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IBM Call for Code unleashes developers on COVID-19

IBM's Call for Code competition wants developers to create applications that help communities deal with and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

IBM's 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge competition is now focused on battling the COVID-19 pandemic through the creation of applications that can help affected communities across the world.

Since the shift, IBM has had as many as 1,000 registrations for the competition in one day, evidence that developers are eager to help address the coronavirus threat.

The first Call for Code competition occurred in 2018 and drew more than 100,000 developers. Last year's drew 190,000 and the 2020 edition will eclipse that, said Daniel Krook, CTO of the IBM Call for Code effort.

To participate, developers must create apps in one of three primary areas: crisis communication during an emergency, ways to improve remote learning and how to inspire local communities with a mobile community cooperation app.

"For crisis communication, we'll be looking at things like how to handle a massive influx of questions from people looking for information," Krook said. "With remote education, we're looking at what sort of remote learning technologies can be used or quickly spun up to replicate the types of lessons that students can't be do in a traditional way because of social distancing. And for community cooperation we're looking at apps that help you to better collaborate digitally with your community as you socially distance from your neighbors."

To give developers a jump start on building applications, IBM released starter kits for each of the three areas of focus. For instance, the crisis communication starter kit assists developers in using IBM's Watson Assistant AI service to integrate a chatbot into their app in an IBM Cloud-hosted web server, using a Slack integration.

The chatbot could be used to answer frequently asked questions, Krook said. The apps should be tied to easy-to-understand use cases, he added. All the starter kits include advice on using IBM Cloud services such as the Watson services and IBM Cloud Functions, as well as open source technologies including Node.js, Apache OpenWhisk, React and Express.js.

Devs need to work fast

Because time is short and the apps must be delivered quickly, IBM has included quick-start guides in the starter kits to explain the individual problems people and communities face. In addition, IBM has fast-tracked the competition to get to three finalists quickly. The initial submission deadline for apps is April 27 and IBM will announce the three top apps on May 5 at the IBM Think Virtual Conference.

While the competition will remain open until the global winners are announced in October, IBM's goal is to get some prominent examples in use as soon as possible.

The accelerated timeline notwithstanding, this Call for Code challenge recognizes that people and communities are likely to be affected by and struggle with COVID-19 related issues for months to come.
Charles KingAnalyst, Pund-IT

"IBM understands the need to create, develop and deploy these applications as quickly as possible," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif. "The accelerated timeline notwithstanding, this Call for Code challenge recognizes that people and communities are likely to be affected by and struggle with COVID-19 related issues for months to come. That's partly because the pandemic is still actively spreading in countries of every sort, and partly because management and mitigation efforts vary widely from place to place."

More than altruism

Although the focus of the Call for Code competition is to help in the collective effort to fight COVID-19, the developers' interest in the program is not altogether altruistic. The grand prize winning team gets a cash prize of $200,000, open source project support from the Linux Foundation, mentorship and investment in the app from IBM as well as implementation support for the app. The first and second runner-up teams get a $25,000 cash prize and Linux Foundation support. And the third and fourth runner-up teams get a $10,000 cash prize and Linux Foundation support.

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