Random Hacks of Kindness Ottawa (June 2014)


Last weekend, June 28-29, marked Ottawa’s third instalment of Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) (http://rhok-ottawa.ca/).

The first order of business is to answer “So, what is it?”.  RHoK is a hackathon for making the world a better place by developing practical, open source technology solutions to respond to some of the most complex challenges facing humanity. RHoK, an international initiative (in over 30 countries), happens concurrently twice a year in June and December.  Our Ottawa chapter operates wholly on its own, while maintaining the vision and mission of the global organization.

Now before I dive into how it works, I want to venture an important point of clarification for hackathons: it’s not just for developers. In fact, many hackathons welcome and actually need a diverse group of individuals. For example, at RHoK this weekend, we had developers of all types, graphic designers, UX designers, community managers and an anesthesiologist. Of course there are also the organizations that benefit. Everyone is welcome.

What’s really exciting about RHoK is that we pair participants with real organizations that have real challenges. As a result, it’s a great environment…but there is a lot that goes into the event. Recruiting organizations is actually tougher than it sounds. While they get the benefit of collaborating with bright and talented minds, simply providing a venue and people aren’t enough. The organizations need to generate a project that fits the bill. The project or objective must: have a clear problem and direction but still leave lots of room for creative problem solving; be able to be solved in a weekend; be applicable on a larger scale to other organizations; and, be engaging and rewarding to the participants — the organizations tend to be one of the key selling features in getting participants to join.

We’ve yet to have any real problems in finding participants as we’ve sold out in June and last December. But, that’s in no small part due to the outreach we do and the great opportunity we are creating for people. We reach out to a host of developer groups across the city, encourage past participants to join, post on our professional and corporate networks, and rely on the participating organizations to also spread the word.

Participation costs $5 and the reason for charging this amount is really only to encourage attendance if you register. To put this in perspective, and thanks to the many sponsors who contributed, RHoK participants ate like kings all weekend for that $5. Not to mention, they got some pretty sweet laser-etched mason jars as a take-away.

This year we capped out at 45 participants. On the organization side, we had Oxfam Amnesty Code for Kids Art Engine Ladies Learning Code and Mustaches for Kids. The projects included:

  • Oxfam Canada is working with a coalition of organizations on putting together a common campaign calling for a national debate to be held during the 2015 elections on women’s issues/women’s rights (international and national). They were really interested in how technology can play a role in connecting citizens more directly to political representatives and RHoK was the perfect venue to explore this.
  • Mustaches For Kids: The goal was to build a third-party fundraising platform that makes it easier and much more compelling for participants — with great images, fundraising tracking & analytics, historical data, and more.
  • Amnesty International Canada: They wanted to create an for their members that would make for safer protesting through aggregating and displaying tweet trends from specific geographic areas. For example, to keep an eye on events in Taksim Square.
  • Code for Kids: This group aimed to build a game to help kids aged 7-13 learn to program Ruby on Rails.
  • Artengine has a library of tools and equipment that they make available to the public, but managing reserved resources right now is kind of a pain. The project was to build a reservation system that could be used by Artengine and other makerspaces around the world to manage reservations.
  • Ladies Learning Code: Continued their work on a job board that helps connect workshop learners and the technology community with great talent. The job board will have three pages: main, administration page and a job seeker’s area. Some of the key tasks and functionality required are to: search jobs, browse jobs by date, browse by category or by employer, and to include the most recent jobs listed on the front page.

At bv02, myself (Brett Tackaberry), Lisa LaRochelle and Brandon Brule were on the organizing committee along with Wesley Ellis and Christian Garceau from Shopify.

And yes, I did lead the Mustaches for Kids team. On the team was Vicki Iverson from Iversoft, Brandon Brule, Simeon Seguin and Sharon Austin.  The issue we faced was to help third-party fundraising initiatives better support team-based fundraising without requiring any technical support from the charity itself. What we accomplished was: a brand new design for the website, front-end development, an application framework (JSF using PrimeFaces), an iOS app and a data API – and they all worked together. These parts weren’t all complete but we did have a working demo by the end of the weekend. I made sure they all went home with M4K swag too.

And I certainly have to take some time to recognize our amazing sponsors:

whalesbone_logo lonestar shopify bv02 labottega12labs beaus lunch fishmarket

Here are some more pics from the event:

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