NUI Galway student giving back during Covid-19 crisis

Folens digital resources, the Cambridge library, Calm, NFL Gamepass and Home School Piano are just some of the free services open to you during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find all of these now-free services in one place thanks to Shane Hastings, a third-year Business Information Systems student at NUIG, via his website:

Shane broke down the services into categories when making the site, so whether you're looking to watch some sport, meditate or finally learn how to play an instrument, all of these options can help you fill the void via Shane's site.

Getting the idea?

So where did the idea come from and how does one person go about creating a database that big?

'I saw that Italy was the first country in Europe to go into lockdown, and I saw that its government had started a campaign called the "digital solidarity campaign".

‘On that Italian government website there was a list of services that were free. Obviously the vast majority of them were Italy-specific and accessible only in Italian, but I thought it was pretty cool. Then I completely forgot about it. When our own restrictions started happening, I was stuck at home working and I thought it would be a pretty good idea to put a list together. I already had the site made because I was tracking the confirmed cases in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and there was no real site three weeks ago where you could go to check all of that information. Now there are about five million of them but back then, for Ireland specifically, there were none. I added the list to that website and the give-back section just completely took off.’

Although a lot of time went in to creating the website and its value is obvious, Shane never thought it would prove to be as popular as it has become. It also never occurred to him that he could have used the resources for himself and not shared it for millions to enjoy.

‘It was always for sharing. I mean there’s no way I would have got through half of this stuff! Once I started putting it up, I realised people were getting more use out of it than I thought they would. I mean I thought I was just going to post it on Twitter for maybe five or six people. I’d be like “yea that’s cool”, but I started getting emails from a lot of companies and I began to realise “well okay, maybe people are actually getting a use out of this”.’

Overnight success

Some of the feedback Shane received, and the rate at which the site has exploded, have been 'insane!'.

‘I think I posted it online on Friday night – the day I launched it – and then on Saturday I was forwarded a WhatsApp message from one of my housemates in Dublin who had received it from one of his rugby group chats. I didn’t have any mutual friends with these people at all. I just thought it was the most insane thing ever, and it happened over and over again. I started getting emails from random companies in Ireland saying "This is really cool, we’ve started offering this part of our service for free if you want to mention it on your website." Simon Harris and Simon Coveney retweeted it on their Twitter accounts too, which is pretty cool. I think by this weekend it should have reached about a million views in two weeks, which is also pretty cool.'

At the moment Shane has to input each database entry manually, which can be quite time consuming. The question is: has he had any time to use his own website?

‘I’ve used one or two things. There’s Codecademy, which is really good. They offered 10,000 free pro subscriptions to students, so I got my spot. I’m going to do some this weekend because I’m going to need it for this website!’

Remote internship

As part of his course at NUIG, Shane is undertaking an eight-month internship with PwC. He was only two months into his new role when the restrictions on travel were put in place, so he’s having to complete his internship back in Galway. Although the move is challenging, it does offer him a unique perspective and an opportunity that many interns will never have.

‘It’s been four weeks since I left the office. It was grand for the first little while but yesterday now feels like last year. It was really weird because I moved to Dublin to do the internship from Galway and I had my rent to worry about. I wasn’t too worried at the start, because I didn’t know how long it was going to be, and to be honest I was kind of excited to work from home – there is no way an intern would usually have been allowed to do that at all. Now I’m thinking, “ok I’m still paying rent for a house in Dublin that I’m not living in and I’m here until August” so there is a little bit of that, but at the same time the way we’re set up means that everyone can work remotely anyway.’

He says that both PwC and NUIG have handled the transition really well and he still feels included despite being stuck at home.

Cabin fever

Socialising is such a huge part of university and it’s something that Shane misses.

‘Up until last week everything was ok. It was very much “this is a bit weird”, but this week especially everyone is feeling exactly the same. They’ve kind of… they’re done. It’s only been two weeks of the harder restrictions and you can kind of understand why those restrictions didn’t come in until a certain point. People would be cracking up! We’ve done the whole FaceTime and Zoom meetings, Discord sessions and gaming, and whatever else, but it’s still no compensation for going to the pub! There’s no end in sight.’

Despite the toll the restrictions are having on Shane and everyone up and down the country, he is still excited about the future, both for him personally and for the website.

On the other side

‘I got an email from a guy who said this [the database] is something that should have existed anyway. He was saying that I should keep on doing it afterwards because there are so many free things on it. Once all this is done, whenever that is (please God, not too long), I think I’m going to reformat it into something that’s just for free resources.’

‘After this I was thinking that I’d move into something like software development, but I’m enjoying the cyber security side of things right now. It’s more interesting on the techy side than GDPR or something like that because that’s very wordy. I think consultancy at PwC wouldn’t be a bad shout either. You get to do a range of different things with a range of different companies so if you don’t like one project in a few weeks you will probably be working on a new one.’

For those of us actively using the site it’s good to know that it’s not going anywhere any time soon!

So, whether you’re a techno wiz, sports fanatic, missing school or looking for a distraction, is the place to go.

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