I have a weird relationship with do-gooding. On the one hand, I believe strongly in doing my part to make the world a better place. But when I was younger, I got the impression that only a very narrow band of activities qualified for that– and it was all stuff I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t good at. (Think along the lines of playing sports with at-risk youth.) It left me feeling like there just wasn’t anything I could do. I wasn’t good enough to make the world a better place. Or maybe, maybe I could make a difference, but it would always be a miserable process.
And then I heard about this thing, Seattle GiveCamp– come in Friday night, do some coding for a nonprofit, leave on Sunday night having made the world a better place. No sports required. Now coding, that’s something I DO enjoy and AM good at. Plus, free food? It sounded too good to be true. I signed up suspiciously.
Friday night found me on the Microsoft campus, feeding at the pizza trough with 200 fellow volunteers (a surprisingly diverse group in age, race, and gender). After dinner, we sat down in a big room and listened to summaries of all the nonprofits here and what kind of help they needed. Twenty-five different local organizations were represented–and the event had to turn down as many proposals as it accepted. Apparently there is a huge need for this kind of thing.
What kind of thing? I had been worrying along the lines of “What if they need super obscure development help that’s way over my head?” But actually no – much of it was just web stuff, renovating WordPress sites and such. There were a good number of high school and college students in the crowd, and there were plenty of projects on their level. (Where were charity hackathons when *I* was in high school? Nerds these days don’t know how good they have it.) There were a couple of outlier projects, too – a mobile app; configuring a bunch of laptops to ship to Africa; producing an animated video. After getting the rundown, we were released into a giant room where representatives from each nonprofit sat at circular tables. We were to wander around, talk to the ones that interested us, and sit down when we’d picked our project. We were also encouraged to spread around, to try and make an even distribution. I chose a project that asked for WordPress developers and didn’t already have a full table.
Team assembled: me, a lovely Australian couple, and a Salesforce Guy. Salesforce is this behemoth of an app that has to do with leads and sales and businessy stuff I don’t know anything about, but it has a module for nonprofits that manages the volunteer-managing process. And probably other things. It’s a beast. Anyway, our project was to configure the org’s Salesforce account and integrate it into their WordPress site – this would streamline the whole process of registering volunteers for events. Sounded simple enough. Salesforce Guy got the account set up, and… that was pretty much the last we heard from him. He didn’t show up again. Guess he had one job. The three of us remaining spent all day Saturday learning what the app would and wouldn’t allow us to do, customizing this and that and doing very little coding. We left after dinner Saturday night at a perfectly reasonable hour, and came back Sunday morning at a perfectly reasonable hour. (A handful of people literally camped out in the building, but I am partial to sleeping in my own bed.)
Sunday morning, I was tweaking CSS at a leisurely pace (getting the Salesforce parts of the site to look as much like the rest of the site as it would allow) when an announcement was made: if anyone here is an AngularJS expert, there’s a team that could use your help. Now, “expert” is a stretch, but I HAVE been working with Angular extensively for the past few months, so went over to see if I could help. I kind of thought it would be, like, a question, “How does Angular do this?” or a “Can you help us debug this thing?” — but actually, it was “We are trying to make a whole web app this weekend and we only have 3 hours left, can you dive in and add a page or two?”
And so the rest of the weekend was a completely different experience: This team was huge. We had stand-ups. There was a project manager. (She seemed kind of stressed. Gee, I wonder why?) I sat down, jacked in my headphones, and coded frantically until they called time. Those hours flew by. We didn’t finish, but it was an incredibly ambitious project for a day and a half. We definitely got most of the way there, and a few of the volunteers committed to putting in extra hours in order to get it completely done.
We concluded the weekend with before and after presentations and eating fancy cupcakes. Mine was lavender.
And I think we made the world a better place. No sports required.