Hack for a Good Cause: My Humanitarian Toolbox Hackathon Experience

But, isn't hacking bad?

To an outsider, basically anyone who isn't involved in software development in any way, "hacking" has a negative connotation. When I told my family that I was heading up to Redmond for the weekend to participate in a hackathon, they assumed that I was involved in some sort of Spy vs. Spy competition. However, in this context, hacking is a good thing, and can actually help a lot of people as a result.

Yours truly; a mouse amongst giants

From November 6 - 8, I spent the weekend within the storied "Garage" on the Microsoft campus, working on the Humanitarian Toolbox allReady web application alongside fellow App vNext gurus, Bill Wagner, Steve Strong,  and Carl Franklin, as well as about 20 other very smart people from around the world. The intent of the hackathon was to rapidly work through issues and feature requests as a tight-knit team in order to prepare the allReady website for use by the Red Cross team by the end of the month. The experience was unlike any I've ever encountered, and left me both exhausted and proud of what we accomplished.

What is Humanitarian Toolbox?

Humanitarian Toolbox fulfills a need that is near and dear to my heart. Many humanitarian organizations receive donations of many kinds, from monetary to material contributions, but too often an important aspect of mobilizing the organization's efforts to apply those donations to those in need is overlooked: quality software. To address this issue, Humanitarian Toolbox was formed by Richard Campbell and Bill Wagner to provide a suite of free and open source software that helps enable these organizations to be more effective, by working directly with these organizations in order to ensure that a detailed analysis of their business procedures is conducted and translated to effective software that can meet their needs.

Why am I involved?

I have no traditional skills such as woodworking, plumbing, mechanical, or others that are typically useful when volunteering. By volunteering my time to work on an open source project that helps people in need, I can actually use the skills that I've honed almost every day of my career, using the tools and technology in which I am proficient, and help make a bigger impact than I otherwise could. Humanitarian Toolbox helps me do this, and it is so easy to get involved. Just visit the GitHub repo, fork the project, and start coding!

"I have no traditional skills..."

If helping those in need isn't enough, consider the following: this is your opportunity to work alongside some of the best developers in the world, on top of the newest technology that is going to be used for the next several years, at a minimum. It's a great learning experience, not only for the technology involved, but also if you're like me and haven't ever contributed to an open source project before.

The tech... it's all new and shiny!

We're not talking about cutting edge, we're talking bleeding edge. When I joined the allReady team in early October, we were using the ASP.NET 5 beta 6 version, and now we're on beta 8. Talk about a great opportunity to get a jump start on the next version, while benefiting from having some of the ASP.NET team involved in the project! Here's a rundown on the tech, and it's impressive:

  • ASP.NET 5
  • Entity Framework 7
  • MVC 6
  • Azure Web and Storage
  • GitHub
  • AppVeyor
  • SendGrid and Twilio
  • MediatR
  • TypeScript
  • Bootstrap
  • AutoFac for IoC

How do you get involved?

Jumping in is as simple as following these steps:

  1. Fork the allReady repo on GitHub
  2. Check out the open issues. If you're interested in taking one on, just say so in the comments!
  3. Keep up with what HTBox is doing by following them on Twitter

Now that allReady is in preview mode, with actual users testing it daily, there are new issues being logged on a daily basis. No matter where you are in your career, there are tasks that you can take on to help keep up the amazing momentum of this and future HTBox projects.

Now, go write some code! :)



Joel Hulen is a senior consultant with App vNext, as well as a senior developer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He's enthusiastic about constantly learning new technologies, techniques, and tools in order to improve his skill set. He's always ready to geek out over shiny new gadgets, shiny new development frameworks, or reminisce about crusty old technology that haunts his past.