My GiveCampUK weekend (21st to 23rd October, 2011)

Across the weekend of the 21st of October, I took part in the UK’s first GiveCamp. And what a weekend it was!



I signed up to participate it a few months back thinking it would be a good way to network, make some new friends and help somebody else out. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned up at UCL on Friday afternoon for registration. Since I was on my own, I was worried that I’d be surrounded by groups of people who all knew each other and would struggle to get involved. On the contrary! On arrival I soon got talking to a few people and found out that I wasn’t alone. Most people were flying solo, as it were. After some chatting we headed to a lecture theatre to hear the various charities outlining their projects.




I’d already read through the lists of charity projects and quickly settled on the Nathan Timothy Foundation’s project as it seemed like something I could relate to the most. It also seemed a good fit with my skillset, ASPNET MVC3, which meant I’d be very productive from day one, something that is important when attempting to build an entire site in one weekend!

Unfortunately, the NT Foundation didn’t have a representative for this part, which was a pity, but I was undeterred. I was actually amazed by the passion of these speakers and how they struggled with their current IT setups. As somebody who takes IT for granted and codes for fun, I really should know better. I see it in my own family members. They struggle to understand email, never mind anything as complex as building a website! It’s very easy to forget that being good with IT is actually quite a rare skill.

After each charity gave their introduction, the various project team leaders were introduced. Thankfully, Bert Craven, the project lead for the NT Foundation project was sitting right behind me, so I just turned around, introduced myself and said I wanted to be involved. As we moved back to the main hall, I took a place at the same table as Bert, still a little unsure how things would then proceed. The guys from the NTF then showed up and started talking about what they wanted. They had some very interesting ideas, ranging from interactive surveys to heat sensing iPad applications! Bert helped whittle them down to just a couple of ideas, announced that anyone sitting at the table would be part of the project and that was it. we were ready to start!

We each did a quick introduction, just to see what skills everyone had. Immediately we found we were short of somebody with Photoshop skills, but we weren’t the only ones!

We then started discussing things like hosting, source control, development technologies etc. We quickly settled on AppHarbour (which led us to GIT source control), MVC 3 and SQL Server. We used Trello to somewhat manage tasks and began assigning bits to various individuals. After breaking for some food, we took out our laptops and started. Wireframes were build and by midnight, we had a running website. Very basic, but running!

As I was staying at home, I headed off to get the last tube and returned at 8am on Saturday morning. Several of the team were sleeping at the university and they were already awake and sitting at their laptops coding away! Over the course of Saturday we ran into all sorts of issues, but progress was consistent and obvious. As we got driven towards insanity by GIT and the night closed in, the various bits we had each been working on started to coalesce into a functioning website!

At 12.30 AM on Sunday morning I got a cab home. This was an eventful journey to say the least, but that’s a story for another day. After a few hours sleep, I returned to UCL at 8am. A few things had broken overnight, but they were easily corrected and slowly we put the finishing touches on the site. GIT continued to infuriate us, but by the noon code completion deadline, we were done. A few last minute check-ins and we stopped. We’d pretty much build everything we had set out to do on Friday. No mean feat!

The sense of accomplishment was palpable across the team.

After taking some time to unwind in the sunshine, take some pictures and enjoy some hog, we all reconvened for the presentations of the projects. Each time gave a talk about five to ten minutes long, discussing what they’d done. The amount of work done by everyone was amazing. Afterwards, Ben, from the NTF came over to express his thanks. He was very pleased to see what we’d done, so that was the icing on the cake I suppose. I hope what we build serves as a base for them to continue forward.

Overall, the weekend was a tremendous experience for me. I’d like to thank Angela, Bert, Enrique, Ethinder, Mark, Simon, Tom and Wong for being a great team.

I also want to thank Paul Stack and Rachel Hawley for putting the event together. The weekend was great craic, but I’m going to have to get lots of exercise to burn off all that Haribo sugar!

Cannot *wait* until GiveCampUK 2012. This time, I’ll bring a tent!