Jo And His Hackathon Journey To A Job

[an occasional series of community members giving their views on our world]

Jo Booth

I first heard of Hack Miramar in August 2014, at the time I was working in Public Safety on Government Infrastructure projects and keeping my ear to the ground for innovation in smart cities.  When the words Civic Hackathon: Smart Suburb Hackathon in Wellington crossed my filters I was totally in. 

That first hackathon re-ignited the possibilities for me to step outside my 'behind closed doors, paid to sell innovation' role and contribute to community in a more open way. I'd been working in Public Safety, but Safety Infrastructure often isn't public facing, I felt an itch to try my hand at challenges in open data but much of my work was with closed data sets. I decided to try it out. 

I remember catching two buses and a train to the venue - turning up to an empty office space in Miramar far too early, frustrated at the non-integrated ticketing on my journey, wondering if there were passenger comfort standards for public transport (I'd recent received a Bluetooth 'Bean' with an accelerometer) and was eyeing up the newly released Snapper API thinking it'd be interesting to look at making public transport smarter.

But first we had to make a hackathon happen... being early meant I was automatically co-opted onto the setup crew. I went in search of coffee - refreshments being a key part of making a hackathon. We found Wi-Fi, and even tables and chairs, then the power extension cords arrived - we were ready to do this thing - all we needed was people!

Over the course of the weekend I met and talked to a bunch of really cool people - solving problems in their communities, building guerrilla tech, finding uses for real-time data flows, crowdsourcing travel information and above all, bringing shape to old dreams, collaborating to dream more.

Hack Miramar have continued to foster that creative, innovating community, and along the way, I've grown with them. 
Volunteering to help with GovHack, and bringing along what I did for a job as a demo to inspire participants, I found myself helping shape innovation in public safety - surprisingly taking out the international best disaster mitigation hack in GovHack 2015 - and at its core, all we were doing was helping communities help themselves. We all started with different view of what we wanted, but in 46 hours, we'd created something special (see this Intergen blog post).

It has amazed me how much a simple hack can solve big problems - or even the little problems that lots of people experience. The creative collaboration at the heart of hackathons is the key - when you mix a bunch of diverse views of the world and try to collectively solve a problem, magic happens. 
Aristotle was right when he said "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” - you may think you have little to contribute, but that little goes a long way, when to do it with others.

I was encouraged by this experience of hackathons, and took to the collaboration lessons back to my work - and it was great to see how the corporate organisation embraced the concept, which was spreading around the world - with several internal and external hackathon projects and contests arising.

While my first hackathon with Hack Miramar wasn't the first I've participated in, it is still a real privilege to gather with the leading minds innovating with ICT, and foster innovation and creativity in our local suburbs, home towns and cities. As I attend various tech and community events, it is a different set of values that are seen - less about profit and more about people, less about the same and more about the new, less about staying still and more about running to embrace change. The people that show these values are the people often quietly chipping away at the problems, making change, not expecting rewards, but doing it anyway.

More recently I participated in, of all things, a medical terminology conference hackathon (SNApp 2016), seeking to kick-start innovation with patient curated electronic healthcare.  Our team did get an honourable mention in the IHTSDO run inaugural competition, but even more, what I did take away from the event was a re-awakening of the realisation that health care in New Zealand could do with an injection of more of that real-time, collaborative, crowdsourced 'cool'. 

I specialise in connecting things together - be they people, systems or networks - and it was clear to me how fragmented the New Zealand health scene was, with innovation happening in pockets, but no real integrated solutions.  It is barely 4 months since, but that hackathon inspired thinking has lead me to the position of CIO of a medical practice management start up, bringing a standards-lead, cutting edge design to solve problems in the Allied Health space.

So while much of my involvement in hackathons has been for my own growth, I'm amazed at the opportunities that are found when you open your mind to innovation and collaboration, surround yourself with people who value creativity and cooperation, and are engaged in pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

You should try it too - see you at the next one!

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