Hack day prizes – please stop

This may seem like a pointless post but I am so fed up of the increasingly insane monetary rewards being offered for hack days, that attract entrepreneurs not coders – usually entrepreneurs with an idea, an eye for the cash and a knackered coder in tow.

Over the last five years we have worked hard with the coding community, indeed we are a bit of *the* coding community, and the work has been to find and strike a balance between:

  • rewarding work done
  • creating value that can be realised and made useful
  • having a fun event
  • taking the p*ss
  • IP

We have found a solution that works right now, so feel free to hire us!, but I really think these insane massive prizes or ridiculous PR efforts hiring jumbo jets to fly hackers across the world are doing more damage than you can ever know.

I beg you to watch Daniel Pink’s Drive animation talk for the RSA, and please stop or you will destroy the one beautiful offering that over-worked geeks are giving to the world – their time. Please stop… and watch…

 

Introducing Rewired Reality and YRS Everywhere – fa’ reeeel

Anyone who follows me in the social space will be very well aware that this week we (Rewired State) launched Rewired Reality**, our first venture into the commercial space, funded by the wonderful Nominet Trust. I have not spoken much about it here recently as it has taken quite a lot of work to get the idea and process right.

It is essentially an online hack day, for those tasks that would benefit from the hive mind of Rewired and Young Rewired State developers, but not a full-blown hack event. A challenge is submitted alongside a sum of money, we work with you to further define the challenge and to ensure the monetary reward matches the challenge and is not ‘cheap labour’*. Behind the Board there are a number of Rewired State and Young Rewired State developers hand-picked for now from successful hack events who will, if they choose to, create a prototype solution to the challenge. After 5-7 days there is a short period of peer review thereafter the Bounty Hunter, the client, is shown all proposed solutions and chooses a winner. The money is then shared between all devs taking part, with the winner taking a greater Bounty. (Collaboration is encouraged on and off the platform).

We think this is awesome for two reasons:

  • hack apathy is real, as is developer apathy, yet there is still a diminishing pool of talent who still really *do* want to assist with bringing dreams to life and solving complex technical problems – Rewired Reality brings a solution
  • Young Rewired Staters get an opportunity to solve real world problems, build their portfolio and experience – and clients get access to the brilliance of young minds

At the same time I have been dedicating myself this year to delivering against this dream. I am really pleased to report that conversations have begun in the following regions outside the UK:

  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Aarhus
  • Berlin
  • Jo’burg
  • Amsterdam

With dates secured (yet to be revealed – wait until the new YRS site is launched :)) in NYC, Jo’burg and Aarhus. Working on the others at the moment. We are aiming to start with 50 young coding kids in each region, aged 18 or under, engaging them with local open government data and the open data developer communities – with a view to creating a worldwide, independent developer network, both mentored and mentoring, enabling these young people to grow up teaching and bringing peer-to-peer learning to life through solving real-world problems, using open data.

Our raison d’être in Rewired State is still to find and foster every child driven to teach themselves how to code, and by looking beyond the UK we are actually starting to realise this dream.

I am constantly amazed at the fact that in every country or region I speak to, the response is hugely enthusiastic, coupled with concern that these young children do not exist in their community. I am convinced that they do, and I am convinced that for the ones we find through these events, we will enrich their lives by bringing them a community of other people like themselves.

The ultimate dream is that these young people will grow up mentoring and being mentored, with children across the world working together to solve real challenges regardless of borders or oceans. They will no longer be isolated and coding alone.

So there you are! YRS Hyperlocal is happening very very slowly, funding is taking its time to happen, but we are getting there and will have news within weeks of a successful part-funding venture that affects YRSers in London and the Midlands. More to come…

* we work hard to ensure that people with a reduced budget can also take advantage of the board, by reducing the scope of the challenge to meet the reward, so we are not being elitist

** Rewired Reality is not yet pretty we are doing the design work and a nice video explanation in the coming weeks, the platform has taken up the energy :)

Here is an unedited version of me talking about Rewired Reality

Types of hack day

A year ago I wrote a blog post: What’s the point of a hack day? You probably need to scan that and this one: What is a hack day?

In it I said that it would probably be different in a year, and to some extent it is, but one thing will never change, and that is how you should treat developers. Enough has been said on twitter today about the Cadbury hack and in my head a few weeks ago about the Hack for the high street event – both of which are hack days with the sole intention of the attending developers building an app for either a specific event or for a bunch of businesses, for free, or for props and chocolate.

