Sunday, November 9, 2008

pro bono publico

just by chance i started on a pro bono publico project for a good cause. a few weeks ago i got a call from the University of Hawaii Center of Disability Studies. i was confused at first... my contact was going on about how my name was recommended by Gerald Lau from the ICS Department (thanks Gerald) and that she couldn't get any students interested in doing a project for her even though they were going to pay. so, during that phone call i decided that i'd help in whatever way i could. but there was a catch... the catch was that they were desperate to get something working ASAP.

their needs were simple. the Center of Disability Studies were putting on the Pacific Rim Conference on Disabilities, a major international conference, but they didn't have an automated online system for their call for papers. instead, they had a PDF form that required them to manually extract information and manage the paper submissions. the conference can attract up to 350 paper submissions, so a manual approach is obviously not ideal. the task wasn't really that big or complicated.

i pitched the idea of working on the project to my company and i pitched it to some of my programmer buddies. but... i had a feeling that waiting to line up either option would take too long. whenever you have to pay someone something it becomes a much lengthier process to get started. so, i pretty much decided to do whatever i could for free; pro bono style.

so, what do you think is the first thing i started to do? i bet you are saying, "you started to hack". thats a safe guess, but that would be WRONG. the first thing i started to do was start the project management process. i started to note the problem, features, requirements and tasks. i don't have my original document, but here is my living project management document

last week friday was my customer demo. i showed off what i was able to accomplish over the weekend and at night. i even had someone QA my work. but... i found a bug during my demo, apparently my project management skills aren't that great. (just in case you are wondering, it was a minor bug that i fixed in 5 minutes. and we didn't release yet so no big deal). i release the system on saturday and monday is the big integration day at UH. hopefully things go well...

the people at the center of disability studies have been really nice; saying thank you way to much. they have been trying to get me on as a side contractor, i've been considering but i think thats best left to the "professional side contractors". i'm much more interested in pro bono work. its much more inline with my thoughts about socially conscious programming and paying it forward.

anyway, i've done programming for free before mostly for friends and family, but never for complete strangers. so, this was a new experience for me. what made it really possible was that i had a feeling that i could accomplish it or that i could ask my coworkers for help. that really lowered the risk and made it much easier to commit to. in all this was a lot of fun! it was great to work on something that meant so much to someone. i enjoyed this experience a lot and hopefully i'll get to do it again soon.