TL;DR: We're kicking off a new chapter by becoming our own student organization.
Project Nebula will become a registered student organization at UT Dallas, separate from the student chapter of ACM that it has been affiliated with until now.
We'll have to define our constitution and outline our other governing documents like bylaws really soon, but everyone will be able to give their input.
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) at UTD was a student organization at UT Dallas that promotes the field of computing, largely focusing on career-building activities in software development.
Harsha Srikara, a former technical lead for HackUTD in spring 2020, started ACM Development, a group in ACM meant to promote software development through practical projects. Project Nebula started as a single project: a degree planner called Comet Planning. Aliah Shaira De Guzman started the original initiative in May 2020 as a part of the Development team. I became the director of that team (later renamed Engineering) in April 2021 and split my time between Project Nebula and overseeing the rest of the Engineering Team for several months. However, it was often difficult balancing the needs of the Engineering team with Project Nebula, which was rapidly growing into a community of dozens of contributors.
On March 9, 2022, Project Nebula's leadership and project leads met with ACM's executives to discuss separating so each group could focus on its own mission.
Now, we're becoming our own distinct group so we can continue growing while focusing on our mission. ACM will remain a part of the history of Project Nebula, but it's time for a new chapter for our products and the community we've built. This time, we will build a community in which every member is empowered to lead others and contribute their perspective in supporting a central mission: building a community of people who build tools that help others while sharing their knowledge and having fun along the way.
Nebula is ultimately an experiment in creating tools for the community but also creating a community in itself. It answers the question: can a bunch of nerds govern themselves as they learn and build things together?
Let's find out.
Firstly, our name will better reflect our purpose. We've graduated from being a mere project, so our name will change to reflect that.
I think the name Nebula Labs sounds cool and pays homage to our origins while reflecting our status as a group. We incubate and maintain projects for the community as an interdisciplinary community of people who learn and build together.
Of course, nothing will be final until our contributors come to a consensus and vote on the new name, but I have a good feeling about this one!
Right now, senior leadership consists of an Executive Director, our Head of Engineering, and our Head of Product. However, as we become our own student organization, the scope of leadership will increase from focusing on solely building our projects to growing and maintaining our community overall. As such, there will be more administrative and support roles whose sole purpose will be to serve as a foundation for our projects and other initiatives, based on our desire to have contributors focus on building tools, learning skills, and teaching others.
No matter what, maintainers and contributors will be an active part of how Project Nebula operates. Everyone — whether a technical contributor or a product designer — will be strongly encouraged to participate and give feedback on how the community works.
Funding and Operations
The most notable changes will come from how our group maintains our products. In the coming months, we will secure our own funding sources to maintain our operations as a student group and as a team that builds products for the community.
Becoming our registered organization at UTD will give us programming and operations funding from the Student Organization Center. Associating with the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) will give us access to additional fixed and variable funding to promote Project Nebula and have more events. (Yes, with food!)
Additionally, as we open our own bank account, we will have more flexibility to adopt alternative funding models like student donations (something UTD Grades has done in the past) and finding sponsors. In the medium-term, we will have to incorporate as a nonprofit. This will give us access to nonprofit pricing (often free) for some services like Google Workspace.
Product teams will still meet regularly with the cadence they do now. We'll still have socials and other ways of maintaining our community. The Discord server will continue to serve as our hub in conjunction with our projects on GitHub and our website. Since we'll be able to reserve rooms on our own, we'll be able to host workshops to share our knowledge to help others learn topics like software engineering and UI/UX design. (Not to mention more socials!)
Our function-specific groups (Engineering, Product, Design) will now be called guilds. Like they are now, guilds will be groups of contributors who are interested. Guilds will take the lead for hosting domain-specific meet-ups and events (e.g. designers will host design-related teach-ins for the community).
ACM UTD has agreed to give the Project Nebula maintainers full rights to the code. Before, there was some ambiguity whether ACM UTD had ownership of the code. For the code currently licensed to the Project Nebula maintainers, we will be asking the permission of all contributors to relicense the code using the MIT license to the organization we'll form so that our projects can be better maintained in the long run while still respecting the rights of all contributors.