A positive force in a sometimes bleak world: A hacker's first RHoK journey.

A positive force in a sometimes bleak world: A hacker's first RHoK journey.

I’ve always been really passionate about technology and being a positive force in what might sometimes seem like a bleak world. Random Hacks of Kindness is the perfect marriage of both passions and I was eager to join in, hacking to make a positive change.

Now, I’m only a first year Computer Science student so I’m not some amazing developer. Up until the hack I was pretty much just a hobbyist, making small applications and learning bits and pieces as different technologies interested me. I managed to talk with the folks at Anika Legal and I was excited about their idea to help both those who don’t have easy access to legal information and advice and law students who struggle to get real world experience. I decided to help them realise their vision and jumped on board, but soon found out that I was out of my depth. I had barely touched the basics of web development and here I was, about to help them make a site using tools and libraries that I had never used in my life.

This ended up not mattering though, since the other developers on our team were honestly the nicest people I have ever worked with (and I’ve been a part of a few teams for different projects now!) and guided me through the process. They taught me an insane amount of stuff in the space of two days and I soon found my place in the team, helping with UX and UI design. This meant I had to start working with the team at Anika as well and they were nothing short of a pleasure to work with, extremely nice and open to ideas. Not only did this make the hack itself easier, but it also made it fun and exciting to progress on the project.

After we had finished hacking for the weekend we all went to the pub and celebrated a job well done, chatting with other hackers and change makers over drinks. I talked to many different and interesting people who shared a wealth of knowledge with me that I don’t think I could have obtained otherwise.

So in the space of a weekend I managed to meet some of the nicest people I now know, learnt about a wide array of web technologies, gained experience in working with a team of people that have a vast array of skills, and of course had a fantastic time! Random Hacks of Kindness is an experience that I can safely (and will) suggest to my mates in the future.

Meet the November 2017 Melbourne Changemakers

Meet the November 2017 Melbourne Changemakers

We have 8 excited changemakers - a diverse range of social organisations with real business problems. Come along to our Melbourne Hackathon Nov 25-26 (this weekend!):

Introducing mAdapt: Filling a Gap in Refugee Women’s Reproductive Health

Introducing mAdapt: Filling a Gap in Refugee Women’s Reproductive Health

RHoK Winter 2017 team mAdapt are launching the first iteration of their mobile platform to deliver refugee women’s reproductive health information.

As the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded midwife and women’s health advocate Beccah Bartlett identified a significant lack of accessible and localised reproductive health information for women of refugee backgrounds.

After two years of planning, Beccah’s idea became mAdapt, a group of Australian and US-based volunteers working on a tech solution for this vital issue.

The result is not just a one-directional platform for health information, the mAdapt service will also gather anonymous user data to inform the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network for improving access to relevant care.

mAdapt came to RHoK earlier this year in need of technical expertise to develop this online platform and participated in our June 2017 Winter Hackathon.

Beccah was partnered with RHoK member Stephen Dodd who helped introduce agile thinking to a number of technical business problems that mAdapt faced and they garnered a dedicated team of volunteer techies with a broad set of skills.

As a result, the crew were able to work building and refining on the mAdapt back-end, front-end, UX testing strategy, social media and data-logging.

This work continued at RHoLLs four times since the hackathon to get ready for today’s initial launch thanks to General Assembly providing them space to work.

“RHoK was the linchpin event to getting mAdapt to launch. I consider myself very lucky to have been chosen and that the volunteers wish to continue.”

From a technical perspective, the mAdapt platform utilises a React, JS front-end with Segment and Postgres on the backend.

Today’s release is their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and is available in English and some Arabic with a focus on services in Melbourne. Following this, they plan to improve the detail of the Arabic and integrate additional languages.

In the longer term, the service will be scaled through Australia, beyond just refugee communities and Beccah has a global network in mAdapt’s five-year plan.

mAdapt launched their app in early August 2017.

Learn more about how RHoK can help your organisation.

Never too old to hack: 140-year old Berry Street proves hackathons are no fad

Never too old to hack: 140-year old Berry Street proves hackathons are no fad

Hackathons are synonymous with startup culture, but Jennifer from Berry Street Services has proved that hackathons aren’t just a fad.

The 140-year-old child and family services organization has reimagined how they collect and access intricate and sensitive data.

In collaboration with their RHoK team of volunteers from the tech industry, Berry Street have been building a system to record in-depth information on relatives and friends of children in the child protection system.

This is a process that is far too complex for regular family trees and genograms. The highly sensitive nature of this data adds yet another  layer of complexity.

Jennifer McConachy works with Berry Street’s Family Finding team and came to her first RHoK looking to solve this problem from a new perspective.

“I have found it really helpful to try to not think of how our organisation and sector do things now, so I am not constrained by current practice or approaches."

For Jen, this open mind paid off.

She says “I walked away from the Hackathon on Sunday night feeling very inspired and humbled, it was an awesome experience.”

When going into a hackathon, identifying and refining this problem is vital, “It is important to have a good sense of what it is you want, but be open to how that need is met” she says.

While hackathons take place over a weekend, there is a lot of planning and refining that takes place to get to that point. In the months prior to the hackathon, changemakers work with the RHoK team to help refine their problem – it’s not always what they think it will be.

Jen also believes that this solution could have applications in all fields of welfare, “My expectations and my mind were absolutely blown away by the interest, dedication, lack of ego, level of expertise and really genuine friendliness of the people at the hackathon.”


Learn more about how RHoK can help your organisation.

Hackathons gave Eddie Chapman more than just solutions

Hackathons gave Eddie Chapman more than just solutions

CEO of Association for Children (ACD), Eddie Chapman came to his first hackathon as a changemaker in 2014. Changemakers are what we at RHoK call a charity, community group, social enterprise or individual making the world a better place.

Eddie was looking for a new way to gather client feedback to our Melbourne Hackathon in 2014, but he came away with much more than that. After years of participating in RHoK’s twice-yearly hackathons it’s been more than just the beer,pizza and technical wizardry that have kept him coming back.

“At every hack I come away with something new that I can apply back at work. It might be a new application, a new way of thinking about our problems, new tools, new contacts.”

 ACD is an organisation providing support for kids with a disability, leading an initiative called Changing Places. The initiative encourages the construction of fully accessible toilet facilities for people with profound disabilities who require hoists and change tables which are unavailable in standard accessible toilets.

Video: Liz advocates the importance of fully accessible toilets to her

Changing Places also helps people find these facilities, and give feedback on them, as well as suggest new locations. At RHoK’s summer 2015 hackathon, Eddie’s team redesigned the Changing Places to allow an easy way for family and carers feedback process online. Not only did this result in a smooth interface for suggesting changes and new facilities, but through collaboration between people with a disability and developers led to improvements in the website’s overall design.

Eddie now volunteers on the other side of RHoK, helping to co-ordinate the twice yearly hackathon. According to Eddie, the best hacks are those where the end users are involved from the start, leading to an outcome designed to address a clear problem.

“Find some really specific, narrow ideas that your team can really own. It might seem small, but often they’re the best problems and will more likely give you great outcomes.” he says.

Learn more about how RHoK can help your organisation.


Hacking for Autism – BenJam

Hacking for Autism – BenJam

Sol is a creative thinker with a UX focused mindset. She tackles design challenges with a multi-disciplinary approach by combining research & design thinking in order to create multimedia solutions that connect brands with people.

