Retiring from GovHack

It is with a little sadness, but a lot of pride that I announce my retirement from GovHack, at least retirement from the organising team 🙂 It has been an incredible journey with a lot of amazing people along the way and I will continue to be it’s biggest fan and support. I look forward to actually competing in future GovHacks and just joining in the community a little more than is possible when you are running around organising things! I think GovHack has grown up and started to walk, so as any responsible parent, I want to give it space to grow and evolve with the incredible people at the helm, and the new people getting involved.

Just quickly, it might be worth reflecting on the history. The first “GovHack” event was a wonderfully run hackathon by John Allsopp and Web Directions as part of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce program in 2009. It was small with about 40 or so people, but extremely influential and groundbreaking in bringing government and community together in Australia, and I want to thank John for his work on this. You rock! I should also acknowledge the Gov 2.0 Taskforce for funding the initiative, Senator at the time Kate Lundy for participating and giving it some political imprimatur, and early public servants who took a risk to explore new models of openness and collaboration such as Aus Gov CTO John Sheridan. A lot of things came together to create an environment in which community and government could work together better.

Over the subsequent couple of years there were heaps of “apps” competitions run by government and industry. On the one hand it was great to see experimentation however, unfortunately, several events did silly things like suing developers for copyright infringement, including NDAs for participation, or setting actual work for development rather than experimentation (which arguably amounts to just getting free labour). I could see the tech community, my people, starting to disengage and become entirely and understandably cynical of engaging with government. This would be a disastrous outcome because government need geeks. The instincts, skills and energy of the tech community can help reinvent the future of government so I wanted to right this wrong.

In 2012 I pulled together a small group of awesome people. Some from that first GovHack event, some from BarCamp, some I just knew and we asked John if we could use the name (thank you again John!) and launched a voluntary, community run, annual and fun hackathon, by hackers for hackers (and if you are concerned by that term, please check out what a hacker is). We knew if we did something awesome, it would build the community up, encourage governments to open data, show off our awesome technical community, and provide a way to explore tricky problems in new and interesting ways. But we had to make is an awesome event for people to participate in.

It worked.

It has been wonderful to see GovHack grow from such humble origins to the behemoth it is today, whilst also staying true to the original purpose, and true to the community it serves. In 2016 (for which I was on maternity leave) there were over 3000 participants in 40 locations across two countries with active participation by Federal, State/Territory and Local Governments. There are always growing pains, but the integrity of the event and commitment to community continues to be a huge part of the success of the event.

In 2015 I stepped back from the lead role onto the general committee, and Geoff Mason did a brilliant job as Head Cat Herder! In 2016 I was on maternity leave and watched from a distance as the team and event continued to evolve and grow under the leadership of Richard Tubb. I feel now that it has its own momentum, strong leadership, an amazing community of volunteers and participation and can continue to blossom. This is a huge credit to all the people involved, to the dedicated national organisers over the years, to the local organisers across Australia and New Zealand, and of course, to all the community who have grown around it.

A few days ago, a woman came up to me at and told me about how she had come to Australia not knowing anyone, and gone to GovHack after seeing it advertised at her university, and she made all her friends and relationships there and is so extremely happy. It made me teary, but also was a timely reminder. Our community is amazing. And initiatives like GovHack can be great enablers for our community, for new people to meet, build new communities, and be supported to rock. So we need to always remember that the projects are only as important as how much they help our community.

I continue to be one of GovHack’s biggest fans. I look forward to competing this year and seeing where current and future leadership takes the event and they have my full support and confidence. I will be looking for my next community startup after I finish writing my book (hopefully due mid year :)).

If you love GovHack and want to help, please volunteer for 2017, consider joining the leadership, or just come along for fun. If you don’t know what GovHack is, I’ll see you there!

I am so thankful – the gap is sorted

I will be doing a longer blog post about the incredible adventure it was to bring Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith to Australia 10 days ago, but tonight I have had something just amazing happen that I wanted to briefly reflect upon.

I feel humbled, amazed and extremely extremely thankful to be part of such an incredible community in Australia and New Zealand, and a lot of people have stood up and supported me with something I felt very uncomfortable having to deal with.