This is wrong, but I am not being helpful in just saying so, but I must make it clear: I believe this is very wrong.

Thayer Prime has written an excellent blog post about how dangerous this is from a PR angle when you are a large, rich organisation, I would like to update my post from last year to reflect how I see hack days being legitimately used these days:

Hack for a cause

An open hack day, available for anyone to come to where there will typically be decent prizes at the end of it but developers are not paid. Organisation of such an event may well be sponsored to cover beer, pizza, hosting and whatnot but the developers are free to build whatever they fancy, or not if they just want to be there. Apps can be showcased but IP of idea and code remains with the developer.

Hack events like this are very effective for creating meercat moments in entire industries, most recently I saw this happen with the TV industry at the TV hack in Cannes and has been most notably successful with music and open government data.

Hack on new kit or new data/API

Some organisations need developers to engage with their new piece of kit or play with their new data. Hack days are great for this – but developers should be paid something for their time and IP for anything they make at the event should remain with the developer, both code and idea. Prizes should be awarded in addition to the payment to devs.

These are very successful and most recently I can cite the GLA hack day as a good example of this – devs were paid to explore some of the newly released London data sets during the typical two day hack setting.

Hack days as research and development

These are growing in popularity. Whilst they are expensive – you must pay developers the market rate – the expense is nothing compared to a typical six month round of R&D that would result in an awful lot less than a room of 20-30 developers, pizza and focus over 24-48 hours.

The end of these hack days produce prototypes that the commissioning organisation can take back and plug into their own developments and decision-making processes. Whenever we run hack days such as this we would have an agreement with the commissioning organisation and the developers in advance that the IP would fall into one of the following categories:

  • IP for idea and code remains with the developer
  • IP for the idea passes to the client
  • IP for the idea passes to the client but the code is open-sourced on GitHub for the client, or anyone, to reuse
  • IP for the code is passed to the client - this costs more than the above two options and we make arrangement directly with the developers to agree this sum as effectively the developers are working on direct commission from the client and should be paid as such at their usual rate

A successful example of using a hack day for R&D would be most recently with UKCES where they used an R&D hack day to test the build of their API. At the very beginning of the build they tested the API with the developers to see whether it was doing what it needed to do in order for developers to work with it in the future.

Hack days alongside conferences

These are interesting, and it depends on the conference as to how this should be handled with paying developers or not. The premise being that there is a conference on a subject that can be brought to life as the conference progresses by running a hack day alongside it really bring the subject to life, maybe even solving some of the more common challenges faced.

My rule of thumb would be that if the conference is aimed even in part at the developer community and they would be attending, or make up some of the audience, then an open hack day format alongside the conference is a great idea. If the subject is not naturally one that would attract developers, say the Cadbury conference on cocoa production or whatever – then a hack day alongside the conference would be an excellent way of bringing it to life or focusing on one particular challenge or problem, but the developers should be paid.

An example of a successful hack day conference would be Hacktivate that runs alongside Activate.

Marketing hack days

Some organisations come to us and want a hack day on order to have something interesting to talk about for their advertising campaign, or to align their brand with the perceived hack celebrities, the brogrammers and geeky chics. These are all good things – but they cost money.

An example of this is the Honda hack. Honda were launching a new Civic and wanted to align their brand with everything that sat under the umbrella of Power of dreams. What better than a hack day for doing such a thing? It was treated in the same way as the R&D hack days I spoke about above and after the event ran they relinquished all call on the IP to anything and still paid the programmers and developed the winning prototypes.

They had plenty of content to write about, point to and they had engaged with a community that did interesting things with their brand beliefs.

Hack days for app building

These are becoming more common, are the most dangerous PR-wise and if you want your app/s built for free, are alienating you from powerful members of the digital community. Believe you me the developer world is a small one, and your reputation will spread fast.

If you want an app built for your organisation, event or brilliant idea – pay a development team. If you are not sure what that app looks like and you want a number of developers to come up with some options for you – then of course, that can be done through a hack day, but it should be paid work.

