WWCode Career Nav #20: Recycle Ninja – Innovating Environmentalism
I have a background in finance and international development. I've worked in many cool countries for the past eight years, such as Uganda and Myanmar. My career in technology is not straightforward. Around four years ago, I moved to Canada to pursue my master's degree. I started working with accelerators and VCs and had exposure to different technologies and how technology ecosystems work. I had great opportunities to work with many founders, data scientists, and engineers. I realized I wanted to be in the arena, part of the operation. I decided to become a product manager.
Four months ago, I left a startup to pursue my career full-time in product management. I wanted to continue my coding practice. I started looking for a community I could learn with. I started looking back at the Women Who Code emails and thinking I should get involved. It has not disappointed me. The first time I logged on to Slack and asked for resources, people started messaging me, and I felt very welcomed. Hackathon was perfect timing. When you first start coding, you think you know what you're doing when you're following through with the tutorial. It's very different when you try to build something from scratch.
Some small things always bug me in my life, especially recycling. I travel a lot, and different cities have different recycling rules. On top of that, if you have different types of trash bins in front of you, you get confused. It happens daily, and I feel guilty whenever I throw it in the wrong bin. I pushed an idea to my team. Our team is pretty international. We have someone from UAE, the US, and Germany, and I'm from Taiwan. We all have similar problems. Everyone was on board with the idea. We looked into the available data set and figured out the solution for this problem. We had to align our vision. Are we solving for someone that's at home or someone that is traveling? There was a lot of scoping to be done.
Some Hackathons run one day, some three days. Women Who Code set it for two weeks. During the first week, you could mingle with a group, understand your idea, and decide who you want to work with. You could start building and doing more research. Official coding started a week after. You started building with the team the second week, from Monday to Sunday. As a product manager or team lead, I kept everyone motivated and understood where we went from zero to project within one week. We needed to build something that demonstrated our idea and was technically achievable within our skill set.
Most of the team members in our project were first-timers. We all started learning this skill at home. I believed we could figure something out online or ask people around. If it were too difficult, we would find some other ways. There's always a solution. With that foundation expectation laid out, the team started performing after two days. We had very clear responsibilities. Udina was our back-end engineer. Miriam led the data science effort to support our research and provide justification for our project. Nashmia led our front end. Everyone on the team brought a unique value to the project. That's how we were able to pull through the whole competition.
The first challenge we had was to find a valuable dataset. We started looking at city governments. If there was no API, we did web scrapping. I had some experience, so I shared this with the team. We shared knowledge. I think that was helpful to accelerate our coding experience and understand the skill gap you need to fulfill. The second challenge was to figure out the type of platform and package that we needed to use to deploy a website. The third was determining how the front end talks to the back end. How do we code the database? With a lot more Google searching and asking around, we were able to find a solution. The team was self-committed, and we had constant discussions throughout the week.
The primary language that we wanted to use was Python. It was the main language most of our team members were familiar with. We needed to start with a dataset. You could click on the website to decide what type of garbage you wanted to recycle. We needed a dataset that could facilitate the query type for different cities. We looked around different websites to see if there was a valuable dataset. There was nothing very customized for us. Then we looked around at different city governments. If we could get a government setup API, we could code their API. I had to scrap their website. We used the Selenium package. Web scraping is good because it's interactive. You can set up a different sequence of actions you want to scrap from the website. It takes a bit of a learning curve, but it's very powerful once you are familiar with it. That's how we got our data.
The third piece was data analysis. It was different types of datasets. The previous datasets about cities and the type of garbage category are for a user to interact with. For data analysis, we use Plotlib, Matplotlib, and Seaboard. This was for data science research, where we wanted to justify our project. Why is it important for someone like you and me to care about this recycling issue? What's the international trend? What's the waste that humans create? We wanted to visualize the data information and inline, so it's more of an analysis of the world around recycling. For that, we worked on analysis to demonstrate what's the data out there.
The last group of tech stacks that we used was for our web development. We used the Flask package and basic HTML CSS to build the basic skeletons to make them look visually appealing. We deployed on the Heroku platform, where you can run your code for free. You'd need to pay for a subscription if you are running a more complex operation. But we explored different local platforms. I think that was a great tool for a Hackathon project.
The most memorable moment was looking for a solution; we were still gathering together right before the submission. We were looking to see if we could fix our front end to organize it and make it more visually appealing. This is a platform for everyone to learn and trust their teammates. None of our team members disappointed each other. Once we committed, we finished it. We had great results and a presentation in the end. This was a great experience to start from something small and meet different friends worldwide.
Nashmeyah Al-Rekabi, Software Engineer, Verex Imaging Corporation
Project Details and Slides