I do believe we, software developers, have super powers. At least, hidden super powers. And whether we someway unlock all that potential, we definitely can change the world. For the better, of course.
Through all these years working in all sort of IT projects, I've accumulated some successes, but lots of failures as well. Ok, maybe many more failures. In fact, there were more frustrations than I'd like to admit.
Neither the tight deadlines nor the endless problems, coming up from everywhere, were the point. That's part of the game. What always annoyed me was the lack of meaning, if not the total absence of purpose I felt while I was working.
I was quite often asking myself, "Who is going to use this?" or "What's the real problem I'm solving?" with no good answers. I was just supposed to build the code, and that was it. For me, it lasted too long. But then I had my AHA moment.
I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was mind-blowing! What if I develop an app to report urban problems to public agencies? What if the citizens feel empowered by such an app? What if users from all over the world make their cities better, because of the app?
In 2013, I launched the app Post Fumaça Preta, the first app of what was supposed to be a series of apps for reporting urban problems. The app, in particular, allowed people to identify sources of air pollution and report them.
I didn't have money for ads, so I just created a page on Facebook, and a profile on Twitter, hoping for likes, shares, and followers. Then, one day, a known journalist spoke about the app on a São Paulo news radio station, and the downloads skyrocketed.
For the first time, in my entire career, I deeply felt that I could add value to people's lives, that I could make the difference with my work. Still, in 2013, I was unexpectedly nominated for the Sustainable Citizen Prize for the city of São Paulo. Awesome!
I didn't make it all alone, to be fair. I had a team on my back, supporting me. Leo, our iOS dev, Victor, our Android dev, and Lisa, our designer, were the best. I was the Java backend dev and the leader of this revolutionary project.
We also released the version 2.0 of the app, including information about air quality, based on the user localization. It was possible to gather air quality data from several Brazilian environmental public agencies on a single map. The goal was to engage people in air pollution issues.
There's no need to say it started bothering some people. One public agency, for instance, didn't want the extraction of their data, though it was provided on their website. So, they changed the data format every time, making our web scraping almost impossible.
Yes, we must be up to dealing with the dark side of the force. Unfortunately, some people have misunderstood our motivations and have sentenced us for promoting the act of snitching. And perhaps that's the reason our server has suffered some attack attempts.
In order to overcome the expenses, I've tried to sell the generated information to public agencies, institutions, and companies. Although sometimes one or another organization has been interested, there wasn't a deal made. I couldn't afford more improvements to the app, so I've had to put the project on standby mode.
In 2016, I attended a great annual event for developers in São Paulo called The Developers Conference. I was one of the speakers in the Smart Cities track. I had given up on making the app profitable, and I wanted to make it at least sustainable.
I open-sourced the project on GitHub and I went there asking for help. In fact, I realized I should have done it from the very beginning. Every dev should have been able to be a collaborator on the project, the whole community should have been able to join the project. Better late than never.
At the talk, I shared my story with the audience, the same story I've just written about in this article. I aimed to show them how much value we devs can add to the world through our own work. The feedback was amazing! That day I went back home with a profound sense of accomplishment.
But it wasn't enough yet. I'm still striving to resume the project. My dream is to collaborate with lots of devs like me. I don't want to do it all by myself anymore. I know now that diversity makes us stronger. Together, we can do more.
I agree with what the soothsayer said in Kung Fu Panda 2: “Your story may not have such a happy beginning but that does not make you who you are, it is the rest of it- who you choose to be.” So, let's do it! Who's in? We just need to use our utility belt.