26th January 2016
by Sol Pandiella-McLeod
UX Designer at DiUS

Two years ago I had no idea that initiatives such as Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) existed. I wasn’t even aware about the whole notion of hacking! The geek in me looks forward to RHoK weekends with the anticipation of a five year old on Christmas Eve.

I’ve tried to analyse why it is that I enjoy these events so much. After all, volunteering your personal time by working at a frenetic pace on weekends and after hours with a bunch of strangers isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.

The answer lies, I believe, in the human desire to do good in the world. I’ve loved working as a designer over the last eighteen years, but when I think back about the enormous number of projects that I’ve been involved in, I can count on one hand the number of projects with a primary goal to serve people above monetary gain.

So for me, my involvement in RHoK is about creating projects that will genuinely help humans, and not just set out to make a profit. It’s my way of using my skills and knowledge to help those that can’t afford the increasingly high cost of developing technology solutions to address community issues.

So I’d like to tell you about the most recent RHoK project that I’ve been involved with. It has been a very powerful and enriching experience and I’m so proud of the impact we’ve been able to make.

Here is a bit of background to set the scene…

Dan is a father of three beautiful children. One of his sons is ten years old and has never spoken a word in his life.  Ben has autism. Autism comes in a variety of forms, and is often referred to as ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder’,  it’s probably one of the most challenging neurological disorders for medical practitioners to assess. Many parents of autistic children are left to fend for themselves, trying as best they can to alleviate the stress and challenges that nurturing a child with autism can bring. Many, like Dan, turn to technology to try to find tools that will help them deal with life’s daily challenges. Not having been able to find a solution that meets his needs, Dan had heard about RHoK and contacted the organisation to see if they could help.

Project BenJam: supporting child-carer communication

Prior to the actual RHoK weekend, an ideation (discovery & brainstorming) session was held to give changemakers the opportunity to talk about the challenge that they needed help with. A small group of us sat down to listen to Dan’s situation and learnt that while there are quite a few applications out there, the majority, due to limited funding, provide very poor user experiences for both parent and child. The other difficulty is creating an app that can cater for all the wide range of autism spectrums that exist. As I found out more about autism, and the needs of Ben and Dan, I realised that customisation and simplicity would be two of the most important principles that we would have to keep in mind.

By the end of the evening we had nearly a dozen solid ideas for projects that we could tackle during the hack that could help Dan’s situation. However we wanted to work on something that would have the greatest impact, so we asked Dan to prioritise the ideas. The hardest thing for Dan is his inability to verbally communicate with Ben. Up to now he had been using a cumbersome app that is difficult to customise and very complicated for Ben to use. The application ran on an iPad and displayed images of things and activities that Ben regularly requested. Items such as a biscuit, donut, a Wiggles DVD.

The cumbersome application that Dan was previously using

The cumbersome application that Dan was previously using

The usability of the application that Dan had been using was so poor that Dan was the only member of the family that was able to upload images. The interface was also difficult for Ben to use, but it was the closest thing that they could find to help them communicate.

So we decided that our goal would be to help Ben communicate with Dan and all his carers. We would recreate the key functions of the iPad app that Dan and Ben had been using, and make it simple to use for both carer and child. Project BenJam was born.

RHoK Sydney Summer Hackathon 2014

Day 1

After a brief presentation by each of the problem owners at 9am, the 30 or so dedicated RHoKer’s formed into groups. The BenJam team consisted of four developers, one user experience designer (me) and Dan.

At RHoK, things happen fast. They have to so we can end the weekend with something that can be used.

We started by spending the first hour discussing Dan’s problem in detail. I started formulating a user journey that mapped a typical scenario that Dan and Ben experienced everyday. In my mind I was also creating the personas that would be written up later that day.

The BenJam user journey

The BenJam user journey

Personas for Ben and Dan

Personas for Ben and Dan

By the third hour, the whole team had sketched out their ideas on paper. We voted on the best ones and got to work on the screen designs.

Layout ideas from our collaborative sketch session

Layout ideas from our collaborative sketch session

The interface had to be very simple, and when I say simple I mean really simple.  Tasks that most of us conduct automatically can be monumental challenges for people suffering from autism. For example, it took Ben over a year to learn how to brush his teeth.

Another important consideration was to not be solely focused on Ben’s limitations. While we were developing an app to help Ben, we were also thinking about other potential applications. So our target audience included individuals from the entire autistic spectrum as well as sufferers of motor neurone disease or other debilitating disorders.

The BenJam team on day one

The BenJam team on day one

Whilst the developers got busy setting up the development environments and building the framework for the iPad application, I jumped straight into designing screens. The hand-drawn sketches served as wireframes so I was able to go directly into the visual designing of the screens, saving me time and allowing me  to keep up with the needs of the front end developer who was keen to start creating the layouts.

Prototype of BenJam iPad application

Prototype of BenJam iPad application

Clearly understanding the problem, challenges and goals  led us to create a very simple interface that could be completely customised by the parent or carer. Each item uploaded to the interface can display the text, a sound byte and, of course, the image itself.

Throughout the day, RHoK supplied us with the sustenance that fuelled our sugar and savoury cravings, and at the end of a brain draining day, they fed us dinner.

Day 2

The second day was another frenetic day of coding and designing. The boundless levels of energy, the seamless collaboration, the intense levels of concentration and genuine enthusiasm that filled those rooms was truly beautiful. At 2pm the countdown began. Our presentations were being thrown together so that we could take each of the groups and judges through the journey that each team took over the weekend. At 3pm we all breathed a sigh of relief, let go of our computer mice and sat down to watch the presentations.  The amount of work that each group managed to deliver by the end of the weekend was astounding!

Prototype of BenJam iPad application v2 introducing I feel and I hurt

Prototype of BenJam iPad application v2 introducing I feel and I hurt

On Sunday evening, after less than 14 hours of hacking, Dan took the prototype home to test it on Ben. That evening Ben was able to click on an image of a biscuit to communicate with his dad. Hearing this news gave me goosebumps.

Winning the Summer 2014 and Winter 2015 hackathons! (note some team members are missing from photo)

Winning the Summer 2014 and Winter 2015 hackathons! (note some team members are missing from photo)

What’s next?

Whilst it was a success, a lot more work remains to be done. Work on Project BenJam by the RHoK team continues.

You can view the prototype by clicking on this link.

We discovered some interesting User Experience (UX) challenges that we solved at  the next RHoK weekend hackathon. Simple interactions like scrolling proved to be difficult for Ben, so we set out to explore as many alternate options as possible to present a large amount of images without scrolling. Latency is another challenge that the development team is currently still working on.

Exploring different ways to approach scrolling

Exploring different ways to approach scrolling

Our next step is to test it on a small sample group of autistic children so we can continue to improve and expand functionality one step at a time.

BenJam is also looking for investors who would be interested in funding the project. A few hours a month are not nearly enough to enable this project to be ready for market. It would be amazing to  release this application to the autistic community, so that we can help improve communication for nonverbal or limited verbal skilled children and adults.

Anyone interested in funding BenJam should get in contact with the RHoK team. I would also encourage you to get involved with RHoK, it truly is a rewarding experience. I hope my experience shows that hacking is not just for people with technical skills.  User experience designers, marketing experts, content writers, business analysts can also add so much value. You can get involved by coming along to the next RHoK Meetup in Sydney, Parramatta, Melbourne or Brisbane.

