Sunday, June 1, 2014

National Day of Civic Hacking [post-event report]

This weekend I participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking at the the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The event started on Friday at 6PM and was catered by Chik-Fil-A. The first night they also had veggie wraps, but for breakfast and lunch, on Saturday, I had to work around the chicken based diet. It turned out to be a little bit too much for one of my vegetarian friends: those delicious chicken nuggets. R.I.P. vegetarian diet. This is the second week in a row that I've had my vegetarianism tested.

I had tossed a few ideas around in my head, but most of them involved being in D.C., so by the time that I got there, I was just really looking for a project to join that would allow me to work on my ruby and/or python skills. When we got there, the food bank already had about nine specific issues that they wanted to have addressed and 3 other people pitched ideas of their own. I ultimately joined a group that was addressing the need of the smaller agencies of the food bank to have a presence online. Best. Decision. Ever.

When I joined my team the first person that I met was Josh, a designer. Josh worked with the Mathew to get the overall design together and he was attending the event with his business partner, Morgan. When I met Josh the first thing I said was "this needs to be a ruby project." Luckily, that was what they worked with, so I was on board with the project at that point. [I had considered working on another project first, but I didn't for reasons that I won't go into.] Morgan was the backend developer for th business that he and Josh were partners in: Polar Notion. Morgan had wayyyyy more experience than I did and I had got an amazing opportunity to learn from him and gawk at how fast he could get stuff done. The other members of my team were Greg, Cashif, Vivianne, Mathew, Ben, and Jeff. Jeff was apparent excellent with mapping technologies, but unfortunately he didn't show up for the second day, so we didn't have a chance to leverage those particular skills.

Once we had the basic idea down, we split up into three groups: designers,
 a think tank, and developers. Morgan, Greg, and I were the development 
end of the operation, with Morgan acting as the team lead.

Morgan easily did over 90% of the coding, and that's probably understating it. seriously. He was getting things done really fast, helping me with my code, and contributing to the overall project at the same time. Morgan, also knew a lot about gems and API's and had lots of great advice. He's one of the coolest people I've ever met and just meeting him alone was an awesome part of my experience. However, my entire group was awesome, as well as the people attending overall.

What we decided to build was something that I called "foogler", even though that name is under dispute, because several people in the group wanted to call it "foogle." The biggest mistake people make in marketing is putting marketing decisions to a vote among non-creatives, imo. I'm pretty sure I was the only one on our team with a background in marketing, but that's the thing about marketing: everyone thinks that they can do it. :)

Anyway, what we made was basically a search engine to be attached to the food bank's website, that allowed smaller agencies to make a "profile"that was searchable by clients using zip codes. Other than my disagreement with the name, I feel like my team worked together extremely well. Everyone did their parts and pretty much everyone involved with the event was impressed with our team performance.

When the judging started, I was pretty confident that we were going to win, but then a team that did a SMS based application that allows people looking for food banks to connect with food bank agents through text messaging. This was really good idea, and I think that something like that would be ideal for places like Africa, where people use SMS for many commercial activities, already. I had seen this TED talk, so I immediately understood the impact that something like this could have. My only concern about that project was whether or not it had already been done in Africa by someone else. 

When the judges had finally made a decision the results were as follows:
  • Fourth Place: Originally, there were only supposed to be three winning groups, but one team took on the inglorious task of patching up a few bugs in the SQL database system and they were properly rewarded with the "Honorable Mention" award. [I'm so glad that these guys didn't get overlooked. Their work went into effect right then and will have an immediate impact.]

  • Third Place: Went to a group that did an Internet of Things project that was pitched by Concrete Jungle that involved placing sensors on fruit trees to determine when the fruit was ready to be picked based on bending of the branches. This would have been a fun project to work on had they had python developers and implemented Raspberry Pi. The reason that I didn't consider this one is because of their lack of coders and my lack of experience. This was definitely an interesting project, but it may have been a little bit much to take on for a project that had less than a 24 hour turnaround.

  • Second Place: Rightfully went to the SMS group.

  • First Place:  Team Foogler!!!!

front row(from left to right): me, Vivianne, Morgan
back row: Greg, Cashif, Josh, Ben
not pictured: Mathew and Jeff

The whole team got these sweet $50 gift cards:

After everything was said and done, we had an extra card. We're going to use that when we get together on Wednesday for drinks! I can't say enough about my experience and I'm going to stop now, but if you have a chance, you should definitely participate in the National Day of Civic Hacking next year and get involved with Code for America...I had a great time. Learning, using what I've learned to give back, and meeting new people was awesome; winning gift cards was just icing on the cake. 

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