Gift the Code: Participants Eagerly Donating their Time For Good

Posted by Gabriel Couture on November 4, 2016

Capital One Canada engaged Hackworks in early 2016 to extend their already impressive CSR program to include a charity focused hackathon. It has been an incredible journey, which culminated in one of the most amazing hackathon experiences in the history of Hackworks. Below, Gabriel Couture, one of Hackworks Hackathon Managers, recounts his experience.

At 5:30pm, on Friday October 21st, a steady stream of participants made their way through the doors of BrainStation’s Toronto location, received a hoodie, a swag bag and registered for Gift the Code, Capital One Canada’s first charity hackathon. Carrying their laptops and new belongings they scoped out the venue and workspaces. Capital One’s creative team had decorated BrainStation with pillows, Muskoka chairs, picnic tables, small pine trees and fake grass. As the sun went down on the first night, while participants set up their workstations with laptops and monitors, it was delightful to watch BrainStation teeming with animated and eager participants.

For months, Hackworks helped Capital One make their vision of a charity hackathon a reality. Together, we worked on organizing an event that was going to be memorable and fulfilling for the charities and participants.

Capital One proved to be more than up to the task of answering every need. Their work and investment in this project has been a true indicator of their level of commitment. As the seed of an idea grew into the hackathon to be, they kept providing more of their time and resources. All of Capital One Canada became excited about the project!

Many participants spent the whole night of Friday coding away. At 6am on Saturday morning about 15 participants were still going about it; and most were still in impressively good spirits. One particularly generous and keen participant named Ryan offered to help clean up, get breakfast and make sure the coffee urns were full. His team was creating a chat app for Toronto Pflag and he had spent then night building the structure for when his team returned.

The 142 participants who joined us at Gift the Code were as diverse as they were generous. We had young professionals from TWGr for example; student teams from Ryerson University, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Humber college and Sheridan college; as well as Capital One employees from New York, Chicago and Virginia just to name a few. It’s worth emphasizing the fact there were no prizes at Gift the Code: nothing to be won other than some cool stickers for different achievements and a medal. Attendees were simply passionate techies who wanted to give back in some way. They committed to a whole weekend of hacking for good, not for reward!

For the six invited charities - who in diverging respects didn’t really know what to expect from the hackathon - the opportunity to speak with participants was in itself rewarding. For example, Rod Cohen, the Blake Boultbee Youth Outreach Service Executive Director, shared a story during the awards ceremony. One of the teams working on his charity challenges was a young group of friends who had all grown up in different war-ravaged countries and met in Toronto. Here, at Gift the Code, they spent a weekend designing a new version of the Blake Boultbee website. Rod, who works with at-risk youth, was totally inspired by the story.

“Over the 40-hour Gift the Code Hackathon, I had the opportunity to interact with participants, answer questions along the way and ultimately see a finished product come to life. The impact these solutions will have on our organization are huge, and drives home that it’s not always about donations, but about thinking outside the box to achieve a common goal.”

- Lina Almanzan, Resources Systems Manager, Women's Habitat

Pictures from the hackathon include teams posing with their charity representatives, laughing, hugging and glowing with pride. Over the weekend, in person and on Slack, a constant discussion took place between the charities and participants. Questions were answered, data was shared, anecdotes were told and everyone was able to dive deeper into the root causes of the challenges the different charities faced.

Overall, 24 different solutions emerged from a very successful weekend of hacking. There were gaming apps, coaching tools, chat bots, data analytic tools and new websites just to name a few.

On Sunday, after an afternoon of presentations, teams were awarded badges for achieving different judging criteria. As a final round of applause for the hackathon took place, to the side, one of the participants who hadn’t slept on Saturday appeared passed-out on a bench in the corner. His head hung to one side and he was crooked with exhaustion. With his eyes closed, as people clapped, he used his hand resting on his arm to clap as well - a last generous gesture of support.

If you would like to learn more about this incredible event and the solutions developed, check out Capital One’s Press Release, Capital One’s Hackathon Git Hub Account where the code of all 24 submissions is available under an open source license; or head over to the events’ official website, Twitter or Facebook page.