At the moment when he thought he might never get to write another line of code, Ather Sharif found a community and a process that inspired him to make technology accessible to everyone. On this episode of The Build, learn how EvoXlabs takes on accessibility through technology.
Announcer: 00:01 From 2820 Radio in Philadelphia. It's The Build, conversations with entrepreneurs and innovators about their dreams, their triumphs, and their challenges. JOE: 00:13 Access. It's easy to take technology for granted. We rely on computers, machines, and robots for more and more every day. Now imagine that you survive a terrifying accident only to discover you can't move your legs and you might only regain motion in your arms and hands after months of surgery. That's what happened to developer Ather Sharif, and at the moment when he thought he might never get to write another line of code, he found the commuting and a process that inspired him to make technology accessible for anyone who wants to use it regardless of their physical condition. On this episode of The Build, Athers sharing the story of his journey around the world and into some unusual places, all with the aim of making the web a little easier for everyone. It's the story of EvoXLabs labs coming up next on The Build. Announcer: 01:05 The Build is made possible with support from 2820 Press providing business consulting and content strategy services to customer obsessed companies nationwide. More information 2820press.com. JOE: 01:23 Its The Build. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr joined today by Ather Sharif, founder of EvoXLabs. Welcome. ATHER: 01:28 Thank you, Joe. My name is Ather, glad to be here. JOE: 01:31 And we're very glad that you're here. So I find this story very fascinating because I think any element of the steps that brought you to where you are today in your career and with the company would be fascinating on their own. But the fact that they've all come together in one place makes this, I think, really exciting story. Tell me a little bit about your journey from Pakistan to America, first of all. ATHER: 01:56 Well that's a long, long journey. Well I came from Pakistan here in America in 2011, December, 2011 so I started school in 2012, at University of North Dakota. So that's far and cold from here. And then I was going for a master's degree in computer science. Got Injured after a year of attending school. In March, 2013 came to Philadelphia for Rehab. Love the city so much, stayed here. And then started school here again in 2014 August at Saint Joseph's university. I'm still, there graduating in about a week, so that's exciting. JOE: 02:36 Congratulations. ATHER: 02:37 Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. But during that period of time, I got to know Philadelphia more and got more involved in tech community and Philadelphia is a great city to be in, especially when you, when you're part of the civic hacking grow up or when you're part of the entrepreneurial growth. This is the place to be. In east coast at least I would say. And then recognizing that and recognizing my own passion. That's how I started EvoXLabs labs. So EvoXLabs was started in the beginning of the beginning of this year. So January 1st, 2015, first anniversary is coming up as well. Exciting. But since that period of time, it's been quite a good journey so far. And I feel, I think, as I said earlier in one of my interviews when I won the Philadelphia Geek Awards, the Geek of the year award, is that it all started here at Benjamin's Desk because the first thing I did to form the company was that I was looking for space and I couldn't find one that suited my needs. And Benjamin's Desk was the place where I came to for the first time. And that's where all this started. So I think that was a big component of this entire journey. JOE: 03:48 So to provide context for folks who are not in Philadelphia, we are recording today at Benjamin's Desk, which is a co-working space right in the heart of center city, Philadelphia. Editorial note, Benjamin's Desk is a client of our company to 2820 Press, but had no input into our editorial or guest selection at all. But we'd like to throw that out there so that we can be on the up & up. But the thing that I heard you say was the intersection of the civic hacking and entrepreneurial or the hacking and entrepreneurial communities shows up in spaces like coworking facilities, hackerspaces, what draws you to a space like this or to a community of folks who are hacking at stuff. ATHER: 04:39 So for any hacking community, wherever that is in the word you need to be around people who you can take stuff from and give them back in return and that you can only find at certain co-working spaces when you're at a co-working space, you see a lot of people doing a lot of cool stuff around you and you want to absorb the ideas and work together with them and collaborate upon on the different project that working on different ideas they have. And then civic hacking is all about that. When you get more ideas, you refine your solution, you keep going at it again and again just till you have that very refined solution and civic hacking. So it's, it's open for public, it's all open source. It's everything that we are developing just for, for the community. Now one important part that I did not mention earlier and I was getting to it was that civic hacking is one part of it. Entrepreneurialship side is another part of it. And both of those things are that you is something that you can find coworking spaces because everyone is talking about ideas. Everyone is talking about the different ways to run their organizations. You learn a lot from that. But most important is how you integrate these two things with