97ers and work

This is the 5th post in a series I am writing about 97ers: social natives. It may help to read the previous ones:

Introducing the 1997 Digital Natives, 97ers, and their networked communities of learning

The 97ers and Identity

The 97ers and social activism

The difference between the 97er and Gen Y

If you think about the 97er and the environment in which they have grown up there has been a heartbeat of disruption:

  • worldwide recession
  • worldwide terrorism

And their security, possibly unbeknownst to them, has come from their community, their peers – the ultimate sharing of knowledge has acted as lifelong reassurance of themselves, their validity, safety and inevitably shaped their attitudes and expectations.

Luckily the natural reaction to restore the balance of the universe is the rise of the collaborative community, the prosumers and an almost zealous belief in Openness and Transparency.

What lies beyond school?

These children are now looking at their life beyond education. Summer 2014 will see some choose apprenticeships, some choose further education and some head for the job market – the march into becoming part of the working community has begun and by 2015 they will be officially “grown-up” – well, 18 years old.

I believe that the most obvious effect we will see first is the reaction to the recession. They know no different than jobs with banks, or in the public sector or in monolithic and historical organisations that have been going for hundreds of years being the most unsafe choices a person can make in a career. They have witnessed mass redundancies, seen story after story of brands that even they know: Blockbusters, Woolworths, going bust with thousands of jobs vanishing. There are very few who have not been personally affected by this either directly through family or friends.

At the same time they have also seen a rise in entrepreneurship, parents and their friends choosing to run their own businesses, their peers creating start-ups, crowd-funding platforms; their social media streams are full of this relentless birth of “new”. It is all they know.

Safety and security

To my mind the perception of what is a secure job choice has been completely thrown into chaos. Nothing really makes sense any more if they try to think of a job for life, a job they want to “do”, as some parents, teachers and careers advisers are still encouraging them to focus on.

For the 97ers security and reassurance has come from community knowledge, but in this instance there is no prior knowledge of how to tackle this jump from their networked communities into a linear working world; with choices to be made with 2d information, crafted and marketed directly to them – the kind of information they have learned to distrust and deride.

And so I am beginning to see these young people attempt to squeeze themselves into the kind of person their predecessors were, looking to the entry level jobs of large organisations, and trying to understand why formal careers in traditional roles (those waved in front of them as a “good idea”) can possibly be a good idea – when they are the most insecure choice, based on what they have seen growing up.

Lazy, layabout teens

As a result they are less enthusiastic about going and getting “starter” jobs or part-time work, more keen to either stay in education until the world makes sense again, or become apprentices in skills they know they can fall back on when the world falls out of the bottom of the financial markets again (yes I intentionally skewed that phrase).

I fear that the draconian, booming voice of Whitehall threatening benefits and the ‘benefit society’ is creating even more insecurity and confusion. As they recall any bits from their past that might help them make decisions on the future they will remember job losses, failing economies, fewer work opportunities for greater numbers of people – and they will begin to worry.

Worried 97ers will depend ever more heavily on their networks for reassurance and to find the answer. I believe that there will be a period of introspection amongst this community, and society will blame technology because they will all seem to be descending more heavily into being glued to their phones, tablets and computers – apparently wasting away their lives instead of  focusing on the next stage of life: their careers.

People will bemoan the lazy, layabout teen culture.

We need them

I would implore you, should you find yourself doing this, to try to resist! We need them to be introspective, to make it better and easier for the ones that are coming year on year after them. We need them to be supporting each other through their digital networks and we need their leaders to emerge organically from this – they will discover who they want to follow in the way they have always done so: through social channels.

And we need them in our organisations. We need them to help all businesses and sectors understand the new nature of their audience/consumers/prosumers.

What can we do?

Look to those economists predicting the slow death of capitalism and the social theorists looking at the complicated lives of the consumer society. You can rest assured that the 97ers are really not going to be doing that – but we can.

  • Let’s look at the emerging economy that is starting to take shape, and allow these young people time to get themselves ready, and empowered
  • Encourage entrepreneurship
  • Encourage digital skills
  • Share stuff you find that talks about economies and markets
  • Give them information and knowledge
  • Find the the thought leaders online
  • Become the translators of the dull stuff that will help shape the 97er community conversation

 

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.

Learning to code, advice for inquisitive non-coders from the GDNdi

As a very brief intro the Guardian Developer Network Drop In (GDNdi) it is explained here and the next one’s announced here. As a result of the May drop ins, Alan Rusbridger invited three of the developers to speak at the Guardian morning conference about their projects and what they were working on, including Anna Powell-Smith’s work on the Domesday Book and the Domesday Map, Angus Fox’s work on Multizone social mobile apps for UK Police and Rob Mckinnon’s Who’s Lobbying – all projects that are self-funded/delivered on a shoe-string but driven by the developers’ own passion for the subject. There were many developers who dropped in and who will feature if they fancy, but these three were a lovely start.

The burning question after the morning conference was: ‘how can I learn to code?’

The following is advice received from Anna and Rob, I can lay no claim other than asking the question, getting the answer and permission to blog about it – but it is such a common question that I thought it was important to share their advice, as it can help everyone (who wants to know :))

As far as programming languages go for the beginner we recommend Python or Ruby above anything else, certainly!

Learn Python the Hard Way: http://learnpythonthehardway.org (*FREE* book with structured exercises) Paul Bradshaw, who is a journalist who has learned to code, used this and recommended it highly.

There’s a nice quote in the afterword to the book:

“Programming as a profession is only moderately interesting….. You are much better off using code as your secret weapon in another profession. People who can code in biology, medicine, government, sociology, physics, history, and mathematics are respected and can do amazing things to advance those disciplines.”

There’s an online Ruby tutorial here: http://TryRuby.org/

The ScraperWiki tutorials are good to do some practical scraping (Anna Powell-Smith wrote a bunch of them) http://scraperwiki.com/about/

Once you’ve done the book/tutorial, then you should pick a real-world problem you want to solve, find a tame coder, and just do it.

In the spirit of “open everything” and hopefully the benefit you have gained from this advice, please do champion Anna and Rob’s projects as well as those of any developers you know. And if you are a developer, please do come along to our drop-ins, you can work in peace but we also have lots of things happening at the moment in the Guardian if you want to know a bit more.

There is of course the fabulous hacks and hackers for those journalists who are keen on being a part of a community hungry to learn more.

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