Last weekend I was fortunate to have participated in first ever random hacks of kindness event. This was quite an amazing experience and one I really enjoyed, however going into this event I had no idea what to expect, and no real insight into what to bring. So for the benefit of those looking to attend these awesome events in the future, firstly read About RHOK, secondly I compiled a list of my observations and tips.

Prior to attending one of these events there are things you should bring: 1. A laptop set up with a range of tools installed, depending on your skill set and development stack. 2. A pad pen and some butchers paper for big diagrams. 3. If your a developer make sure you have played around with at least one online collaboration tool. I myself use github for source control and Wiki. 4. Make sure you have tested your laptop with an external display or projector, you will need to demo the stuff you build! 5. Ensure you have a copy of either Power Point or Keynote installed so you can build a presentation to pitch your ideas.

Having listened to the summary around each of the proposed problems and a bit of background on each we were instructed to divide ourselves into groups and begin work on each of the problems. This is an interesting time for each of the groups, with some people having never met before. Under the guidance of a mentor or problem owner the initial discussions begin.

For those new to this sort of situation I can offer the following tips: 1. Ask a few simple questions to break the silence and help trigger some discussion around the problem. 2. Do a role call and ask what role each member can fill whether it be designer, front end developer, backend developer or business analyst. 3. For those in the development arena see what stack they are comfortable developing in, whether it is Java, PHP, Rails or .NET. In this sort of situation look for ways to fit people in, a little bit of give and take can go a long way. 4. Bootstrap the project with some version control tools and a wiki before anyone gets to carried away. It is crucial all the assets created are out in the public domain for those that decide to continue hacking on the project. For me this means either setup a github repo or a google code project. 5. Lastly if you see anyone struggling to fit in go and have a chat to the other teams and see if you can find a place for them in another project.

Another interesting facet of the day was that each group was at different stages of development. one of the groups had already been established in a previous event and was looking to add / develop on the existing solution. While others were new problems with some prepared specifications and background documentation. And lastly the one I chose which was a problem which was completely new and had only preliminary investigation done. The only thing I can recommend here is do a bit of research around each of the problems presented for that RHOK event and choose something that interests you, then go with your gut on how to proceed. I our case we just had a good round table discussion about the problem then listened to some great insight offered by people who had experience in the problem area.

So what can I offer when trying to get started like me in a completely greenfield project: * Google a lot to try and find ideas * Talk to the event organisers and see what strings they can pull or who they can pull in to help, in my case this was VERY helpful. * Start brain storming ideas as early as possible * Draw a few concepts on paper * Discuss where to get the data for these ideas and build a bit of a schema or structure. * Get a mock up started as soon as possible * Keep a note of any ideas and problems for later, this is very important as you will have to assemble some sort of presentation at the end of the event.

Lastly have fun and try new cool stuff, this will add to the pressure but also give a chance to test yourself.


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