Strange Loop

Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2021


Union Station


St. Louis, MO

Register for 2021!

Tech When the Sky is Falling: Tools for Crisis Response

In a crisis situation where time is of the essence, what technologies will move your real-world mission forward the fastest? How do you make smart trade-offs when a situation is rapidly changing around you, and time is your most precious resource?

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, PPE shortages for healthcare workers posed an enormous public health danger. To get masks to healthcare workers as fast as possible, we cofounded MaskMatch, a peer-to-peer mask donation organization. We got MaskMatch up and running in about 48 hours in March 2020, and led it for five months. Running on almost-free technologies and volunteer time, the project delivered nearly a million masks to frontline healthcare workers.

In this talk, we’ll walk through the technologies and tech decision-making that allowed us to scale a successful, pragmatic crisis response. We’ll describe: - What technologies we picked & how we picked them - The tech investments we made - Tradeoff decisions you’ll face - How to manage chaos, volunteers, and unexpected rate-limiting - How to know when to shut your project down

COVID isn’t the last crisis we’ll see, and when the next one comes, you’re going to wish you could jump in and help. This talk will give you a starting point for doing just that.

Emma Ferguson

Emma Ferguson


Emma is a software engineer at Samsara, a connected operations company, where she has worked on reporting infrastructure, real-time alerting, and performance, among other things. Previously she worked at Eventbrite. She is enthusiastic about Golang, Python, messy data problems, baseball, speculative fiction, the zoo, baking, and backpacking.

Colin Schimmelfing

Colin Schimmelfing

UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management

Colin is working towards a Masters of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. Before graduate school, he worked for ten years in engineering and engineering management at tech companies in San Francisco and New York. He hopes to use his technology skills to fight climate change, and is in grad school to figure out exactly how to do that.