24th February 2015
by Angus Hervey
Community Manager, RHoK Australia

The beating heart of RHoK is the people that give up their time to come down and contribute at our events. Without them, none of this stuff would happen. It's pretty incredible when you think about it. In a world where technology skills are in high demand, most organisations with a social purpose either don't have the know how or the money to create the technology solutions they need. Yet our hackers our happy to volunteer their valuable skills to make the world a better place. That's why RHoK events have such a good vibe - everyone is there to collaborate and help, and it's where you'll meet some of the nicest people in Australia. 

One of those people is Caoilte Dunne, a developer and technical lead at DiUS in Sydney (one of our regional partners). He's an experienced software developer, with a 14 year track record in the architecture, design and development of JEE applications. Most recently he has been building his knowledge of agile coaching and how this can help create a high performance team. 

Caoilte is one of our strongest supporters, having been involved with RHoK Sydney since the start. We sat down with him at the most recent summer hackathon in Sydney to ask him a few questions. 

So... how did you get into programming?

Well, I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with computers. I'm dyslexic, which means that my spelling is bad. Plus I have bad handwriting, so it was pretty clear that computer science was the way to go. I had to wait until I got to college to start though, because growing up in Ireland in the 80s and 90s there weren't a lot of computers around in high schools. I did have a Commodore VIC20 and then a 64 at home, but in Ireland we were always about five years behind everyone else. I ended up studying a Bachelors degree in Industrial Computing, which is where I guess I really started getting into real programming. 

How did you acquire your tech skills?

I learnt C++ in college, and then my first job was in Java, which I did for between 8 and 10 years. That was a long time to spend in one language, but it also meant I got pretty competent in it. About two and half years ago I moved to Rails. This sort of coincided with the burgeoning agility and process revolution that was going on. These days I'm becoming increasingly interested in not just the technology, but also the process of how you actually make it happen. And that of course, is all about people!

How did you hear about RHoK?

The first ever RHoK event in Sydney was pretty much a crew from DiUS, who've been a big supporter right from the start. For the first few events it was very much a case of getting used to the idea. Most of us hadn't been involved in a hackathon before, so we spent most of the time learning the process. I have to admit to feeling pretty underwhelmed by the first one - but looking back on it now I realise it was just training wheels. We've come a long way since then! Good hackathons are rare... and because RHoK has been doing it longer than most it's learned a lot and is now definitely one of if not the best hackathon in the country. 

How do you feel it’s evolved?

I think both the organisers and participants at RHoK Sydney now have a better understanding of what can actually be accomplished in a weekend. Personally, I also think my expectations are now at the right level - in the early days I would come in wanting to achieve everything but of course there's only so much you can do in two days. Knowing what you can give of yourself in a hackathon is crucial if you want to enjoy it. People here try really hard, and with a certain amount of direction we can accomplish great things but it has to be done with light touch. That's another reason I enjoy RHoK - unlike commercial hackathons you don't have that unrealistic pressure which means its a better experience for everyone. 

RHoK is also interesting because it’s random. So you don’t necessarily have behaviour norms and you never know what to expect coming in. And of course people have different reasons for wanting to help. The one thing we do all have in common though is enthusiasm. RHoK brings together a unique group of really nice human beings because the focus is on community and the common good as opposed to the more technical. 

Caoilte demonstrating his incredible blurring hand skills

Caoilte demonstrating his incredible blurring hand skills

What have you worked on at RHoK?

One of the first projects we did was a disaster recovery program for an organisation in the Phillipines.  Then there was the Bagong Barrio Education Fund, which I worked on twice. At the last hackathon in June 2014 I worked with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which aims to raise literacy levels and improve the lives and opportunities of Indigenous children living in remote and isolated regions. This time around I'm working with Benjam, a project to develop an iPad app for kids with autism. 

What do you like about RHoK?

The ability to attempt to make a difference. This is distinct from making a difference - just because we've worked on something doesn't mean it's actually going to get out the door. People who say you have to make an impact don’t understand how difficult it is. We're a bit more humble here; we understand how hard this stuff can be and we're realistic with our expectations. The important thing is that we're trying - and while not every project succeeds, a few do, and they actually go on to improve people's lives. It's an incredible feeling to be involved with something like that. 

The other thing that's great about RHoK is the sense of community, and the chance to work with other people outside your usual networks. I enjoy the way that ideas are refined through the course of the hackathons. You get different perspectives from your team mates, many of whom don't necessarily code or aren't in the tech world. All the skills are important! And you don't have to come up with an original idea - you just have to improve it. 

What is most important lesson that RHoK has taught you?

All the skill sets that go into making software are important. The life cycle of software has lots of different people involved, which is something that might not be immediately apparent from the outside. RHoK is a synergy of all these people working together in a really rapid manner. If you focus on any individual part of that process you don't come up with anything meaningful.

What's something about you nobody knows or expects?

I have three mantras which I live by: 

1) Confidence does not equate to knowledge
2) You are what you pretend to be
3) Collaboration trumps genius

Caoilte and the rest of the Benjam team doing some serious thinking. Except for Sol... who's actually doing some real work. 

Caoilte and the rest of the Benjam team doing some serious thinking. Except for Sol... who's actually doing some real work.