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Random Hacks of Kindness events are scheduled to run in both Sydney and Melbourne on 1 December, allowing avid developers the opportunity to do some pro bono code cutting – and reclaim the white hat.

In popular parlance a “hack” or a “hacker” is generally taken to be a negative concept. But according to John Allsopp, who has been involved with Australian Random Hacks of Kindness events for the past couple of years; “In the tech world a hack is a good thing. A hacker is someone able to solve things in elegant, ad hoc and unrepeatable ways.”

Through his company Web Directions and events allied to the Random Hacks of Kindness events Allsopp has been involved in organising a number of hack events, which he describes as; “Getting  people together over 24 hours to do something fantastic.

“Random Hacks of Kindness is about capturing that energy and enthusiasm.” Allsopp points to a hack event conducted shortly after the Haiti earthquake, which managed to turn the nation from one of the worst mapped areas in the world – it was hard for aid organisations to find their way around the ravaged country – to one of the best mapped places in the developing world.

He will be involved in the December event in Melbourne being hosted at Swinburne University.

He might well be one of the oldest hackers there. At 45 Allsopp acknowledges that; “In the world of web I’m kind of old.” Most of his peers are under 30.

He also has a traditional technical backgrounds having cut his hacker teeth in his teens on a TRS80 and then headed off to the University of Sydney to study computer science. He reckons there are today very few web developers with that sort of computer science pedigree.

“We studied algorithms and networks – two important approaches when building more sophisticated applications.” He believes that traditional software engineering capability is very important for developing robust systems.

While his training was valuable, when Allsopp graduated Australia was enduring the ‘recession we had to have’, which left him without work – he didn’t fancy a tech role in defence, finance or government, which were at the time the only ones on offer - and consequently free to wander the world “having adventures”.

In the early 90s however he started developing a hypertext knowledge management system which was distributed online. Although it only ran on Macintosh computers Allsopp claims some sales into the CIA and Boeing.

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Beverley Head

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Beverley Head is a Sydney-based freelance writer who specialises in exploring how and why technology changes everything - society, business, government, education, health. Beverley started writing about the business of technology in London in 1983 before moving to Australia in 1986. She was the technology editor of the Financial Review for almost a decade, and then became the newspaper's features editor before embarking on a freelance career, during which time she has written on a broad array of technology related topics for the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Boss, BRW, Banking Day, Campus Review, Education Review, Insite and Government Technology Review. Beverley holds a degree in Metallurgy and the Science of Materials from Oxford University and a deep affection for things which are shaken not stirred.

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