Yompers Work Becomes Real At RHoK Brisbane

Yompers Work Becomes Real At RHoK Brisbane

12th December 2016
by Elissa Jenkins
PR Hacker & Coach


On November 28th and 29th, 2016, a group of passionate people came together to the Random Hacks Of Kindness Brisbane event hosted at News Corp in Bowen Hills.

It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that this was the same building I spent the first 6 years of my career in. Since leaving, the place has been transformed from a drab, dirty, 70s rabbit warren to this plush, sparkly, innovative, open plan space with access to real food and coffee. It’s really quite amazing. If it had looked like that in my day, I may very well still be working there!

So once I’d moved on from that shock, it was time to get down to business. Day 1 was pretty tumultuous. A wonderful group came on board to support Yompers Work, but unfortunately we didn’t have any coders.

But who really needs coders when you’re a start up right?

By the end of the weekend, the group seriously hacked. Hacked like never before. Like never before, you say? Impossible without coders right? Wrong.

Folks, Yompers Work didn’t even exist before that weekend. It was an idea, nothing more. And this group of wonderful people made it real.

So real in fact that it even appeared in The Sunday Mail. How crazy is that?

I was blessed to have Benjamin on board who hacked together financial modelling. Seriously! And Carrah who, by some miracle (make that stroke of genius), found the perfect WordPress template we could use to build our MVP (Minimum Viable Product). And Randall who put on his tactician hat and helped make WordPress work. And Pru who sat quietly in a corner for hours to surprise us with about 3/4 of our presentation done and dusted.

Some members of my group were the last to leave on Saturday night. Passionate much?

Come Sunday afternoon when the time came to present, we delivered excellence. And given Yompers Work is all about delivering excellence, I now know I am on the right track.

We didn’t win the contest, but boy did we hack. And that’s what this event is all about.

Yay for RHoK! Yay for RHoKers! Thank you to all of you who helped my (not so humble) project come alive. Respect to you all. xo

Special thanks to organiser Chad Renando whose calm, kindness and level-headedness helped get me through the rollercoaster ride. You’re awesome.

It was also inspiring seeing all the other amazing social enterprise projects kicking some amazing goals. As an utter social enterprise nerd, it warmed the cockles of my heart. Good luck to you all.


this post originally appeared on Elissa's blogElissa is from Brisbane. She's an Eco-Social Entrepreneur, Storyteller, Fundraiser and Feminist. Check her out on Twitter




So 60 hackers walk into a bar...

So 60 hackers walk into a bar...

17th December, 2015
by Eddie Chapman
CEO, Association for Children with a Disability

Well, we did in the end, but let’s talk about how we got their first as I ventured into my second experience at a Random Hacks of Kindness Hackathon. 

So you’ve seen the first installment. Great experience, great outcomes, great learnings.

But as a small cog in a big wheel, it’s hard to get things turning to make the most of that. It’s fair to say that we probably didn’t get to use the solution that was developed in the way we intended to.

But that experience stuck with me and before long I was talking about the hackathon concept in job interviews to wide-eyed interviewers, amazed at the opportunities it presented. Did that help me land a new job at ACD? If so, I owe them a lot…

So it was inevitable that when the next summer hack approached I was keen to get my new organisation involved – and it didn’t take long to realise that our Changing Places accessible toilet program was tailor made for a hack, and after a few meetings and a lot of back and forth we’d settled on our problem (improving the website to provide better feedback and potential locations) and found ourselves back at Swinburne in early December 2015, for another round.

You could safely say that all the same experiences from last time applied. The great venue, the unexpected revelations, the bizarre jargon... But amongst that we also learnt:

Pivot is not a dirty word

A couple of times over the weekend something odd happened (well, 'odder' perhaps) – While the teams were busy, heads down, a sudden cry would go out from across the room. Applause and cheering from a team, now gathered around a whiteboard, with a cry of ‘Pivot! Pivot!’. The developers amongst us crack a wry smile and continue working…

The team might have been working for hours. But slowly the realisation dawns on them that things aren’t right. So they talk, bring in others, map things out, and realise that they’ve been going in completely the wrong direction.

But what I loved about this was the celebration. It’d be easy to get despondent, to see the failure of time and effort. But instead the journey to the pivot is celebrated as part of the solution itself – without it, we wouldn’t know where we needed to be going. So despair is replaced by energy (albeit with that wry smile quietly stating “and now we’ve got more work to do in less time”!), nobody is blamed, and the team moves on with fresh motivation, knowing that they’re going to end up the better for it. It's just part of the process... 

 Nothing for us without us

I’d been at a disability forum just three days prior where this mantra was recited. Reminding everyone of the importance of ensuring that any program or policy or initiative focused on assisting people with disabilities needs to have people with disabilities involved in its development. It’s a bit disappointing that in this day and age, with that audience, that point continues to need to be made.

Fast forward to an audience full of ‘non-disability’ sector people, and within the first 15 minutes of the hack, without any prompting from us, this image happens: 

Mandi, our Business Analyst for the weekend, summed it up: This is the project user, the most important person in the team.

That continued over the first day as our two UX (user experience) gurus spent literally hours with her discussing how she used technology, how she went about her day, how she used Changing Places, and so on, for pages and pages.

It’s encouraging, but also a little disturbing, that a sector with no specific priority around disability seems to get this far more naturally than the not-for-profit sector does at times. That's one of the best things about RHoK though - the tech sector has so many lessons to teach people in the non-profit sector.

Pro-bono > fundraising

OK, we can’t pay our staff’s salaries with pro-bono. But as I stood back and looked over our space at Swinburne I did some rough calculations of hourly rates and estimated that in front of me, over this weekend, was about $50,000 worth of efforts. And that doesn’t even begin to include the value of the new connections that had been made, the information that had been shared, or the greater awareness the changemakers and hackers now had.

The RHOK hackathon presents an intense experience which benefits the projects, the organisations from which they come, and the individuals that attend, in broad and significant ways. New skills, new languages, new concepts,  new tools, and new connections. And a renewed enthusiasm in our own roles as we see others so excited by the work that we are doing.  

If instead we’d asked those present to reach into those pockets and donate something, we might have made $500. Maybe just enough to cover that bar tab...

What it's like to be a RHoK changemaker

What it's like to be a RHoK changemaker

18th November 2015
by Katrina Langford
Project Owner for Local Linguist

I first heard about RHoK and the hackathons that they run about a year ago. I had this idea for an app to help people in Timor-Leste carry out their own research and translate resources for mother tongue language education programmes, but had no idea where to start. RHoK seemed like a dream come true, a group of tech experts willing to help make this idea a reality! 

I spend most of my work hours, both paid and unpaid, working towards a brighter future for the people of Timor-Leste. I've been doing development work there since 1999, when I was 16. I went over for the first time in 2001, where I met my husband. In the early years, I was teaching English, and then went on to study linguistics. I am now a linguist specializing in Timorese languages.

One of the (many) issues that people in Timor-Leste are facing is illiteracy. Worldwide, studies have shown that mother tongue education programs (where kids do their early years of schooling in a language that they speak) makes a big difference for kids who do not speak the national language of the country that they live in. One of the problems with starting to learn in their own language is a lack of resources such as books, posters, alphabet charts, etc. to help facilitate their learning.