Polite things to do

If you are running a hack day that falls into any of the above categories where developers are not paid, then take very special care to:

  • ensure you take care of every detail and meet all caffeine and sugar needs in a timely fashion ;)
  • offer travel reimbursement if you can
  • have excellent, excellent prizes
  • have lots of staff on hand to make sure the devs volunteering their time and talents feel appreciated
  • enable the developers to be showcased to the best effect – be super-organised about that

Needless to say, Rewired State run hack days in all of the above categories. I am writing here after four years of making mistakes and learning from them, so trust me, I have learned this the hard way. Things are of course changing constantly, but there are some things that never change: don’t take the piss.

And before anyone picks me up on the charity hacks that we run, that is exactly so, we do run occasional hacks for charitable causes where developers do work for free, but we call on our own developer community for this and are very, very careful about what is being asked, by whom. We did this most recently with Refugees United and it was a humbling experience for all of us. But we are in the very fortunate position of being four years old with a robust and sizeable developer community of over 600 people that we can call on, and reward, as a group throughout the rest of the year.

And finally, whilst I am on this subject, Matthew Cashmore pointed out on twitter that the term Hack Day has been replaced by Hackathon on Wikipedia. MC has a *lot* to say about this and I concur that it is appallingly lame and something should be done to stop this march of mediocrity. A hack day is a hack day, has always been known as such. A Hackathon is a term coined by those who are scared that people will think a hack day means people will do bad things. Personally I can’t stand the term hackathon and will never run one – get it *run* a hackathon… I’ll get my coat…

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).

#codingforkids evening barcamp

If any of you have heard me tell the story of how Rewired State came about, you may be surprised that I am throwing myself into a barcamp. (For those who haven’t, it goes along the lines of – after 3 years of talking about the digital future of government in a series of barcamps, I got thoroughly bored and wanted action not words, so kicked off National Hack the Government day with the genius minds of James Darling and Richard Pope – since then I have been a bit scathing about chatty stuff – I am often wrong).

So, we are running a barcamp style informal evening on the topic of teaching coding in schools. We are doing this because actually the debate and issues that surround the subject of teaching programming in schools is so complicated, it is also noisy. So what we are hoping to do is bring some of those voices together in a room for a couple of hours, to hammer out some of the next steps.

We aim to have everyone commit to one action each at that barcamp, for them to then blog about their progress over the next few months and then run a hack day 3 months after that, to prototype any required digital tools. Thereafter we would like to hold regular alternate barcamps and hack days, relentlessly drilling through the issues and gathering the necessary experts around this topic.

It is way too big a subject for it to be owned or solved by any one organisation or thought leader – it requires an expert and committed community, self-driven and focused on specialist areas. Katy Beale from Caper and myself from Young Rewired State are just acting as catalysts here – we want it to take flight.

If this sounds like something you would like to take part in, then the event is being held on October 12th from 6-9pm at the Guardian, sign up to the Eventbrite form over here and we will keep you posted on stuff.

This is very much a community thing, it is not an Emma and Katy thing, we just wanted to get it started.

Paragraph Seven

So imagine a world where we had managed to delete the contracts of the people who charged over a million to execute a back button on Directgov (yes) plus untold numbers of stories of traditional ICT organisations ripping off government. All those very ICT contracts that we railed against and celebrated the fact that we finally had a government willing to put an end to this nonsense. And the very reasoned arguments for kids and coding. And then let’s see what happens.

Here is paragraph seven of the Wired Article on where we are now and the ‘good news’ of the day:

An E-skills UK partnership between major companies including IBM, the BBC, Capgemini, Cisco, Deloitte, HP and Microsoft, have teamed up to reinvigorate the IT curriculum and GCSE and A-level.  The companies will provide online resources, expert advice and Industry-based challenges to encourage creativity, entrepreneurship and team work.

I see you and your consultancy revenue based organisations, and I raise you a network of 100s of kids through YRS who will not be fooled (see what they did when I once got the wrong people in front of them?)

and a network of 100s of Rewired State developers who have no truck with your efforts that are based purely in profit margins and not the real issues this country faces. I also think I can raise you a country full of people fed up with your kind of ransom. With the exception of Microsoft and Ben Nunney (the enthusiastic one in the image above), every organisation named should be held to account for the money they have charged the taxpayer, as well as the disservice they have paid to the computer programmer.

The fact that government now holds this up as a success story sickens me. Are we really measuring our success by romancing the endorsement and fake charity of these named organisations? Let me point you for a second over here: http://rewiredstate.org/blog/2011/09/nurturing-our-own-talent I can assure you that pretty much every one (except Microsoft) told me to bugger off, or maintained a stony silence.

I see your hand and I raise you our country

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).

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