When we founded endjin, Matthew, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the type of company we wanted to create; one recurring theme was that in our personal time we each did a significant amount of work for "good causes" and we derived a huge amount of joy and satisfaction from it.
I co-founded benchpeg with my sister in in 2007 to help improve communication and collaboration within the UK Jewellery Industry – to try and prevent other Jewellery & Silversmithing Graduates from the isolating and demoralising 2 year experience my sister endured trying to get her first industry job.
Matthew's passion for cooking has lead him to befriend many of the top chefs in the UK and to get involved in pop-up restaurant events for charity, such as the recent Kai We Care event which raised £70,000 for the New Zealand earthquake appeal. He's also working on a digital cookbook, all proceeds of which will go to the red cross.
Then one morning in late April – I spotted the following tweet from @chillfire:
Intrigued, I pinged him and asked if he'd fancy a pint & a chat about the event and to see if endjin could help in some way.
After a very inspiring meeting with Craig, where he outlined his vision of finding good causes, getting them to pitch their problems to a room full of developers and then trying to steer them towards a solution, we decided to become one of the sponsors of the event.
One very interesting co-incidence was that Craig had already been contacted by Hope & Play, a charity founded by my old boss, Iyas AlQasem. Craig had already lined up Ministry of Stories and I asked if it was ok to bring my own good cause along – in the form of The Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Council.
The Event: Day 1
The event was held at the wonderful Auriol Kensington Rowing Club in Hammersmith - a gem of a venue – with great staff, a great space (with its own bar) and happily – sandwiched in between two pubs. If you were thinking of running some kind of small developer event – I would seriously consider using the rowing club & I'd also recommend reading Craig's blog post on the subject of finding a suitable venue.
Once all the assembled masses had been given breakfast, Craig called us to order on the top floor of the venue. He explained how the weekend was going to work and introduced the 3 Charities that we would be trying to help. He then invited the Charities to "pitch" their problem.
First up was Hope and Play - www.hopeandplay.org - who believe that every child has the right to safely play, learn and grow in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. Hope and Play are an organisation dedicated to helping add hope and play to the lives of children who are denied these most basic rights. Hope and Play do this by building playgrounds so children can have places to play safely, by buying textbooks, laptops, and other educational materials to help create opportunities and give them hope in a future that they can have some control over. Hope and Play work with local communities and organisations to get these to the right people and places. Hope and Play will also occasionally undertake specific peaceful and legal actions to support them where there is an immediate humanitarian need.
Iyas, the founder of Hope and Play, was unable to attend in person (after changing Jobs for the first time in 15 years he had decided to take his family on a 6 month tour of South America) – so he pitched, via a video recording (and the result had a slight Max Headroom feel to it!)
One of the many things Hope and Play do is create playgrounds for children. Below is a before / after example of the work they have done in Gaza:
The problem they posed was that there is currently no way for Charities to see what work other Charities / NGOs are doing in the same region – if there was a mechanism to allow these organisation to share this type of information it would help enable collaboration on projects – or it would allow resource planning – for example if one of the big charities was already working within a specific area, then Hope & Play could pick another area.
Next was Lucy MacNab from Ministry of Stories - http://www.ministryofstories.org/ – which aims to help young people write their own stories – it's based on the hugely successful http://826valencia.org/ project.
The Ministry of Stories have a shop called the "Hoxton Street Monster Supplies" which stocks all manner of interesting products:
My favourite being the tins of "a vague sense of unease"
and farmers market style "olde fashioned brain jam" or "organ marmalade"
At the back of the shop is a secret door that the children step through to enter the secret writing room:
Below is a video from the Guardian that explains what happens in a little more detail and what the outcome is (happy, engaged children):
The problem Lucy posed was that the MoS would love to work out a way to allow young people to publish their stories to the world in a way that would also allow them to generate a little revenue.
The third and final charity was The Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Council - http://www.craftanddesigncouncil.org.uk/ – which was founded in 1908 to encourage, stimulate and promote the pursuit of excellence in craftsmanship and design amongst all those in the United Kingdom engaged in Silversmithing, Goldsmithing, Jewellery and the Allied Crafts. The GC&DC runs an award every year – which spans the breadth of the industry (every discipline from Chasers to Stone Carvers) and the depth of the industry (Apprentice, Trainee and Senior). Entries are judged by established, experienced and highly regarded members of the industry. The thing I love most about the GC&DC awards is that, unlike the Oscars, where you will always have a "best actor", if in any given year no entrant meets the quality level required by the judging panel – no award will be given. For me – this is the essence of having a quality mark. What this translates to is an award that has real meaning within the Industry. And when it is won by an apprentice or a trainee – it can help jump start their career. So these awards can have a life changing effect for anyone skilled enough to win one.