Resource creation of this kind, to date, has been very light on the use of technology. Mostly it involves listening, and then using a notebook and pen, or laptop to record or translate data and stories. This means that the resources take a long time to create, and are dependent on highly skilled researchers (which are as rare as hens teeth). We wanted to find a way to use the technology that was already there, namely, Android phones, to create resources of the quality and on the scale that we needed. 

The changemakers for the Melbourne 2015 Winter Hackathon

The changemakers for the Melbourne 2015 Winter Hackathon

So that was the background, and until I heard about RHoK, I wasn't sure where to start. We put together an application and were thrilled to bits to be accepted as one of five changemakers for the most recent Melbourne Winter Hackathon which took place in May 2015. In late April we all went along to the Ideation evening, and pitched our projects and then sat down and workshopped ideas with a group of people. This was my first experience with the world of hacking, and boy was it an eye-opener!! I hadn’t realised how many different areas of expertise there were in the hacking world, and I started on a steep learning curve that evening (I now know, for example, that ‘Ruby’ is not just a girl’s name!)

In mid-May, RHoK ran an Agile 101 workshop for all of us where we learned about lean and agile principles. These weren't really concepts I'd heard about before, and they're not something we generally encounter in the aid and development sector. The biggest thing I took from that session is how a good work flow for a project is not a linear process, but rather a series or iterations with the planners being involved throughout the process. 

Near the end of May, RHoK ran their Info Night, where we pitched our projects again based on the feedback from the Ideation Evening, and the things learned in the Agile 101 session. The aim of this evening was to get some of the hackers thinking about what projects they wanted to work on for the hackathon. 

Then it was the hackathon weekend itself. It was an amazing experience with a really great vibe. I was really amazed (still am, really) that there were people willing to so generously share their time and expertise to make this idea into a reality. We got up and gave our pitches again, now much improved from the first time we had pitched at the Ideation Evening. Once the pitches were over, the changemakers stood in different places around the open breakout area, and groups of hackers started forming around them.

The Local Linguist team hard at work on Day 1 of the Melbourne Winter Hackathon

The Local Linguist team hard at work on Day 1 of the Melbourne Winter Hackathon

People were asking lots of questions, and there was a really positive vibe. We all moved over to a long table, and started planning using a whiteboard. Everyone was lovely, and I even had my 2 year old son and husband there for a bit on the Saturday. My husband was included as well, with lots of questions about Timorese culture and norms, to make the app as user friendly in Timor-Leste as possible. There were lots of designers there on the weekend, so we ended up with the front end of the app by the end of the weekend. 

Since the hack has finished, a couple of people have really taken the project on, with one concentrating on the app itself (we now have a working prototype which was tested in East Timor), and another concentrating on a database for the app to output data to. 

All of the coding is WAAAAY over my head, but I am learning as I go (I now know what words like UX and Github mean, woohoo!!). The app and website are well on the way, and it looks like we will be able to use it to start collecting data and creating resources in East Timor in 2016. You can check out our progress over here! Once the app and website are created, our dream is that other people will also take it on, use it and run with it, and we will change the way data is recorded and local language resources are created around the world. 


My first RHoK Brisbane Hackathon

My first RHoK Brisbane Hackathon

7th July 2015
by Larissa McCollin
Project Manager at G.James Glass & Aluminium, and first time hacker

Brisbane Winter 2015 was my first Random Hacks of Kindness event, as well as the first hackathon I've ever attended. I had been looking for a way of meeting inspired people that are keen to make a difference.  I had no idea how I was going to contribute as I don't have a strong IT background, but was told that there was plenty of ways to make a difference - and were they right.  I started by making a coffee-run list, and ended up helping present the results to be judged! Everyone played an active role adding to the greater success of the team.  It was a fantastic thing to be a part of, especially seeing how much we all had contributed to the realization of someone's idea. Definitely an uplifting experience I would recommend.

Here's some descriptions of the projects that were worked on for the weekend. 

Project: Gifts4Good
Changemaker: Alison

Alison is working on a fantastic addition to Australian online shopping culture with a fund raising aspect that doesn't impact on the shopper. A referral fee, that the shop pays to Gifts4Good for promotion, is split it between a good cause and further development of the service.  Its an idea based on concepts used overseas with a lot of success.  Alison's RHoK team didn't waste time splitting into two groups - the non tech group worked on checking for solutions that was in keeping with Australian standards and codes.  The technical team developed a method to remind people of the sites that are affiliated with Gifts4Good, and register them with minimal impact to the shopper.  

The results worked wonderfully - with only a few tweaks left to finalise, and some permissions to get before it can be used, it should be up and running in the coming months.  We hope to have an update available before the next Brisbane RHoK. When asked about her team, Alison mentioned how everyone came away excited that they all learned something new with their time together.  A great job was done by everyone.

Project: ThankBank
Changemaker: Sam

This team were the winners of the RHoK Brisbane award for their concept to provide a way of continually acknowledging and thanking people for their good deeds with an app that links to social networks.  The idea is being developed for people that donate blood, with the long term vision to expand to any organisation where ongoing praise is merited.  The team had clear goals and got stuck straight in - they did an amazing job graphic designing and developing a working ap based on Sam's vision.  Others in the team developed an accompanying website that explains the concept to users, and will be a great tool for promotion.  

Sam is still in the development phase of his goal, but the work done went much further than he anticipated and you couldn't wipe the smile off his face at the end of the day.  Before he can launch his new business, he needs to raise the finance to start, and is currently running a crowd funding campaign.  If you would like to help, any contribution would be much appreciated: www.letsact.com.au/projects/thankbank/

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 6.57.44 PM.png

Project: Crisis Mapping
Changemakers: Rowan and Stratos

Working with teams all over the world, Crisis Mappers provide a vital service by detailing navigation tools for the Red Cross and other aid organization helping with remote urgent situations and grief stricken areas globally.  The idea is to provide visual clues to maps helping team maneuver on the ground finding isolated areas and locate places to land helicopters or set up aide camps.  It is a well organised exercise, but still a time consuming process so the Brisbane RHoK team worked on making it better.  The tech team did an awesome job at this - improving software to increase speed and accuracy for crisis mapping everywhere.  Their efforts have been sent for approval and to be incorporated in the software in the U.S.  

The other half of the team contributed to the existing map data.  This team included a RHoK newby, who mapped areas of Tanzania, where Medicines' Sans Frontiers are working to stem the spread of cholera.  The results are tangible - to see a map at the end with roads, buildings and fields were there was seemingly nothing.  The term for mappers is HOT O.S.M. which stands for Humanitarian Open Street Map team, but the Brisbane RHoK team changed it to HOTOSM, pronounced hot-awesome.  Anyone is invited to join the HOTOSM team and assist crisis mappers at RHoK's everywhere.

Project: Concierge
Changemaker: John

Team Concierge looked at solutions for people needing health and medical support services in remote areas, in particular palliative care.  The needs of Australians requiring palliative care, especially in remote areas, provided a unique situation to develop an open source geotagging search tool that any medical profession can adopt and specialize to their requirements. The technical team used databases and tagged them to respond to related searches. Then geotagging linked the info to maps used as the interface to locate services quickly.  

