I have been a mentor and judge for Call for Code. However, this year, I have other projects limiting my time to contribute to this world-changing initiative. That’s why I wanted to share some tips about your submission, the competition, and the experience I gained by being a mentor. I cannot guarantee you will win if you follow those directions. Still, your submission will undoubtedly be more appreciated (and, I am sure, a little read will increase your chances of success). I will quickly go over the program, give you some general advice about the submission, help you get started, and end with some more personal thoughts.
Call for Code is a Tech for Good initiative. It means that we, developers, engineers, scientists, and architects, can use our talents for the good of humankind. Doctors would join Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) to help people. You can also change the world with your talents and skills without, in most cases, having to leave your comfortable home.
DCC (David Clark Cause) created Call for Code in 2018 with IBM‘s help. The United Nations Human Rights joined the initiative. Since then, other organizations, private and nonprofit, have joined. Over 400,000 developers from 179 nations entered the call, creating more than 15,000 applications designed to help humankind.
I have helped about ten teams since 2019 and was honored to be a judge in 2020. Out of the panel I judged, four were in the top five global finalists. However, in full transparency, none of the team I helped made it that far. As you may know, I am not an IBMer, but I have been an IBM Champion for 13 years.
Okay, enough of the Wikipedia-like explanation. Let’s cut to the chase.
Your solution does not have to be perfect. Don’t cheat but also don’t overdo. Judges are not expecting a minimum viable product (MVP): they expect a prototype. If your solution uses AI to detect plants, your model can be 80% accurate on the common plants you have access to, no need to travel thousands of miles to create an inventory. If your app can share data, this can be a feature you add later in your roadmap.
Speaking of roadmaps, make it simple. What you plan to do in the next three months is detailed; what you are doing next year is more general. Here is an example of the roadmap that Project Owl, Call for Code 2018 winner, contributed. A roadmap would typically be a one-slider. I like to see roadmaps horizontal from left to right, but I could be converted.
Humor us. Judges will see a lot of projects. Work a bit on your communication skills: try to get a wow effect. Project Owl was using fun names; people remember fun names.
Stay focused. I have heard so many projects that wanted to revolutionize eCommerce by giving a more social or local aspects to it. Yes, Think big, but you will not replace Amazon overnight. Solve one problem at a time.
I often get the question about how to get started.
First, join the call.
In the beginning, one participant often has an embryo of an idea, which is not great yet. But it’s there…
If you do not have a team, your first step is to create one. The best way is to have a small elevator pitch of your idea and post it in the #teambuilding channel on Call for Code’ Slack. Don’t reveal too much, but I am not aware of anyone stealing anyone else’s idea so far.
If you have a team (or once you have one), make sure you have a good mix. Innovations and the best ideas come from diverse settings, not with four data scientists or five software engineers. I had the best results in my professional life when the team has a wide range of talents, from front-end development to databases via analytics.
Then you will need to nurture the idea, foster it, develop it. One way to do this, which I highly recommend, is to use Design Thinking. You can leverage IBM’s Enterprise Design Thinking and even access free courses. Do it on the early side of your project; those are life skills. They will help you beyond Call for Code.
During the challenge, pay attention to the announcements on Slack or LinkedIn. It’s always a good idea to follow my friends Shari Chiara and Daniel Krook on LinkedIn. Of course, you must follow Call for Code on Twitter (you can follow me too).
One of your deliverables is a video. Ensure the sound is of good quality; if you speak with a terrible French accent, think about burning in English subtitles. Some judges may also be hearing impaired.
Here are a few things I like to see in submissions; they may vary from judge to judge, but those details will get you bonus points from me.
As I wrote earlier, work on the wow effect. Engineers are not always brilliant at that but you definitely have some friends who are probably mastering a bit more those soft skills. Check your idea on a variety of different people; make sure your grandmother understands the idea.
Think about other uses of your idea: if you have an idea that just works during Covid19, then its impact may be limited. Is the problem you are trying to solve applicable elsewhere? Is it relevant to other epidemics (it may not have to be a global pandemic)?
Besides the video, another deliverable is an open-source GitHub repo. I will probably not try to recompile or deploy your work, but I will look at the documentation and be sensitive at how this project will welcome external contributions in the future.
I hope this small article is helping. I will certainly edit it and add some updates as time goes. From all the participants I dealt with, Call for Code is a passionate adventure, which I highly encourage to live.