3 lessons learned from Code for the Kingdom Seattle

Visiting teams at Code for the KingdomAfter 36 hours of hacking, 12 teams of technologists, entrepreneurs and designers presented their solutions to 7 challenges at Code for the Kingdom Seattle. The excitement was palpable as people demoed what they built together and recounted how God energized them for the task. I certainly felt like I was living the dream.

You can read my thoughts as a participant of a previous hackathon here. This is briefly what I learned as an organizer.

Lesson #1 – Social time is not a waste of time

Despite my past distaste for undirected socializing, I discovered that the act of convening itself satisfies people’s real need for company, other goals aside. Each participant had different reasons for coming, but we shared a common desire to exercise our skills, to not be isolated, to get to know each other, and to help one another.

By the end, some people grew in technical prowess, others got a solution for their problem, some were reinvigorated by the energy of their peers, while others gained new friendships. The value delivered to each person could not have been meticulously planned ahead of time, but it could only be realized by convening. As an introvert, I was reminded that good things happen when you simply show up.

Lesson #2 – Affirmation energizes everybody

The excellent book Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree (affiliate link) convinced me that praising people for the ways they reflect God’s character is an essential element of Christian community. Affirmation brings a breath of fresh air to relationships and energizes people to continue doing good. Chris Armas, the primary organizer of Code for the Kingdom, is the first person I’ve encountered who consistently practiced it. His ability to bring together a team of volunteers and motivate them around a common cause was amazing and his method was simple:

On every weekly call, he would genuinely ask “how are you?” and sincerely end with, “how can I serve you?” Throughout the preparation and duration of the event Chris would notice even the smallest positive contributions and affirm them without ignoring the work still to be done.  This is admittedly an oversimplification of all the behind the scenes work he had to do, but the affirmation was contagious. I started imitating him and took great pleasure in refreshing others, resulting in a virtuous cycle of mutual refreshment.  “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25).

Exercise: Try affirming Godly behaviors that you notice in other people 5 times today.

Lesson #3 – Generosity breeds generosity

Code for the Kingdom was free for all attendees (registration was refunded if you showed up). This was made possible by the sponsors, the two largest being Leadership Network and Faith Comes by Hearing. Their generosity created an atmosphere of a bias for action and a freedom to experiment (I wouldn’t be able to put on an event like this myself for fear of wiping out my savings in one go :-)). At the same time I learned that generosity is not opposed to frugality–on a Costco run, we would still locally optimize how much we spent on snacks and drinks, etc.

People were generous not only financially, but also with their time and labor. Shannon Thompson meticulously served as the event coordinator and made several runs with Chris to Costco and Walmart to ensure the rabid developers were well provisioned for their red-eye programming. Shamichael Hallman captured every important moment to ensure we had great coverage of the event and Blake Burris confidently guided the group as the master of ceremony. There were many more volunteers, some of whom had come from out of town to be there.

Can you imagine what it was like to be in a room filled with such generosity and service? It made me not want to miss out on the joy of giving. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b)

Next Steps

Want to bring Code for the Kingdom to your area? Get in touch with one of us here.

Want to join a community of generous people using their technical, design, and entrepreneurial gifts to advance the gospel? Sign up at http://community.theotech.org to stay connected.

3 lessons learned from AngelHack Seattle

Team MoodMeme

I recently did a hack-a-thon: nearly 24 hours of intense coding to transform a nascent idea into something useful that can wow judges and attract investment.

It all began when my friend David (read his thoughts here) told me he really, really wanted to go to AngelHack this year. He ran his idea by me and asked me to help code it up and pitch to the judges. This is when I learned my first lesson.

Lesson #1: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Growing up I was basically a self-centered achiever. My mind has always bubbled with ideas that I wish other people would help to make a reality. I’m sure many of you have felt the same way, especially in group projects–you want your ideas to be heard, appreciated and implemented.