The other half of the team developed a user friendly guidance system that helps people navigate quickly, even in times of stress and high emotion.  The result was a time line with flowing dialogues to help the user through the information finding process.  The open source website works, but there is a bit of information to be added before it is ready for Palliative Care Queensland to assist its patients. The aim is that this concept can be adopted and used by all Australia's states.  The quote of the day that brought smiles of relief, "Thats ahhhh, not terrible!" 

Hacking Company Culture

Hacking Company Culture

Random Hacks of Kindness is a social hackathon, and our model is a little different from traditional commercial hackathons. We tend to emphasise collaboration over competition, and of course we're driven by volunteers rather than employees. However we thought this blog post by a Pedram Keyani, a former engineering director at Facebook had a lot of interesting lessons for those of us that are a part of the wider hacker movement. The original post appeared on Medium, and we've reproduced it in full here with the author's permission. Happy reading!


13th April, 2015
Pedram Keyani
Engineering director of growth at Uber, previously engineering director Facebook

I love hackathons. That’s why for 7 years I organized nearly 40 hackathons at Facebook. At first, I simply did it because I loved the energy of all the people and the freedom to explore ideas outside the scope of my day job. Over time though, those hackathons transformed from small 20 person extracurricular events to a major part of the Facebook culture. Scaling our hackathons to keep up with Facebook’s growth was tough, we constantly had to think through and experiment with the format to make sure that they kept up with the company. At the same time, it was through trying to capture, reinforce, and amplify the very magic that made those original hackathons so special that I came to realize that the hackathons themselves were strengthening and protecting our culture as we grew.

Time Pressure Feeds Innovation

Most ideas die in the early stages because the person/people that hatch the idea become discouraged when they realize the enormous number of steps necessary to actually make their idea a reality. It makes sense right? A great idea unbound by strict time constraints often becomes something we can “table for later.” Of course, as we all know, later seldom actually comes. That’s the beauty and driving force behind a hackathon–there is no later. The fact that there is so little time from the start of a hackathon to the prototype forum forces you to start from the opposite mindset. Instead of promising yourself that you’ll work on that idea later when you have time to perfect it, you’re forced to work with your team on building the bare minimum product that can either prove its viability or not. Only having a few hours to do something is a great clarifier. Is this thing going to work or not?

That simple mental check is incredibly powerful because it forces you to make hard tradeoffs and often times encourages you to get really creative with how to make things work. Constraints are a remarkable force multiplier for innovation.

Self Organization Scales

Before kicking off the hackathon I always set up a wiki page or shared doc with a place for people to put up their ideas and list the kinds of skills their team is looking for, these are things like: backend engineer, mobile engineer, product designer, etc. Next, the hackathon kickoff email always has a link to that doc so that people can post their ideas. An ancillary benefit is that people who don’t have an idea of their own can still reach out and join project teams and hack on ideas that interest them. The act of forming small teams and quickly jamming on ideas, designing things together, and working through problems in real time is like jazz, it encourages improvisation and riffing. This frenetic rhythm enables teams to be greater than the sum of their parts and carries over into all other aspects of how they work together. When you walk around a hackathon you’ll feel it, and it is a beautiful thing.

Hackathons organically encourage culture-building and collaboration within the company without any top-down guidance. This is crucial, because culture isn’t something that can simply be prescribed. As teams begin to meet up and flesh out their ideas it reinforces the importance of prioritizing action, and reminds both company veterans and new arrivals how to move fast and build together.

Trust and Empathy Create Speed

Organic self organization results in people from across the company meeting new people and building connections that they wouldn’t otherwise make. As these cross-functional teams work together, people get to know one another and build friendships as well as develop a greater understanding of what different teams and job functions do across the company. In my experience, it’s this exposure that builds the social bonds that engender trust, empathy, and create alternate paths of information sharing that makes companies faster and more agile at getting things done. Teams that don’t know each other personally don’t work together as effectively as teams that do. Before a hackathon, a frontend engineer might think “Ugh, trying to coordinate with sysops on this project is going to be a pain.” After a hackathon that same engineer is more likely to think “I’m going to reach out to Rachel and see how we can get this done quickly.” Building trust during the good times will help your company better handle the bad times because people will feel a connection to their coworkers and they will lean on those relationship.

Risk Everything, Win Together

For people to take risks they have to be willing to fail. Hackathons are failure incubators and failure accelerators. By normalizing failure, we encourage risk taking. Hackathons help teach your team that failure is a good thing, that it’s the flip side of innovation. After all, you can’t have that one amazing idea without exploring hundreds, or even thousands of “bad” ideas. When people work on ideas they are passionate about (vs. their performance is being measured) they’ll often venture into new and interesting spaces. Some of those unfettered explorations will pay off with a revolutionary idea that changes the entire course of how the company operates (I’ve seen this happen, and it really is amazing). Most of the ideas at your hackathon won’t result in a killer new feature or technological breakthrough — and that’s 100% okay, because the point of a hackathon is to support bold experimentation and the fearless embrace of failure and iteration. And, while those rare and beautiful “aha” moments are wonderful when they happen, you’ll undoubtedly unveil a thousand less obvious — but equally important ties — that will result in a tighter team and a bold culture of innovation. Either way, the journey is the reward. (Plus, there’s always free t-shirts.)

Code Wins Arguments

Too often in life, arguments get won by the loudest person or the one most willing to dig their heels in. Fortunately, in a company of builders, nothing beats code. Hackathons turn great ideas into reality by executing on the here and now. Hackathons push past the hypothetical and force ideas to either fail or thrive. Because hackathons are flat, ad hoc and fluid, they create a safe space for people to build-out and push ideas despite opposing points of view. Take Facebook Chat for example. In the early days there was a lot of negative pressure against building chat into the Facebook experience. Thankfully, a small team built it in a hackathon and proved the doubters wrong. Fast forward a few years and that single service is the core of how hundreds of millions of people communicate.

Be Playful, Be Curious

Not every idea has to — or even should — be focused on big changes. In fact, being too focused on high-impact change all the time can blind you to the obvious ideas right under your nose. Creating spaces for people to play with ideas and have fun together wakes up that curious part of our brain that was most active when we were children.

I’m at Uber now and we’ve had 2 “official” hackathons, hundreds of informal hackathons and a number of workcations. I’m organizing my first hackathon here now, and I can already feel the creative energy of everyone in the office. I can’t wait to see what people create and how these hackathons will shape our culture in the years to come. I’m optimistic that at Uber–like at Facebook before–that these hackathons will drive teamwork, strengthen culture and help us reach the future faster.

Changemaker Profile - Robert Dane

Changemaker Profile - Robert Dane

12th March, 2015
by Angus Hervey
Community Manager, RHoK Australia

On one side of the room in RHoK we have the hackers - undoubtedly the stars of the show. These are the people who come down to make a difference using their awesome tech skills. And they get lots of acknowledgement (as they should) because they give up their time and abilities to make a difference. On the other side though we have the changemakers; the people who champion their individual causes, and without whom none of this would be happening either. Our changemakers are special people. They have an idea, or a project, and they're willing to engage with what's often a new and unfamiliar thing in order to make it happen. 

We sat down with one of our newest changemakers, Robert Dane at the recent summer hackathons and asked him a few questions. Robert is the CEO of Ocius, a really great little project to use a self-powered ocean going drone to gather data about changes in sea temperatures. He told us that he feels lucky to live in this world, and that he wants to leave it a better place than what he came into. He's an optimist, and believes in social change. RHoK has been helping him and his team trying to get some good data visualisation going for the drone so that they can convince the wider public of its uses. 

