$10,000 and 3 things I learned working on a pro bono project rewarded with that amount of money

Are you not a person who wins contests? Do you have no luck at cards or games of chance? Me neither! And yet, I managed to find myself in the right place and time to take part in a project that won $10,000 (40,000 PLN). Read about the 3 lessons that I got from that experience.

The project mentioned in the title is a search engine, niepelnosprawnik.pl, created by the TUS Foundation.

The eponymous reward from the Polish-American Freedom Foundation is awarded for innovative use of new technologies in everyday operations.

In all this, I was a volunteer who approached the TUS Foundation a bit earlier than a year prior to the award and wrote, “Hi, I want to help you with Niepelnosprawnik as a designer who can code. How can I make this happen?”

What did I learn?

1. Award-winning projects look exactly the same as projects that don’t win any awards

It’s not like I just never kept my shoulder to the wheel, suddenly decided to change that, did so and — poof! — an effect.

It’s not like there were any notorious winners of awards in my team, either.

Smile — if I succeeded, so could you. Probably not without the hard work and thoughts like “What have I gotten myself into?”, “Is this even doable?”, and “Sleeep!”, but I’m the best example that even losers without a whit of luck can manage to win.

Fortune is fickle.

2. NGOs should create as few new technologies as possible

New technologies are expensive. New technologies are difficult. New technologies require development, documentation, maintenance, commitment, budgets, people, determination, the willingness to make counterintuitive and unpopular decisions, blind wandering, and the willingness to take sizeable risks.

I’m a Pole and suffer from the “I can’t do this? Hold my beer”™ syndrome. You have to admit that this is not the most profound way to go about things. There is a better way!

Make use of the fact that you represent a non-governmental organisation. Find technology partners. Negotiate options to use new commercial technologies gratuitously.

Use open source software — new technology that is already existing and is often actively developed upon.

Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Do not create new technologies — adapt and use existing ones to fit the needs of your activities.

This way, you will give yourself a chance to benefit indirectly from the work of thousands of developers, when in fact you’re using the help of — for instance — just a single one.

Moreover, in this scenario, your software or new technology will be developed on its own, even when all the people directly involved in your project are asleep. Without schedules, without budgets, without your careful attention.

Contract as little software creation as possible. That’s your chance for success in as far as new technologies go.

3. Code for Poland works

Code for Poland is — as organisers write — “a community searching for technological solutions to societal challenges,” a community functioning both online (on a forum, in a Facebook group) and away from a keyboard, at the meetings of local groups.

I like the idea, but as an introvert, I never got myself to any of the local group’s meetings.

Thanks to Niepelnosprawnik, I was able to see that Code for Poland really does work and provides a real value. When I had trouble finding a tool to monitor the proper functioning of Niepelnosprawnik, I managed to find a helpful suggestion right on the Code for Poland group on Facebook.

If you are going to do anything associated with new technologies in Poland, I strongly encourage you to take the time to get familiarized with Code for Poland. Who knows, maybe with the help of this community, you will even manage to win 10,000 USD for an issue that is important to you.

Code for Poland’s website

This article was originally published on November 14, 2016 on the ngo.pl.