Helpful Engineering is designing, sourcing and executing projects to help people suffering from the COVID-19 crisis worldwide.

Vox described the mission, social dynamics, and challenges of self-organizing +10k people that just met:

HelpfulEng’s main communications tool is Slack. Here’s a snapshot of the Slack workspace analytics, ending with last Friday:

The #introductions channel is just as overwhelming as you imagine. The tricky bit is to turn all of this energy into something that matters to a real person.

HelpfulEng’s is focused on addressing critical hardware and PPE shortages. The first wave of Helpful Engineering projects includes three hardware and one software projects:

  1. Emergency Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): face shield, n95-style face mask, DIY disposable face masks
  2. Offset ventilator
  3. O2 concentrator
  4. Database for local manufacturers able to produce hardware

All of Helpful Engineering’s projects are developed collaboratively by engineers from across the world and are published under Open Source licenses (OSS).

The PPE project has already completed the face shield design (GH) and it is shipping in volume. That volume is being achieved by coordinating suppliers and buyers through an Odoo ERP system hosted at Odoo is also OSS and that system is graciously hosted by Odoo. The face mask project is nearly ready to ship and injection molds are being manufactured now.

It looks like these efforts are going to make a difference.

Many manufacturers making 100, 1000, or or more per day using the OSS face shield design. On Saturday, a manufacturer in Rochester, NY confirmed that they will be making 100,000 shields per day:

100k face shields per day

Amazing, Inspiring, and Helpful!

I joined HelpfulEng 15 days ago and it’s been a wild ride.

Maybe you’re wondering how a DevOpsy person can help get hardware to people that need it. First, we performed a quick assessment of what the most important project teams needed in order to deliver to their customers. Second, we helped connect people within Helpful Engineering.

Lightning Delivery Problems & Needs Assessment

The DevOps team quickly assessed what product delivery support was needed by asking all +25 project teams:

  • what problems they currently have delivering products and services to customers
  • what delivery technology support they anticipate needing this week and next

This project team interview process was informal, relatively quick, and incredibly effective. Through that engagement process we were able to identify:

  • which teams were active and likely to need our help
  • important and common problems
  • the project team’s ideas for solutions to their problems

Then we organized our initial support model and activities around the problems and needs people shared with us. This information seeded our Kanban board and roughed-out our engagement model which we can improve continuously. Without this information, the tendency is for people to be disappointed because there’s ‘nothing to do’ or they work on things that aren’t necessary in the short or medium term.

An expected result of this process is that a lot of the work we identified in internal discussions wasn’t needed immediately and might not be needed at all. For example, the ‘need’ to spin up Kubernetes clusters was identified early, but so far all of the deployed projects are hosted on SaaS or Serverless. And we’re trying to keep it that way.

Most of the DevOps team’s work so far has been ‘simple’ stuff like:

  • guiding and helping teams adopt highly reliable, self-service, and low maintenance technology solutions
  • ironing out DNS and TLS
  • getting data submitted through Google Forms into good analysis tools

Software projects are coming and we’ll certainly help them deliver. It’s nice that we have time to get delivery and operations foundations in place. It’s also very interesting to create a support model from scratch without the inertia of an existing organizational structure.

The DevOps team is also connecting people across HelpfulEng.

Connecting People

One of the unexpected results of the lightning assessment process and skill in building scalable systems is that the DevOps team has become an organizer, clearinghouse, and builder of organizational knowledge.

The DevOps team helped the nascent HR team connect people looking for skills with people who have those skills in a way that respects the myriad worldwide privacy laws. Connecting people is one of the biggest problems in a rapidly growing and changing organization.

Technically, the people-finder solution ships data from Google Forms to Airtable for analysis. The DevOps+HR teams have built dashboards and query capabilities to connect the right people. This tool got off the ground in less than 24 hours and has been effective in helping connect the right people.


Helpful Engineering is showing:

  • the good being produced by collaborative efforts to address COVID-19; a crowd really can get PPE to people that need it
  • the power and value of Open Source software and hardware
  • DevOps practitioners can help deliver value to customers quickly and collaborate across teams, even or especially, in times of crisis

Take care,