Basically, a large sponsor pulled out from the TBL Down Under Tour (which I was the coordinator for, supported by the incredible and hard working Jan Bryson) just a few weeks before the start, leaving us with a substantial hole in the budget. I managed to find sponsorship to cover most of the gap, but was left $20k short (for expenses only) and just decided to figure it out myself. Friends rallied around and suggested the crowdsourcing approach which I was hesitant to do, but eventually was convinced it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

We crowdsourced less than two days ago and raised around $6k ($4,800 on GoGetFunding and $1,200 from Jeff’s earlier effort). This was incredible, especially the wonderfully supportive and positive comments that people left. Honestly, it was amazing. And then, much to my surprise and shock, Linux Australia offered to contribute the rest of the $20k. Silvia is closing the crowdsourcing site as I write this and I’m thankful to her for setting it up in the first place.

I am truly speechless. And humbled. And….

It is worth noting that stress and exhaustion aside, and though I put over 350 hours of my own time into this project, for me it has been completely worth it. It has brought many subjects dear to my heart into the mainstream public narrative and media including open government, open data, open source, net neutrality, data retention and indeed, the importance of geeks. I think such a step forward in public narrative will help us take a few more steps towards the the future where Geeks Rule Over Kings 😉 (my lca2013 talk)

It was also truly a pleasure to hang out with Tim and Rosemary who are extremely lovely people, clever and very interesting to chat to.

For the haters 🙂 No I am not suffering from cultural cringe. No I am not needing an external voice to validate perspectives locally. There is only one TBL and if he was Australian I’d still have done what I did 😛

More to come in the wrap up post on the weekend, but thank you again to all the individuals who contributed, and especially to Linux Australia for offering to fill the gap. There are definitely lessons learnt from this experience which I’ll outline later, but if I was an optimist before, this gives me such a sense of confidence, strength and support to continue to do my best to serve my community and the broader society as best I can.

And I promise I won’t burn out in the meantime 😉

Po is looking forward to spending more time with his human. We all made sacrifices 🙂 (old photo courtesy of Mary Gardiner)

To live among real people

I have decided to not run for the Linux Australia committee again for 2008, and to instead live as a normal community member in the Australian FOSS community. I’m hoping this will give me some context as to the good and bad of Linux Australia, and help me understand our community better, how people/organisations interface with LA, and what a national body can do for our community as our needs and society changes. Alongside this goal is also the fact that I have become relatively burnt out and need a break. I wasn’t nearly as active on the LA committee in 2007 as I wanted to be, and I also have two specific community-centric projects I’m helping with for 2008 that will be taking a lot of my time (specifically Software Freedom International of which I am still President, and a project yet to be announced).

With this in mind I thought I would briefly chronicle my time with LA for histories’ sake. I also want to lay the groundwork for what I believe makes a good candidate for the LA committee based on my experience and observations.

In the beginning…
When I came across LA only about 9 months prior to 2003 (Perth) I found an organisation with a total of 5 members (who were also the committee members) and a legacy of flamewars, distrust and apathy. The founding members had a great vision, and many thanks to them for their hard work in establishing Linux Australia (in particular Anand Kumria, Terry Dawson, and Gary Allpike). However, unfortunately it had become caught up in politics and harsh words, and didn’t yet have a strong base that people could get behind. The website was informative but quite difficult to use. The general decision making processes and vision of LA were not firmly established nor particularly transparent. But there was an interest in change for the better from at least 3 of the 5 members.

The party begins
I convinced the committee of the time to have an open AGM at lca2003, to drop the membership fee completely and to grant free membership to all attendees of lca2003. Then, at lca I went and spoke to most of the ~450 people who attended about what, if anything a national body could do for our community. A few people thought there was some usefullness to such an organisation. A few thought it was a complete waste of time. 150 people turned up to the AGM which was fantastic! I had never been on a committee before and I was considering perhaps nominating for an ordinary committee member position, and was absolutely floored when I found out some rogue had nominated me for President (I still don’t know who). I convinced Hugh Blemings and Andrew Tridgell amongst others to run for positions (they went for ordinary committee member positions) and all up we had about 20 people nominated for positions. At the end of the process I was nominated President with an incredibly strong team, namely Stewart Smith (Vice President), Andrew Cowie (Secretary), Anand Kumria (Treasurer), Hugh Blemings, Leon Brooks & Andrew Tridgell (Ordinary Members). Together we forged a strong base on which LA has grown now to almost 1400 members, with strong relationships with other organisations and even Government.

