There’s nothing quite like the Steel City Codefest. If it were a TV show it would be mashup of 24, the Apprentice, and Shark Tank. It’s stressful, grueling, and takes 2 solid days to recover from.

I love every minute of it.

Steel City Codefest is a Pittsburgh-wide app building event that brings together coders, designers, and innovation enthusiasts to create apps for local government, citizens, and community organizations over a 24-hour period. It’s one of many interesting events that have sprung up in recent years, marrying technology and entrepreneurship, which Pittsburgh is becoming known for.

There’s an App for that…

This year, the Codefest highlighted twelve challenges sourced from nonprofits and government organizations in our region. Several were interesting, but ultimately, my team chose to volunteer our time to the Food Rescue Project, a collaboration between Brazen Kitchen and Freestore. We chose this project for two specific reasons:

  1. Technical Difficulty – During the presentation, the client indicated that they needed a workflow to enable them to coordinate donations from organizations to recipient partners through the use of volunteer drivers. My team is all about process and workflow and getting a functioning alpha version of the application by the end of the competition was going to be a challenging feat.
  2. It’s a Global Problem – While researching each of the organizations we discovered just how big of a problem Food+Rescue was facing. They wanted a tool, that given the right architecture, had applications beyond the Pittsburgh region. Done correctly, it would also benefit neighboring cities, states, and even countries.

More about Food+Rescue and Food Waste

Below are some of the talking points that I used for our presentation to the initial round of judges and in the finals. This is the why we needed to help address this problem.

  • It’s an International Problem
    • Food waste has been an international talking point for a long time. Over 40 years ago, in 1974, the first World Food Conference called for a 50 percent reduction in food waste in the next decade. Didn’t happen.
    • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 1.3 billion tons of international wasted food could feed the estimated 868 million people who need it.
  • The United States of Food Waste
    • Solving food waste is a global problem, but our technically advanced nation is a big part of the problem: 40% of ALL food is wasted. In fact, it’s the #1 material we sent to landfills and incinerators. That means we now send more food than paper, plastic, or anything else.
    • What’s even more disturbing is that all of this is happening while 1 in 6 Americans face hunger.
    • 1 in 4 children live in food insecure homes, meaning that they’re not starving, but they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
  • Making a Difference Locally
    • In order to solve a national problem such as this, you have to start local and 412 Food Rescue aims to fight hunger by collecting fresh, healthy food, that would otherwise be discarded, and distributing it immediately to community organizations that serve those in need.
    • Their mission is to address the health, environmental and economic impact that food waste has on our community.
    • Today, their constrained by manpower and resources. With a small team and 1 lime green truck, they need volunteers with vehicles to respond more rapidly ensuring that they can give from the most beneficiaries to the most donors.
    • In Pittsburgh, one in four residents volunteers, averaging 39.7 hours per resident, making Pittsburgh the 25th out of 51 large cities in volunteering.
  • Food+Rescue iOS & Android App
    • The Food+Rescue app, available for Apple and Android devices, enables the team at 412 Food Rescue to effortlessly coordinate food pickup and deliver between donors, drivers, and recipient partners.
    • The driver, after registering can login to view a list of awaiting donations, and choose an opportunity pursue. They can quickly sort by total distance to pick the right volunteer opportunity for them.
    • The donor can very quickly and easily enter the donation that they wish to make. Push notifications notify the donor of every step of the donation process. The donor will also be able to track the location of the driver until the delivery has been made.
    • The recipient partner is also notified of the donations status via push notifications. They’re also able to track the location of the driver until the delivery has been made.
    • The Food+Rescue Administrator will use a web interface to match donations with recipients, and have access to real-time stats of current activity within the system (Donors awaiting recipients, Donors awaiting drivers, Drivers en-route to Donors, and Drivers en-route to recipient, Fulfilled deliveries, etc.)
  • How Will the Food+Rescue app address food waste?
    • Through the development and release of this application, we hope to increase volunteerism in the Pittsburgh area, create a greater awareness of the food waste issue, decrease the response time it takes to pick up food from donors, and prove a model that, by utilizing the scalability of the application, can be reproduced in cities around the nation.

Codefest is an important event

It’s a way to give back to those that always give. Whether you’re someone like me, who has spent their entire career in the realm of the Internet and technology, or someone that just likes to dabble, you have a place here. Codefest provides participants with the unique opportunity to volunteer their time, energy, and knowledge to staple Pittsburgh organizations that truly need it and may not be able to obtain the technology any other way.

— Leah Lizarondo (@BrazenKitchen) February 22, 2015

What’s Gonna Work? Teamwork!

New Donation Screen
Codefest also provides you with the opportunity to assemble your dream team and see what you’re capable of. For this year’s contest I had just that. Working alongside Chachi, Kyle, Greg, Raleigh, and Tony was exactly like I thought it would be. All of them are talented individuals with strong developer chops and some serious work ethic.

As the only non-developer of the group, I was worried about pulling my weight. Given that we were building a functioning version of the application, I knew that there would be some serious heads-down dev time. However, I focused on what I know: Project Management, User Pathing, and the end-user experience. Each of us found our roles rather quickly and filled them quite well.

Going into the event, we dreamed big, but didn’t even know if some of our desired features were possible, let alone something that we could build in a day. Somehow, through their developer fu and ol’ fashioned fortitude, we got it all working.

When I was able to see the application work from end-to-end I was legitimately impressed – Three devices, side-by-side, assuming the roles of donor, driver, and recipient, interacting with one another, going through the workflow. The workflow was pretty substantial too! It included multi-way-point Google Maps integration, multi-device QR code authentication, and push notifications to clearly communicate between the different users. That was enough to secure us a spot in the finals and accomplish what I had set out to do.

Unfortunately, we didn’t win the competition, but I tip my hat to those that did. Well done, teams.

What’s Next?

Based on the feedback that we received during the competition, my team and I firmly believe that we have a solid approach to taking another step forward in the fight against food waste and hunger. The motto for Codefest this year was “Codefest doesn’t end on Sunday” – We believe that applies to us and plan to pursue funding that will enable us to complete the application.

If you were a Codefest participant or just have a good idea that you think will help to make the world a better place then I urge you to checkout the Forbes Fund, UpPrize, Give Camp and InterSector.

The most important thing that I learned this weekend, beyond Codefest and the Food+Rescue application, is that I now have a team of people that I can count on. A team that has the hustle & grit to build cool… Err… stuff – something that I’ve been seeking for quite a while. The timing is right. The team is right. I intend to do everything possible to keep us together and continue to build things that will make Pittsburgh proud. Stay tuned…

Red Rover... Red Rover...

Truebluetitan is the personal blog of Rob Schultz, a 30-something from Pittsburgh, PA.

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