something that is entirely different. Like for example, I recently spoke at the rise conference here in Philadelphia and my whole topic of talk was about what is innovation really? How do we, what makes innovation innovation? You know, there's technology and then there's innovation. So technology for the sake of technology is basically nothing. You have to combine it with something else. And that is when it becomes innovation. When you combine technology with, let's say, democracy, that's when innovation comes in and that's a major part of civic hacking as well, that we try to combine two different fields together. We're not just developing something, we're developing something for another field, and that is where innovation comes in. So another important part too, besides civic innovation has to sort of, besides civic hacking and entrepreneurship is how EvoXLabs takes these two things and combines it with the limitations that people with disabilities face in their daily lives. So we do civic hacking, we also have an entrepreneurship side. We also work a lot on technology, but all these three things, we combine them together with accessibility and that's what makes our work so noble. And that's what makes me tick basically. JOE: 07:09 So you're about to graduate, complete your masters program at Saint Joe's. You couldn't wait until graduation to get the company off the ground. Tell me a little bit more about how you decided to launch. ATHER: 07:21 Sure. So there is one of those things when you realize within yourself and you really find what you're looking for. I would call it the inner self. When you do it. And when you learn that these two things get coincide, a lot of people would make, I wouldn't say a mistake, but the assumption that when you're in school you can't be an entrepreneur. Of course you can be a lot of different things. So it's just about how you manage your time effectively. At that point in time, when I started EvoXLabs, I was researching on web accessibility and I thought I had found my inner self and I knew that I had to, if I had to do a research, I had to go out in the community. And the only way to get out in the community is through civic hacking. And then I found a site to it. We're led to entrepreneurship in which I realized that the research that I was doing is something that is lacking in 90% of the organizations in the world. So why not converge your passion into entrepreneurship and that's how EvoXLabs started. JOE: 08:27 What challenges did you face a reconciling some of the differences between the entrepreneurial mission that you set for yourself and the academic requirements? I mean, I heard you say time management was a big thing, but I know in academia there's a very, it can be a very different atmosphere than the very fast and sometimes rough, exciting world of entrepreneurship. How did you pull those two worlds together? ATHER: 08:56 Well, it's a really good question. In academics, a lot of students are limited to their coursework and the knowledge they have to get through the coursework might span over a semester. So that limits your ability to contribute to a project on the entrepreneurship side. Because if you're an entrepreneur, you want to do things quick and fast and maybe you don't have that information at that time. But if you are reliant on getting that information through the course of the semester, you probably are not going to be able to do anything innovative because that will take six months. And that's a long period of time where any company to grow. So the major challenge I faced was that I was lacking in certain areas, but I had to take crash courses and attend a lot of hackathons and meet a lot of people to get that knowledge and to get that expertise I needed to carry out a task. So I was way ahead of my class in that respect because I knew that I had to complete this task and I need the knowledge behind it, but I couldn't wait for the semester to be over. So I put an extra effort, got the knowledge that I wanted to complete the task and that obviously in the long run helped my academics as well. JOE: 10:05 So what do you get out of participating in a hackathon that you wouldn't receive in the course of classroom instruction? ATHER: 10:14 Well, hackathons just by the definition of it is a very short span and very intense programming competition as you can say. But it's not competition at all for that matter. It's a lot of cool people sitting together developing a solution. But for a hackathon, you're so focused on time that you want to develop something that really does impact someone's life, but you don't have time to do all the things. So you do it in a very short span of time. And when you try to do something when you know the theory, but when you apply that within a timespan off a few hours, you get to learn the actual limitations of it. And then during that time you learn what the limitations are. You learn how to fix them, and then at the end of the day, you have developed a solution that otherwise you probably wouldn't be able to. A hackathon gives you that energy and inspiration and motivation and the atmosphere to work, which is hard to find in any other environment. JOE: 11:21 So tell me about a solution that you saw emerge from hackathon that actually grew into something stable that people will continue to use beyond the, the environment, the finite timeframe of the hackathon. ATHER: 11:35 Sure. So my first hackathon here in Philadelphia was a hackathon known as Hack for Access, which happened June of 2014. At that time, I hadn't started schooI. I was invited to speak at that hackathon and I wasn't participating in it at all, but I stayed the whole time because it was Hacked for Access. So it was a hackathon for accessibility