Earlier this week, there was a lunch and learn with the CEO of Engineers Without Borders, George Roter. He gave some very interesting stories and anecdotes about work that his organization is doing and it really did open my eyes to some of the stuff that is going on in "developing" areas such as Africa or Malawi. It was announced shortly after that staff from EWB would be coming to Polar to take part in our Hack Day. This time a more specific theme would prevail in that all projects would somehow benefit EWB or various causes that they support. I was very excited for this since it almost seemed like a way to give back through software development (something that I wasn't aware was directly possible).
There were many project suggestions made by both Polar staff members and EWB staff members and a common theme seemed to underlie nearly all of them. This theme was 'data'. It become evident that a lot of data existed openly through IATI and in EWB's own databases but it was not being utilized at all.
I teamed up with a couple of my fellow co-op students again and we got to brainstorm how we could somehow present EWB's data in a different light. We went through several iterations and settled on a simple but effective idea. EWB has their own type of social network for donors called myEWB. We decided to take some of the data from this database and create a tool to graph this data over different date ranges. Again, working under the strict time constraints did not allow us to get very far with our idea but we did have something to show come presentation time. I had written database models to hold the data that we extracted from EWB's database. I also wrote a small piston API that would serve up this data over the requested date range and the rest of the work came from integrating the front end. We found a neat graphing widget, once again backed by d3.js that would allow us to zoom in and out on the data to view and highlight different things.
Some of the other projects that were tackled were very impressive as well. I was blown away by what a couple of teams came up with. They seemed like full-fledged products even though they were crafted in a single 24-hour stint. Some of the projects that come to mind were a Fair Trade Finder iPhone application and Kickstarter-type platform called Help to garner support for different projects. Unfortunately, I had to slip out to catch my train while the presentations were still going on but from what I saw, the Engineers Without Borders team was pretty thrilled with the results of the Hack Day. You can read a little more in depth about it in this National Post article.
Honestly, I can't think of a better way to end off such a successful semester. While it is a little disappointing that I will be leaving Polar Mobile, I am really excited to get a chance to work on new personal and school projects with all of the things that I have learned. As I have mentioned before, the value of the co-op program for computer science students is immense when you take into account the invaluable experience that is obtained. The team environment and perspective that you can pick up from other intelligent individuals is beyond what can be attained on one's own. I suppose the only remaining fear that I have is how I will be able to top this experience during my final two co-op work terms.