It took a lot of work as we had to create from scratch a vision for Linux Australia which really was focused on being an organisation that supports its members to do great stuff, that drives forward FOSS and the FOSS community in Australia, and that is flexible enough to reflect changing times and community needs. We also had a lot of grunt work to do establishing a useful constitution (many thanks to David Lloyd for helping with this), several policies and procedures for dealing with things usefully, and a whole new precedent for the organisation. In particular, Andrew Cowie helped with this by drawing on his background of building strong foundations for new organisations.

Passing the torch
In 2005 I decided to not run for the President role again, as I strongly felt that passing the torch is extremely important to successful projects coming into their own, and I wanted LA to be about itself, not about Pia Smith (at the time). Many FOSS projects become identified by their top representative, and this is fine in many cases, however it can also be to the detriment of the project. Particularly when it is a community-centric project, rather than a software-centric project. I ran for and won VP, primarily to provide support to the President and some continuity in the organisation. I have been really pleased over the past two years of watching LA be driven by Jon and a couple of great committees, to see that LA now is an entity that has its own momentum, its own identity and ultimately its own sustainability. Rock on to all the wonderful individuals who contributed to making this happen!

How to pick a strong candidate for the LA committee
One of the things I wanted to briefly cover is from my experience what it takes for someone to be a strong candidate and contributor to the LA committee. Below is a top five list of personal attributes I believe are important, and I would urge you all to look for when casting your vote for the LA committee in January. Feel free to add more important attributes in the comments 🙂

  • Community first – it is important to try wherever possible to put the community before personal feelings or motivations. Being on the LA committee puts you in a position of both representation and personal responsibility
  • Good communication skills – all committee members need to try to maintain good communications, an open mind to other perspectives, and in particular be clear about what hat they are wearing at any one time 🙂
  • Personal responsibility – it is important that candidates are willing to take personal responsibility for any specific tasks, communication, making decisions and whatever comes up (obviously in consultation with the committee). A strong committee only exists where each individual is willing and able to contribute personally
  • Being open to constructive criticism – Everyone receives their fair share of criticism, and often there are trolls lurking in the bushes with nothing better to do. Being open to constructive criticism and the possibility that at any time you could actually be wrong is important in keeping the channels of communication open, to growing as a person, and to understanding how to do your job on the committee better
  • Finally, and most importantly, positive vision – all the people who have had the best impact on LA have done so not only with a strong vision, but with a strong positive vision. You need to be able to articulate and encourage in a positive way, otherwise your attitude has a net negative impact not only on you and people you communicate with, but on the whole community

I guess these are some things to look for in committee members. It isn’t actually whether they are popular, fun to be around, great coders (or documenters, etc) or even great advocates. It is about what they can bring to Linux Australia and to our community. I would strongly encourage all candidates to really outline their goals and vision in their spiels so people can carefully weigh up what they want to bring to the table alongside other candidates.

I have been on the Linux Australia committee for 4 years now, two as President and two as Vice President. I’m really proud of what we achieved, particularly in the first two years of Linux Australia and I have met many extremely inspiring people along the way. I look forward to seeing what LA does in 2008 and I wish the best luck to all candidates in the upcoming election. I also call on all people who want to contribute to our wonderful community to put their hands up and nominate themselves for the LA committee. It continually needs new ideas and perspectives to keep it in line with our changing community needs and directions, and it is such a great privilege to serve the Australian FOSS community, which is one of the best FOSS communities in the world. I’d like to thank everyone I have worked with over the past 4 years, in particular Jeff for his constant support and advice, Hugh Blemings and Andrew Tridgell who provided a lot of advice in the first year, Jon Oxer who has been such a great steward of LA over the past 2 years (and hopefully again in 2008!), and to Bdale Garbee, who convinced me in 2003 that I had what it took to “herd cats”.