where it would be developing solutions for people with disabilities. I just found that so amazing that in that span of time I was actually confused if I really want to do computer science because I had lost my ability to type. But that actually made me feel like I want to go back and do it. That gives you that, that's spark to a set of ideas that you'd never thought of before. So those ideas are then refined over the period of, over the next few months to develop the final solution. And that's basically how EvoXLabs came into being as well. JOE: 12:33 Thinking about what I heard you say the inspiration to remain in computer science came from some of your experience at that particular hackathon. What do you think your life would be if you hadn't stayed in computer science? Tell me a little bit about the role that that played in not just your career but your recovery. Ather: 12:55 Sure. So I'm a software engineer. I did my bachelors in software engineering. I was going to school for technology at University of North Dakota before I got injured. Then after I got injured, I wasn't even sure if I want to pursue a degree in computer science, even though I had the technical knowledge of it, I just wasn't sure if I will be able to apply it because of my physical limitations. Then I was thinking maybe I would go in a more theoretical field where I wouldn't be required to do so much physically. And that's where I was headed to. But then seeing people do things and getting the inspiration from that hackathon that there are people who are developing things for people who are disabled. These for them to continue doing what they're doing. That kind of inspired me to not only go back into the field of computer science but carry out the same work in the same idea from that hackathon. That was organized in June, 2014 by, I believe it was a collaboration between Technical.ly and Philadelphia Link. JOE: 13:53 So we'll come back to hackathons in a moment because I find the mechanics of the them very fascinating. But thinking about accessibility, one of the things when I talk to designers and engineers, some of the best folks I talked to say really great design is a matter of understanding what you can accomplish within your constraints. It sounds to me like designing for accessibility or with accessibility in mind is one more kind of constraint. But tell me some examples of designing for accessibility that has turned into something really beneficial for broad audiences. ATHER: 14:30 Sure. And actually that's a, that's a great question. It's a great point as well. Accessibility has been from for the longest period of time has been part of, as an area where as a field that is separate from our design. And that's what we see in companies as well. When we go to a company, we see there's a Ux Ui team and then there's an accessibility team, which is not necessarily how it should be. I would argue that that's not the right way to go. Because they are one in the same thing. To elaborate, let's say I've been an advocate for web accessibility for a long time. I've been telling people to make their website accessible, telling companies to make their website accessible everywhere I go, I talk about it. At one of the talks a guy stepped up to me and went, "like, okay, that's great that you were making them accessible for people who are blind or people who are deaf or people who have cognitive disabilities. But on my website, I don't offer any services for the blind. What I'm selling has nothing to do with blind people. So they're not going to buy it and they're not even going to be on my site because they have nothing do over there, so why would I make my website accessible?". At that time sounded like a really stupid question. But then I thought about it and I was like actually you're right. If there is no reason for a blind person to go on their website, it doesn't matter if you're selling the product that they're going to use it or not. But if there's no reason for them to go on their website, then why would you make your website accessible? Why go an extra range to do that? The answer I gave to that guy was, can you think of a blind person who uses your website every day? And he said, "No, I don't think so". And I say, there is a blind person who uses your website every single day and maybe every single minute. And that is Google or that is actually any search engine for that matter. Because how any search engine works is exactly similar to how a blind person would see your website. So if a person who's blind can't view your website, Google can't either. So if you're making your website accessible, which is not a separate thing to designing, to following simple standards that you do for making a website, if you follow those standards you've already made your websites accessible. And if you have made your website accessible, then Google can parse through your website and that will not only increase your online presence, but it will also make your website SEO friendly, search and optimization. You would be on the first page of Google. I can't guarantee that, but you would be on one of the first few pages in Google. It's also apart from all these things to do it, it's the right thing to do. It's also the most legal thing to do. As a matter of fact, there's a law in the U.S. That doesn't apply to private organizations, but it does apply to government organizations known as Section 508 which requires you to make a website accessible to save yourself some lawsuits. That's what happens. However, in the UK, that law actually extends out to public websites as well. So it's just about time when this law will be extended to every single public website here in America. And that point in time people would go back and make