Tell us a bit about yourself. (e.g. Where do you call home? What keeps you busy during the day? What do you enjoy?)
I was born and raised in the Gambia, the smallest country on the mainland African continent (and apparently the only other country that has "the" as part of it's official name). I've been living in the U.S for over seven years now and I'm currently a resident of Northern Virginia. By day I'm a software engineer consultant at Solution Street, and by night I work on side projects, play and watch basketball, chill with friends and occasionally take a stab at cooking real food.
How have you been involved with RHoK?
My first RHoK was #1 (the 2nd RHok, 0 index numbering) in D.C, I can barely remember how I found out about it, but a nice mix of devs and subject matter experts on my team resulted in us winning the hackathon, and more importantly producing software that would be deployed months later in St. Lucia (read more about it here.)
As the winners of RHoK #1, we got a chance to go to RHoK #2 in Chicago in December and have our expenses covered by one of the sponsors. It was an awesome experience being in another city and re-uniting with my RHoK #1 teammates as well as adding some new people to the team. We did not win that time and the project eventually died out (or did it? *hint hint Pete*).
My next RHoK event was in December 2011, but instead of just participating as a "hacker", I decided to take the RHoK experience home to the Gambia. With the help of a kick-butt team (Latirr, Sana, Safia, Sanneh, Ous, Cherry, Ponce, MS, PJ) on the ground and our sponsors (Solution Street, Unique Solutions, Africell, Africmed), we pulled off a successful event, the first public hackathon in the country. We had over 50 participants and around 30 hackers. The teams worked on different projects ranging from micro-finance to weather reporting tools. Read more about it here.
Playing RHoK co-ordinator for the Gambia was fun, but the geek in me missed the hacking, so in June 2012, I was back at D.C RHoK and ready to get my hack on. I ended up on a team with subject matter experts from the World Bank and we worked on some exciting and freshly opened data. We built a tool that made it easy to visualize how procurement money is spent by countries. We also ended up winning the hackathon, so I guess you can say I'm a two time RHoKStar :-).
Why does RHoK matter to the world?
The cost of creating good software can be high at times (I'm not complaining, it puts food on my table) and this is usually a deterrent to individuals and organizations who have some legitimate problems that are begging for a technical solution. Usually due to budget constraints, uncertainty, skepticism, bureaucracy, politics, or what have you, these organizations might miss out on big opportunities to make a serious impact. RHoK provides them with an opportunity to try out things and access to the people with the needed skills in a short time frame and a safe environment where the cost and risk of failure is minimal, yet the potential impact of success is huge.
It gives technologists an opportunity to use their skills in areas and ways that they had not thought about, and the subject matter experts get to see technology being used in their fields in new ways that they might not have thought about. It's a win-win.
Why does RHoK matter to you?
Being able to contribute back to your community and humanity in ways that are specific to your specific skills and interests is an important part of my faith as a Muslim, RHoK provides an opportunity to put these ideals to practice. Meeting new people from all walks of life and being able to come together and create something in such a short time period is also quite gratifying. I also love the fact that I can write software during RHoK without having to resort to Googling programming reference documents, there is always someone on your team that already knows the answer!
Based on your experience with RHoK, do you have any words of wisdom to share with the larger RHoK community?
To the RHoK organizers: keep expanding and having more international events. The "hacking for humanity" concept is something a lot of places around the world, especially developing nations, could use. It might take a while for them to warm up to the idea, however. I remember a meeting with one of the ministers in the Gambia after RHoK and trying to convince them that if their department participated in future RHoKs, we would not turn around and try to make them pay for whatever solution was produced that weekend.
Having a good balance between tough/interesting/cool problems (like the launch-your-code-into-space-using-a-NASA-mini-robot project) and some simple but very practical problem sets (like the WaterAid team that simply needed a database to store the details of water related charities and the ability to display their locations on a map) will help attracting a nice range of devs. I really think that it's the subject matter experts and the people who bring the problem sets to the table that make RHoK special, I hope as much time and effort is spent trying to get them to join/participate as is spent trying to get the technologists to come.
To the hackers: don't let the lack of launching/shipping/deploying what you created at your first RHoK be a deterrent to you participating again. I've worked on four different RHoK projects, and two of them never took off for different reasons, but the ones that do actually get put to use make it all worth the effort.
You also don't always have to wait six months to in order to "hack for humanity", there are always small organizations that need a little help here and there. <cheap-plug> an example is a project I recently worked on for a new organization that deals with rape and molestation in the Gambia. They don't even have a website up yet, but they had an idea to create some kind of public platform where victims could share their stories. I hacked together "Speak Up!" http://www.speakup.gm in a little less than 2 weeks during my spare time and the response has been overwhelming, over 500 Facebook likes and a story anonymously shared almost every day.</cheap-plug>
To future RHoK event organizers: you can still run a pretty awesome local RHoK event despite the lack of big sponsors, fancy venues, swag and crazy prizes. As long as you have interesting problem sets and willing technologists, everything else is a “nice to have,” so focus as much energy, if not more, in getting participants as you do in trying to get sponsorships.