Young Rewired State Year 5: Everywhere and Hyperlocal

So the time has come when we are all itching for more Young Rewired State, and interestingly it seems that year 4-5 of this thing is when it all starts to get local. As you know, we like to try stuff to see if it works and so here is a very brief outline of the plans as we stand today, (PLANS, not definites… we are still testing ideas):

YRS in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales
Historically we have struggled to get centres and kids in these areas, mainly because we need to do more to raise awareness of YRS rather than there not being any kids who could take part. So we are planning on running three separate hack weekends on open local government data for 50 kids in each place, emulating what we did in England in 2009 at Google – the beginning of YRS.

The first is being run in Scotland: http://rewiredstate.org/hacks/yrs-scotland-2012 and we are working out Wales right now and Northern Ireland will likely be a collaboration with Maggie Philbin and Teentech.

  • if you would like to assist with the organisation of any of these three weekends, please let me know


YRS UK local

We now have 42 centres across the UK, some slightly bamboozled, but those who are in their 2nd or 3rd year of being a centre are well-established and seeing a need to foster the local coding youth community beyond the annual event, both through the centre and with Ben (Nunney)’s community management offerings to all of the YRSers.

We are also looking at how these kids can work together on local community projects, or not – just things that interest them – and would like to see the centres be involved in this.

Please bear with us as we take our time to get this right. We have managed to nut years 1-4, we just need to work out year 5 and then we can rinse and repeat, for everyone.

YRS Worldwide

The idea has always been to find and foster every kid who is driven to teach themselves how to code, and this does not limit us to the UK. For a few years now we have received messages from people overseas keen to run their own YRS events. So in 2013 we are launching YRS Everywhere. We are going to run weekends (again for 50 kids using local open government data) in the following places:

  • Estonia
  • Berlin
  • New York
  • Amsterdam
  • Kenya
  • plus one other wild card (we have a few options here you see)

We will replicate the method of scale we used in the UK, moving from weekend to week, to multiple centres and finally hyper-local, year on year – all the time connecting these young coders to each other, in a very light way, maintaining the worldwide mentoring model used to date. We have no idea how this will work out, but we have begun chats with local developer networks who will act as foster networks for the youngsters, and open government data people in country, and the response has been wildly enthusiastic.

  • If any of you have contacts in any of these countries, please do hook me up with them, I would like to tie everything together as much as I can

Money – how are we paying for this?

Firstly it is important to clarify that my intention is not to build an organisation and flog it for millions. The idea is that this thing will be built and will grow and grow and grow, goodness knows where it will take us all but I would still like to be doing this when I am 90, and I would like to still be doing this with you all. I find that more exciting than being rich for a few years then sad and lonely…

We run YRS on a sponsor model, covering costs by trading what we actually have (access to young programming minds to test kit or raise brand awareness to a new generation) but not selling databases or IP. Obviously I have given up work now and we have a small team who run YRS and Rewired State (Rewired State being a profit-making social enterprise), we are paid through money made on RS hack days and through pieces of consultancy. YRS will continue to run on a NfP model, as we grow so we will need to raise more money to cover our ambition, but we are not shackled to a VC because we are not building a business to sell – we are creating a network that will continue to grow and hopefully gainfully employ more and more people and be rewarding and energising – because we have no flipping idea what is actually going to happen, and have the freedom to do this.

And so we work very closely with our chosen sponsors every year to both get the cash we need to run this thing and to get them the results they need in order to donate actual money to us. It is a fine line but we work hard to get it right (nearly there!).

We intend to find a single main partner for Young Rewired State: Everywhere, as SAP were for us in the 2012 Festival of Code. We will find a model that combines local, in-country sponsorship, combined with our main partner sponsor.

In addition to this we will continue to run ‘for profit’ Rewired State hack days to support central costs.

The only way we can scale to find every single kid driven to teach themselves how to code, is to avoid obvious limitations. There is not going to be any single group that rises to the top as an outright winner from YRS, everyone will benefit, but every person involved can choose how they shape their involvement in YRS – it totally will be what you make of it.

I know I am in it for life and I am going to dedicate myself to making it great and worldwide. Young developers will take the network and make friends for life, build businesses, create the next bazillion dollar thing. Mentors will become worldwide mentors helping young people from all backgrounds, maybe even working with them to create something world-changing. Centres will find their own local coding youth and will hold the ability to shape that relationship and hone those skills for the greater good, or for their own. The Rewired State team work together to boldly go wherever, to try stuff, test and be brave, with a small cushion (a very small cushion) of financial stability. It is what we all make of it.

But I do not believe in death by committee. I never have but flirted with it in the early days of this social enterprise and it failed. I plan to lead this thing and forge ahead with as much support as I can muster and see how far we get. A time will come when what we are doing becomes irrelevant, at that point I will get a new job.