their website accessible, which would cost them a fortune. So if you have to do it do it for the first time, otherwise at some point you'll have to do it. And when you have to do it its going to cost you a fortune and it's going to take a lot of time, a lot of trouble to get it done. So that's one of the examples that I can think of accessibility playing a really, really important role in all of our daily lives. And it's not a separate thing. JOE: 18:14 It sounds though, if I understand what you're saying, that for purpose of building a website which many of our listeners do in the course of their marketing practice, the thought here is that there's a correlation between how accessible your website is and how successful it is at generating interest across all audiences. So even beyond the potential legal ramifications, depending on where you do business, it sounds like it just makes sense to start with an accessible first approach to design. So coming back to something that you touched on earlier, how do we get those remote accessibility teams fully immersed into the core of a user experience design team within an organization, whether it's an in house team that's building a big website for a big company or an agency that's working with small businesses? ATHER: 19:18 Sure. I've had a chance of going to Google this summer and I had a chance of meeting their development team and also their Ux Ui team and also their accessibility team. And I tried to understand the process and, as much as I wasn't able to during the course of time I was there, my interpretation of how their process work, and I think that's very similar in other organizations as well, is that accessibility testing requires some time. So they would still work on their project and then a separate team would evaluate their website for accessibility. However, I would argue that that should not be the case. If you do the accessibility first, like you said, approach to developing a website, then you wouldn't have to separate the Ux Ui and the accessibility team because you would start with following the simplest standards off the web. And that's what basically accessibility is and then in using them to make a website which would automatically put accessibility in your code or in your website. And let you mention that a lot of people make websites for marketing purposes. So the question is what is the purpose of you making a website? If you're making a marketing website, you want to market your product, right? You want to make sure that it's on Google. You want to make sure it's on Bing, you want to make sure it's on Yahoo or DuckDuckGo. You want to make sure that the search engines would find it. Now, of course, for a website like EvoXLabs, you go on Google, you type in EvoXLabs, it will be the first thing that you'll see. Great. Does that mean that I have done a great job on search and optimization? Not really because not many organizations in the world are named after he EvoXLabs. But what if somebody didn't know my name? Can they search me then? Can they search for a web accessibility and find my website on the first page. That is where I am headed to. And for that to happen, I need to make sure that my website is accessible. JOE: 21:15 So in terms of walking the talk, some of the things that you do as founder of EvoXLabs, you provide some tools, or you work on projects to provide some tools. So tell us a little bit about project White Cane. ATHER: 21:28 Sure. Project White Cane is basically a research project. So it involves developing jquery plugins to make web accessible. These are free plugins that you can and you should put on your website. One of them is evo fonts, which allows you to provide multiple size font options for people who are visually impaired so they can increase the font of the website without destroying your page, which happens with other plugins. So that's all the research project. The other project that I've been involved with for quite some time is known as evo graphs, which creates graphs which are readable by a blind person. So when we see a graph, think of how we see it through it's colors or through the bar charts or through pie charts. And we immediately get the information out of it because our mind is basically trained to get the information out of it from the first glance. But how does that work with people who are blind? They can't see it at all. So that is the plugin that creates accessible graphs so that blind people can see the graphs as we do, being able bodied and sighted people. And since that time it has evolved a lot. I've had the chance of presenting that research to several conferences. I presented that at the world wide web conference in Florence in May. Then I presented it at Google, presented it at another conference in Pittsburgh and a few other conferences where I've had the chance of presenting and discussing it with other people. So that's one of the things that if you are putting graphs on your site, you should definitely go to evoxlabs.org go to project White Cane, go to evo graphs. And on that page it's a very simple instruction on how to put it on there. And it literally, we counted it, it takes 75 seconds. JOE: 23:16 We at our agency spend a lot of time working with clients and their partners at design agencies. And one of the things I have observed over the past few years as companies have started to look at responsive design is this concept that your website may show up differently for different audiences. So when I hear about something like evo fonts, I can envision some clients that might be terrified at the idea that the look and feel of their pages changes or might be different for different people. So how do you help? I'm thinking here specifically folks in larger