How Tech Skills Can Help During a Global Crisis
By: Lori Fimoff
The world today is suddenly drastically different than it was a month ago. But even though restaurants and retail businesses are closing their doors and more and more states are mandating that everyone “shelter in place”, there’s one thing that we thankfully still have access to. And it’s something that can help us the most in the time of a global crisis:
Now don’t get me wrong, tech skills are highly valuable whether we’re in the midst of a crisis situation or not. But, with millions across the world working from home, and with essential workers struggling to do their jobs despite dangers and supply shortages, technology can help us now more than usual.
Technology, of course, gives us ways to test for COVID-19, and will eventually help give us a vaccine. But technology also provides the tools we need to connect to people despite being housebound. That means we can share news and information around the world practically instantaneously, so everyone can stay informed. That means businesses and teams can continue working by connecting virtually. And that means we can better gather the information we need to move quickly and efficiently during a time of crisis.
But what tech skills are most useful during times like this? And how can you use the skills you have to help?
We put together this post to share:
- Which tech skills are most valuable when facing a global crisis
- How people around the world are using their tech skills to fight the coronavirus pandemic
- How you can put your tech skills to good use and help those who are struggling
What tech skills can I use to help?
Practically all tech skills are beneficial in a crisis situation like this. In the past, tech has been a major player in crisis management training for natural disasters. It’s made mobile cash transfers possible to fund humanitarian efforts aiding refugees. And as this Time article states, “Smartphone apps, data analytics and artificial intelligence all make finding and treating people with an infectious disease far more efficient than ever before.”
But if you’re not a first responder or vaccine researcher, how can you use technology to help navigate the crisis? Here are some of the most in-demand tech skills you can use to help:
Having coding skills means you have power. Power to create websites that disseminate vital information related to the spread of the pandemic. That could mean coding new web pages for businesses and nonprofits in need. Or building a website for a brand new COVID-19 related social initiative. And you can do it all safely from your home.
I spoke with Skillcrush CEO Adda Birnir, who said, “A lot of small businesses need an updated website for online ordering and delivery or live streaming things like yoga classes or even switching to telemedicine or teletherapy. And there are, of course, the bigger efforts, including the NYC debt bailout, as well as donation and relief efforts throughout the world.”
Crowdfunding websites can help people and companies raise money in a time where so many people are unexpectedly unemployed. GoFundMe has set up an urgent cause page completely focused on helping those affected by COVID-19.
As another example, Invisible Hands is a recently established volunteer group that uses their brand new website to connect the elderly, immunocompromised, and all others in need with people who can deliver groceries and supplies to them for free.
Apple also recently launched a COVID-19 screening website in collaboration with the CDC, the White House, and FEMA. The site allows you to input your symptoms and get guidance on whether or not to seek medical attention.
If you see a gap in information or an opportunity to help people and businesses in need, having coding skills means you can create a website that can fill that need.
2. App Development
In an outbreak like this, an app can literally be lifesaving. With a telemedicine app, for instance, doctors can screen patients for the novel coronavirus without putting themselves or other healthcare workers and patients at risk.
Founded by Dr. Siaw Tung Yeng in Singapore, MaDaNur is one such telehealth app that allows patients to be monitored from home. As the previously mentioned Time article notes, “Siaw says the virtual monitoring makes people more comfortable about staying at home, where many cases can be treated, instead of flooding hospitals and doctors’ offices, straining limited resources and potentially making others sick.”
And we can’t forget about mental health, especially at a time of crisis when stress, depression, and anxiety are more likely to take a toll. According to this article in NBC News, “Mental health counselors say the wave of anxiety sweeping their patients in clinics is unlike anything they’ve seen before.” Many therapists are now offering telehealth services to continue providing patients with care.
For those simply looking to take their mind off the crisis and have a bit of fun with family and friends, Netflix released Netflix Party, which synchronizes video playback between multiple viewers and includes a chat feature, so you can continue to have movie nights with your loved ones, even from afar.