  • if any of you know of any potential sponsors or partners for any of this, please let me know

 

Social enterprise and the power of breaking stuff

I think we can pretty much accept that the traditional model of making the world work and surviving in it has broken, even for bankers. Whether this be the status quo for those on benefits, the funding mechanisms for start-ups, the charitable foundations, those looking to sponsor stuff and those seeking sponsorship right up to those who have done well for themselves – nothing is guaranteed and pretty much every system except celebrity is broken. So who can really blame the kids and adults for seeking a future through game and talent shows on TV – that’s basically the only model that has thrived and survived (dear Daily Mail commentors).

I think that I am a pretty odd person. I was odd at school: geek/nerd/books/computers/maths but I also survived. When I started relationships and breeding I guess I normalised – my weird edges were moulded into something vaguely resembling a mother and a worker – I never got the wife thing right and I am definitely appalling at school run outer-wear. But what I do have is a keen sense for survival – therefore I am what is socially classed as a serial entrepreneur. Yet I do not plan on retiring in five years having sold a business idea for millions – I plan on putting my talents to use doing things I can do and working with the very best of the best to making stuff I like doing happen. I think it is just happenstance that what I like doing is for the greater good – I wouldn’t champion me that much, there is an element of selfishness in there.

I also (as you might expect from the brief bio of my youth) am not excellent at networking and people. This makes my working life harder, but I can overcome that in a variety of brilliant ways – these do not include mass events with lots of people but definitely include my fabulous twitter family.

This is by the by…

OK so assuming we accept that traditional stuff is broken, but the broken society requires innovation and energy (as shown most successfully through TV talent and celebrity shows) – so how do we shred the tradition, without fear and look to what’s left.

I have been there and so I think I can help

I love Rewired State and Young Rewired State. Let’s be honest, Rewired State is probably about three years too early if it is to survive through hack days that pay developers for rapid R&D – we can survive, definitely – but we will have to do other stuff. Meanwhile we have a network of over 600 developers keen to help pretty much everybody – except recruitment agents and people needing code monkeys – the devs want to do strategy and innovation and in a digital world, you’d be bonkers not to let them; but in reality the world is not yet quite ready for that, it is broken and hack days are not traditional.

FACT: many want hack days because they have now become an OK way of dipping your toe in the water of  innovation, but they do not fit with traditional R&D and so there is no budget, therefore your hack days have to rely on the benefaction of developers willing to work on your problem/idea for free/FA so… you are pretty stuffed. Let me give you an extreme example. We are running a hack day, on a boat, in Cannes, at MIPCUBE, presenting to attendees of MIPCUBE and MIPTV and we are not awash with developers keen to do this. Why? Because of developer apathy, a whole other blog post. So if you want to actually engage devs in a hack day, for sod all and you can beat a boat in the South of France and one of the most high profile geekTV events in the world then you may have a chance of attracting a few – if you don’t, I would rethink it until the budget meets the ambition. Please do not believe the myth that devs will code in a garage for free on your stuff. They just won’t and why should they?

I digress…

Here is what I wanted to share with you

Knowing me as you do either in person or through blogs and twitter, I work relentlessly for the things I believe in. But paying for these things in traditional fashion means that I do not meet the demands of mortgage/tax/life for myself nor fair work for people I represent and the organisations I think can make a difference to, I refuse to accept this so I have had to be inventive. Here’s how to break the world and survive (I am only in stage 2, I have not yet officially survived but I think I can see the light, so come with me)

  • work with the knowledge you have to build a vision of what you want
  • social funding is there – benefactors have set up organisations to pay for stuff to happen if you can prove its worth – use them
  • talk to everyone and be honest – through doing this with Simon Peyton-Jones one day, he then introduced me to a retired man who was the ex CEO of Shell and BCS, who came to my house and learned about what I was trying to achieve and has since helped immensely from toilets at Bletchley Park to Scouts and tents to mentoring me and championing the work of YRS – you cannot buy that
  • I cannot tell you the people I have been exposed to though being honest and fighting for what I believe, I met Conrad Wolfram and had an hour on the phone with him after the fact chatting about how he could produce stuff to help YRSers get more maths out of coding
  • I had an email from Douglas Rushkoff – with advice…
  • through NESTA I discovered the peoplefund.it site and have begun crowdsourcing for Young Rewired State 2012
  • through tweeting pics of my dad’s BBC Micros and my old educational software I talked to Chris Monk from The National Museum of Computing who fixed the micros for free and then came to Learning Without Frontiers to showcase the old Micros and now they are hosting the show and tell for YRS2012
  • At my dining room table yesterday I had a volunteer and a YRSer working for on YRS2012 in return for a bottle of cold coke, tea, fruit and haribos
  • Rory Cellan Jones and Stephen Fry tweet about what we do – not because they happened upon it, but because we are relentless and we are good and we work hard – this is not an insurmountable problem for anyone, we can all be good at what we do and work hard

Make no bones about it, it is flipping hard.

It’s about 17 hours a day of hard graft and it depends on a massive slashing of social media and community (but not dependent on real life networking, thank goodness), creating fundable projects for charitable trusts to invest in and ultimately a massive dollop of finding people who have capacity and might welcome a chance to work on what you are doing.

