Last weekend I had the privilege of volunteering, along with about 60 other people, at Ann Arbor Give Camp. Essentially, a Give Camp is a weekend hackathon where non-profits with a technical need (website, analytics tool, donation tracking, etc.) that they do not have the budget for, get volunteer developers to fill that need with some awesomely cool project. The project that I worked on was updating the design of the website and implementing a membership directory for a contractor's association.
Give Camp is different from any other hackathon that I have ever been too. First, you aren’t building a project just because it has cool technical merit or because it might be a viable business. You are building some project because some do-good organization needs it to do more/better good works. Also, Give Camp is different in that you are building a technical project for a group that (probably) isn’t very technically savvy. This fact tested both my patience when teaching our non-profit representative how to use the new system, and my design skills. I was challenged to come up with simpler wording on administration options, a more intuitive layout, and a streamlined workflow for the most common use case.
Give Camp also got me out of my personal tech bubble. I was unaware that there where people who self-identified as “.NET Developers” – Based on the make-up of my group, they are orders of magnitude more plentiful than I thought! That same revelation also made me see that a person could in fact do serious development on a Windows machine. I guess that I knew that these things existed, I just never encounter them in my days as a web developer/embedded systems developer.
My weekend at Give Camp was an amazing experience. It felt good to do good, and I got out of my tech bubble. I would recommend that anybody in the Ann Arbor area volunteer at next year's Give Camp, and for those elsewhere, I would absolutely advocate that you look for a Give Camp near you.