Written by Rachel Morris
To give the most at GiveCamp as a volunteer, we ultimately need to get the most ourselves. In the adrenaline rush of the event, it’s easy to forget some of the most obvious things:
SLEEP! Even those of us who have a few GiveCamps under our belts can forget just how easy it is to go overboard in an effort to give our all to our charities. But we’ll do more for them if we pace ourselves, at least a little. First and foremost, no matter how the project is going, try to get some sleep each night. Even if it’s only four hours, it’ll ensure you’re (relatively) alert again on day two or three.
EAT! The next to do is easy, given all the incredibly generous donations GiveCamp brings in – eat regularly! No matter how many hard coding nights you’ve done on nothing but Dew and Doritos, this is not the time for that. Not only will it get you up and moving for a few moments, but it also lets you wander past the freebies table to see if any new tech geek books or other cool items have been put out for you.
DRINK! Along with “don’t just Do the Dew,” there’s hydrating properly. We spend a lot of time talking to our teammates, and we’re up longer hours than usual. The building may be a little dry. All these things add up. For every caffeinated beverage you slurp down, have an equivalent amount of water. Remember, caffeine dehydrates you further.
TAKE BREAKS! Sometimes what a team needs to get moving again is to actually get moving – outside, on a nice quick walk around the MIT campus, to get some fresh air, or anything off site for a few minutes away from the controlled chaos. Don’t be afraid to suggest a break to your team when you need one.
Next we come to more project-specific ways to support the goals – all of which come down to one thing: COMMUNICATION.
SCHEDULING: Before the event if possible, but if not, at the outset of the event when you meet your project lead, communicate your scheduling needs. Do you plan to be there from “game on!” to game end? Do you need to cut out for part of Saturday? Are you bound by the Transit schedule? If your team is counting on you for certain deliverables and don’t know you won’t be there, you can singlehandedly grind a project to a halt.
ABILITIES: Be realistic, for both the good and the bad of your abilities. Don’t be overly modest about your skills, but also don’t over hype yourself. If you can singlehandedly install a CMS from scratch in a matter of hours, great — Say so! Not so sure about the security modeling? Ask your Project Lead to find someone who specializes in security. If there’s something happening on your project or a neighboring one that you’ve always wanted to learn more about, make sure your lead knows that, too. So long as you’re not deserting your assigned team, there’s often time to kibbutz on something else.
GETTING UNSTUCK: Abilities or no, we all hit walls sometimes, either from exhaustion or lack of experience or even just because there’s an obscure bug in the tool we’re using. At work, you might have time to spend half a day getting yourself unstuck. Here, we’re short on time – don’t be afraid to ask for a kickstart. If you’re jammed up for more than 45 minutes or an hour and no one else on your team has the answer for you, find Kelley or Rachel and ask for assistance.
LOCAL EXPERTISE: The flip side of getting stuck is that you may be the answer to someone else’s sticky situation. If you’ve got skills and experiences and the time to be a local expert for a few minutes (again, without deserting your project), let us know. Always make sure your lead knows where you’re headed, so they don’t panic to find you gone, and so they can coax you back if the “quick” fix turns out to be dragging on.
Next, preparing for and arriving at GiveCamp:
PACKING: Pack your computer, cables, and an extension cord and/or power strip if you’ve got one. Pack any phone chargers, etc, that you may need. Bring headphones if you like to listen to music while developing. A pad of paper and pens can be handy. If you’re staying over, you’ll want to pack clothes, a toothbrush, towel and shower supplies (remember, you’re in close quarters – be kind to those around you!), and bedding. The floor is cement, so a pad or blow up mattress is recommended. Some people pitch small tents in the corners. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll want earplugs and possibly some kind of eye covering.
This event is a great networking event for many attendees – you’ll meet people who may have career opportunities for you down the road, or who may be someone your company wants to hire. You’ll also just be meeting a whole bunch of cool people who you may want to keep in touch with down the road. Bring business cards and don’t be afraid to share your email address, twitter account, etc., with the people you meet.
PARKING: If you’re driving in, you can park under the N.E.R.D. building – just be sure to pay attention to the directions when you arrive on how to get validated for the free parking.
CHECKING IN: When you get on site, sign in at the front desk and then come up to the conference floor (the desk guard can point the way). You’ll come in to the main hallway and pick up a bag and your nametag…then you’re kind of on your own for a while as things get moving. Check out the space. Grab some food or something to drink. Find the main conference room (can’t miss it – big glass walled space taking up most of the floor) and find your team assignment’s table. Introduce yourself. Find your team lead (hopefully there before you, but not always). A little while in, the program coordinators will kick off the event, we’ll hear a bit about each charity we’re helping this year, and then the rollercoaster ride begins.
Finally, dealing with concerns during GiveCamp:
NOT SURE WHAT TO DO? It’s 9 pm and your team lead still isn’t there? Take some initiative and touch base with Kelley or Rachel and see what can be done to get or keep your project moving.
NOT ENOUGH TO DO? Bored because your team is so good they’re ahead of schedule? Check in with Kelley or Rachel and see if any other projects need some help.
WORRIED ABOUT THE PROJECT? Your team lead is required to attend check ins a few times a day, giving us a “Green”, “Yellow”, or “Red” status report (Green = all systems go and on schedule, Yellow = we’re keeping an eye out for possible concerns, Red = we need help right away). The event staff acts like the chess masters, moving resources (aka you guys) around occasionally to help red and yellow teams get back to green as quickly as possible. We all want all the projects to end green, green, green!
If you feel the project is really off track – say, desperately in need of a third developer, stuck without answers about SEO, whatever – your first attempt to remedy it should be to talk with your Lead and ask him or her about your concerns. If you don’t feel like that’s working, you can talk to Kelley or Rachel, but please don’t go around your Lead lightly – in such a rushed project cycle, there are often moments of panic before you get to the shore! Trust them to be looking out for the charity you’re helping. We all have the same end goals in sight.
FEELING OVERWHELMED BY THE AWESOMENESS AROUND YOU? There is some serious brainpower and talent jammed into the N.E.R.D. building this weekend. You may look around and think “Whoa, I thought *I* knew how to program…look at these other guys!” Remember, you’re a part of that awesomeness. You are here firstly, because you’re generous enough to give your time to these great causes, and secondly, because you have useful skills. They may or may not end up being the ones you thought were important coming in, but you’re helping. When you see the end results of all our efforts on Sunday afternoon, you’ll know…you made it possible. Thank you for being here with us!