Whether you create a fun app that helps people connect and unwind while socially distancing, or an app that fulfills a critical public health need, app developers are in a unique position to serve at a time like this.
3. Data Science
Data science plays a huge role in controlling pandemics. It makes it possible to analyze the spread of disease, develop efforts to mitigate that spread, and share need-to-know information. Doctors and other essential workers rely on data to make the right decisions, and for the extremely anxious public, data science allows them to get a better grasp of the ever-evolving crisis situation as a whole and why certain decisions are being made.
Using programming languages like Python, you can develop data visualizations to share complex data in a visual way, making it much easier to understand.
For example, take a look at this article from the Washington Post, which highlights the positive effects of social distancing on flattening the curve. The data visualizations show simulations of the spread of the disease and can help make sense of confusing numbers. When more people understand the data, they can better act on it.
Or check out Kinsa’s U.S. Health Weather Map, which shows where there are unusually high amounts of fevers. Though this data is not solely gathered from COVID-19 cases, it can still help healthcare professionals better understand where resources are needed.
And, of course, we wouldn’t want to leave out our favorite data visualization on flattening the curve (or “cattening the curve”) posted on Twitter by epidemiologist Anne Marie Darling.
4. Digital Marketing
We’ve all had the COVID-19-related emails flooding our inboxes from basically every company email list we’ve ever subscribed to. Whether the emails are announcing store closures, event postponements, or loungewear sales to contribute to your new work-from-home attire, digital marketers are the ones planning them, as well as the entire marketing strategy, in this unprecedented and unpredictable time.
And as more and more companies start shifting to doing business solely online, more and more companies will need these types of services as a way to connect with clients and customers and build strong relationships.
As annoying as some of these emails can be, digital marketing efforts are absolutely critical to businesses that normally rely on in-person sales. Think: your favorite bookstore, a local shoe store, or a community art studio, for example.
As Scott Jones, CEO of 123 Internet Group said in this Forbes article, “We are in uncertain times, but with the increase of remote working and a collaborative approach, companies are turning to digital channels and embracing the transformation. We have seen a real spike during the last few weeks from companies wishing to create or update websites, launch new e-commerce channels and create social media campaigns focused on home-workers and a real focus on using influencers and SEO to reach new audiences.”
Digital marketing skills like these are vital in order to keep companies on their feet and moving forward.
5. Robotics and AI
In a world where infection risk is high and social distancing is key, robots and AI can be gamechangers.
As this editorial in the journal Science Robotics explains, “Robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls. As epidemics escalate, the potential roles of robotics are becoming increasingly clear.”
In Wuhan, several medical facilities have been relying on robots and smart devices paired with an AI management platform in order to disinfect rooms, take patients’ temperatures, and deliver medicine. Bill Huang, CEO of Beijing-based robotics company, CloudMinds says that their AI platform, HARIX, “synced with smart bracelets and rings worn by patients, was able to monitor patient vital signs (including temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels), allowing doctors and nurses outside the facility to monitor all patient vital information remotely on one interface.”
Robots and drones are also being used to automate orders needing to be fulfilled and even safely prepare food.
6. How can technology help us do even more?
As tech continues to be a driving force that’s helping us navigate this suddenly changed world we’re living in, what other technologies will start to play a bigger role?
Technology editor Kara Swisher wondered in this New York Times article, “Will there be even more investment in technologies like virtual reality and holographic telepresence — two interesting arenas that have been growing more slowly than expected? Will this send the consumer trend toward delivery on-demand into overdrive, further hollowing out the retail and restaurant sectors?”
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
How are we already turning tech skills into superpowers?
As shown in the examples above, people and companies are already using their tech skills in a variety of ways to help amidst the crisis. We could go on forever with all of the incredible stories we’ve been learning about! Here are a few more examples that highlight inspiring teams and individuals relying on their tech superpowers to share vital information and organize distributed action.
- #GetUsPPE is a group of healthcare workers who are advocating for more personal protective equipment, coordinating donation efforts, and sharing approved PPE designs with manufacturers and individual makers.