This way we can break the world but make it sustainable. It takes guts and if the world was not so broken it would be much harder to fix, but quite frankly there are many of us in the same position – so carpe diem and do what you want and find a way to live through that thing – forget the traditional routes and benefits. It’s borked.

PS Do not be tempted to secure your foray into the future from the broken past by paying for advice from people who have no proven success in the future. There will be many who offer unique skills, telling you scary things like: “My skills are unique, I scale social businesses and there is no one like me” pay me xxx – these people will not really be worth much, Trusts will help you and guide you through their processes and needs – even if you start from a great idea with no idea. And finally, if anyone asks you for a % of your organisation PLUS a salary, walk away immediately – they do not believe in your success as an enterprise and are only in it for the cash. (Thank you @sleepydog for that gem!)

PPS I am funding Young Rewired State partly through crowdsourced money – yes because I have to but also because so many people get to be a part of YRS, which for me is the greatest thing on the planet. Pledge your hard-earned cash here, and if you can’t, tell your networks, someone will have a tenner

My ICT teacher can’t mark my homework

Three years ago in August 2009 we ran the first ever Young Rewired State – a hack weekend aimed at the young developer community. I was determined to try to engage them with the exciting (sic) world of open government data, and firing on all four cylinders went out to go tell those kids all about it.

But they were not there…

It made no sense to me that there was a thriving adult developer community, many of them of my own peer group, but no-one under the age of  18? Where were the kids? Was there a corner of the Internet I had yet to discover?

Over a period of months it became blindingly clear that there were no groups, there were tiny pockets and many isolated individuals – all teaching themselves how to code, driven by personal passion and nothing else.

We scraped together 50 of these kids from across the UK and it was one of the most incredible events we have ever run. Ask me about it and I will bore you to death with inspirational stories ;)

Since then, running Young Rewired State has become the most important thing I do.

One story that I have heard time and time again, is that these genius kids are failing in ICT at school, because their teachers cannot mark their work. I mentioned this in the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast and I am often asked to back up my claims!

One of the Young Rewired Staters who attended that first event (and every event Rewired State has run since regardless of the challenge – until he was snaffled by San Francisco: aged 16) explained this for the Coding for Kids google group, and I asked him if I could share his story here. Here goes:

When I was in year 10 (or 11, I can’t remember) we were given the brief to “design and create a multimedia product” for an assessment towards GCSE ICT.
Most people opted to use powerpoint to create a sudo-multimedia product. I, however, decided to build a true multimedia product in Objective-C (a small game written for iPhone & iPod Touch which included a couple of videos, some story text, audio, it was an awesome little thing, it really was :)
The Powerpoints passed with flying colors, my project failed.
I asked the head of IT why he failed me, he told me he simply couldn’t mark it. He had installed the app on his iPhone, as had the rest of the IT staff (Including the technicians who really loved it!), played it, but couldn’t mark it because a)He didn’t understand how it worked and b)It was leagues above anything else he’d ever seen from the class.
I argued the case and managed to scrape a pass by teaching him the basics of Objective-C from scratch and by commenting every single line of code I wrote to explain exactly what it did and how it did it (all 3,400 lines, including standard libraries I used) which ended up being a huge time sink. Time, I was constantly aware, I could be relaxing or working on a project of my own.
I understand that my case is a little different from the one involving Ruby, you can’t expect every IT teacher to be versed in iPhone development, but there is no excuse for not having at least a basic understanding of Ruby/Python and absolutely no excuse for failing work because its difficult to mark.
This NEEDS to be fixed, so many fantastic young devs are becoming disillusioned with education because of little things like this. The thought process, for me at least, follows:
“Wait a second, my IT teacher can’t mark this, so it fails? I don’t really want to be part of a system that works like this”.
This is in stark contrast to events like YRS, where kids are encouraged to push the boundaries and explore how to do things differently to stunning effect. It was one of the major deciding factors for me to leave education and move to the US.
The frightening thing is, after bringing it up at an event, almost every other young dev had a similar story.

I cannot tell you how sad I am that we have not been able to keep this YRSer in the UK, and this is one of the very many stories that drives me.

What can you do to help? Start by understanding this problem, then join groups like Coding for Kids and CAS of course – sign the petition.

There are a great many people trying to help solve this problem, and 2012 is certainly going to see a huge push towards solving this, but for now, just take some time to understand why this is such an important fight we have to win – for this generation and the next.

And as a PS, please read the introduction to Douglas Rushkoff‘s book: Program or be programmed – it is very good! (I so should be on commission from this guy).

Year 8 is too late

Every time we run Young Rewired State, indeed pretty much every time Rewired State runs any hack, we are asked:

What is the male/female ratio?

The answer to this question is usually 5% max female.

Sometimes people then look at me expectantly for me to explain what I am going to do about this, and I usually look a little bit scared.

 To be honest, finding developers of any age or gender, willing, talented and happy to either volunteer their time or give up a weekend (even if it is paid) to help government or organisations as they emerge blinking into the open digital world, is challenging enough. But to answer the girl question – so far I have been at a loss really, and sometimes irritated by the question. Why is no one ever happy?

