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3rd Annual 'Call for Code' Tackles the Pandemic

Calling all coders! The world needs you now to save us from COVID-19! Or to put it in less panicky, running-out-of-TP, could-we-eat-the-cat-if-we-had-to terms, we could all use a dose of your smarts and skill to help with this immediate, life-or-death challenge.

Yes, I'm talking about the third annual Call for Code Global Challenge, which is something of a clarion call to software developers around the world -- from crusty engineers to baby-faced programmers and everyone in between -- to pool their talents to address some of society's biggest challenges. Climate change has been a focus of The Challenge in the past, but in March of this year, the organizers announced that they would be expanding that focus to include both climate change and COVID-19.

"We realized we can and should do more through the amazing ecosystem and infrastructure we've created through Call for Code," said Willie Tejada, chief developer advocate in IBM's developer ecosystem group, in a blog post. The change received "overwhelming support and some exciting early ideas," Tejada said. "In a single day, we received over 1,000 registrations from developers. First responders, at-risk individuals, and coders are reaching out to us to share their experiences and brainstorm solutions. Together with Creator David Clark Cause and in partnership with United Nations Human Rights and the Linux Foundation, we're asking developers, data scientists, and problem solvers to answer The Call."

Developers and non-coder problem solvers (anybody with a good idea) have until April 27 to submit their open source solutions for early deployment, the organizers said.

Dennis Bly, global offering manager for academic developers at IBM, who leads Big Blue's global university engagement for Call for Code, talked about this year's Challenge in an e-mail conversation with ADTmag.

"The initiative aims are to create open-source-powered technology solutions at scale across IBM Cloud services," Bly said, "and it's one of the largest developer challenges in the world."

In 2019, more than 180,000 participants from 165 countries created more than 5,000 applications focused on natural disaster preparedness and relief, Bly said.

"After we expanded the focus of this year's competition to include COVID-19, the response has been tremendous," he said. "In just under a month, we already have 45,000 participants from 146 countries and growing, who are actively working on solutions to help address the COVID-19 response and climate change."

The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge invites participants to take on climate change by building applications on open source software, including Red Hat OpenShift, IBM Cloud, IBM Watson, IBM Blockchain and data from The Weather Company. The goal is to employ technology in new ways that can make an immediate and lasting humanitarian impact in communities around the world, he explained.

The organizers provide starter kits that give developers quick-start guides to create applications tied to easy-to-understand use cases in just minutes. (By the way: The intro video is hosted by Lady Gaga.)

Last year's Call for Code Global Challenge winner, Barcelona-based startup Prometeo, created an AI-based cognitive health monitoring platform -- a wearable device that measures carbon monoxide, smoke concentration, humidity and temperature to monitor firefighter safety in real-time. That dev team included three developers, but the company founded by a veteran firefighter and an emergency medical nurse, so the special expertise was there.

The company won the $200,000 grand prize, as well as the People's Choice award (in October), where thousands of voters chose Prometeo as their favorite solution.

IBM helped Prometeo to build and deploy a solution to elevate firefighter decision making in the face of natural disasters.

"Another way we've seen Call For Code make a positive difference is by connecting developers who have similar ideas but different ways of going about them," Bly said. For example, our first Call for Code winner, Project Owl, created a solution that helps create a wireless network in areas affected by natural disasters to bring connectivity to the people impacted. We were able to connect the members of that team with the winner of our Call for Code Puerto Rico hackathon, a solution called DroneAid that uses drones to check in on and provide assistance to those stranded in the wake of a disaster."

Together, the two teams have been running pilot programs in Puerto Rico throughout the past year to optimize how they work together to best serve the same communities, Bly said.

IBM also commissioned a global survey of developers, first respondents and activists to better understand their feelings around climate change with partner Morning Consult. Bly sent us the findings of the survey, which included:

  • 77 percent of first responders and developers agree with the statement, "Climate change is the single most pressing issue facing my generation." (The number is 83 percent for activists alone.)
  • 79 percent of first responders and developers agree that most people want to do something to help combat climate change, but don't know where to start. (The number is 84 percent for activists alone.)
  • 78 percent of first responders and developers agree that climate change is something that can be reduced or combated with technology. (The number is 83 percent for activists alone.)

This year's Challenge includes a dedicated university edition.

"Since the competition launched, we have learned that the most promising innovations often come from unexpected sources," Bly explained. "The scope and urgency of the issues we're facing today demand diverse perspectives and expertise, and student participation is key to that. ... One of our partners, who we are honored to work with for the second year, is the Clinton Global Initiative University. Together we have launched a dedicated University Edition within Call for Code. Last year we reached over 10,000 students as a part of our work with CGIU and this year would like to surpass that number.  

On April 22, IBM will host a kick-off event for the 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge University Edition

Posted by John K. Waters on April 9, 2020