- Masks for Docs is another organization working to get healthcare professionals the masks and other protective equipment they need.
- Something Labs is a volunteer group of designers, engineers, healthcare workers and more who share open-source files for designing and manufacturing PPE
- Chris Miller, the founder and CEO of the web development company Launch Brigade, recently founded Cruz One, which offers tech support for schools and companies in the Santa Cruz area, helping facilitate the transition to a remote way of learning and doing business.
- Mona Chalabi is a data journalist who’s sharing important information on COVID-19 through her gorgeous visual designs.
- The COVID Tracking Project shares the most comprehensive COVID-19 testing data in the U.S., so the public can have access to it and better understand the spread of the disease.
- The bailout.nyc website provides a way to donate money to service workers in NYC.
- Adopt a Healthcare Worker USA and Adopt a Healthcare Worker Queensland are Facebook pages devoted to assisting healthcare workers in any way imaginable, whether that means taking after their kids, preparing meals, or even just checking in with them and giving them mental support.
- While at Home is a volunteer effort to provide up-to-date online resources, tools, and support needed during this time of crisis.
- Tech news site TechCrunch has created a “Tech For Good” round-up of startups and other companies partnering to help during this crisis.
- In addition to providing direct financial support, the Digital Ocean application platform has put together this list of ways to get involved in COVID relief efforts.
- Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra came together to share a virtual performance and provide some much-needed music in light of all of the canceled performances throughout the world.
How can I put my tech skills to use and help?
Already have some tech skills under your belt and want to help? There are a growing number of ways to provide assistance virtually.
Nicola Rushton, a product design consultant, put together this Twitter thread with ways to help during the crisis.
She told me, “I think the only thing we have control of in times like these is the way we behave and the impact we try to have on the world. If you’re feeling bad, the absolute best technique to feeling better is to do something kind for someone else. I think it’s valuable to remember this.”
Some highlights Nicola included are:
- Help with COVID, a collection of projects looking for volunteers in tech, as well as a variety of other fields
- Hack from Home, a virtual hackathon in response to COVID-19
- Disaster Tech, a collective using tech to develop sustainable tools during this crisis
- April, a tech support service created to ensure older people have access to the best technology so they can remain connected to others during a time of physical isolation
- Coronavirus Tech Handbook, a resource created for technologists, educators, civic organizations, researchers, and more to find ways to help and collaborate on responses to the outbreak. Nicola mentioned that she wanted to amplify the work of this handbook and that most of the resources she listed came from here.
Catchafire is another great resource to turn to if you’re looking to help. As a nonprofit that connects volunteers who are skilled professionals with other nonprofits and social enterprises in need, they surveyed over 450 organizations about the challenges they were facing in light of COVID-19. The results of the survey were bleak and showed that the nonprofit community’s “operations and funding have been upended and that they will need significant external support to keep their doors open.”
Nonprofits need to learn best practices for remote work, and with canceled in-person fundraisers, they need to develop alternative strategies to raise money and move all fundraising and communication efforts to digital platforms. “Now more than ever, nonprofits need to stay in communication with their communities, and they’re looking for operational and strategic guidance on how to make their mission stand out.”
Tech skills can be people skills
Relying on technology while social distancing can feel strange, but moving to a virtual world doesn’t mean we no longer focus on being human-centric. This Medical Economics article explains that as hospitals are beginning to use secure messaging platforms, telehealth, and social media to more efficiently and safely connect with their patients, “they can do all this while treating the very real emotional and psychological toll of the disease in a way that strengthens the patient-provider relationship by delivering more personalized care” virtually.
It’s clear that tech skills are more valuable today than they ever have been. They’ll continue to play a huge role when it comes to fighting the COVID-19 crisis, as well as any future crises. And they’ll do so in a way that’s as human as possible.
If you’re ready to join in on the global fight and would like to start learning tech skills, why not check our free coding camp? It’s a great way to dip your toes into a variety of skills by testing out our actual courses, and it’s all for free! Get started here today.