But yet… it is an important question; and pertinent to me, as the mother of two daughters, one of whom is crying out to code, counts down the days to come to work with me on a hack day – and often fills in the memory gaps where I have missed vital sections of presentations.

The answer

Kidding, I don’t really know the answer, but Courtney Williams (a mentor from the National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park, at Young Rewired State (YRS) this year) and Wendy Grossman (a freelance writer who followed and diarised YRS this year) have volunteered to look at some of the data we have and do some clever brainy things. This research will kick off in September 2011 and I will keep you all posted.

In the mean time, here’s my personal opinion based on a few years of working with developers of all ages, children of all ages and being a Mum of an aspiring girl-geek (9) (and a teenage daughter who has no interest whatsoever – she can be the ‘control’).

=========warning====personal opinion====not based on data====based on surmise and thinking=========

I find it relatively easy to understand and explain the lack of girl geeks, in YRS as well as in the grown up world. Here goes:

  • girls get self-conscious and socially conscious at around puberty/aged 12-14ish
  • coding and digital prowess is still niche at a young age, self-taught by the studious. Often considered a bit nerdy in senior school, where it is not (nor ever has been) taught as a part of the curriculum; therefore those who code have taught themselves. Teaching yourself something that should really be covered as a part of lessons, is a bit like doing extra homework – *why* (ask many teens) on earth would anyone do that?
  • there is no way the majority of hormonally challenged, desperate to find their place in the world, teenage girls would risk ridicule or isolation by doing such a thing – let alone be open and proud about it? (Boys of the same age have different social challenges and do not measure their societal worth so much by peer review aged 13/14)

This is why I reckon YRS gets a higher female sign-up but greater drop-out rate just before the event. They sign up because they want to, they drop out because they cannot face the potential embarrassment <- if only they knew how heralded they would be by the achingly cool. But even the achingly cool kudos doesn’t win against the female peer group pressure.

What’s the answer?

Well, I hate to limit this to just the girl geek question, but perhaps in solving the problem of a dearth of female coders we can make a big dent in the broader problem of the lack of teaching any coding languages in the National Curriculum – anywhere.

Forget enticing computer science degrees, or trying to encourage teenage girls to pick up Python…

Year 8 is too late

Start teaching coding as a part of the curriculum in Year 5. At this point the maths is strong enough in most kids. The IT curriculum has fostered a familiarity with computing and computers and the young minds are ready to start learning programming languages. Indeed they are creative, excited and have not yet developed any association, good or bad, with certain subjects.

I don’t suggest replacing the teaching of IT, that really helps kids get to grips with spreadsheets and word processing skills (yeah OK, Microsoft products, but hey). This is a new subject, an emergent but critical one – as critical as the traditional STEM subjects with which we are all so familiar.

If  it can be introduced as a part of the central curriculum in Year 5, I bet you my last penny that by the time those kids are drawn up through the education system, you would find far less of a disparity between the sexes – and maybe even an increased number of talented young people with an ability to manipulate open data, relate to code and challenging each other to design and build digital products that you and I have not even begun to imagine. Have a little imagine now… good innit?

Make one change: teach coding in Year 5 and thereafter, make it a part of the curriculum (as relevant and necessary as the traditional STEM subjects).

If you want to talk about this, share knowledge, do anything, then I will track what I can on twitter through the hashtag #yr8is2late

But I am only one person and this is not a personal campaign (yet) I want to do what I can, and I can share knowledge and experience, but it takes far more than YRS, Courtney, Wendy and myself to make a difference. And this difference would be for all young developers, not just female.

What’s the next challenge for Open Government data?

So three years in to data.gov.uk and the inaugural National Hack the Government Day and now there is a tick box exercise to “run a hack day”… please… someone… anyone?

Open data is not about hack days and running one does not achieve “engagement with the developer community”.

Background

I met Liz Azyan today. Someone whom I have been aware of for the last few years: blogs great stuff, is principled and keeps herself gainfully employed with a plethora of socially ethical social media support (if you know what I mean).

I was blindsided by her, she is awesome and I think really trying her damnedest to do the right thing in an environment that she totally understands, but with a community she is less accustomed to – yet. Watch this space, and government data geeks: I urge you to chat to her if you get a chance.

One of the questions she asked me today was: What is the next challenge for open government data? So thank you Liz for the inspiration for this blog post, it got me thinking about something I have not thought about much, recently.

The environment

Government has opened up quite a bit of data through data.gov.uk, and has encouraged engagement with keen developers who have been hankering after such information for years.

Industry too has embraced Open, with a small number of notable businesses throwing open their data doors, with good results. I wrote a post about this, I shan’t repeat myself and bore you.

APIs are being released almost every day – developer information overload has maxed out, and now we risk lethal developer apathy.

Developers have attended hack days, meetings in Whitehall – indeed many of them have joined AlphaGov. This is all fabulous; but not scalable to the extreme that the open data dream promises.

