Culture / Development / Open Source

This Week in Programming: How Devs Can Help Beat the COVID-19 Pandemic

28 Mar 2020 6:00am, by

While many of you may have your hands completely full with managing a full-time job that’s suddenly shifted entirely remote without any planning, a house full of pets, partners and children that need caring for and attention, and the emotional weight of a global pandemic really starting to take hold, there are others still with some spare time previously filled with social engagements and general life-before-COVID-19-stuff (such as jobs, for some of you) who are looking to help.

If you happen to be of the latter variety and are looking to put your skills, knowledge, and spare time to good use, you’re in luck; this past week has seen the launch of numerous hackathons, initiatives, and articles rounding up those various efforts, and in case you’ve missed all of them in attempting to keep working and sane, we’ve decided to bring them to you here. For the rest of you with your hands full, here’s a site some developer, with said free time, created to make it easy for you to watch movies with friends and family who can’t come over anymore.

As far as physical isolation from others, interacting efficiently online, and being productive from the comforts of your own home go, developers can finally roll up their sleeves with confidence and say “we got this — we’ve been training for social distancing since BASIC was cool.”

Believe it or not, it’s been a month since we first asked if developers could help save the world, citing IBM’s 2020 Call for Code as one way to be involved, and now the company has turned its sights on COVID-19, writing that it is “expanding the 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge to address the world’s reaction to COVID-19 in addition to climate change.” But this is just the beginning of the COVID-19 hackathon boom, which now includes efforts organized by tech giants, state governments, and grassroots initiatives alike.

For example, the World Health Organization got together with technology companies and platforms such as AWS, Facebook, Giphy, Microsoft, Pinterest, Salesforce, Slack, TikTok, Twitter and WeChat to launch the COVID-19 Global Hackathon 1.0, which is running as we speak with a deadline for submissions of March 30th at 9 AM PST. If you’re too late, fret not, for there are many more, such as the CODEVID-19 hackathon we mentioned last week that has a weekly rolling deadline. And deadlines aside, the US Digital Response for COVID-19 is working to pair technology, data, and government professionals with those who need them, in a form of nationwide, technological mutual aid.

For you, our open source loving New Stack readers, we wanted to highlight a couple efforts that we though you might particularly enjoy. First up, the COVID-19 open-source help desk is “a fast-track ‘stack overflow’ where you can get answers from the very people who wrote the software that you use or who are experts in its use.” And if you happen to be either an open source author or expert, feel free to pitch in on answering questions. Second, FOSS Responders is a volunteer-run, collaborative effort to help open source maintainers and the like with the effects of COVID-19. While the project says it is still looking for ways to help, it currently says that it may offer “advice on how to cancel and negotiate your event contracts, how to manage digital events, and individual or organizational financial support.”

As if all that weren’t enough, there are numerous other efforts and resources available out there that you can participate in or take advantage of. On the open data side of things, for example, GitHub offers a guide on open collaboration on COVID-19, while StackOverflow looks at the myriad ways to help the fight against COVID-19 from home. ProgrammableWeb has a list of developer hackathons to combat COVID-19, and even the Golang team offers some guidance for Go, the Go community, and the pandemic, with Erlang also joining in.

And with that, let’s take a look at what’s happened this past week in the world of programming that may not be directly related to pandemics and the like.

This Week in Programming

  • Piranha Automatically Deletes Stale Code: Technical debt can come in many forms, from obsolete code versions and dependencies to outdated feature flags. This latter variety was on that plagued Uber, which used feature flags to deal with experimentation and localization features. So, the company created and has now open sourced a tool called Piranha, which automates the process of deleting code related to stale, or obsolete, feature flags, leading to a cleaner, safer, more  performant, and more maintainable code base.” The project is currently available for Objective-C, Swift, and Java programs, and the company says it hopes that open source contributors will “apply Piranha to other languages or improve on its ability to perform deep code refactorings.” For more details on getting started with Piranha, check out the documentation and the intro video below.

  • GitHub Desktop Simplifies Proxy Setup: As you’ve heard now a million times, there are a lot of people working from home who previously were not, and that even includes you developer types. Well, GitHub Desktop 2.4 has introduced proxy support and issue creation, which it says ought to help battle against “the dreaded words, ‘couldn’t resolve host.'” The long and short of it is, GitHub Desktop 2.4 automatically handles that setup now. And it also makes it easier to create issues now. Oh, and most importantly perhaps, dark mode is now out of beta, you cave-dwelling troglodyte developers, you. While we’re talking about GitHub, the company has introduced easier organization and increased scalability for repository administrators, which basically comes in the form of a redesigned page to show administrators has access to their repo and their level of access, and allows them to improve the management of access to their repository.
  • Google’s Season of Docs Returns: As a writer who on occasion still codes (the home cook variety of developer) this project appeals to me, and so I write to bring you the announcement of the Season of Docs 2020, which “brings technical writers and open source projects together for a few months to work on open source documentation.” This is just its second year, and last year the project created 44 successful documentation projects. So, if you’re in need of a technical writer to create documentation, this is your chance. Check out the timeline for details and get ready to apply!

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