So how did this all start? 

This whole thing started back in 1999, after we won a solar boat race. I was working in the ferry building business, and the idea was to build a Sydney-based one that was solar powered. I was inspired after watching another solar boat race, and ended up coming up with what I called the "SolarSail" a simple device that harnesses both sun and wind power in a seaworthy way.  To test the commercial application of this technology, we built a 100 person tourist leisure ferry for Sydney Harbour. As a result of our success we ended up going on to build five other ferries around the world. I guess you could say we're sort of like the Prius of Ferries. So from quite early on I've known about the potential for powering ocean going vehicles using solar power. 

I then moved into looking at oceanography platforms around 2007. The work on the solar ferries led me there, because I realised that the sun, wind and waves give you everything you need to have a self-sustaining platform out in the middle of nowhere in the ocean. Seven years of research followed with the building of a 6 metre engineering development model proving a meaningful speed of advance in all conditions, adequate power, payload and persistence for a sustainable platform able to go to sea for months. More recently we've teamed up with the University of Wollongong and a boat builder named Taree on the mid north coast, to develop a boat, propulsion systems, collision avoidance, “sensory informatics” or data processing and autonomy software. The goal is to create the first autonomous drone to be deployed off the Australian coast in September 2015.

Our demo model is called Blue Nemo, and the goal is to try and sail it around Lord Howe Island. It'll be the world’s first completely autonomous return voyage plus circumnavigation to Lord Howe Island from Australia. What's key for us is showing our credibility - that vessel is going to be 1-2 months at sea. So will give indication of sea worthiness, power of vessel, ability to carry payloads. And of course, everyone wants the data! That's because right now most researchers use satellites since readings from boats are really expensive. They range from $20k to $80k for a set, plus men onboard and the deployment of buoys. So a buoy that can self deploy and then self retrieve is a game changer.

How did you hear about RHoK?

Through my son Tom, who is an IT developer. He had been on a RHoK weekend before and said that the quality of work that gets done is excellent. He still wasn't sure about the actual final product - that of course is much harder! But he encouraged me to come because you get input, great ideas and then you can play with those to see what comes out. It's not perfect but it's something, especially for a startup like ourselves. He also thought the hackers would really like it, which they have. So that's been great.

Had you ever heard about hackathons before? 

I had vaguely heard about them. Maybe in a newspaper or something. But I didn't really know what it was. I thought it was a thing for computer nerds, not people like myself! I have to say I'm absolutely amazed after attending this at how much work actually goes into the development of IT. It's been incredibly educational. I have a newfound appreciation for how hard coders and technologists work.  

On a human level, I also find it amazing that very talented people who have never met can work together in these things in such an easy, horizontal way. What I've loved about RHoK is that there are no hierarchies. It's like climbing a mountain. Everyone has common goal but there are no pre-assigned roles. You just do what you can and contribute what you know. What's key is that you're all working towards the same aim and you're fueled by this desire to help. It means everyone contributes equally and pulls their weight. Amazing how everyone just gets on with it! 

ocius bluebottle.JPG

What's next?

Right now the hackers on this project are about to start feeding in data, to see what happens and then get feedback on what they want. We came in to this thing with just an idea, and we're going to be walking away with the majority of the work done. The end result will be a well developed prototype that's been done in a cool, user-friendly way. There are already menus that people can go into a get raw data and the presentation side of things is almost there too. An amazingly good beginning in such a short space of time. Once this hackathon is over the plan is to spend some time between now and March 2015 refining the project and getting feedback from our stakeholders and some test users. 

Hacker Profile - Caoilte Dunne

Hacker Profile - Caoilte Dunne

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. 

40 Years on, and this time I’m betting on Bill Gates

3rd February, 2015
by Bruce Stronge (@brucestronge)
Director, NetEngine and City Lead, RHoK Brisbane


Last week, Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter outlining their big bet for the future. Their letter reinforces their continued optimism around the progress foreign aid has made in the last 15 years, and their bets are to see reduced child deaths, Africa feeding itself, and finally the role tech and in particular mobile innovations will play in getting there.

click this image to go to the actual letter

click this image to go to the actual letter

It’s great that more people in rich countries will be able to watch movies on super hi-resolution screens. It’s even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren’t going to die.

Hacking for Humanity with RHoK

RHoK Australia is part of a global community of technologists who are ‘hacking for good’ by matching up organisations that have a social impact with skilled technologists who want to make a difference. We are then able to develop open source solutions to challenges facing the world.

One of the reasons NetEngine brought RHoK (Random Hacks of Kindness) to Queensland as a regional partner was because I believe so strongly in the role technology can play in global inequality reduction. RHoK’s foundation is in disaster and crisis response, and as Bill and Melinda Gates expressed so well regarding technology innovation efforts: “It’s great that more people in rich countries will be able to watch movies on super hi-resolution screens. It’s even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren’t going to die.”

As we approached the kickoff of our third Random Hack of Kindness event here in Brisbane www.rhokbrisbane.org, ebola continued to tear families and communities apart on my home continent, Africa. My mind became pre-occupied with potential ways we as technologists could help fight this virus.

In an effort to reduce waste, and ensure our efforts would actually make a difference, we started engaging with other global tech teams who were already hacking to better enable humanitarian aid teams on the ground in Africa. All roads (excuse the pun) led to ‘The Missing Maps’ project.

Missing Maps

Vast swathes of the planet’s land-masses aren’t mapped, mainly because the majority of mapping applications are powered by commercial sponsorships and advertising - which just aren’t present in most areas of the developing world. There just isn’t enough detailed and current information on maps in rural areas of Liberia for example; the very places where our humanitarian organisations are trying to fight this battle.

So, in December teams of hackers at the RHoK Brisbane event contributed directly to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) Missing Maps Project. The main goal of this project is to map the most vulnerable places in the world, to enable international and local NGOs as well as individuals to use maps and data to better respond to crisis affecting the areas.

We focused on mapping remote communities in West Africa, until, in response to an urgent request from the Red Cross for assistance, we diverted our focus to mapping the coastal communities in the Philippines in anticipation of Typhoon Hagupit making landfall. I believe that these Brisbane hackers’ contributed to the fact that less than 50 lives were lost in this Typhoon. I can’t see any reason why schools don’t have crisis crowd mapping as part of their geography or computer classes… watch this space!

Giving Purpose to Technology

There is an amazing vibe as a room full of people aged 12-50 (who have given up their entire weekend) start to see their efforts directly saving lives, in real time. It is the same energy that we feel at NetEngine when we’re working on meaningful projects for clients and partners who share our passion for making a difference.

That shared sense of higher purpose is what Bill and Melinda are trying to harness with their call for ‘global citizens’ - and I urge you to consider registering here and here and back Bill’s bets with us.