organizations, how do you help folks feel comfortable with the idea that their website might be a little bit more fluid in terms of how it presents itself then they might have been accustomed to in web 1.0. ATHER: 24:07 Sure. So with the idea behind evo fonts was that you present a user with three different font options. So it says small and medium and large option. The page only changes when you use those options. Let's say I was a person with some sight difficulties and I have a mobile phone and I'm using your website, the first time I go on your website, it appears exactly the same way as it would appear on any phone. So whatever you have tested, whatever you've seen is what I'm going to see. But maybe the font is too small for me. So then there's an option right at the corner on the page which basically shows three different sized alphabets. So there's a one big a alphabet that I can read and I think I'm comfortable with that. So I'm just going to press that button. That would just transform the entire site only on my phone, only on my end into a version that I am able to read, and it might be different for different users. So the users are okay with reading whatever you have presented, nothing changes. Um, if the user is not, they have the ability, they, they have the choice of viewing it so they can actually read you read page. So it actually helps you in a way that it doesn't change anything except for the fact that people who are unable to view it would not close it, but still have an option to get the information out from the page. JOE: 25:33 So shifting gears a little bit now, coming back to the idea of the hackathon, you went from being an observer at a hackathon to being a participant and now you organize hackathons. Tell us a little bit about Evo Hacks and Evo Hacks SE. ATHER: 25:49 Sure. Yeah. So it definitely did start from hack for access where I was observing in a hackathon and I've been participating in a few hackathons over in the city as well. And then I realized that not much was being done in the area of accessibility, after hack for access. There wasn't any hackathon and, obviously I was there. So I recognize that there were some places where they could make it better. And I thought about those. And then, after EvoXLabs was formed January of this year, we thought we want to do something big. And then we targeted the Philly Tech Week. As part of Philly Tech Week, we organized the first evo hacks, which was a hackathon on web accessibility. What we did differently was in a hackathon the teams are formed on that day. So people show up as individuals and then they find an idea that they want to work on and then whoever's interested in the idea would form a team and work on it through rest of the time during the course of the hackathon. And that's what basically the usual trend over here in Philadelphia at least is for organizing a hackathon. We did things a little differently. We didn't bring individuals, we brought in schools, we brought in teams directly. So when we brought a team from a school and we got five teams from five different schools to show up for our hackathon, we paired them up randomly. So they showed up at the event but they didn't know who they were going to work with and we paired them up randomly with someone with a disability. They had no idea. So they showed up that morning, actually we started on Friday, so on Friday we had five different researchers coming in and presenting their work on web accessibility on Saturday we started it and then we brought them in and they had no idea who they were going to work with. So we paired them up. Let's say a team was paired up with somebody who was blind. So their job from Saturday to the end of Sunday was to work with them, understand what their limitations were, and then develop a solution for them that, that person can use in their daily life and not just develop something and take it home. And basically that's what happens to hackathons. Here as well as you would develop something, but that's not necessarily been used at the moment. For this particular project, you would have to give it to the person so he can use it and he can share it with the community. So, for example, if it's a blind person, he could take your product that you developed for him and give it to everyone else who is blind so they can use it and actually make a difference. So that's what happened at evo hacks. Since evo hacks in April, we evolved a little bit from web accessibility to accessible technologies. And in November as part of the disabled awareness month, we organized another Hackathon, sort of the same way, except that this time we got five teams from not just schools, also local tech firms here in Philadelphia. One of the teams actually came from Carnegie Mellon University. Then we paired them up with somebody with a disabled as well as a medical profession person, who is in a medical profession, like a doctor or a nurse or a therapist or a speech therapist and so on. And then we paired them up randomly. So on one table there was a team of developers that had no idea about the disability of that person, and an input from a person with a medical profession. So when all these ideas combined together they develop something that was far more noble than whatever we have seen so far in any hackathon. Those products are also being used nationally and internationally at this point in time, which was developed during those two hackathons. And we would like to continue doing this. JOE: 29:26 So thinking about how design firms development teams often work with an abstract idea of a persona in mind with your hackathons, you've actually brought in a person that embodies the goals and can actually speak to what the team's working on. What do