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Tech for good: Hacking the coronavirus crisis

COVID-19 is affecting the entire world, and people are looking for ways they can help — from a distance. IBMers are asking the same question. So when Lara Plandsoen (blockchain consultant) and Hans Boef (developer advocate) heard about the online hackathon ‘Hack the Crisis’ in the Netherlands, they immediately signed up to support. I interviewed them to ask about their experience with the hackathon and what’s next.

Why did you decide to join the hackathon?

LP (Lara Plandsoen): Hackathons are great to participate in, no matter what skills you have! In just 48 hours, different teams from all over the world made up of people with all different skills bundled forces to attack a pressing, current challenge the world is facing. And after those 48 hours, they all created real solution! The results are more than just big talk on slides . . . often, teams come up with a working prototype, a great pitch on what problem their solution is solving, and a clear plan of attack for the coming months: How they will scale their solution and what is needed in terms of connections and resources.

HB (Hans Boef): When I read the announcement of this hackathon, I immediately saw a lot of opportunities for participants to leverage our free code patterns in their solutions for this hackathon. And I always love to participate at hackathons, — you meet so many interesting people, new startups, and more.

How did you support the hackathon?

LP: I was asked to be a mentor because of my experience in blockchain as well as business consulting. I was able to advise teams on whether or not blockchain would be a fitting technology to base their solution upon, coached them to converge big ideas into a focused plan of attack for the weekend, connected them to subject matter experts using my own professional network, and helped them to sharpen their final pitches to the jury (and potential future investors).

HB: I gave a webinar, and I did some mentoring during the weekend. The nice thing was that it was about Covid-19, so I pitched the Covid-19 starter kits of Call for Code, which could be used by the participants. And you can still use these kits if you have a great idea on how to support the Call for Code global challenge.

Hans, what kind of questions did you get?

HB: The questions were mainly about the availability of certain technologies like video streaming, chatbots, etc. With free IBM Cloud credits, the teams could work with these technologies.

Lara, can you give some examples of the ideas you’ve seen?

LP: I saw some great ideas coming by, a few examples:

  • a gamified vaccine-research app that makes people contribute to virus vaccine research by playing a game in which they solve puzzles and identify patterns
  • an AI-powered remote teaching assistant that helps parents that have their kids at home with schooling so that they can focus on their own full-time jobs.
  • a peer-to-peer platform to help review and certify medical products, and reduce damage or hurt caused by faulty, fake or fraudulent products
  • a decentralized communication system based on WiFi-boxes that provides access to information for people in refugee camps, to help communicate validated information on preventive measures against Covid-19, and of course other topics in the future.

How did you experience this hackathon?

HB: It was a nice hackathon, I participated just a few days before the hack started. The best thing I noticed was the positivity of all people. Almost 900 people were involved, that’s just amazing! This was one of the winners, and I really liked their solution on how to make digital education more effective.

LP: Overall, it was a great hackathon. Note that the organization only had a few days to set the whole thing up. If you see the amount of people and organizations that participated as teams, mentors, sponsors and or jury members – this is absolutely amazing!

An additional bonus is that a support ecosystem has been launched by the organization through which participating teams that developed a good product get help to continue developing it after the hackathon! Support comes in many forms, from funding, connections and free advice from experts.

Join us for the next hackathon

Next weekend, join us for a global hackathon. No matter what your skills, there’s a need for your expertise. Calling all developers, designers, business people, visionaries, artists, patients, researchers, doctors, teachers, environmental activists, yoga-instructors to use your skills for good.

Stephanie Cleijpool