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Microsoft workers using a 'hackathon' to help those in need

Microsoft workers take part in the "Hack for good." (KOMO)

SEATTLE -- Yossi Banai and his family have taken in 29 foster children over the last 10 years. They do it to show love and support to kids who may never have known it.

Banai also knows what it's like to deal with the Washington State Department of Social Services, which handles foster kid cases.

"You're working with a system that's big and complicated and inefficient and no one is there to help you," he said.

A couple of years ago he and his family joined The Mockingbird Society, a non-profit private agency intended to improve foster care and end youth homelessness.

The group follows a family care model where six to 10 families help a licensed foster care family navigate bureaucracy and unexpected emergency.

But the agency was stuck in the age of pencil and paper. That was unacceptable to Banai, who works as a project manager for Microsoft.

"At Microsoft, we are used to using data to make decisions and this is not what I'm seeing in social services," he said. "So I really wanted to fix it."

Enter more than 1,200 Microsoft employees worldwide who are using this week to provide their expertise in 72 countries to create products that non-profits and special causes most likely could never afford. The company calls it "hack for good"

"The way we think about hacking is really kind of a state of mind, more of an attitude," said James Rooney, an organizer of a hackathon now underway at Microsoft.

Inside a large tent dubbed the "Hacknado," thousands of software developers are devoting the next three days to create products, apps, databases, custom software to benefit well over 300 causes including The Mockingbird Society.

"A call goes out to employees for ideas for a hackathon" says Rooney. "They can put any idea they want in our hackathon system, recruit other employees to help, so it's very grass roots and entirely employee led."

Banai did just that. He recruited a team to create a custom program that lets the staff of Mockingbird track the progress of foster families through their system. It's a program the state can't provide.

"This is an absolute blessing for us" says Degale Cooper, a director at The Mockingbird Society.

"The hack team, they are excited and passionate. We are excited and passionate about what we do. Mixed with the Microsoft team we are going to change this whole child welfare system" says Cooper.

It's the third year Microsoft has held a massive "hack for good" hackathon on its campus. The company is picking up the tab on all expenses including paying for all the work down by its volunteer hackers.

Banai couldn't be happier.

"What we usually do at Microsoft is painting and planting when we volunteer," he said.. "Now we can do what we do best to make a real difference in the world.

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