homelessmancodesFile this one under inspiring and awesome: a New York City software engineer taught a homeless man to write code. That man learned the language, then wrote and coded his own app, which has now been released to the world, in just about five months. What possessed the software engineer to do it? Little more than intuition, it seems.

“21st Century A—hole”

Patrick McConlogue felt the sting of internet-scorn when he first announced his plan to teach a homeless man to code, an announcement which unleashed a storm of criticism directed at McConlogue. People attacked his naiveté, his youth (he’s 23), and more, accusing him of being an idealist and taking advantage of the homeless to create an “imaginary entrepreneurial novella.” One website called him a “21st century a—hole” – hard words for a man who claims he only wanted to help.

McConlogue didn’t let the criticism get him down, and when he approached homeless resident Leo Grand with a choice – $100 cash, or a used laptop, books from Amazon, and McConlogue’s help in teaching him to code – Grand didn’t hesitate to choose the latter.

They worked closely together – McConlogue would find Grand before work, teach him coding for an hour, and then leave Grand to it – and Grand proved an able student. He charged the laptop in a building lobby with the permission of the doorman, then coded on the streets.

Now he has released the fruits of five months of hard work – an app called Trees for Cars. Grand’s app helps connect drivers and potential riders for carpooling in New York City. It is currently available for $0.99 on iTunes, and most of the proceeds go right to Grand.

It is hard to figure out why McConlogue was the recipient of so much vitriol over his plan. It would be more than naïve to assert that we could solve the problem of homelessness with computers and codebooks, but McConlogue never said anything like that. He only professed to see potential in some of those people he was accustomed to walking by in the city – they were a light in his eyes, maybe, and he wanted to act on that feeling. Far from taking advantage of the less fortunate (which he was also accused of doing), the sentiment rings as noble, authentic, and moving, in that ‘teach a man to fish’ vein.

As the holidays draw near, it’s as good a time as any to remember that small acts of kindness can go a long way to change the lives of others. All of us are just people, and it takes surprisingly little to help a fellow man in need.

What can you do to help make a difference this season?