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Build. Learn. Give: Webspec Design’s Experience at dsmHack – Part 1

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Last weekend a team from Webspec Design participated in a Des Moines charity hackathon called dsmHack. This event united Iowa web developers, designers, and project managers to build websites and web applications in 48 hours for ten local nonprofit organizations. With ten awesome organizations and 77 “hackers,” the weekend was a chaotic whirlwind of sleep deprivation, technological frustrations, lots of junk food, and, at the risk of sounding corny, new friendships. (Cue obligatory, “D’aww!”)

Before I delve into the details of the web services and branding strategy the Webspec team provided for our nonprofit group (see Part 2 of the dsmHack blog series), I just wanted to take a moment and reflect on this weekend and hopefully give you all a glimpse of what the experience was like from an insider’s perspective.

Thursday Night: Web Developers Meet the Nonprofits

This year was the second annual dsmHack, but it was Webspec’s first time attending the event. Our team included five developers (Ethan, Riley, Michael, Nick, and Ma), one designer (Steph), and myself on content and project management. Walking into Gravitate, where the event was hosted, we could all feel the buzz of nerves and excitement. With which organization would we be paired? How well could our team execute the client’s vision given the time constraints? At which point would the high-stress, high-stakes environment affect our team’s ability to collaborate? All these questions and more were racing through my head as we chowed down on tasty meatballs and deli sandwiches. But after an hour of mingling and merriment, things got serious.

Ten incredible nonprofit organizations had only five minutes to share their stories and their struggles. Their needs ranged from a total website redesign and rebranding to building an app and digital database. The roster included Animal Lifeline of Iowa, Help-A-Heart, Community Youth Concepts, Children & Families of Iowa, Teens Against Human Trafficking, Iowa Able Foundation, Whiterock Conservancy, Iowa Legal Aid, Wallace Centers of Iowa, and last but not least, Forest Avenue Outreach. It was impossible not to be moved by the unique contributions each nonprofit provides to better the Des Moines community and the state of Iowa. You’ll probably read this a couple times throughout this series, but we cannot thank each of the nonprofits enough for their service, courage, and resilience. The people affiliated with these organizations are truly making the world we live in a better place, and for that we are grateful to them and honored to have the opportunity to give back to those who have given us so much.

How We Met Our Match

After the presentations, the event coordinators encouraged everyone to speak to all the nonprofits, kind of like a speed dating free for all. The Webspec team, however, was unique in that we arrived as a package deal, so it took some extra coordinating before we could woo a client with our mad web design and development skills. We wanted to make sure we could tackle a project that played to each one of our strengths, but other teams formed quickly around several nonprofits before we knew it. Just as we approached an organization, another group of hackers would swoop in and charm the client with their talents and skills. We really had to step up our game.

Looking around, we spied two men quietly leaning against the wall. Recognizing them from Forest Avenue Outreach and not seeing any competition in sight, we rushed—I mean casually sauntered—over to find out more about their website needs. After speaking to Ralph and Chris, we knew our team could accomplish everything they were looking for in a site redesign. But our confidence didn’t eliminate our apprehension. What if we couldn’t deliver a website that matched FAO’s needs in time? What if our team just wasn’t the right fit for the client, or vice versa? With less than 48 hours to go and other teams already assembled, we didn’t have time to forecast the success of our partnership—we took a leap of faith and didn’t look back.

No Sleep? No Problem.

Once we got assigned a workspace, we hashed out the details with Ralph and Chris into the wee hours of the night, and we could not have been happier with the pairing. Ralph had a clear vision of what he needed for his website and provided a sitemap, high-res photos, and substantial content (a dream come true!). Because of his preparation, it made assigning tasks simple—so much so that we realized we had an overabundance of developers for just a redesign. Nick asked Ralph, “What do you do on paper that you would like to have automated?” After thinking a minute, Ralph told us about an overwhelming Excel produce log he uses to document the yields of vegetables from several gardens. Nick, Michael, and Ma set to work on a web application to optimize the produce log while Ethan, Riley, Steph, and I tackled rebranding FAO and redesigning their website.

Curious to see how it all turned out? If you’ve been following us on twitter or facebook, chances are you’re privy to the spoilers. But if you haven’t heard of this mystery called social media, you’re just going to have to be patient to read the rest of the tale in Part 2.

About Webspec Design’s Nonprofit Partner

Take a few seconds to learn a little bit about our awesome client Forest Ave Outreach.

Beginning in 2012, Ralph and Rebecca Chiodo moved to the King-Irvine neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa, to live as urban missionaries. Combining their passion for sustainability, education, and youth engagement, the Chiodos established an organization to uplift the neighborhood’s families through community gardens; youth clubs and training programs; and prayer groups. Their latest project, the Forest Ave Community Orchard in Riverbend, aims to provide a place for children to learn and play while nourishing families with healthy, home-grown food. FAO fulfills its mission by building long-lasting relationships, empowering individuals, providing opportunities for service, and helping to meet basic needs.