I never went to camp as a kid. The only camping I’ve done has been with my husband and boys (and I try to get out of that whenever I can). So when I heard about “Give Camp” and saw the logo with the tent-theme, I’ll be honest, I was a little concerned it would involve having to sleep in the woods and make my own fire.
Happily, that wasn’t the case. Rather, Give Camp turned out to be one of the most inspiring, creative and productive (thankfully, indoor) weekends I’ve experienced in a long time. Give Camps are organized by hi-tech development professionals who give up an entire weekend of their lives to address technical needs of selected 501c3 nonprofits. These professionals are people with lives, with families, with things to do. But they sign up and show up at Give Camp, some from across the state or other states, laptops in hand, ready to take on the near-impossible task of creating a full product in less than 48 hours.
The selected nonprofits for the Ann Arbor Give Camp were primarily small, underfunded, labors of love (like DADB). Needs ranged from needing a first website to needing a better website to custom database solutions (like ours). Opportunities like this are priceless for small NPOs — most of us are already stretched to our limits time-wise and have close to zero budget so the chances of getting our hands on custom-built applications are slim-to-none. One of the organizers at the end said they estimated that over 1,400 hours of development were put into the projects over the weekend, which would have equated to well over $100,000 in consulting fees. The database project for our Diaper Bank was completely built from scratch and our development team had, at times, over 7 members busily coding away (and 2 designers dropped in). This entire project is a huge gift and those of us on the receiving end are deeply grateful.
Speaking of gift/giving — I asked the members of our team if they wanted tax receipts so they could write off their time. They each just looked at me, shrugged, and said “nah, that’s okay.” They don’t even claim the time they donate as an exemption! I mean, I’m always happy to donate toys, clothes, etc., but come on, if I can write it off, I do! It just didn’t even seem to be on their radar screens as something they’d thought about. They were just happy to help because they can. Now THAT is the true spirit of GIVING.
My deepest thanks goes to the organizers of the Ann Arbor Give Camp (and for the review committee that accepted our proposal!) And my even deeper thanks goes to the OUTSTANDING group of talented, generous, fun, funny, and TIRELESS developers who gave up so much of their time (and sleep!) to build an incredible, custom, much-needed, web-based, high-speed, awesome, scalable database for a little Diaper Bank in Southeast Michigan: Jamie Wright, our team lead, along with Amber Conville, Sean McMillan, Hilary Robinson, Len Smith and Tim O’Connell. There were other developers and designers who popped in to help at different times throughout the weekend and I’m grateful to them, too.
Computer people, if you want to have one of the best, most rewarding weekends of your lives, keep an eye out for Ann Arbor Give Camp 2011. You will have a great time, do a lot of good, probably sleep less than you have in a long time, but you’ll be so glad you did it in the end. Nonprofits, if you need any kind of technical help, make sure to get a proposal in for consideration next year. You’ll feel like you won the lottery if you get chosen to participate, just like we all did this year.
To wrap up, I thought I’d share some things I learned from our development team and being in the development world over the weekend:
1. Developers don’t like IE. No, let me clarify, they HATE IE. After being thoroughly briefed on the subject by my team, it did not escape my attention that every developer who opened a browser to show their project at the end opened Firefox.
2. Developers are quiet, focused and INTENSE when they’re working. It’s an amazing energy when you walk into a development room, especially when there’s a team of people hip-deep in code and making things work.
3. Developers are fun to be around – they’re smart and seem to have dry-tending-toward-sarcastic humor, which I find enjoyable.
4. Developers have cool stuff and know how to make stuff work.
5. Developers laugh if they see a “visitor counter” on a website.
6. Despite what you’ll hear from PR-type professionals that it should be banned and never used, developers couldn’t care less if you have Comic Sans on your site or not. In fact, one developer told me he wouldn’t care — or notice — if you had 3 different fonts on your site.
7. Developers like ink. I’m pretty sure I detected at least one tattoo on each member of our team. They are also the only people who can wear those clever “techie” t-shirts and get away with it.
8. Developers speak to each other in a foreign language. If you’re in a room with developers hashing out a project, even if you know a modicum of l33t-speak, it’s likely all you’ll hear in your head is Charlie Brown’s teacher. So just nod, smile, agree when they seem to agree and try to look busy on your own computer – they’ll let you know when they have a question or need your input on something. But until they do, just sit there playing solitaire or surfing Facebook and realize that you are completely out of your depth and technical league. And be glad there are people in the world that know it, love it and are generous enough to share the product of it with the rest of us.
We’re excited and grateful to be one of the charities selected for this year’s Ann Arbor Give Camp, happening the weekend of September 17th. Give Camps are organized around the country by technical professionals who donate a weekend of their time to create technical solutions for participating charities. Developers volunteer to spend one weekend (and they do stay there – many stay up – the ENTIRE weekend) creating software/technical solutions for chosen charities. Their tagline, which I love, is “geeks giving back”.
The proposal we submitted for the Detroit Area Diaper Bank was for a database/information collection/management system to allow us to more easily track diaper deliveries to partners and parse the data. It may be something really basic (but surely better than the Excel spreadsheet currently in use) or much more high-speed and web-based — it all really matters first, on the kind of developers who volunteer and what their skill-sets are, and second, how much they can really do in 48 hours.
Regardless, we’re thrilled we get to be a part of it and we’ll happily accept some free, custom, proprietary software any day! Thank you to everyone at Ann Arbor Give Camp!