The challenge

Making it all work.

It’s all very well having developers working away with this data, but if government is not ready for it, it’s a waste of time.

Take just one example: two incredibly talented developers worked together over the course of a weekend hack last year, coding through the night to create a notification engine for the government Tell Us Once programme. It worked, it would have saved oodles of time and bucketloads of cash – but government was simply unable to implement it. This is one simplified example of 100s of apps created by Rewired State hack days alone, and there are many others.

Now, if you can imagine for a minute being a developer, donating your time – granted, sometimes the hack days are paid, but always weekends away from family – year on year creating apps that would help government and citizens. Solving problems time and time again – quick example, every year the Young Rewired State coders create apps to help them define safe routes to school/friends. Year on year we showcase these to the Home Office – nothing happens. Still no government supported/approved app to meet this obviously critical need.

Why would you bother?

Open data? Awesome, and we are making tracks.

Open Government? HARD, and we are not banging on that door yet.

The reality

The developers who work on government data often do so either out of personal frustration, or a genuine commitment to making the world a little bit better.

Rarely can they reach an audience that would benefit from their app/widget/website on their own and in their spare time, at least not without considerable support. Nor are they doing this for profit, so they are not going to get investor cash.

Helping government do its work better is not a good proposition for your typical angel or VC – the target is government; and only government can utilise the genius that they are being offered.

Lots of tiny arrows

Right now lots of tiny arrows are rained on the government portals day on day, by an increasingly disparate and desolate group of extremely talented people.

Is there any success anywhere? No. Well unless you count the oft-reported GovSpark created by Issy in Young Rewired State 2010, curated by a plethora of supportive geeks and designers and some financial and hosting support from The Stationery Office. But that was a ‘nice to have’ addition to a Prime Ministerial commitment. It was not a revolutionary way to interact with central or local government.

So what’s the next challenge for Open Government data?

Forget the data.

Find a way to enable these revolutionary ideas, apps, websites and widgets that save time, money and mind-numbing frustration from those who have to engage with government.

Do that, and only that.

And when you have done that – then engage the developers again around your open data through hack days, geek advisory boards or whatever means you can.

Until then, let them have a break. They’ll still be there if you do this. If you don’t, they won’t.

And that is ridiculous.

Also, please don’t insist people ‘do hack days’ for you. Here’s the point of a hack day.

What’s the point of a hack day?

I get asked constantly what my favourite app was that was built at any of the many hack days I have run through Rewired State. I am often ashamed that I struggle to answer, although there are many. This is because hack days are rarely about the prototype.

To cover briefly what a hack day is, it is:

  • one or two days long (often belying the name)
  • any number of developers, for me a minimum of 10 devs are needed to make it buzz a bit, but 20+ makes it exciting
  • a subject, challenge, dataset (the broader the better)
  • developers are given a brief of the subject or challenge at the beginning of day 1
  • they code/design/engineer over the course of a free form period of around 24 hours to create prototype solutions or ideas
  • they present back to their hack peers and any inquisitive viewers, as well as the sponsor, client or group who put the event together
  • prizes are awarded
  • beer and pizza is essential

Many people will not experience a hack day, but if you can, please do. Show and tells are usually open to anyone who wants to attend and twitter and lanyrd are quite good at curating such event information.

However, the reason for this blog post is to explain the point of a hack day, now in 2011 (it will definitely be different in a year’s time, but to chart right now).

If you take a little time to look at the above list of what a hack day is you can understand that the common question might be: yes but what did they make and what happened next?

My response to that is that you are jumping the gun.

What we do at hack days is show you the future. Here’s why.

Why do developers turn up?

Well, in the current climate: API bonkers, information overload (yes devs get that too), tablet shmablet, toy shmoy world that we live in, there needs to be a little peace, as well as a challenge. As I have explained in a previous post about developers it is up to the rest of the world not to risk developer apathy (already here IMHO), and to look at what really matters.

Developers are simply awesome and if you know one I dare you to go try your million dollar idea out on them – they will have deconstructed and reconstructed it in minutes. Tell them your *save the world* idea and they will probably risk divorce to build it for you – please don’t do this.

Developers who know hack days turn up for the buzz, the competition and to learn, mainly to learn. Those who have never been to one come for the challenge.

I have been running hack days for three years now, and one veteran of the Rewired State hack days was at this weekends’ hactivate event. He spent the weekend coding a composting app, it’s cool, you can see it and many more here. But the big thing for him was spending 1.5 hours playing with a web server, in peace, legitimately, on a Sunday (and learning). Another group (and this is usual for a hack weekend) were hack day virgins, and have adopted the amaze-balls face of pride at what they can actually build when challenged by time (hack days are ruthless) as well as taking home the contact details of the colleagues who are as talented as themselves, at other stuff.

One developer gave himself this hack weekend as a Father’s day present. To have a weekend to spend with his peers, although coding was his day job, to work on his own projects, surrounded by like-minded awesomes, fed, watered – that’s the point.

Most developers will leave a hack day with new knowledge or at least new contacts, that can lead to extending their ability to deliver the awesomeness.

