Tell us a bit about yourself. (e.g. Where do you call home? What keeps you busy during the day? What do you enjoy?)
Maarten: I live in Antwerp, in the flemish part of Belgium. About a year ago I started as a Java consultant for a smaller company from Antwerp where I worked on Java projects at De Persgroep, one of the biggest media companies in Belgium. I love programming, doing stuff with a computer and network with other people with similar interests. I've joined a few other hachathons because I enjoy the atmosphere at such an events.
Tasha: After my studies in Electronic Engineering and Industrial Computer Science, I started my career in a R&D department designing a remote surveillance and access control system. Over the years however, my projects became more “classic” and by and by, I left the hardware domain and concentrated entirely on software development, traveling from the C++ “Old World” to the new Java continent. I’m organizing the Brussels Java User Group and I'm part of the Random Hacks of Kindness Belgium team. I’m currently also member of the DEVOXX team and also do a lot of “Robotics for Kids” workshops for different organisations. Despite of my passion for Java, I still am very connected to more industrial ICT, electronics and low-level programming (Embedded Technologies, Arduino, NAO robots, Lego Mindstorm, C/C++ and much more). You can find on my blog at http://www.
How have you been involved with RHoK?
Maarten: During my internship in Mountain View, California (June 2011) one of my classmates found information of a free event taking place in one of the Google buildings (RHoK Silicon Valley #3). Since we really wanted to visit the Googleplex we registered for the event. We had no idea what RHoK was about so we were curious what it was about. At the start of the event most of us joined the team of Foodmovr (a problem definition which has been worked on several times and most recently became a solution named BringTheFood. We liked it so much that we returned the next day and decided we should organize a RHoK event in Belgium. When we returned I immediatly started to find a location and sponsors. During my search for help I met Tasha, she already had the idea to organize a RHoK event in Belgium but didn't have the time to do it on her own. With a lot of help from her, she already had lots of experience organizing IT related events with her NPO ICT2Act, the first RHoK in Belgium took place in Antwerp, December 2011.
Tasha: I follow RHoK as of the first event and always wanted to bring this initiative to Belgium. Unfortunately, I never found the time to start-up the project. One day, Maarten contacted me explaining that wanted to make it happen. Of course I agreed and proposed my cooperation. That's how we ended up making a team.
Why does RHoK matter to the world?
Maarten: RHoK offers a nice way to do something nice for the world. It isn't focused on informatics only like most other hackathons. It offers a nice opportunity to non-informatics to get their ideas out to the people who have the knowledge and skills to execute it and create perfect solutions.
Tasha: It matters to the world because it gives us, technology people, a chance to improve the situation in our world without necessarily leaving home and family with Doctors Without Borders. You don't need to have the courage of a hero to matter! In the same idea, it gives a chance to a lot of brilliant yet "classically living" people (like us :-) to use their creativity and skills to do good things. Moreover, it touches and sensitises a community that is by its nature not directed toward activism of this kind.
Why does RHoK matter to you?
Maarten: Informatics mostly are nice people (not that other people aren't nice), people who love what they do and are willing to do it in their free time as well. RHoK offers them the opportunity to do it in small teams, to work together and create very nice solutions to very commons problems. Problems defined by subject matter experts who exactly know that the problem is and can answer most of the questions about that problem. RHoK brings those people together and makes it possible to make a difference.
Tasha: Because it gives me to chance to matter to the world :)
Based on your experience with RHoK, do you have any words of wisdom to share with the larger RHoK community?
Maarten: Try to bring as much of your friends to the next RHoK event. They will probably be amazed about the fun and satisfaction you get while attending. I've never heard anything negative about the way RHoK works. I think the biggest challenge to all RHoK event organizers is to get people interested and get them to join the event. And off course to keep them interested by offering nice challenges to work on.
Tasha: Personally, I learned that you have to well prepare the problem statements in advance. Don't try to be non-directive and don't expect the hackers to choose problems from a large list. Make a short list of well-identified "problems" and ask them what team they want to join. That's the best way to avoid losing a half day with the selection and discussion process. It may even be a good idea to come up with a "solution architecture" as starting point. If they find a better solution on their way, that's fine. Another point would be that you have to make clear that the RHoK is (imho) not limited to developers only. Designers, problem solver, problem finder (!), anyone that is creative and smart is useful at a RHoK event. It's nice to have developers hacking code, but you need a handy and simple user interface, you need to identify problems and finding realistic solutions. Being part of a RHoK means being a brick in the wall, not making a world-saving product from zero to hero all alone. Even RHoK networking and communication is a very important skill when making the world a better place.
And now back to organizing the next RHoK Belgium! ;-)