From Friday, Jan 18th through Sunday, Jan 20th, I had the honor of working with over 80 developers, 20 volunteers and 18 charities on the first ever We Are Microsoft Charity Challenge Weekend. The event was put together as a way to enable developers to give back to our local community by developing or extending web applications for some of our local-area charities. Over the course of last weekend, these developers were split into teams of 2-6 developers that would each work in a friendly competition to see who could develop the best new applications for their charities. In the end, we only had 1 trophy to give away, but everyone went home a winner.
The event started last summer as an idea for a way to do something more "real" for the community. I spoke with Toi Wright, ASP.NET MVP and leader of the Dallas ASP.NET User Group about my idea, and she was interested right from the start. Having a personal relationship with a few of the charities in Dallas, this event hit close to home for her, and she knew how big of an impact we could make.
After getting a core team together Toi established a listing of about 25 charities that we needed to interview for the event, to make sure we could get enough information for developers to actually have something to work on. Our original goal was 20 charities, but with time constraints and concerns about overcrowding a the facility, we opted for 18 charities and 85 developers. The interviews themselves were amazing. Many of the charities were ecstatic about being selected and wanted to do everything they could to help us get the information we needed. A few of them even called me several times over the course of the last 2 weeks to make sure that everything was still going through, and that we had all the information we needed. Most of the application needs were web applications, although there was one web/client hybrid, an Access application, and a Mobile application. It was frightening to learn how little IT support many of the charities have and how little budget they have to spend on their IT needs. Most of the charities were running their business off of legal pads, ancient Access databases or overly-complicated Excel spreadsheets. One charity even commented that their web site was "…so bad – so ugly – that we took it down completely".
We gathered on the day of the event at BravoTech for the 3:00 kickoff. During the opening ceremony, Toi introduced the event, and spoke to the rules around the competition while I handed out the software gift baskets that I’d put together for each charity which included 2 books, Office, Vista, Visual Studio and Expression. Our hope was that this software would give the charities a "head start" towards being able to maintain their own sites after the event was over.
Once the intros were done, the group broke up and each charity got some time to spend with their development teams one-on-one – most of whom were meeting for the first time. It was great to see how well everyone got on, and quickly the developers and charities were able to come together on what needed to be done. This was probably the most special part of the event for me – how well the developers formed as a team and worked with their charities on such short notice. I heard from many attendees that this event was nothing like any they’d ever participated in before, and it really changed their life:
"The memories of something like this is definitely something that will stick with all involved for a long time to come. Giving that I have to tell you about one memory that I have. On the way out Sunday I rode down the elevator with some developer who won some Bart Simpson toy and a member of some charity said how her child is a Bart Simpson fan. This guy did not hesitate as he said why don’t you take this for your him and handed it over. After giving all weekend to a charitable cause this guys tank was still not empty, this is the local community we have. I know this is a little thing but in life sometimes it’s the little things that matter most."
The results of the event were amazing – 18 applications developed over the weekend, including some solutions in SharePoint (thanks to Gavin, Tim and others at Team Sogeti) Telerik SiteFinity (thanks to Mark and Randy) and Telligent’s Graffiti (thanks to Jason and the guys at Team Telligent). It’s impossible for me to list everyone that participated in the event, and all the contributions they made, but I hope they know how much they are appreciated and how much they contributed to these very needy charities. While the developers were busy working on their web sites, Jeff and Doug from Geeks with Blogs came down to conduct interviews with as many people as they could. The interviews were FANTASTIC and really help to capture the heart and soul of the event – you can see them all on the GwB web site.
With over 80 developers and 18 charities, one of the biggest hurdles we had to face was one of location. We wanted to find a place that would allow all the teams to work together, but still have some privacy to get their work done. BravoTech volunteered their spaces, and it worked out AWESOME! Andrew, Amber and the crew at BravoTech were fantastic supporters of the event – not only providing the location, but also helping to run the check-in booth, providing drinks and snacks, and helping everyone get in and out the door. Kudos to BravoTech and thanks a MILLION for helping us out! 🙂
We had some great developers, and some great helpers, but the charities themselves deserve to be mentioned too. Several of the charities made HUGE time investments in making sure that the developers got what they needed to be successful:
"The charities sent representatives on Friday and they stayed to offer constant input to the developers on what they really wanted. They were so impressed that there was someone out there that was going to help them with these kinds of needs."
"One of the charities is for a free clinic in Dallas. When they check-in patients, they didn’t have a system to do that. A lot of these people are doing things with Microsoft Excel and spreadsheets. Trying to share information just wasn’t very efficient. We did projects for animal rescue, where they had to keep track of animals, and where they were, and who had them. They didn’t have a way to track all of this information."
Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of the We Are Microsoft event. I am absolutely astounded at the amount of cooperation and selfless giving I experienced over this weekend, and I look forward to the next one. I’ve already heard from a few folks in other parts of the country about wanting to do an event like this, so I’m hopeful that this event will be the first of many more to come.
Here are some additional links that you might find interesting as well:
- GiveCamp Web Site – for more GiveCamp events and information
- We Are Microsoft Facebook Site – for keeping the fires lit and the conversation going
- We Are Microsoft Flickr Set – there are some great pictures here of the people behind the scenes and in front of the scenes. There are even pictures of my tent 😉
- We Are Microsoft Technorati Search [one, two] – Find more amazing links about this event!
- Geeks with Blogs’ Podcast Studio Interviews
- Flickr Pictures from Doug Butscher
- Flickr Pictures from Randy Walker
- Radio Interview with Toi Wright
Thanks again to everyone that helped make this event a great success, and keep an eye out for the next one!