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 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.