It’s probably fair to say that most would not admit to being so excited by the non-coder audience blinking at what they have managed to create in a two-day period, nor the prizes showered upon them. And, from those I know, it is always the afterthought – although I am now really clever and spend my life finding flipping brilliant geek prizes that they can’t ignore :).

Which is why it is important to understand all this before you ask: what is the point of a hack day?

What’s in it for the non-coders/organisations/brands?

So, there is an immediate and very obvious benefit for anyone engaging a number greater than ten developers on your own idea/API/bit of kit, and hack days seem to be de rigueur. Is not hard to be confident that good things will come of the weekend.

But is it the list of prototypes at the end? That no good hack day host would ever be able to predict?

No, it is engagement with the development community. Gifting your idea/API/bit of kit and enabling some free time for developers to engage with and over said idea/API/bit of kit. Yes of course you will get any number of good prototypes and even working applications – but better you will get to meet a number of developers, showing off their skills and often their newly acquired ones – this is really as rare as hen’s teeth (usually because they are fully employed fulfilling other peoples’ ambitions) engaging over a dedicated period, with peers they may not have yet met, over your technology or challenge. Yes, your super-sexy next bazillion idea might come out of this – but you created the environment for that conversation, that dev-to-dev spark.

But yet…

The thing I have noted today after Hactivate is that the sponsors are actually dedicated to seeing the apps go beyond the hack day. The winning app was one built to try to address human trafficking, and it was created to make the interface so simple that anyone could take it up without needing access to anything too technical; then we could crowdsource peoples’ safety.

The judges are determined – from a human pov, not only the brand they represented – to help collate the necessary charity network information and wherewithall to make it happen. However the geeks who thought it needed to happen and were so passionate about beating human trafficking that they spent their weekend building an application to make people a little bit more safe, found it hard to adjust to the jump of someone actually taking it on and helping make it happen (within 24 hours). Possibly because they had been coding non-stop for 24 hours, presenting to Press, sponsors and co-hackers – more probably because they were not used to their ideas being taken up so strongly and immediately by the kind of brands that can really make it a reality.

Such is the magic of a hack day.

This is why I love hack days… dilemma :)

And so…

The point of a hack day for a developer is to be with like-minded people, work on your own stuff, learn and be celebrated; for the rest of us, it is to create the environment for magic to happen.

Maybe in the next few years they may become simply about the prototype, but I hope that day is a long way off. The point is developers, living and learning from each other in an environment that is created by you: the challenger.

Finally…

As ever, my cry is: please, do not take the piss, developers are for life not just for your *next million* or *save the world* idea. They are an asset to be cherished and nurtured and they do not necessarily always value the same things you do. It is rarely money or jobs – most developers are awash with job offers, and extra-curricular *cash* offers.

Hack days do work, right now, because everyone wins when they are run well and with consideration. But please don’t ask me what my favourite app is that was ever built at a hack day! I can’t tell you, I have no idea. I do however now know 200+ developers whom I would be able to call in a heartbeat, and know their skills, passions and talents – but I would never sell them to anyone.

Developers are a talent to be nurtured in our open data and open society world. Hack days respect this and act as breathing spaces for devs.

It is rarely about the prototype, and when it is, I will probably go buy that flower shop I have been promising myself.

Stephen Fry’s Big Digital Day and our hack room

So I started this week calling out for those digital futurologists to raise their hands and heads again and then started writing in a bid to draw out those brilliant but busy people who may have an opinion on subjects that were becoming critical to the world of Open. (One reality is that there are so many “Open” things: data, standards, pub standards, sub-pub standards, platforms etc etc etc)!

I can only write daily if I am amplifying what has taken up my time or headspace during the day, and today it has been working out how to best serve Stephen Fry’s Big Digital Day.

The idea is that we (Rewired State) are going to run a hack room backstage with 20 of the country’s most exciting developers working on data provided by a selection of SMEs in the audience. The aim is to see how many ‘businesses’ (applications, websites, widgets etc) we can make in a day, to show how rapid the digital business world is. How essential it is not to get too hung up on your one big idea; that in fact if you collaborate and take a few risky steps by sharing your data with other businesses, the outcomes could be spun into gold.

The digital day is being run with the following intention:

We recognise that over the last two years in particular, an incredible amount of passion and determination has been put into new products, online businesses and brands. The Big Digital Day is a clarion call to bring the industry together for a single day of inspiring exchange.

My instinct is to do as I have laid out above, show the potential through practical and fast programming by the best geeks I know. However, should any of you who have been gazing into the future of relationships between developers and businesses – whether with devs as the business owners or brought into a business – have any bigger and better ideas for how we might use the hack room, 20 devs and lots of business data, please could you share?

This event will also be interesting to see who Stephen and Andrew can draw out of the woodwork in terms of speakers and those with their finger on the digital pulse of the UK. The speaker list has not been published yet – I look forward to hopefully discovering/rediscovering some big thinkers.

I shall keep you posted and welcome your input.