you think changed for those teams in that development process compared to working from a more abstract point of view? ATHER: 29:59 Sure. I would also say that after each hackathon, we talk to the teams and we try to understand what they've learned. And they were really excited and they seem like they did learn a lot. But one of the comments really stood out in which one of the participants said that it just changed the way they see things. So we asked them what does it really mean? And then they try to explain to us that whenever there's a project and whenever we are working on a project, we say okay, these are the set of limitations that we think are there and we need to focus on them and need to fix them. But obviously as human beings we might miss those things. We might completely miss out on some off the things that we have no idea that exist. So if you work with somebody with a disability, you will see things or experience things or get knowledge of things that you need to put on a very early stage of your development of your project that you would have otherwise completely missed. I would also like to reference at this point, not too long ago, SAP made a commitment to hire 500 people with autism. The reason wasn't that they were trying to do something great. The reason was they had figured out that they could use people with autism to test their products and there could be no better person to test their products than people with autism because then there would have targeted that thing that they were missing before, a similar approach applies to evo hacks as well if we're able to show them the side off things that they hadn't seen before. So when they started developing something, they had a broader scope, a broader horizon of knowledge. So when they've made something, made the products are made their solutions, they were thinking about so many other things than just the technology part. JOE: 32:11 So thinking about someone who's listening to the show and thinks, I want to bring a hackathon to my community, get down to the nitty gritty. What does somebody actually need to stage a hackathon? ATHER: 32:24 Nothing at all. You just have to advertise it. You just have to say, all right we're going to organize a hackathon. I'm throwing some pizza and get some beers and we will all sit together. And then you just advertise it. You just tell the people we're holding hackathon, please come in and then that'll be it. So there's a hackathon that happens every weekend in Philadelphia. Not even just the weekend, sometimes weekdays as well. Get in touch with folks over at Code for Philly, US, Ux labs, or any other people that use coworking spaces such as Benjamin's Desk, Indy Hall, people that at Technical.ly. Just shoot out an email to them and just be like, we want organize a hackathon, can you help us with that? We all would love to because that's what we live for. So it's really simple. You just advertise, you'd tell them, we want to expect like these many people and this is, we want to focus on democracy. We want to focus on accessibility. We want to focus on technology or variable technology. That's what our last hackathon was on. And folks who will be interested would sign up and show up and then they will make their teams and develop some solutions. And that's basically what it is. You would need, obviously you need a space. We were lucky enough to get the space from Benjamin's desk both of our hackathons were held here. You'll need a space and then all you would need is some pizza and beer. That's it. JOE: 33:39 Is there an ideal size or number of participants or does the ideas scale to however many folks show up? ATHER: 33:48 It really depends on where you're hosting it. Depending on, for example, we hosted here at Benjamin's Desk, it has a size limitation. So we had to keep that in mind. So we did not want to go beyond that. Even though there was interest from people to participate in it, we didn't want to exceed that limit because you don't want to do that. And also you don't want to reserve a really big space where not many people would show up. So that's very important. A couple of things play an important role. The size being one, then your resources, do you have funding to get the food for all these people and all those things is another thing. But once you have that set up, you can, I would say for any hackathon on average, if you can get about 50 people involved, that will have a substantial impact. JOE: 34:35 So coming back to the idea of EvoXLabs, January one you're out of school, you get to put all your attention on growing the company. What's your dream for the business? Where is it going to grow? What do you think you're going to see in say five years? ATHER: 34:51 That's a great question. We have been since our first day of forming, EvoXLabs very, very focused on research. So we are a consultancy company as well. So we are a design firm and a consultancy at the same time. So we made the websites, and we made them accessible. Or sometimes we work as a consultant for design companies who are making websites for other clients and we show them the accessibility side of it. We take over the accessibly side and make sure that their websites and their solutions are accessible. So we're doing both of those things at the same time. But our major focus that has always been there has been research. So the things that we do are not the same every time. We research on various different things. Right now we have two different research projects going on and based on the research that we find, we implement solutions. So every single time we're talking about a solution, we're trying to bring something really new to the field of web accessibility to make it really simple, really easy, and