I was lucky enough to participate in the first UK GiveCamp over the course of the last weekend.
Wow, what an incredible experience!
“Pair 120 developers with a collection of UK charities each with an IT need. Lock them in a room, feed with caffeine, cooked pig and sugar. Leave to bake over the course of a weekend, peel open (and off the floor) on Sunday afternoon. Stand back and view the results.”
The concept, execution and community was superb (see @stack72’s post for a great list of thanks to those involved). A special thanks must also go to UCL for hosting the event and the generous sponsors for providing financial support and goodies! Come the Sunday afternoon ‘show and tell’, all of the project teams delivered some great work, much of which will make a tangible difference to each of the UK charities that got involved.
“For the first time in living memory, someone cried because the software we did was so good.”
What better testimonial than this? How many times have you had this reaction whilst working in your day job 😉
A software development microcosm
Whilst the time-scales involved in GiveCamp make it an unreal experience, at the end of the day it’s just software development, and so the normal rules and pitfalls of software development apply.
The thing that really struck me whilst working, is that is that it’s very easy to get carried away and lose focus from the end output. Whilst much of this could be attributed to the excitement, intensity (and tiredness) that surrounds the event. Actually it is just par for the (software development) course.
If you’re ever involved in a future GiveCamp (and by all means you should), here are some of my top tips……
Deliver deliver deliver
Don’t overreach and try to build the Tower of Babel. Solving one problem well, is better than half solving many problems.
This means you constantly have to question the solution to make sure that every design decision that is made, is made for the right reasons. Do you really need that level of granular security or additional view? Focus on your core functionality only.
Remember building ‘cool’ stuff is not the output you’re looking for. Delivering a working solution that solves a real world problem is the ONLY goal….
As ever, it is important that you have a engaged stakeholder / product owner – who is actively available to field questions and define their needs (we all know this from our day jobs right?)
Remember though, the charities will be like a kid in a sweetshop – whilst you are their ‘knight in shining armour’. It’s ok to question their requirement wish-list. 41 hours is not a long time to deliver a solution. So always make sure you stay focussed on solving a real and well defined problem.
Keep it simple stupid
After the weekend, the solutions are handed over lock and key to the charities. You need to make sure they know what you’ve built for them and that they have enough information to support it going forwards. This could mean documentation! One team produced a 40 page document on how to install a SQL Server instance. The time spent on that document was way more important than any one additional software feature. Without it, the solution wouldn’t have even been deployed.
Remember – not everybody knows the things you as a developer takes for granted. Imagine that you’re delivering a solution for your dear Nan. That’s the level you should aim for.
Focus on what you know
When you’re under pressure to deliver, don’t go off-piste and make some ‘left-field’ technology choices, so you can learn the latest new and shiny thing. Stick with what you know and what your team has capabilities with. Don’t worry, they’ll still be plenty of opportunity to learn.
For me I was working with ASP.NET / MVC but I still learnt more about Git, Entity Framework and what an awesome service AppHarbor provide.
I definitely wish I’d had ‘future me’, looking over my shoulder to remind of those things throughout the weekend (especially at 2am on Sunday morning when the adrenaline was wearing thin). However I also know that ‘future me’ would have told me how proud he was of all of us who donated time and effort to help out.
Top stuff to all involved. Here’s to GiveCamp UK 2012!