By John Mak
Deep in the recesses of the UW-Madison Computer Sciences building, a small group of intrepid college students sits huddled around a conference table. Ideas and solutions fly through the room at a blinding pace, and the sound of chatter and the click-clacking of keyboards is incessant. Where an outsider might see chaos, these students see endless possibilities. They are the driving force behind change in the community, for the better. These students are the Project Leaders of Coding For Good.
I think the most rewarding part of computer science is actually applying it, because we can learn all these data structures and algorithms, but if you’re not using them to benefit the community, then there’s virtually no point, whether in computer science or any other field. – Sourish Kundu
Coding For Good (lovingly nicknamed the UW Corgis) is a UW-Madison student organization that focuses on creating programs and applications that serve the community. Led by President Kyle Wang and Vice President Robert Bourguignon, Coding For Good bridges the gap between impossible and possible, giving a platform to those in need. “A lot of projects are suggested by those within the club. We also do a lot of work with non-profits in the area, with the non-profits reaching out to us via our website,” Bourguignon said.
Here are just a few of the projects being handled by Coding For Good:
- Enactus Rewards Card: Spearheaded by Ryann Mahajan, the Enactus Rewards card would allow consumers to collect points when shopping at participating outlets and stores in Madison. These points could then be redeemed for rewards, which would go to someone in need in the community.
- Explore Madison: Headed by Kenneth Mui, Explore Madison is an application (now being optimized for mobile) that allows anyone in the university to easily create, manage, and view events on campus, as well as receive notifications about events.
- Interactive Python Demos for CS301: Led by Sourish Kundu, this project aims to help beginner programmers more easily understand Python. It will be used in CS301, an introductory Python class, and will allow users to more easily visualize and quiz themselves on Python programming.
There are many more projects in the works, such as an application for kidney stone sufferers to track their water intake, a traffic simulator for the city of Madison to allow government officials to simulate new bus routes and their effectiveness, and an app that allows users to easily report illegal Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (which could result in serious pollution to the surrounding environment) to the authorities.
During a group interview with all the project leaders, they were asked about the experience of giving back to the community. “Honestly, I think the most rewarding part of computer science is actually applying it, because we can learn all these data structures and algorithms, but if you’re not using them to benefit the community, then there’s virtually no point, whether in computer science or any other field,” said Kundu, head of the Interactive Python Demos project. He continues, “These projects are, at least for me, an outlet to prove to myself that what I’m learning in class is actually a good use of my time. And honestly, my motivation for these projects definitely comes from doing good in the community.” Mui, head of the Explore Madison project, also added, “We’re not only helping the community, but we’re also helping ourselves just by learning all these new technologies, and frankly, there would really be no point if we didn’t apply our skills and use them for good. This club really gives us the resources and platform to do so.”
When the project leaders were asked about some of the obstacles they faced, they said that the problems they face stem from more than just coding. “One of the biggest challenges that I think I’ll be facing is finding a time to consistently meet with everyone, because with midterms and finals on the horizon, as well as other club obligations coming up, it’s very hard to meet with everyone on a consistent basis,” said Mahajan, head of the Enactus Rewards project. He continued, “Especially when your schedule clashes with that of, like, five other people. So that’s a really big challenge.” Mui added, “Besides that, we also have to figure out what we’re going to do at the meetings when we do meet up; we can just talk about the project and brainstorm, but we can do so much more, too. During my team’s meetings, I’ve led workshops on Git and NodeJS, and I’ve been distributing a lot of resources for everyone to learn, as well as mentoring them via Tasks, and guiding them through it all.” Due to current events, Coding for Good has had to shift to remote meeting software tools, such as Zoom, to carry out their meetings.
Besides achievements outside of the classroom, Coding For Good members are quickly finding that the tools they’ve learned are also helping them within the classroom. “In CS400, they touch a little bit on web development towards the end. Since my project was all web development, it was really easy to use my skills for that section. Not only that, but CS400 also involves a group project that uses JavaFX, a front-end development tool, which was right up my alley,” Mui said. “In CS400 we also learned about Git and Github, and on the previous projects I worked on, Git and Github were core to the development process, so I already knew all the commands and how it worked. It made that part of the class really easy,” Mahajan added.
When asked about the near future of Coding For Good and what to expect, Bourguignon chuckled. “One thing I think is really awesome is that we don’t know what’s coming next. We’re a growing group, we’re constantly getting bigger, always getting new members with fresh ideas, and we so we don’t know what’s going to be next. We’re always actively looking for new project ideas. We currently have several proposals on hand that people have already submitted, and right now it’s all about sorting out which ideas are actually feasible and finding the depth of these projects and determining them before starting the projects is always more difficult than it sounds.” Bourguignon added that the club is always looking for more members, and that applications are always open. You can get in touch with them for more information here: https://www.coding4good.net/.