How a group of Somalian taxi drivers ended up at a hackathon

How a group of Somalian taxi drivers ended up at a hackathon

20th January, 2015
by Angus Hervey
Community Manager, RHoK Australia

A few months ago, we heard about an really interesting project called the Wheelchair Accessible Transport Drivers Association, or WATDA. They're a group of Somalian taxi drivers who are trying to solve the problems of unemployment and unfair working hours for their local community, while at the same time providing cheaper and more efficient access to taxis for disabled people. Our original contact with them was through Social Traders, a Melbourne based organisation whose work revolves around supporting social enterprises in Australia. Social Traders have a program called The Crunch, which is designed to help social enterprises get on their feet while starting out. WATDA was one of the recent participants in the Crunch - and after going through the Social Traders program they were now ready to get some technical help. We thought we might be able to lend a hand... 

a typical Maxi Taxi

a typical Maxi Taxi

A round of coffees later, and we had the story. The man behind WATDA is Ali Wansari, a Somalian national who first came to Australia in 1999. Along with a number of other Somalian men, he drives what are known as Maxi-Taxis; wheelchair friendly taxis that can be used to transport disabled people. He was frustrated by what he saw taking place in the taxi industry. On the one hand, his fellow taxi drivers were working long hours to make ends meet - often up to six days a week, 14 hours a day. This was having an effect not only on the men themselves, but also on their families and wider community, who hardly ever saw them. 

At the same time, Ali noticed that the Maxi-Taxis weren't being used for disabled services. It turns out that their occupancy rates for disabled people were only at around 14%. And yet, at the same time disability organisations often complained about the high costs of having a dedicated transport providers, often spending millions of dollars a year and yet still having to wait for more than an hour whenever they called for a ride. The solution seemed obvious - why not connect the underutilised Maxi-Taxis with the disability services that were struggling to get cheap and reliable services for their clients?

WATDA knew what their problem was, but they were still trying to work out how to fix it. And they knew that they needed a technological solution - a way of using the power of the internet to help connect to the people that needed them. We said we'd see what we could do, and invited them to attend some of our events. So in late September, Mohamed (a taxi driver) and Di (a volunteer with the organisation) came along to one of our Ideation Nights. This is where some of our more experienced hackers and community members come down for the evening to try and come up with some ideas on how changemakers might go about solving their problems. It's less a hackathon and more of a casual workshop, where people who are only able to contribute a few hours can come down for a night and make a difference. According to Di and Mohamed, WADTA came away from the evening with some great advice on problem definition, and the first flickers of an idea for a booking system for their cabs. 

Ali and his team of hackers at the December hackathon in Melbourne

Ali and his team of hackers at the December hackathon in Melbourne

In early December, we ran our summer hackathon in Melbourne. Ali was one of seven problem owners who pitched their ideas to the assembled hackers. He didn't need to do much convincing - a team quickly formed around WATDA after hearing about the challenges they faced. After some pointed questions, it soon became apparent that before a booking system could actually be developed, WATDA would first need to sort out how they dispatched their various drivers.

Turned out that the current method involved a series of text messages, which often led to confusion and some drivers either doubling up or missing appointments. So the team switched their attention to trying to get a proof of concept for a dispatch system which would allow drivers to coordinate on their smartphones while on the road. By the end of the weekend, they'd come up with a working system which we should now be able to build on during our upcoming RHoLLs. 

WATDA's story is a good example of how many of our problem owners get involved with RHoK, and their commitment to the entire RHoK process has allowed them to make a lot of progress in a short space of time. WATDA's various interactions with the RHoK community have been captured on a video, below. Stay tuned to see what they do next! 

We're not in Kansas anymore

We're not in Kansas anymore

Reflections on our first hackathon

9th December, 2015
by Eddie Chapman
Policy and Advocacy Manager at UnitingCare lifeAssist

It's a good sign when a meeting begins with pulling beers out of the fridge. And it was just the first of many surprises as we found ourselves taking part in our first hackathon.

Yes, a community sector organisation getting involved in a hackathon - traditionally the domain of the tech sector. But that's precisely what the Random Hacks of Kindness was all about - Matching up non-profit, 'good purpose' organisations who need technical skills with willing, energetic techies.

So after only a quick email, a short coffee, and the forementioned beer-fuelled info session, we found ourselves turn up bright and early on a Saturday to Swinburne Uni for our first hackathon, filled with discoveries and experiences as our community sector ventured into the tech world for a while. Discoveries such as:

Never underestimate your environment

Being in the cutting-edge AMDC building at Swinburne just fueled creative thinking. It's something we neglect in the community sector as fancy buildings get seen as vain luxuries. They don't have to be expensive, but giving the flexibility and freedom for creative thinking and work should never be underestimated.

The power of the lock-in

We often expect people to do new work or foster innovation in the workplace. With the phone calls, report writing, supervisions, and management activities that are part of their normal day. It's not realistic, nor terribly productive or efficient. But let those people lock themselves away for a day or two, with all the equipment, expertise (and snacks!) that they need, and you can be amazed at the enthusiasm and results it can create. Which brings us to...

Never underestimate catering

Nothing keeps motivation going than a table loaded with snacks, drinks and coffee. And seeing the ciders cracked open at about 3pm didn't exactly hurt either. We worry too much about people abusing this, but it's money well spent...

Every industry has its own language

The funniest thing is sitting in a room hearing people speak English, use words you (mostly) know, but not have a clue what they're saying. It's fantastic, and just made me want to know more. I've learned completely new meanings to words like 'push', 'string' and (my personal favourite), 'git'. :)

Norms of one industry are revelations to another

Our business engineer team member introduced us early on to the business model canvas. Our eyes lit up as we discovered a new, groundbreaking way of doing this stuff. But to those in the room, it was a case of "Oh, that's your canvas is it? Ok....." No big deal to them. Even the use of creating a collaborative presentation on Google Drive was groundbreaking to us and showed us brilliant new ways of doing things.

A sexy idea doesn't beat good thinking

 At the beginning of the hack I completely wrote ourselves off as a chance at winning. There were just too many cool sounding ideas and organisations compared to our rather humdrum option. We were more worried about simply attracting enough team members to make the hack viable. But a mix of good planning, careful analysis of the problem, and some open sharing from all of our different perspectives allowed a great solution to emerge. And it was perhaps helped by the fact that we didn't have multiple developers, so avoided creating fancy features and instead focused on a simple, clean product with solid thinking behind it.

Through difference comes innovation

We misuse the term innovation a lot, often referring to a simple improvement as 'innovation'. Maybe it is, I'm not sure. But to me, innovation is more about the unexpected, the 'I wouldn't have thought of that'. Making a porridge recipe better? That's an improvement. Snail porridge?That's innovation. So being able to share a weekend with people from diverse sectors who we'd never normally mix with, allowing ideas to mix and create fascinating new combinations, is critical.

After two solid days of hacking, some great solutions emerged for all the teams - and sitting there listening to the presentations showed how all of us had been given a great kickstart to get the solutions to our problems up and running. And, yes, to our immense surprise we actually 'won' the hackathon, being picked by the judges as the best solution to come out of the Melbourne weekend. A great bit of recognition to the input, widsom (and plain hard work!) of our team mates.

