Give Camp –The Team Leader’s Dilemma

I spent more hours awake than is healthy working at the inaugural Give Camp UK event last weekend. I’m not going to describe it here, hop over to their site if you are interested in what Give Camp UK is all about, and here if you want an introduction to the whole concept.

Anyway, like I said, that’s where I was last weekend. I led a great team which built a secure forum site, with answer voting, for the Young Minds charity. Yeah I know what you’re thinking: it took you a weekend to build that? Seriously? I mean just take one of the open source StackOverflow clones, skin it and you’re done, right?

Well yeah, but therein lies the dilemma. You can do that, and you can be done in a few hours, then you can build in more of the features that the charity wants, things that they consider “nice to haves” you can get it all done in the weekend, ‘cos that’s what it’s all about, right, delivering value for the charity?

Yes! Definitely! But then, on the other hand… you need devs to be enthusiastic about the technology you’re using. You need them to be thinking, hey that project uses cool tech, tech that I want to learn and get some experience on. Also, if you catch the interest of the devs, then not only do they want to join your team for the weekend, they are going to want to stick around after the weekend is finished and work on the project going forward. So, even though you may not get so much done at the actual weekend, the charity wins in the long run, ‘cos the devs stick around to work on the project in their spare time. As they are doing that, they are building real world experience in the tech that they are interested in, which might enhance their CV in the future. Every one wins!

Anyone reading this want to stick around after the weekend and work on a skinned StackOverflow site? Nah, didn’t think so.

So what did I do? Did I go for maximising value to the charity for the 48 or so hours of the event, or did I have my eye on the long game?

As it turned out I went for the latter. So we build our forum with CouchDB on the backend, Node.js in the middle and KnockoutJS on the front end.

Was I right? Well we, pretty much, finished the project during the weekend and the devs are continuing to push stuff to the Git repo, but it’s really too early to tell.

So, what would you have done? Let me know in the comments.

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4 Responses to Give Camp –The Team Leader’s Dilemma

  1. zi makki says:

    I say it totally depends on the team you have and by the sounds of it I would have done exactly the same thing you did! Nice one!! 🙂

  2. Bert Craven says:

    I had the same dilemma with the work we did for The Nathan Timothy Foundation. The solution could have been done using a free, open source CMS but we had neither the experience with any suitable product nor the appetite within the team to do that.

    You are also creating further dilemmas for yourself. Once you’ve used the OSS CMS and the charity want some feature, say, a blog or a forum and there’s already a plugin for that feature but it’s not quite what they want, do you a) write a new plugin, b) use the standard one and make the charity compromise or b) try modifying the standard one ?

    If a) you’re not really getting the benefit of having chosen an existing product.
    if b) why should the charity have to compromise because of your early design decisions ?
    If c) you’ve now got a non-standard implementation for the charity to support and you have to be really careful about the licence of the original product in terms of making your modified source available to the community under the same licence etc.

    As it was we were able to work incredibly quickly just building the minimum features we needed out of clean, lean maintainable code.

  3. Rachel says:

    I think there is merit in keeping the team engaged *while* delivering value for the project, but I also think that team leads should be mindful of biting off more than they can chew. I think it was that long-haired hippy, Rob Ashton (love you really Rob :)), that pointed out ahead of GiveCamp UK that time is of the essence at GiveCamp. It is great having people commited to learning something new, but if 50% of your team need to learn that “something new” before they can even get going then there is a strong possibility that the ultimate value delivered to the charity will suffer.

    Having said that of course, Emma Guy and Sarkie were kickin’ Node’s butt by the end of Saturday.

    Horses for courses I suppose 🙂

  4. Pingback: gep13's Blog » My impressions of #GiveCampUK

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