We do have a few tickets to the event, and if you want to share your expertise here then we may be able to squeeze you in on the Rewired State guest list :)

Too much information

On day two of my week of blogging every day on what is niggling and making me think (see yesterday’s post if you are confused) I am going to write about a topic of daily discussion with colleagues and people in the digital industry and see if there is any more light to be shared on all this.

We seem to find ourselves in a world of over-communication, over-sharing and in the battle cry of Open: too much information. I am not sure that there is anything wrong with this, but what feels iffy is the fact that – again – there seem to be not enough people out there on the horizon carving out the future for us all in the following areas:

  • personal data and rights management
  • developer fatigue

Personal data and rights management

Working as I do in the Open data world I know for a fact that we are very careful to keep the data we work with non-personal, and endeavour always to make sure that cross-referencing data will not enable identification of an individual. We also do not go anywhere near personal information. William Heath has long been *the* voice in my world for identity, a fully paid up member of the Open Rights Group and jointly owns the company Mydex. William is one of those people to whom I was referring yesterday – we need him out there on the edges of reality and I would love to hear a lot more from him about his future vision. Personal data is obviously the next big discussion, what is the personal decision making/prioritisation that happens sub-consciously when a person builds their facebook page and sets their privacy settings? Why do people say yes or no to a store card? What is the value metric for personal data? Why is everyone (almost) religiously determined to hold back personal information from government, or treat government requests for personal information with caution or even suspicion? I don’t know the answers to this – but I hope to find out more. Please do point me to people who are researching this publicly and with a horizon view (other than William!)

I also am a bit surprised that the Open Rights Group are not being clasped to the bosom of every organisation opening their data – rights management, believe you me, is the conversation du jour; and getting it right for both data owners, developers and organisations has to be one of the highest priorities. Open data and an open society needs clearly defined and refreshed rules and perhaps it is time to start Rights camp or somesuch – it seems to me that it requires the heads of many specialists to get it right, not just one group – and that is always interesting to me.

Developer fatigue

This could well deserve a post of its own, I am not sure yet, we will see. In my (slightly controversial sorry about that) post I wrote last year about developers I touched on the risk of developers turning away from publicly released data if there was an eternal demand on their free time and expertise. To an extent this is beginning to happen now and I would hope that those who are trying to solve the problem of:

We released our data but no one is playing with it, where are all the developers?

… can recognise that there is a very real requirement to engage with developers in smarter ways and to honour their work ethic and abilities. There is no need for me to re-write the developer post from last year, but developer fatigue is very real, is very much here and should be (along with rights management) something that open organisations and industries are addressing with fresh minds. I know it is my utmost priority and is not easily solved, certainly not by simply throwing cash at the problem – although that never goes amiss; but also:

  • working with their schedules and optimal way of working, this may not be 9-5
  • finding a variety of very real challenges and apparently unsolvable problems
  • realising the relevance and value of geek work and utilising that

Looking at the future landscape of a professional relationship between Open organisations and the developer community in a sustainable and respectful fashion is the main focus for me really, and I really, REALLY would love some suggestions if you have them for who is scoping this work – again the edge of reality and future world stuff – not the immediate environment.

So that’s it for today. See you tomorrow!

Networking businesses not people/Speed data-ing

Or… Hack day for start-ups (update) <- we had too many clever names for this post

Right, there has been growing interest in this hack day, which is all very exciting as I think it might be brilliant. So here is a bit of an update:

Date: I did say I was aiming for the first Saturday in June, that is now looking unlikely as I have been a bit busy with the day job :), but it will be a Saturday probably in June, possibly sneaking into July.

the rest of this post will refer to ‘we’, I have not come over all Royal, but have dragged a few people into this

If you don’t know what I am talking about, here is my previous post on the matter.

What businesses, what data?

Ideally we want 15 businesses involved and we are now in the process of  reducing a wish-list of 44 down to 10. Then we would like to invite five volunteer businesses – seem fair?

In order to put your business forward you just need to have some interesting non-personal data,

data is information that has been translated into a form that is more convenient to move or process

basically, the stuff that sits in databases. We don’t need to have any story behind why your business should be included, just send us a link to your website and tell us about the data you have. Email us: bizhackday at gmail dot com.

What’s in it for businesses?

We can’t be completely prescriptive, however we would expect at least the following:

  1. connections with other businesses based on your professional data
  2. potentially a new product or service that you can take forward
  3. a visualisation of your information that makes more sense than you’ve ever seen before
  4. finding connections with data sets that you simply hadn’t thought of before

Here is a blog post about a hack day run by Rewired State, just to give you a better idea of what happens. (Important to note that this business hack day is not a Rewired State event, but is supported by some Rewired State developers and me, a founder director).

Stuff we need

I have had several offers of servers, so I will get back to you kind people. We need money to pay for food during the day, IT support at Adam Street, paying the developers, beer and pizza. Rewired State will be stumping up some cash but it would be good to have sponsorship from elsewhere as well, contact me if you want to sponsor.

