Giving Back

Over the weekend I participated in a Hackathon for @HumanityRoad. It was a great experience and was nice to give back for a change. I have been the beneficiary of so many peers in my industry sharing expert knowledge at user groups and conferences and it felt good to finally pay some of that forward.

It was Jeffrey Palermo who let me know about this hackathon sponsored by Humanitarian Toolbox. He hosted a group of volunteer developers at the @ClearMeasure offices in Austin. I'm based in Dallas and I joined the Austin crew via Skype.

The project is a very good cause. It is about connecting people affected by disasters with the appropriate emergency agencies. Emergency agencies are just recently starting to adopt social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc). @HumanityRoad wanted to create an online directory to lookup emergency agencies currently using social media. The goal is to get people affected by disaster in contact with aid. The Humanity Road organization had collected an extensive list of emergency aid contact URLs across the globe.

The hackathon was a self organizing event with the team quickly identifying tasks and volunteering to help and pair program wherever needed. The work included the following tasks:

  • Analyze the existing spreadsheet data to do some basic data modeling
  • Consolidate the 50+ spreadsheets into a single spreadsheet with standard column headings and scrub the data
  • Import the spreadsheet data into a SQL Server database
  • Write a small program to access the database and generate the markdown. We just created a basic MVC application to utilize the razor view engine for the data transformation and templating capabilities.
  • Update the wiki. Create a new page for each state or teritorry and copy/paste the markdown generated by the program.

These tasks weren't terribly complicated, but they were time consuming and the perfect project for this sort of volunteer effort. It was just the right amount of work where we were able to deliver something of value within the allotted time. The volunteers from the hackathon worked on a Saturday from 8 AM to about 6PM.

At the end of the day we were successful in populating the emergency agencies using social media wiki site with valuable information. The Humanitarian Toolbox hackathon was really the first time I have ever volunteered my skills for a great cause. The software community is chalk full of giving selfless individuals who I have had the benefit of receiving knowledge from community user groups, conferences, and social media outlets.

Working on this project was rewarding. It was so nice to meet people like Catherine Graham and Eileen Culleton who are so passionate about helping those affected by crisis. Also working with the other volunteer developers in Austin, TX who just wanted to help out a good cause. This really was a project that demonstrated some of the best aspects of humanity. I was proud to play a small part in this project and hope that the Emergency Wiki can help people locate assistance in times of need.

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