Softwire Blog

Coaching open source contributions with Codebar

20 June 2017, by

Codebar are an organisation that run weekly events to help get people from groups who are underrepresented in tech into coding. And for the past two years they and Ladies of Code have jointly run a day-long workshop in December as part of 24 Pull Requests, where more experienced devs volunteer to help people to make their first open source contribution.

Lightning talks at the Codebar 24PR event

Photo by @codebar

I coached at the 2015 event, which was a lot of fun. For 2016, Softwire also sponsored the event as part of our drive to support diversity in tech, so as well as coaching, I got to tell a diverse audience of people about why they should apply to Softwire!

There were several lightning talks about open source during the day, including ones from Andrew Nesbitt (who started 24 PR) and Charlotte Spencer (who runs @yourfirstpr).

But most of the day was spent coding. In the morning, the coaches were paired up with students according to what languages we knew or wanted to work with. JavaScript was by far the most popular, with a few people using Ruby or Python, and one person who wanted to write some Java.

I paired with Anna and Bybreen, who were just starting out with learning HTML and CSS. Git was the steepest learning curve, because neither of them had used it before, so we started out using the GitHub desktop client to make things a bit less intimidating.

Writing open source code at the Codebar 24PR event

Photo by @binusida

It was quite tricky to find issues to work on (which is one of the hardest things about 24 Pull Requests in general), but someone suggested taking a few open issues on Prepare to Code, a website which provides beginners’ guides for setting up different kinds of dev environments. The issues were just typos and broken links, but it was perfect for us because there was no dev environment to set up. Once they’d got into the swing of things, I hunted around for more things that they could fix on the same site. Hooray for buggy code!Between them, they made six pull requests, which is pretty impressive for people who were completely new to git. And we hit the 24 pull requests goal as a group.The day wound down with some drinks and a group chat about the things we’d been working on and what we’d learned.It was a really good day. Everyone there was so enthusiastic about learning or teaching (or both), and it was great to be able to help people see open source (and coding in general) as more approachable.


What I did on my volunteering day – Jake

19 April 2017, by

Recently I went and volunteered at Cambridge City Food Bank, an organisation that helps provide emergency food to local people in crisis. They’re an entirely volunteer-run organisation that mostly relies on donations of food by the public. They work on a referrals basis, so not just anyone can turn up and ask for some food (which makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of it before), and they also sometimes provide other help, such as tokens/vouchers for top-up energy meters.

I was working at their office/warehouse and got shown around. This is their main sorting area, where all the donations they collect get weighed and categorized:

The boxes then get sent out to the various distribution points for pickup.

What I was actually doing was somewhat unrelated. The problem they had was that their accounting system for donations was set up slightly strangely – they were using what I think is double-entry accounting, where they were recording both an invoice and a payment for donations, which got slightly strange when they forgot to enter the invoice and the month rolled over, or something like that. So what I was tasked to do was to convert all the Invoice-Payment pairs into Sales Receipts in their Quickbooks accounting system. Sounds like something you could script, but there didn’t seem any easy way to do it, and there were quite a few edge-cases, so I ended up just doing a lot of copying and pasting.

Some interesting things I learned:

  • People are selective in what food they donate – e.g. they are often short of sugar because people think ‘that’s bad’, but people still need sugar!
  • Food bank usage is probably not growing as fast as the leftist media would suggest but is growing.

What I did on my volunteering day – Jenny

20 March 2017, by

I had the privilege of being part of the Inspire! iDiscover week at Carlton Primary School in Gospel Oak.

Volunteering at a primary school with Inspire

Inspire! are an Education Business Partnership working in Hackney, Camden and Islington. They enable young people to learn about work and gain practical experience of the skills and attributes they need for employment, in particular working with young people from less advantaged backgrounds or who are at risk of being excluded from mainstream education or who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

iDiscover is an initiative which introduces Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers to local primary school children. The week-long programme provides schools with work-related STEM activities with the aim of encouraging more girls and non-white students to consider a career in these industries.

I was part of an afternoon session with two Year 1 classes where they get to meet real-life people working in engineering careers. Aside from me, there were people from the Institute of Engineering and Technology, an energy engineering and consultancy firm, and an architect.

Volunteering at a primary school with InspireEach of the engineers ran short sessions with the children in small groups – things like building a torch or a Lego tower. I wanted to explain to the kids what a software engineer does in really simple terms (we give instructions to computers to make them do things) so I set up a very simple Scratch project. When the children pressed specific buttons on the keyboard they could make a cat sprite move around the screen, change colour or say hello to them, and I tried to get across the message that these were all instructions I had given to the computer to make it do these things.

Although some of them had never used a computer before they all got the hang of it pretty quickly and came up with ideas for other things we could make the cat do. They’ll learn more about Scratch in the later years of primary school but for now, I was just keen for them to learn that software engineering is another type of engineering, and understand that it has something to do with playing with computers!

