Hacktervism as a Distributed Team Sport with a Youth League

My list of interests includes tech, art and politics but I’ve never tried doing them all at once before. The inaugural meeting of Open Rights Group Birmingham recently was the ‘a first time for everything’ moment.  I found the way the techies, artists and political infuencers came at an issue with their own practices suggested that we could do great things together.
Twitter: @OpenRightsBrum
Blog: https://openrightsgroupbirmingham.wordpress.com/

Last week, as a volunteer mentor at Birmingham City University for Young Rewired State’s Festival of Code 2015, I was on more familiar territory of working with a group of young techies with a shared product development goal. Neither I nor my fellow mentors Simon & Bhish had been involved before and as the week wore on, we knew our emphasis needed to shift from working prototype to presentation skills. We suspected that we were slightly out of our depth in this area and that was before we saw the competition.

Even in the heats, there were no bad ideas. Some of the teams presented with such incredible passion and strength of personality, that it was easy to miss that they hadn’t shown any evidence that they had written any code that worked. Our team had gone from 6 quiet kids who’d never met on Monday, to a functional team developing front and back end systems in parallel and delivering a working prototype for an earthquake detection and mapping system by Thursday evening. They can be very proud of themselves but they were not selected for the semi-final. I hope they’ll continue working on their product.

I noticed that there appeared to be a divide between kids who had become skillful coders then looked for something to do with that skill and the teams who want to change the world so are learning to code. Imagine if they could get together in multi-skilled teams, including people with great artistic and presentation skills. They’d be unstoppable.

Last night, I went to a party with Dudley Green Party and Natalie Bennett was the unofficial guest of honour. She said it had proved difficult to organise IT with volunteers. I think it could be done, if you had a few cat-herders, a broad mix of skills to draw on and a distributed development model. First, find your Green hackers; then find out which night they have least homework.

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