Building in the times of COVID-19
As an engineer, maker, builder, you want to build something during the crisis to help the community.
But what can you build as a software engineer that can help the society during this period of crisis? The answer to the question is not easy, As we have not seen something this devastating in our lifetimes.
In such situations, it’s always good to begin with something one knows well. As a software engineer, I can build systems, create APIs and make maps. I will start there, because I am confident of building really good things in those areas. Over time, one will also realize there are other areas that need help, for which one may already possess skills or can be learnt easily. Such areas could be anything from fundraising for the community to cooking.
At that point, you will realize what it means to be a duct tape engineer – an engineer who will apply his skills to fix things when there is no one else to do. Also as they say, best process to build anything is to make it work first, then make it efficient and at last make it the best. Duct tape engineers make it work.
Of course, you may think, you don’t have expertise in that field or your time is not properly utilized in the new role. These calls are very important to make. You need to consider if your participation is in fact, helpful and doesn’t hurt the cause. Personally for me medical electronics is one such field I won’t touch. I am okay with #quantifiedselfing myself but won’t touch anything that will be used by others.
Software engineering and data analysis is my field, and I am fairly confident about my skills in that field. Hence my first step was archiving COVID-19 India related data for future use and research. Build APIs for the data, so other researchers can use it.
I have been highly curious about ventilators and reading a lot about their functionalities. But it’s not something that I aspire to build. I aspire to build something that can make it easy to collect and disperse data during disasters such as the Kerala floods or the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are some opportunities for people to get help to build things that they want to. One example of this is IBM’s Call for Code. Call for Code is a global campaign started by David Clark Cause along with IBM. The challenge encourages developers to use their skills to build new technologies or products to drive positive and long-lasting changes across the world. The main focus is, of course, code. This year the focus is on COVID-19 and climate change, disasters that we are currently going through. I hope you find an idea to work on these pressing issues.
It could be a grand project like solving education or work for a post COVD-19 world, or it could be a small but useful project where you can build a chat-bot to dissipate grocery store information. Nothing is too small, and nothing is out of reach.
If you are not a software engineer, don’t worry, you can still participate, as a designer, as a user or as a community manager1. Also, learning to code is also not that difficult. It is much easier when you are in a team. So find that team.
At last check these resource materials on COVID-19, that I like :)
- DataMeet COVID-19 India data
- CallForCode COVID-19 resources
- Hackaday COVID-19 posts
- Coronavirus Disease Research Community – COVID-19 at Zenodo
- COVID-RHR Hub – Family Planning & Reproductive Health Community-Contributed COVID-19 Resources
- All projects, software or not, need great managers. Any good manager is a community manager. ↩