Register your interest to attend

We really don’t know what is going to happen, what will be produced and what opportunities will be created. What we do know is that the show and tell at the end is usually brilliantly buzzy and incredible to watch. The business owners will obviously be there and Adam Street members, sponsors (if we get any), but if you would like to come along and see the presentations and be part of what we hope will be a inspirational bit of geekery then please apply (again to bizhackday at gmail dot com) and we will confirm places once we are clear on numbers.

I think that’s it, over the next week we will be contacting businesses, do yell if you want to join in in some way!

Running a very experimental hack day for start-ups

This is nothing to do with my work in government, therefore I am blogging about it! (Ref previous purdah post)

The idea is to gather together a number of business start-ups, owned by members of Adam Street club, identify the ones with interesting data and information, pull together a number of developers/hackers, some of whom are already working with the businesses concerned, some of whom are nothing to do with it (including some Rewired State developers) – and run a one-day hack event with the intention of creating a number of mash-ups. The mash-ups can take many forms: websites, web applications, i-phone apps, other data phone apps, i-pad apps, games, maps – endless possibilities.

The aim is to see where there might be connections and collaborations between businesses not yet explored, and inevitably see what, if any, new products there are hiding amongst that information. I have no idea what will happen, it could be simple things like more effective ways to exploit the data or better ways to store and serve the information. However, I think it is worth doing, as we all know that one of the best ways to re-generate the economy is through enterprise and entrepreneurship – so why not see if we can be pro-active about this with start-ups.

How will the day work?

The day will start with the owners of the selected businesses standing up and speaking about what they do, what data they have put into the pot, any ideas or issues that have that they would like solved, inspiration etc (this will be very time-limited!). A Rewired State developer will have been working with me to get the data sorted for re-use, and we will explain how to access the data and any APIs we may have.

Planning and coding will start as soon as possible, and will continue through the day – fuelled by delicious food and beverages in a variety of forms. At 6pm there will be a show and tell, where the developers will show what they have made, with the traditional beer and pizza accompaniment, to their peers, the business and data owners, and a selection of interested people.

What happens next?

Collaborations between start-ups, initiated by the mash-ups, are the primary outcome we want to focus on. Where this goes depends entirely on the people involved and the nature of the product. Perhaps products will be created that are completely new and therefore further discussions will take place about how that might be taken forward either by the business owners, or by the developers themselves. We will see, but we will be making sure that whatever support needed going forward is provided and will be looking for sponsors and investors to help us do that.

This first one will hopefully begin a series of start-up hack days, I hope that it does work, it may not.

How to get involved

Well, in order to see if this works we will be hand-picking businesses, but if you are an Adam Street member and have a business that you think should be involved, let me know. If you are a developer and really want to be involved, then get in touch – I have enough signed up, but we are not really squeezed on space so we can take more if you are good.

We could do with a bit of sponsorship for beer and pizza in the evening, but all we can offer in return for sponsorship, is attendance at the show and tell and a first dibs at next-step talks with the business owners and hackers – plus inclusion in any Press we do around this event (although we are not yet decided on whether we will invite Press – thoughts?). Also, all of the developers do this on a voluntary basis, so if we get sponsorship we will try to give them something in return for their work, usually in the form of prizes – you can help us judge these.

We need a server… please…

I think it would be quite good if there was a group of people wanting to run an eye over this, and act as a bit of an advisory panel, so that this does not become just a pointless, but fun, exercise. There are a few involved already, but if you feel that you could bring something to this particular party – please do let me know.

Want to come to the show and tell? Just let me know and let me know why and I will see, we are limited on space for that – so it will be first come first served and relevancy.

Why Adam Street member businesses only?

Adam Street is a club that offers seriously affordable membership to entrepreneurs and start-ups (I made that up from my own experience, it’s not their official line I don’t think!). Most people that belong to it are serious about their business and are looking for good networking opportunities, but perhaps cannot afford to invest in expensive business clubs. These are the people we think would most benefit and appreciate this form of innovation. I am a member and it seems a sensible place to start – apart from the fact that I am not a member of anywhere else. (From the Adam Street side, they started out wanting to provide an affordable space for entrepreneurs, offering them collaboration opportunities – and they are keen to deliver on this, above and beyond the Mojito).

I approached the club about this idea as I thought it would be a good idea for their members and they were enthusiastic, embracing the ethos of hack days as much as me and happy to go with the ‘suck it and see’ attitude <- do not insert crude joke here.

When?

*probably* the first Saturday in June. It has to be a Saturday as we need the best developers, and they are busy all week. Also, Adam Street is shut until 6pm on a Saturday, so we get the run of the club throughout the day when the developers need peace to work.

Rewired State

I am a founder director of Rewired State, but that is really all that is relevant here. This is not a Rewired State hack day – we are über busy with government work, and our only focus is public sector information and hack days. However, I have opened the offer to work on this hack day to our developers as they really are the best; and am really pleased to say that ten of them are joining us to work on this, including two of the Young Rewired State hackers, one aged 15 the other 16 (and mind-blowingly good).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers