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Irrationally Exuberant Musings on Technology

Meaningful Milestone

October 29, 2015

Last night, Walkstarter, the school walkathon fundraising platform I created, achieved a meaningful milestone — $250,000 in aggregate funding for schools. This is so awesome. It’s also very exciting that more and more schools across the U.S. are requesting to use this platform. I have never really written much about the platform and this seems as good a time as any to give some background.


Three years ago, I managed to get elected to my kids’ school PTA and my assigned focus area was fundraising. Being completely clueless about how Walkathon fundraising works, I requested a meeting with the Walkathon Committee chair at the time. My goal was to understand how things work and what support she needed. I played it safe and told her I knew nothing, didn’t know what questions to ask, but wanted to support her in any way possible. She patiently explained how Walkathon fundraisers work and highlighted her two biggest challenges: (i) It took a long time to collect pledged funds, sometimes stretching into December, and (ii) It was hard for the Foundation to make plans without knowing how much money was going to be raised.

Very predictably, my brain gravitated towards an online solution. I drew inspiration from KickStarter, ran some ideas by the PTA, and thus, Walkstarter was born. Stevenson, my children’s school, used it for our Walkathons in 2013 and 2014, and despite my mediocre code, we saw stellar results. In the last few months, I have significantly enhanced the platform adding better funding page management, tons of analytics, processing for offline donations and a greater selection of avatars for kids to create including aliens and superheroes. (Screen shots at the end of this post).

Being a firm believer in “a rising tide lifts all boats,” as we got close to the end of last school year, with some help from others, I reached out to other Mountain View PTA leaders, and on May 18, 2015, I presented Walkstarter to them, and offered it as a 100% free solution for all Mountain View schools. They accepted and over the summer, I rewrote the platform to support any number of schools.

One month ago, just about the time Stevenson started its Walkathon fundraising, so did Bubb, Landels and Mistral, all Mountain View schools. After only a few days, other schools outside Mountain View learned about Walkstarter and wanted to use it as well. I obliged. Today, there are schools in Mountain View, San Francisco, San Jose and Orlando using Walkstarter, with other schools in the country in the pipeline. I think Walkstarter is gaining traction because it does one thing really well and is a simple solution to a very common problem. We are in an era of shrinking public investment in schools, and PTAs are being forced to pick up the slack.

“Parent fundraising has become more important as state and local funds have dwindled,” says Robert Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor and now a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “If we take the ideal of equal opportunity seriously,” Reich said, “we’ve got to commit ourselves to creating a system of public education in which kids from poor and working-class families have a genuinely equal opportunity to succeed. And we’re falling far short.”

Walkstarter is helping address the shortcoming. Given its primary capability of enabling fundraising outside of school localities, it affords schools, especially in poorer neighborhoods, an avenue to close the funding gap by leveraging non-local donors. On average, schools using Walkstarter are seeing 40% of funds coming from outside the local school area (example: I call this “trickle across funding” and think it is a very effective and efficient way for PTAs to achieve their funding goals.

My goal is to continue to offer and support Walkstarter at as many schools as possible. Wouldn’t it be great to reach the $2.5 million mark next year? I think it’ll happen. In addition to fundraising, I also see Walkstarter as a first step toward a vision of making free, high quality software tools available to all public schools, and look forward to having other like-minded folks join me on this journey.

You can visit individual school Walkstarter sites from the main landing page at Please take a moment to Like the Walkstarter page on Facebook. Thanks.



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Career Girls

November 2, 2014

A friend shared this delightful site recently:

If you have a daughter and want to help her see that she can be anything that she dreams of being, check out this site with her. You can see videos of women in many different jobs ( astronaut – check, physicist – check, executive – check … and many more). Yes, it’s sad that we even have to do this, but unfortunately there is too much marketing that our daughters experience daily that makes them think many things are only for men, and we have to relentlessly counter this when they are young.

Thanks Career Girls.

CoderDojo “Interactive Web” Session 5

May 21, 2014

After a whirlwind five weeks, last night was the last session of the CoderDojo “Interactive Web” series of classes. The sustained effort of developing the content for each class was exhausting, but it was all worth it; seeing the ~60 boys and girls see their browsers come alive with their own code was a joy to behold. I am not quite sure how (miracle, maybe?) that I managed to complete teaching all the material I had planned in these five weeks. We went from rudimentary knowledge of HTML to a fully functional, single page web app featuring Bootstrap, jQuery, Parse, OpenStreetMap, Leaflet and FontAwesome. The gist of the app is to present the user with a web form to which they can add some data including geolocation. This data is saved to Parse and then displayed on a map as interactive, animated markers.

You can see the finished app here Click the “Remix” button at top right to fork the code and create your own version of the app.



Code For India Hackathon

May 16, 2014

For the third time, my daughter and I teamed-up for a Hackathon. This time it was at Google for the “Code For India” Hackathon. The goal of the Hackathon was to create solutions to solve challenges related to problems in India. We picked the challenge related to advancing financial literacy for kids through gamification. Our solution called “Kaisa Paisa” (means “how money”) is a game plus simulator. You can check it out here:

Since the Hackathon ran late, we didn’t stay till the end. Today, I was at the TieCon and happened to see a story about the Hackathon on the front page of the IndiaWest newspaper. Imagine my surprise when I saw this paragraph in the story:

Teams competed for several prizes donated by Google and Intel. The “most popular” project – Kaisa Paisa, an app for AIF that allows kids to develop financial street-smarts through games – was developed by Nik Kalyani and nine-year-old Gia Kalyani. The father-daughter team received a Moto G smartphone for developing the winning application.

Read the full story here:

How exciting!







Check out some of the cool artwork my daughter created for the app:

CoderDojo “Interactive Web” Session 1

April 23, 2014

Yesterday was the first session of a new series I am teaching. Organized by CoderDojo, the session was geared towards kids who have prior HTML experience. Through the series, I am going to introduce kids to interactive web development and Cloud services. We had the session at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Campus and had a full-house. My daughter Gia was a co-presenter.

In this session, I introduced the kids to CSS and added a fun design element. They had to create their own Mondrian art, using CSS.

Here are some stats on attendance:

Ages – how many attending

  • 9 years old – 12
  • 10 years old  – 8
  • 11 years old – 14
  • 12 years old -12
  • 13 years old – 8
  • 14 years old – 4

29 boys 27 girls

Experience with HTML

Hours – how many attending

  • 1-10 hours  – 23 ( but should have had previous web class)
  • 11-20 hours  – 20
  • 21-50  hours-  9
  • 51-100 hours – 2
  • 100+  hours- 2

And some session materials:

Session Handout (PDF)
Session Deck (PDF)

And finally, some photos:



Here’s a tweet from nestGSV’s Julia Figuerido who made her mentoring debut at CoderDojo:

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