This time though, likely due to what I’ve been learning about servant leadership, I felt a strong desire to fully support David in the ideas he wanted to work on–to do whatever it took to help him succeed. Surprisingly, a few days after I agreed he changed his mind and asked me what I wanted to do instead. I don’t think this is the point of lesson #1, but I was delighted to get support for my idea after all. We ended up building a prototype of MoodMeme, an app that helps you track your mood and notifies your friends when you’re down so they can help (go ahead and enter your mood–there’s a little surprise :-)).

Are there ideas you want others to help you accomplish? How can you do for them, what you would want them to do for you?

Lesson #2: God’s grace makes all the difference

On the day of the hack-a-thon we had a team of four. Gary built the Android app that prompts you for your mood while Sean mocked up the experience. David built the web app, and I was responsible for visualizing mood data with D3. By the end we had a working prototype and a pitch that together got us into the final round of judging.MoodMeme ScreenShot

We were exhausted, living on adrenaline and Red Bull. After a first round of judging, the emcee announced the six finalists who were to pitch to the full panel of judges. We were to go third. My anxiety made it hard to focus on the first two presentations.

“Next up, we have MoodMeme.”

Sean connected his laptop to the projector while I opened my transcript.

I began:

“MoodMeme helps you track your mood over time and connects you with your friends when you’re feeling down…”

The emcee’s buzzer went off two minutes later just as I finished:

“MoodMeme can be that scalable, affordable way to a healthier nation.”

There was great applause. Several of the judges, engaged me with insightful questions and everyone seemed satisfied by the end. The demo and pitch were a success.

Half an hour later, the judges re-appeared and announced the winners, beginning with the honorable mention. Then the prizes from sponsors were distributed. Then they awarded second place.

My mind raced through the pros and cons of each of the 6 pitches. I felt like MoodMeme was the most polished, although the second place winner had a more impressive product. Could it be? Could we have won first place?

“And first place goes to … TruBalance

We didn’t win. We didn’t even place.

Thus I relearned lesson #2: God’s grace makes all the difference.

The Scriptures are replete with texts like: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1) and “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).

But what about our merits? Aren’t a group of people coding away at 5am, chugging Red Bull what it takes to win? Isn’t it the preparation and mad skills of these rockstar hackers that matters?

Yes, merits matter. You have to build, watch and plan. But God’s purpose determines the outcome and to take it a step further, our merits themselves are a grace from God, as Paul proclaimed: “Rather, [God] himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25b). Merit is grace.

Three grumpy guys harmoniously working together at 5am is a gift from God. Writing a compelling pitch in less than an hour is a gift from God. Everything “just working” and being more productive than ever before is a gift from God. Getting psychology papers on moods from UW Professor Christopher Barnes at a serendipitous meeting far in advance of the hack-a-thon is a gift from God. Everything, from our abilities to the generosity of the AngelHack sponsors and volunteers to the judges’ final decision, are from God (Proverbs 21:1, James 1:17).

What will you do with the grace God has given you?

Lesson #3: Gospel-driven ideas are not niche. They are widely applicable and desirable

Even though we didn’t win, I was amazed at the response after the event. Several people approached me and told me they hoped we kept working on the product since they felt like it was much needed. One woman suggested that it could help doctors finely tune treatments for patients struggling with depression. One man suggested that we incorporate weather since many Seattleites suffer from seasonal affective disorder due to the lack of sunlight. What set MoodMeme apart from other mood tracking apps is that we wanted to proactively address negative moods–it was more about mood management than simple tracking. Some of the ways we do this might be a bit gimmicky (you know what I mean if you entered your mood earlier), but the heart of the application is that it helps you love your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12:31). When you know how your neighbor feels, you’re better able to serve them and do good to them.

What if technology could help you obey these words?

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15)
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble (1 Peter 3:8)

That’s the dream.

Check out MoodMeme here. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

If you want to be part of movement that creates, promotes and uses technology to help people fulfill the commands of Jesus, please like this, tweet, +1, pin,  comment, etc.


P.S. Here’s a 2-minute video of the initial pitch (sorry for the poor quality of the video):