Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Hi everyone! Last weekend, we were so excited to launch LAI's new sign-up portal! The portal was in development for about a year, and we were so excited to receive so much positive feedback from the volunteer community! We know you are curious to learn about Satish, who is the brains behind the portal, so we are publishing an interview with Satish, the portal developer!
1. First, would you mind telling us who you are, where you are from, what you do, and maybe a fun fact?
I'm a geeky nerd that has called the beautiful city of Seattle home for the last 20+ years. Before that I grew up in New Delhi, India where I graduated with a degree in Mathematics. Since then, I have been involved with all aspects of Information Technology, spanning a range of career roles like software development, architecture, technical support, project management, technical trainer, administration etc. These days I specialize in Performance Engineering.
My biggest hobby outside of work is gaming. It started out with a passion for video games, and now is complemented by board games too.
2. How did you find out about LAI? How did you meet Shreya?
It was my good fortune to connect with Shreya in Jan 2021. Her amazing talents were recognized by my consulting company, and she was invited to participate in our Student Leadership Program under the "Future Leader" track. I was coincidentally paired with her as a mentor.
I still remember our first meeting. She reeled off a massive list of questions that made me question two things:
Who is this person with such clarity on her future?
Am I really qualified to be her mentor?
After this first meeting, I actually Google'd her and immediately saw a multitude of news articles celebrating her and Saffron's wonderful accomplishment of starting Letters Against Isolation. I then immediately knew that this was someone truly special, and since then I've had the privilege of having her mentor me on how to take fearless initiative for worthy social causes, and paying it forward.
3. How did the idea to build the portal come about? Why did you decide to work with LAI to build this portal? Did something about the organization resonate with you?
Looks like Saffron shares her sister's talent of asking hard interesting questions :)
The idea to build the new portal happened fairly quickly, as soon as I started learning more about how the current process using Google Sheets worked. I was technically curious on how Saffron and Shreya managed to spin up the amazing content website at www.lettersagainstisolation.com, along with all the complex volunteer management processes. Though all these processes worked well, it was clear we needed something new to avoid some of the issues our volunteers were facing in Google Sheets, like accidentally deleting someone else's pledge. It was also quite time consuming to manage the spreadsheet as LAI rapidly grew with more partnering facilities from around the world, along with our wonderful volunteers who are the backbone of this wonderful cause.
LAI is a unique organization dedicated to the cause of reducing senior isolation, through the wonderful medium of handwritten letters and cards.
We all face the problem of isolation personally every day, with our senior parents and relatives. And soon one day will need these beautiful words of encouragement and love from LAI volunteers, as we age ourselves. The pandemic simply brought the issue to the forefront.
More importantly I was blown away by this awesome volunteer base. You all do something special every day! This random act of selfless kindness, by sending this message in a bottle, to a senior somewhere around the world, with no expectations, is truly inspiring. The Facebook group, with photos of your creative cards and letters and messages of support for each other, was instrumental in encouraging me to build the signup portal for all of you to use.
I knew I had to be part of the solution, and am incredibly thankful for the trust from LAI's founders to include me in their team. Sometime in Apr 2021, Shreya and I started collaborating together on building the new Signup Portal. And it has been an amazing journey since.
4. Tell us about the process of building the portal. I think the volunteer community would love to get a snapshot of what it took to build it and just how long you spent on it! How many iterations did you go through? How did you settle on the design and layout?
With Shreya as my technical collaborator + product manager, building the new portal was a lot of fun! We very quickly decided to use Oracle Apex (apex.oracle.com) as our programming portal. We then started to maintain and regularly review a backlog of important features using Trello.com. We prioritized features that we knew were important for our volunteers, such as:
The ability to quickly search for facilities
Pledge letters quickly using a simple form (and not have to deal with entering volunteer ids across a bunch of spreadsheet cells). This was especially needed for large group events that were pledging 100+ letters.
Ability to review pledges and track completion.
It was an iterative process. A feature would be developed, tested, reviewed for usability, and fixed if needed. We constantly evaluated the ease of use, and I'm thrilled to see the final outcome that volunteers find it very easy to now pledge letters on their phones and tablets too.
A lot of our design and layout was focused on making it easy for our senior volunteers. Large fonts, icons, and colors were critical during the development process.
Overall I believe we have spent over a 1,000 hours building out this solution. Maybe some of you noticed the footer at the bottom of the application. It says "Built with love for the amazing volunteers of LAI". It truly has been a labor of love from all the volunteer leads at LAI (Ellen, Paula, Alissa, Anne and Tim). We have spent many hours beta testing the site, taking feedback and suggestions, further improving it, writing and recording tutorials, and supporting our volunteers to adopt this portal through many Office Hours.
I'm excited it is finally live and serving its purpose.The feedback so far has been phenomenal!
5. What was your vision for how the portal will change the LAI organization
The fact that LAI has grown from a kitchen table project to an organization with 21000+ volunteers in 2 years, are all indicators of how we all truly believe in this cause. My hope and vision for this portal is to enable many more years of growth and build an even larger community. Senior isolation is a global problem. And we will have many more volunteers interested in serving their local communities by joining our cause.
Hopefully the portal meets its goals and enables all of you to QUICKLY pledge and track the 10000+ letters that we currently need to send to our seniors every 2 weeks. Your valuable time should be spent in writing and mailing those letters!
6. What’s next for the portal?
2022 is going to be a pivotal year for this organization, and we couldn't do it without our current active volunteers that deeply care about this cause. LAI will grow to support more countries, many more facilities, and many many more volunteers. We will continue to take feedback and improve our processes.
In terms of the portal, we will be listening to volunteer thoughts and feedback! For example, one of the newer features that was added to the portal was a map that shows how many letters have been claimed in each state, province, and country that we serve!
Thank you so much for joining us on the blog Satish! We are so excited that you are part of the LAI leadership team, and the new sign-up portal is truly amazing!
To learn more about Satish and the other wonderful members of the LAI leadership team, please check out our Team Page on the website.