In summary, I would like to think that I spent my volunteering day helping some kids take a small early step towards a STEM career.

Photos by Inspire! EBP

2016 internship – the Do-It For Good mobile app

1 December 2016, by

The Do-it Trust promotes the use of social technologies to enable social action and volunteering. They are a digital social action charity behind Do It which is the UK’s digital home for volunteering.  The Do-it Trust have been doing a great job promoting charity events – in just over 18 months they have registered 200,000 new volunteers.

We approached the CEO of the company, Jamie Ward-Smith, to ask whether they would like us to build a mobile app for them free of charge as a part of our summer intern’s training. We grouped the summer interns together, assigned them a senior developer as a full time trainer and they got to work on a real project and experienced the full lifecycle of a software project.

Mobile App

The aim of the mobile app is to make it easy for volunteers to apply for charity events based on their interests and skills they would like to gain.

Do It App

One of the main features of the app is a built-in chat system which enables the event organiser to contact the participants to have a group chat about the event. We also made it simple for users to share the events they are interested in on various social media platforms to create more awareness about such events.

Do It app sharing

As a result of having a mobile app, Do-It will be able to reach more people and make participating in charity events more interactive via the built-in chat system and an option to share opportunities on various social media platforms.

Do It menu

Do It oppotunity

To be able to use the app on various devices, we used the open-source mobile development framework Cordova.

About the project

The Do-It project provided the perfect balance of a meaningful real world project which would have real benefits for the users, contribute to our corporate goal of doing more pro-bono work and had relaxed deadlines to enable us to provide quality training.

The Do-it team gave us a lot of flexibility and they were open for suggestions and our ideas. This meant that interns could actively be involved in the decision making process which made everyone feel like a valuable part of the app development. We believe that the interns working on the mobile app got a fun and rewarding internship during which they learnt skills and gained valuable experience that they can take with them.

Available on the App Store and on Google Play.

Do It For Good


What I did on my second volunteering day – Zoe

25 November 2016, by

Inspired by my first day volunteering with Barnardo’s in Marylebone, I decided to use my second volunteering day to pursue something else that I have been keen to do for a while – spending more time with older people. Now that I’m in my thirties I’m starting to realise what a different perspective can be gained with age and so I’m very keen to hear from people who have maybe four times as much experience as I do!

Once again I used the fabulous employee volunteering platform Benefacto. It was easy to find something that matched my desired area, and one click and I was booked to help run The Lunch Club with Finsbury & Clerkenwell Volunteers. FCV have been organising volunteers to help others in need since 1971 and one of their current responsibilities is to run a lunch club for local elderly residents every Monday and Thursday.

Like at Barnardo’s, a lot of the jobs that need doing are quite simple and just need manpower. So my first job was to lay the tables ready for people to arrive.


Second, myself and a fellow volunteer from Accenture were given the task of peeling a mountain of potatoes for the Shepherd’s Pie, followed by a large basket of cooking apples brought in by a volunteer. Luckily two regular volunteers were able to chef these into the main course and an apple strudel for dessert.



At about 12pm guests started to arrive for lunch. Some are able to make their own way in, but most are brought in a minibus driven by another volunteer. We helped them in and to their seats, gave them a cup of tea or coffee and then served lunch.




The number of volunteers helping out through FCV is absolutely incredible. There is Andy, who seems to be the main person behind the day to day running of the lunch club. There are two chefs (there used to be three) and a driver. There is Jan, who helps with everything and Irenie, who runs the raffle. Then there is the board. This includes Felicity who started lunch club tens of years ago, Andrew the chair and Leslie the treasurer; all three dropped in to see how lunch was going on the day I was there. Judy, an ex-employee of the charity, dropped in (she brought the apples we peeled). While we were peeling, she explained how well the charity worked, not just for the clients, but also for the volunteers.


After lunch, Andy ran several games of bingo and I learnt some new bingo calls. Then the guests were driven home and we cleared up and washed up. There was a lot of washing up! Overall it was a great day and a fantastic experience to be part of this community of people doing good, even just for a day.

What I did on my volunteering day – Harry

5 September 2016, by

On Monday 13th June, I worked with an organisation called The Conservation Volunteers at one of their sites near Harringay Green Lanes. They do all sorts of work all over London (and in fact have groups over the rest of the country too), so it’s really easy to find something to join in with on their website.

We were working at Railway Fields, a small conservation area tucked away behind Finsbury Park. I’d never come across it before, but it was obviously well used by locals, with lots of families with small children passing through during the day. It was nice to discover another little green space like this in London.


What I did on my volunteering day – Zoe

29 August 2016, by

For my volunteering day I worked at Barnardo’s in Marylebone, organised through Benefacto. Barnardo’s is a major UK children’s charity and does a great job with lots of different aspects of supporting children: fostering and adoption, work skills, domestic child abuse, nurseries and supporting families.

