Thoughts on the GitHub Campus Expert program

August 12, 2021

A few people have come to me to ask about GitHub's Campus Expert program, since they have started fresh applications. Here's my unfiltered thoughts on it.

It's not an ambassador program
This is a fairly common misconception. Being a GitHub Campus Expert does not mean you have to become a corporate shill for GitHub, unlike other "ambassador" programs. This is truly the best thing about it. Even when GitHub funds your events, you are not obligated to say they did so. GitHub seems to have taken the strategy of not using this as a direct marketing tool. Instead they promote improving the ecosystem in general, which inevitably benefits them because of their strong market position. And looking at the team that runs the program, they genuinely care about tech communities being built, so it's a sweet alignment of goals.

What are their main offerings?
In terms of their impactful stuff, their selection involves a training program, where they teach you community building skills. When I took it two years ago, the quality was great. They taught skills that you won't just find anywhere, like giving structure to your tech community, workshop design, technical public speaking, etc. The other thing they do is fund your community events, hackathons etc. You only have to provide proof that their money they handed you was well spent.

Besides that there's other stuff too, like some special access to GitHub events, monthly meetups, a stream team where they talk about all sorts of things, etc. I think many people will like them, but personally they were of lower impact for me and my community. You also have access to a network of other Campus Experts to help you out in your events. Again, I never really benefitted much from it, because at least for the first year or so, I was the only Campus Expert in my city. And generally speaking, I did not feel compelled to network with the other Campus Experts. Your mileage may vary here.

What I liked about it in practice
For the community that I was building, I benefitted the most from their training program, and for me that alone made it worth it. At the time I did not know how to start, and how I would structure a FOSS community in my campus, and this program gave me the confidence to get started.

As for the funding, we actually never needed it. Turns out, a lot of community building activities cost nothing, as long as you have a free venue to meet up. Especially after the pandemic hit. Anything that required money was cheap enough that our college's club funding covered it. And my community did not conduct hackathons (in general, most of our core members don't like them), so nothing was spent on those either. At best these grants were useful as a safety net in case our college is irrational with their budgeting or starts imposing ridiculous restrictions on our operations. In a way having this option was true independence for us. Unlike a lot of the other clubs, we never felt obligated to obey the administration's demands to become their PR department for them.

Don't do it solely for personal gain
Be honest with yourself—do you want to apply to this program because it will look nice on your résumé? Is that your primary motivation? In that case I have one suggestion:

Go away.

We have enough people putting titles and name badges on themselves at the undergraduate level that it almost means nothing anymore. If you are doing this to add another title to yourself like some medieval lord, you should be ashamed of yourself. If you apply for a program like this, please put your community first. Actually do the groundwork. And believe me, this is not easy, Campus Expert or not.