But we've come away with far more than a trophy, or a solution to our problem - We've had our eyes opened to new worlds, been shown new ways of doing things and discovered new ways of thinking. And I don't think there's any going back.

this post originally appeared on LinkedIn

Hacking for Humanity in Sydney

How RHoK volunteers are banding together to address issues bigger than themselves

4th December, 2014
By Paula Ngov (@paulangov)

Business Development Lead, DiUS Computing Sydney

The amazing hackers and changemakers who joined us for the weekend

The amazing hackers and changemakers who joined us for the weekend

the author hanging out with one of the hackers

the author hanging out with one of the hackers

Last weekend’s Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event in Sydney saw my RHoK hackathon weekend count click over to five. That’s a lot of pizza and “do-gooding.” Over these last two years, I’ve lost count of how many remarkable individuals I’ve met who have become part of this unique community. It takes a certain type of person to consistently decide to dedicate their precious weekends to help solve a community challenge. I am nothing short of inspired by this display of altruism and this is why I continue to volunteer my time to be part of the RHoK Australia Steering Committee and co-lead Sydney with the wonderful Stephen Smithwick.

Still on a high, I wanted to cover what went down at RHoK Sydney on November 28th and 29th: the problems that were worked on and why, what was achieved and who came along to participate.

RHoK is not just another hackathon

In a nutshell, RHoK Australia is part of a global community of volunteers who ‘hack for good’. We exist to harness the deep and diverse technical and design skills of volunteer individuals (‘hackers’), introducing them to changemakers that have a deep desire to make a difference. Our most unique attribute is that we aim to “finish what we start” by supporting teams as best we can, to ensure a solution is eventually built and ready to take to market.

Commbank's incredible new building, and our home for the weekend

Commbank's incredible new building, and our home for the weekend

The RHoK Sydney weekend

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or one: “wow”

RHoK Sydney was fortunate to secure the luxurious CommBank office in Darling Quarter as our venue sponsor. In contrast to the typical hacking environment of nook and cranny seating, exposed industrial pipes and raw brick walls, CommBank provided us with multiple indoor and outdoor spaces, which allowed us to work effectively and enjoyably. Thank you, CommBank.

The basic format of this particular RHoK weekend was: meet and greet, hear from our four changemakers, choose a team with your feet, hack, and then finally wrap up with a 10-minute presentation to our guest judges on the Sunday afternoon.

The judging panel was a powerhouse of technology and business knowledge, made up of highly regarded CIO’s Joseph Edwin and Robyn Elliott. Back for his third judging appearance, Tom Worthington, an esteemed Australia Computing Society educator rounded out the panel. Thank you to the judging panel for their commitment to the weekend.

What we worked on

The First Stop team gets down to it on the first morning of the hackathon

The First Stop team gets down to it on the first morning of the hackathon

First Stop

“Things need to change” is the message often repeated by the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfire survivors who gathered at Wilamalee High school at their bi-annual memorial ceremony.

The Winter 2014 RHoK Sydney weekend saw a team form around a Blue Mountains bushfire survivor – John Donohue. ‘First Stop’ is the product of that team’s vision of a survivor register application,allowing them to share their important details with the post-disaster agencies of their choosing. Six months on, ‘First Stop’ has developed a prototype that was built upon at the Summer hackathon.



Krystel shows the rest of the team how it's done

Krystel shows the rest of the team how it's done


Ocius is a multi-award winning Australian marine research and technology company, working in conjunction with University of Wollongong and NSW’s Steber International to deploy a fully autonomous unmanned surface vessel (USV) drone off the Australian Coast in March 2015; transmitting oceanographic data to research organisations. Named a ‘bluebottle’, it is a robot that ‘lives’ at sea in all conditions using the energy on the ocean i.e. the wind, sun and waves to power itself and its sensors.

The specific RHoK project, led by Robert Dane and Ninan Mathew, focussed on making use of the sensor data that is collected by satellite communications. The end goal will be to enable scientists to cross-correlate and ‘ground-truth’ satellite data and supply new previously unavailable data about local weather, currents, air pressure, water temperature and climate change.

Vikki waves her magic wand (or magic sharpie)

Vikki waves her magic wand (or magic sharpie)

FIRST Robotics Australia

FIRST‘s mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders through exciting mentor-based programs in a competition setting. These competitions build science, engineering and technology skills, inspire innovation, and foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Led by changemakers Luan and Michael Heimlich, the RHoK and FIRST project will initially focus on Marketing, Communications and Public Relations aspects which will allow them to scale their audience reach more effectively.




Team Benjam breaking it down

Team Benjam breaking it down


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects, among other things, the way an individual relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people. An estimated 1% of Australians have ASD. The advent of (relatively) cheap touch-enabled technologies and the Internet of Things offers the potential to make the lives of ASD affected people and their families easier, through improved communications and assistive technologies.

The ‘Benjam’ team rallied around changemaker Dan Austin to build an application that allows children with autism (initially his adorable son Ben, 9) to communicate with their carers. The intention is to use off-the-shelf networked mobile devices and have a user expandable vocabulary.


Check out that glint! Must be real gold down in them there hills...

Check out that glint! Must be real gold down in them there hills...

Judging and Awards

An endearing characteristic of RHoK is that we firmly believe that collaboration trumps competition. So we award the ‘winning’ team a kick-arse trophy which gives them unwritten bragging rights up until the next hackathon, as well as a modest prize for each individual on the team. The exclusion of large cash prizes ensures that individuals are there for the right reason – to contribute their expertise to overcome a community challenge and to eventually deploy a solution for use. A special mention must go to Krystel Boland who won a new shiny award called the “DiUS Team Hacker Award” for the spirit she showed by distributing her skills across many teams. Well done, Krystel.

The judges were unanimous in their decision. The winners of the RHoK Sydney 2014 Summer Hackathon were BenJam – a brilliantly simple application that helps children with autism communicate with their carers. The team was led by changemaker Dan Austin and included Sol Pandiella-McLeod, Caoilte Dunne, Brad Garland, Sonny Mai and David Bernard. 

Blown away by what was achieved in just one and a half days, Dan had the chance to user test the application with his son Ben, a day after the application’s inception. Crazy, I know. You can check out the footage here.

Now what?

RHoK’s aim is to have project teams moving into the “RHoK and RHoLL” flow. That is, continue to meet up as often as the groups can – generally every 4-6 weeks – to continue on with their chosen projects. To date, RHoK has produced a number of solutions that are being used in the wild – community dashboards for Warrandyte Community and Aurora Community, as well as What’s the Plan. There are a number of projects currently in trial and we are excited to be announcing their launches in due course.

For those who missed out on the RHoK Sydney Summer hackathon, there is still time to join in. You can register at our meetup page and get involved with projects that have already kicked off or join our next big weekend in June/July next year. If you’re interstate, you can attend our other city hackathons in Melbourne or Brisbane this weekend.

Interested in getting involved?

RHoK Australia exists through a combination of voluntary staff including a national steering committee, a national community manager and the commercial support of a number of remarkable Australian organisations.

DiUS is in its third year of being a RHoK regional partner and over the last 7 months have been joined by like-minded Australian organisations REA Group and MYOB. Going beyond commercial sponsorship, regional partners play a large part in driving the direction of RHoK at a strategic and operational level.

Other organisations that contribute to RHoK in various capacities include Envato, Amazon Web Services, Swinburne University, NetEngine and CBA. We are always looking for new supporters and partners, so if you are interested please get in touch.

RHoK cannot create impact without changemakers and hackers. We are always looking for new people to join our already long-standing and thriving community – regardless of skill set or level. You can join on of our Meetup groups in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane to make sure you hear about upcoming events, and follow us on twitter, via @RHoKAustralia

This blog appeared originally on the DiUS website