Working in the shop was awesome on many levels. They have great donations because it’s such a wealthy area, so it’s quite fun seeing what stock they have. It was also really awesome for reminding me what a great job I have at Softwire… When I arrived I was told that my first job was hoovering and dusting (I HATE hoovering) and – even worse – I was told that mobile phones were not allowed on the shop floor and Eduardo the manager made me check my phone in a locker!

Another awesome thing about the job was the clientele. The first customer I served came in in a shell suit top and paint spattered jeans. He tried on a few shirts and bought one “oh and wait” he said, and returned with 8 pairs of socks.


What I did on my volunteering day – Mike

22 August 2016, by

I volunteered at the “Share Garden” in Springfield Hospital, Tooting (organised via Benefacto).
It’s a community garden in the grounds of a psychiatric Hospital that primarily exists to provide horticultural therapy and training to patients of the hospital, who have a variety of mental and/or physical disabilities.

The day was relatively simple: it was a garden in the summer, there was lots to be done, and most of it was weeding.

Over the course of the day, I:

  • Weeded a square bed of lavender & roses bushes (general small weeds, thistles, and fair amounts of bindweed which absolutely loves wrapping itself around lavender)
  • Was commandeered by one of the students/patients to help him clear out a large patch of nettles that ran beside the path to the loo block (they’d started getting big enough that they were occasionally stinging people who wanted the loo). First shearing the nettles down to 3-4 inches, then pulling the remaining stems out and finally digging out whatever amount of the roots we could get at.
  • Re-arranged one of the (6!) compost heaps so that new waste didn’t need to be lifted over the barricade of clippings that had be put on the front of it.
  • Weeded another square bed of lavender & roses bushes.
  • Watered the covered “green house” section of the garden where they grew plants and seedlings to sell. (Maybe 10 m x 20 m of pots).
  • Started Weeding a 3rd square bed of lavender & roses bushes.

I had a great time (I managed to hit a continuously sunny day. Score!), and it was really clear that the students got a LOT out of being in the garden, but that some tasks were more viable for them than others. Fine detail weeding being one of the harder tasks for them to achieve.

What we did on our volunteering day – Andrew and Ying

15 August 2016, by

Ying and Andrew Bike FixingAndrew and I volunteered at The Bike Project for an afternoon.

They give bikes to refugees and asylum seekers who can’t afford public transport. Did you know asylum seekers only get £36 / week in benefits? They also teach female refugees to cycle.

We kind of expected to be fixing bikes and giving them to refugees, but what they needed was someone to clean and fix second hand bikes to sell, to earn some money to keep the rest of their operations going. A step further removed from the beneficiary, but equally crucial!


What I did on my volunteering day – Chris Harris

8 August 2016, by

On my volunteering day I went to Deptford Reach.

I was irrationally scared about doing this, simply because I had no idea what it would actually be like. Of course, it turned out to be fine. So I’m going to present an account of what happened, in the hope that it might make similar opportunities a bit less scary for anyone else with a similar fear of the unknown. I’ll then put some “lessons learned” at the end.

What happened

The timings were 8:30am – 2:30pm. The location was a day centre for homeless and vulnerable people, it serves hot breakfast and lunch, and gives out day-old Pret sandwiches for dinner; there’s also an IT room, an art room, and they have yoga and fun stuff like that throughout the week.

I got a very quick induction and was told I’d be in the kitchen. It’s a proper commercial kitchen and I got to wear whites and an apron and feel very professional. My fellow volunteer had been there for a month, and our boss was a trained chef from Zimbabwe called Renee. During breakfast time I chopped a load of mushrooms and was on toast duty for a brief while, during which I had my only interactions with the actual clients. They are charged a small fee for most breakfast items (e.g. 30p for a slice of bacon), but tea and toast is free, so lots of people were asking me for 4 slices of toast.

At about 11:30 it became clear there wouldn’t be any more kitchen work for me, so I made it known that I worked in IT and they asked if I wouldn’t mind working on their website. Apparently even though they get a lot of IT people volunteering, none of them want to do the website as they’d rather be in the kitchen or gardening or something. I actually found the mix of a morning in the kitchen and an afternoon on the computer quite nice. I spent 3 hours making some changes to a WordPress instance, including a bit of design (“add more colour”), a bit of bug fixing and a lot of adding new pages. See here for my handiwork!

I ended up leaving at about 3:15, later than my allotted hours but still a nice early finish. I’d been given some nice food, met some lovely people, had some new experiences and got to use my skills. Success.

Things I learned

I’m sure there are some more but here are the main things I learned:

  • Places like this exist. I’d never really been aware of them before, so I know a bit more about the world than I did yesterday.
  • I was reminded what it’s like to be completely new to something. I was glad to have an understanding boss, who delegated in a great way (started something off for me, watched me do it for a bit, and then let me get on with it). My goal was to not make a major blunder, so I spent a lot of time checking and confirming before doing anything irreversible.
  • My IT skills, although horribly out of date, are good enough to make a difference to a small charity like this.
  • My default tidiness standards are not good enough for a commercial kitchen…