voucher they can cash in. I’m also not looking to start another organization—there are already lots of people who are providing these services well. I just want to help bit by bit in the course of my day.

So far, the people I’ve talked with about this intention have been really supportive; the Idealist community in particular has given me suggestions I didn’t know about before. Now it’s up to me to keep taking that first step—during my walk to work to turn and face these kids and have a conversation. I find they’re usually just grateful for the fact that someone stopped to talk, which helps me stay in that mindset of not having weirdness about just going up to someone and conversing with them; just saying hi.

Do you have a question for Derek the Dev about technology at Idealist? Or maybe you’ve done something to improve the lives of homeless youth and want to share your advice? Send him a message on Idealist.

 

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Staff Spotlight: Claire Hansen, graphic design, and Guyana

In this series, we’re highlighting Idealist staff members who’ve made their ideas happen. Today’s spotlight is on Claire Hansen, our New York-based graphic designer who knows a thing or two about sisterly collaboration, working long distance, and navigating a culture outside your own. 

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Tessa and Claire in Guyana in 2007.

In 2007, Claire took a two-week trip to Guyana to visit her sister Tessa, who at the time was a Peace Corps Volunteer with the Red Cross in the capital city of Georgetown.

Tessa wanted to revamp an educational children’s coloring book about inappropriate touching titled “Your Body is Yours!” which was being used in the Red Cross’s “Be Safe! Guyana” program. The content was basically good, but the images looked outdated and didn’t reflect Guyanese people or landscapes. For kids to get the most out of the book, Tessa reasoned that the design and illustrations needed to be redone.

“The original coloring books were actual books,” Claire further explains. “We wanted to redesign them to be easily photocopied so each kid could have their own. And since a lot of the child abuse issues the country was struggling with were family-related, we wanted kids to be able to take the books home, so their parents and siblings might also see.”

Claire set to work researching the fashions, pastimes, and terrain of Guyana and re-illustrating and designing the book, also tweaking some of the language along the way.

“It was an interesting road to walk—between being representative and stereotypical,” says Claire. “As an illustrator, I wanted readers to feel familiar with the images but not appear to be reducing their culture to its symbols, or seem racist.”

When she finished all 24 pages, she made about 40 copies of the book back home in New York and sent them to Guyana to be distributed. The Guyana Red Cross then solicited donations and had more than a thousand copies of the book produced and distributed through their branches in coastal towns and more remote, indigenous areas. From beginning to end, the process took about six months.

Advice

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Claire’s redesigned cover.

1. Know your expectations.
“I don’t know if it bothers me that I wasn’t around to see the books in use, or that I’ll never really know the impact they’re having—though of course I hope it’s good,” says Claire. “Mostly, I was just happy to attempt the project. But if the outcome of your work is a bigger concern to you, you need to consider how you’ll be able to track the results: is the org you’re working with organized enough to really give your project legs, for example? Will you be able to track the results of your efforts over time?”

2. Seek professional help.
“If I did it over again,” she says, “I’d try to get advice from a publisher, or someone else who’d done this same thing. If you don’t have all the skills or knowledge you need for your project, find someone who does, rather than trying to learn everything on your own. If you do that, you’ll only wind up with ten percent of what you need to know.”

3. See what technology can do for you.
“Now there are all sorts of great online print-on-demand options for books, and ways to track how many you publish and distribute,” says Claire. “If I were doing it again, I’d look into using tools like that.”

4. Keep calm and carry on.
“I got so caught up in being excited to do it that I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the negatives,” says Claire. “If you know it’s going to be a long, slow road, just reconcile yourself to that fact and try not to get upset about it.”

Have you been involved with a project like Claire and Tessa’s? Have insights for others? Share your experience with our readers below. Or feel free to reach out to Claire through Idealist if you’d like to ask her advice.

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New look, same great stuff

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Ero just looks different without a beard. He’s still giving our users the same great tech support.

You may have noticed that, just like our tech support representative Ero, Idealist has recently undergone a makeover—the first step in a grand spiffy-up of our whole site. We’re doing some housecleaning, planning some new initiatives, developing some new tools… all in the name of making your experience with us as easy, valuable, and pleasant as possible.

But the big takeaway for now? Don’t worry: not much is actually different… yet!

All we’ve done so far is tweaked the way our pages look to pave the way for lots of functionality improvements in the future. We’ve hardly removed anything or changed the way any features work. You might see some buttons that used to be blue and are now gray, or a few links that live in slightly different places, but that’s about it.

We’re rolling the changes out incrementally, which will give us regular opportunities to learn from your feedback as we plan and tinker. Hearing from you is the number-one way we have of identifying effective improvements, so if you run into any trouble, please comment below or drop Ero a line at Ero [at] Idealist.org.

Ultimately, our goals are to:

  • Make Idealist easier to use. We’ll put the things you most want to see and do front and center.

  • Make Idealist more responsive. We’ll deliver mobile improvements that will make accessing the site from all your devices a smoother experience.

  • Make Idealist faster. We’ll improve performance so every page will load in a snap.

And as always, we’ll keep you posted on new developments as they happen. Thanks for being along for the makeover ride!

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Our staff picks of the TIME 100

TIME Magazine recently released its list of 100 of the world’s most influential people. Though the list includes people from a variety of sectors and industries, there are many who touched our lives in some way. See our staff picks in the slideshow below.

Have you checked out the TIME 100? Who’s influenced you?

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Idealist Happy Hour: Where practical dreamers meet and greet

Here at Idealist, we’re all about connecting. We connect organizations with great volunteers, job seekers with their dream positions, and people with one another to create a more networked world, where no opportunities for action or collaboration are missed.

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Idealists making connections offline

Idealist.org offers an incredible online directory of people and organizations working in social impact, and the Idealist community is full of brilliant, passionate folks making the world a better place. If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know what I’m talking about.

On Tuesday, we decided to try taking our network offline. We got ourselves a little space at a nearby bar and invited a bunch of people we knew from organizations around the city to join us for an after work happy hour. We also asked them to invite some friends to come along. Almost a hundred people signed up.

Staff from education organizations mingled with volunteers from animal rescue groups. A recent graduate from an international development program chatted with the volunteer coordinator of a New Jersey community development organization. And the director of a group that teaches underserved students to make their own music teamed up with an organization that teaches children to animate in the hopes of creating movies with soundtracks.

Basically, lots of awesome people met lots of other awesome people and awesomeness ensued. We love seeing our community in real life, and we love introducing you to each other even more. We’re continually inspired by the work you all do, and we’re excited about the endless possibilities that arise when we work together.

We hope to bring happy hours like this to more cities this year, so stay tuned for an event near you!

Unfortunately, we can’t all be in a bar together all the time, but you can always use Idealist to find people and organizations to connect with online. If you haven’t already, go to idealist.org/me, fill out your profile, and tell the community all about what you have to offer and who you’d like to meet

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