Report on the Education Expo

Two weeks ago a band of dedicated SLUGers set up a Linux Australia booth at the enormous NSW Education Expo. The event attracts around 8000 attendees, mostly students, parents and teachers, so it was a great opportunity to take Linux and FOSS to the masses! We have set up a booth at this event for 3 years now and are very popular. The adults want to know more about this “free software” stuff, the kids love the games and job opportunities and the teachers learn more tools for education and learning. On the booth we had Red Hat calendars that were popular, computers to demonstrate, stickers, handouts (including information specific to FOSS in education), penguins and shirts. We had Ubuntu & Edubuntu, as well as slightly dated Debian, Fedora and Suse to give away as well as some leftover lca2007 stuff.

On Sunday we had the OLPC there for one day which was vey popular. A few school girls who had done a school project on the OLPC thought this was awesome and walked away saying “Linux is cool”. Hopefully that’ll be a few more in the workforce 🙂

A huge thanks to all the volunteers that helped out:

  • Sridhar Dhanapalan
  • Grant Parnell
  • Andreas Fischer
  • Martin Visser
  • Jeremy Visser
  • Rodger Dean
  • Richard Hayes
  • Robert Morris

Also many thanks to Red Hat Australia for providing some schwag, Everything Linux for providing stickers, some CDs and shirt printing on the spot for $10, Craige McWhirter for providing two great demonstration computers, and Waugh Partners for providing loads of printing and fluffy penguins.

Below are some photos that were taken with the OLPC, unfortunately we didn’t remember to take a proper camera, but these are cool 🙂

Sridhar pondering his next move
The kids loved Edubuntu!
Crowded stand
Grant doing tshirts at the Education Expo

Accepting nominations for LA VP

Pia’s passion and pizzazz produce a potent prepapration for a proactive and purposeful posse. Pia is proficient at public promotion and persuading the priviliged, without being either pliant or prone to prevarication. My proposal: purloin Pia, pint-sized prodigy and PC poster-girl, as perennial VP! – AJ Towns

Best nomination post ever! Thanks AJ 🙂

Nominations for the Linux Australia election are still open, but only for a few more days. You’ll need to log in using your membership information to nominate and later to vote, so check it out!

I’ve been nominated for VP and after some serious deliberation have accepted the nomination. In 2006 I was largely unable to achieve my LA goals due to being absorbed with helping run (only 3 weeks away!), however I am keen to help take LA to the next level in 2007. My pitch is below (and will show up on the LA elections page once elections open):

Linux Australia has come a long way, particularly in the last four years. I feel my efforts in jump-starting LA at Perth (2003) have paid off, and with the efforts of great committees and community members, LA is now a vibrant community with many active and inspiring contributors and members. In only 4 years we have increased membership from 5 to 1200, gotten into the ears of industry and Government, brought together a largely geographically dispersed community and created a transparent and trustworthy organisation that assists its community by being a tool for community development and FOSS in Australia.

Now we need to work especially hard to take LA to the next stage. I would like to accept the nomination for VP and my aims for 2007 include: to empower our community further for growth and local representation; to get FOSS onto the agenda of Australian Government and mainstream media; to create a better relationship between the Australian FOSS industry and community; & to create a way for FOSS groups to participate freely that aren’t specifically “Linux”. This last point is really important, there are many groups out there that are part of the FOSS community, but aren’t Linux specific (eg – Perl, Python, Open Solaris), and LA needs to find a way to be more formally inclusive of non-Linux FOSS groups so we can all be stronger together.

These aims are not short term. I am committed to LA for the long haul as I see the community voice of FOSS as being especially important now and well into the future. As our entire lives become more and more digital, trustworthy and sustainable technologies are vitally important. This is an important part of my personal commitment to FOSS and LA.

I hope to serve as VP with Jon as President as I feel his well-balanced and stable leadership is complimented by my energy and connectiveness. I hope to continue to serve the Australian FOSS community, and help take us to the next stage as a strong, trusted and participatory national and community focused organisation.