Engineers Giving Back at Random Hacks of Kindness

On December 3rd and 4th Bazaarvoice was the lead sponsor on an event in Austin called Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), a coordinated worldwide hackathon for social good. The event started Friday night with a reception for all of the hackers at the Volstead Lounge where over over 60 people celebrated, heard a few quick thoughts on how technology could solve some big problems, and of course had a drink. Representatives of the Chicago Community Emergency Response Team, Williamson County Office of Emergency Management, NASA (a global sponsor for RHoK) and others gave a quick preview of the projects they hoped would be completed during the hackathon, and our own Scott Bonneau (VP of Engineering) spoke about the power that engineers have to change the world. Scott reminded us all how only a few short years ago, creating a new technology meant years of R&D efforts by large teams of highly educated scientists, and that now, anyone with a laptop and a credit card can launch an application over the course of days.

Saturday morning kicked off with coffee and presentations by each subject matter expert on the problems they had been researching to the over 50 hackers who were eager to get started. Additionally, NASA had a special surprise for the Austin attendees, and had arranged for Astronaut Ron Garan to speak about how his time on the international space station had provided him with a unique view into the power RHoK hackers have and the need for greater collaboration on the biggest problems of the world. The hackers organized themselves into teams based on their skillsets and desires, and before lunch the product design had begun. Teams were well fed throughout the weekend with great local food from P. Terry’s, The Peached Tortilla, and Freebirds, ensuring that no one ever went hungry or was lacking caffeine. Several teams coded late into the evening at the Capital City Event’s space, lounging on couches, and some even stayed the night.

By the end of the hackathon Sunday afternoon, the teams had built a number of amazing applications, and you can read more about the applications on the RHoK web site. All of the teams presented their work, and the top teams as selected by our judges received some amazing prizes (iPads, Kindles, and Buckyballs). Overall we’re very proud to have helped support this amazing opportunity, and we couldn’t have done it without the generous help of our sponsors and partners, Freebirds, Capital City Events Center, and Github, as well as the numerous volunteers from tech companies throughout the community.

Not that our event went perfectly, but we certainly learned a few lessons along the way:

  1. Lead the leaders. You cannot run something of this size on your own. You need a team of leaders who’ll run alongside you and carry the ball for you in specific areas.
  2. It takes an army. You can never have enough volunteers. Find them early and have roles clearly lined out.
  3. It’s all about the network. It’s not about who you know, it’s about who they know. Find the connectors in your target demographic and pursue them. They’ll connect you with the masses.

To find out more about the next RHoK Austin, just follow the Pixadillo @rhokaustin. Want to help run RHoK Austin in the future? Send us a message @rhokaustin and we’ll connect you with the steering team for the next RHok Austin.