really accessible. Web in general and websites and also products. JOE: 35:58 At the top of our interview you mentioned that, this past Philly Geek Awards for folks who are listening outside of Philadelphia, the community gathers, usually it's a place like the Academy of Natural Sciences, to honor great projects, great people in the community. So what was it like for you? What was your reaction when you found out first that your peers had nominated you, but when you're actually accepting the award, give me your perspective on what it feels like to be honored in that way. ATHER: 36:44 Well that brings really good memory. Well first of all Philadelphia Geek Awards is a very prestigious awards that only happened in one other city in this country. It happens in California in San Francisco. No other place in this entire country has geek awards. Geek Awards may sound like it's just about geeky stuff, but they actually recognize a lot more than we think they do, it's not just about, project of the year or Geek of the year. It's also about movie of the year, indie movie of the year or scientist of the year or social media project of the year. So basically the recognizing a lot of projects that are being done here in Philadelphia and impact the lives of people, off the Philadelphians. So based on that, to just be nominated is a really tough thing. It goes through a really competitive process. I would hope so. Once you're nominated, then you get to attend the award ceremony. The ceremony has everyone in the tech community that you know, or that you can think of. JOE: 37:54 Dressed better than you've ever seen them. ATHER: 37:56 Well, that's true. They're all in tuxedos. JOE: 37:57 It Is like the Oscars. ATHER: 37:59 That is correct. Somebody mentioned that is like having, tech Oscar's here in Philadelphia. But they're all there. The dress up is a very formal event. Wear a tux or whatever you want, this time the theme was back to the future and it's just remarkable not just the awards itself, but the people who attend it or the people who organize it. It just shows you that Philadelphia has a really strong community and they're very tightly bonded together. All the people in that room, there were 400 people and the tickets usually gets sold out in 75 minutes or 45 minutes, I should say. So the tickets get sold out in 45 minutes. It just shows you that the community is recognizing the projects and you're not just doing something for nothing. Being on the stage of accepting that award, I can't say great because that'll be an understatement. So it's just amazing to be there to get that award, to be recognized for the work that you've done. And then basically I'll just say what I said over there as well. It has always been my dream to get an award for being a geek and also be respected for it. And that's one of the things that I got through the Geek awards. JOE: 39:15 Thinking back a few years ago, is that even a thing that you thought would be on your personal roadmap? ATHER: 39:21 No, never. That's why I love Philadelphia so much. Its one of the things that you'd be surprised at how many opportunities are here in the city to not just grow your business, but also meet with people who would help you do that. JOE: 39:35 So we'll wrap up with one more question. Tell me about a project or something that you've seen grow out of the community that you are following, that you are excited about right now. What somebody else working on that gets you really excited. ATHER: 39:49 Oh yeah. So there was this project that I got a chance to put my hands on before I even found it. He EvoXLabs, it was called unlock Philly and it's unlockphilly.com. I would definitely recommend you guys check it out. There was a civic hacker here in the city, with the name of James Tyack. He since then has moved to the silicon valley to pursue a better career. But he was a Philly native and he started this project known as Unlock Philly, which is basically for people who were using the public transport system here in Philadelphia. So he worked with Septa and PATCO and created a map where you could see when there is an elevator outage in the stations here in Philadelphia. It could also tell you what is the accessibility for the stations. It wasn't primarily designed for people with disabilities. It was just for people who were doing transit every day, who could go on the website to check if the elevator was out, if there was a bus system that wasn't working, what was the status of the entire SEPTA system? It was designed better than SEPTA did and it's still in place. They have even done some of the mapathons to find out this is the station what are this places nearby? What can you eat? What can you not eat? What is the rating on those places near the station. So basically if you were coming in from some other place, it integrates Yelp, SEPTA, and a couple of other sites into one site and it all shows you, it's pretty responsive JOE: 41:37 Wow. ATHER: 41:38 On mobile phone. It shows you in a very interactive map as well. JOE: 41:43 Amazing. We'll have to check it out. ATHER: 41:44 It actually came out of Hackathon as well. JOE: 41:46 Excellent. So hackathons really where great ideas are coming out of. Ather Sharif, founder of EvoXLabs. Congratulations you're graduating, from Saint Joe's pretty much a few weeks from when this will air. So good luck. ATHER: 42:01 Thank you so much Joe JOE: 42:01 And I can't wait to see what happens when you are just jamming full time on the business. ATHER: 42:06 Yeah, I'm excited about that too. Thank you for having me. JOE: 42:08 My pleasure. Announcer: 42:18 Thanks for listening to this episode of The Build. We hope you'll share this series with your friends and provide us with feedback on the iTunes store.