Robin Kyte – The Chairman of the Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Council posed the problem that their current award application process is paper based – they have on average 1000 applications per year and it's an intensive and laborious process for the volunteers who run the awards process. He wanted a way to bring the 100 year old process up to date and put the application process online.
After such compelling pitches from Hope and Play and Ministry of Stories – I was slightly worried that GC&DC would be left without too many volunteers – but one of the most surprising aspects of the whole event was how evenly the volunteers distributed themselves across the 3 charities. It turned out that one of the volunteers – Mark Middlemist was actually from Birmingham and worked next door to the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and also Joe Simmonds – felt a resonance between the craftsmanship in the jewellery industry and the burgeoning software craftsmanship movement.
In a very agile & self organising way – the teams started to plan out how they were going to try and solve the problems. Below are some videos that capture the process (even when one of the teams, fed up with the temperamental wifi, decided to decamp to the pub next door)
We were very fortunate to have Robin for the whole day – having a stakeholder present to answer and and all questions allowed us to get huge amounts of information out of his head and into the development teams'. We decided to capture the information in a giant timeline – which you can see the team huddled around.
Once the planning was over – we did our first iteration of development. Our initial task was to set up a GitHub repository that we could use to collaborate on.
Every few hours the teams would break for a quick iteration retrospective and mini planning session:
Splitting the team
Once Robin has prepped the team with all the info they needed and they were all set to try and build an Orchard CMS Module to manage the application process – I decided to split off from the team and spend some one to one time with Robin to talk about how the GC&DC could use social media to help get the message out about the awards and attract more applicants. This was a genuinely eye opening experience – I've been using social networks like facebook and twitter since they were launched and see them as a natural communication channel. But demonstrating what you can do with these platforms (and a smartphone) to a non-technical user was simply a delightful experience. The one thing that struck me that afternoon is that as a tech-savvy individual, you don't need to write code to help a charity – simple tasks such as ensuring their hardware is update date & protected or that mundane tasks such as setting up their email smartphones can really change their day to day experiences.
After 12 hours of coding the bar on level 2 of the rowing club (pictured above), unsurprisingly became a hub of activity – it was great to unwind and chat with the folks in some of the other teams.
The Event: Day 2
On Sunday morning our team had a quick stand-up to check progress. It was pretty obvious from all the problems the developers that choosing Orchard CMS as the base platform was a huge mistake. Quickly turning to the other 2 development teams (who also had initially chosen Orchard) it turned out that one of the other had experienced too much friction and had dropped it late in the previous evening. It was at that point that I decided we should scrap the work we'd done on Orchard and reboot the project to use Sharp Architecture instead. Hopefully the simple combination of ASP.NET MVC and NHibernate and Castle Winsor would allow us a much less complicated and more reliable framework in which to solve the problem.
Transitioning to Open Source
It became apparent quite quickly after midday that we weren't going to get as far as we wanted to and so I decided to re-frame the objectives for the rest of the day: I wanted to get the two remaining developers set-up and prepped to continue to work on the project after the event as an Open Source Project.
The first step was to set up a Google Group that would allow the dev4good participants to easily communicate, share ideas.
The second step was to give GCADC devs as much background reading around Sharp Architecture as possible so that they could get up to speed with how to use it.
The third step was to get them set up with a more novice friendly Git solution (Gitbash is powerful, but confusing if you're totally new to the world of DVCS) – so I got them all to install the personal edition of SmartGit.
At the end of the 2nd day we had a final retrospective about the whole weekend and how we could improve any future event:
I just wanted to say a big thank-you to all the wonderful developers who gave up their weekend (and in some cases travelled significant distances) in order to attend the event and help Hope & Play, Ministry of Stories and The Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Council. I don't have the full list of people who attended – but I have a few twitter details of some of the chaps there:
- Andrew Vos - @andrewvos
- David Hawes – @davehawes
- Joe Simmonds - @joesimmonds
- Rob Cooper - @robcthegeek
- J D Mitchell - @jdmitchjoel
- Mark Middlemist - @delradie
- Neil Andrassy - @andrassy
And a very special thank-you to Craig and the huge amount of effort and time he poured into the event.
The following Monday morning I received a lovely email from Robin:
Brilliant work by all the experts & volunteers and many thanks to all the sponsors that allowed the Goldsmiths' Craft & Design Council to be part of the weekend. It was my privilege to be in such company.
The Goldsmiths Craft & Design Council
I can't wait until we deliver the finished application and see how much easier it will make the volunteer's lives.
On July 7th – the Hope and Play team put their Charity Portal live, you can see the result at http://charityportal.dev4good.net/